Design of the Times: Sarah Graham

Sarah Graham has a distinct style in her jewelry designs: her works are organic and textural with a muted palate, feminine yet substantial, and unique yet universal in appeal. Graham draws her inspiration from the natural environment, giving her designs lasting beauty and sustainability through textures and styles found in nature. A matte black finish of oxidized cobalt chrome contrasted with 18k yellow, rose and white gold, set with colored diamonds, is also incorporated.

This combination of natural shapes and textures with a glamorous finish is what creates the captivating and unique quality of her designs, and what has earned her a number of awards, including JCK’s 2008 Jeweler’s Choice Award and Women’s Jewelry Association’s 2010 Award for Excellence in the Category of Design. Below, Graham describes for us her transition from international business to jewelry design, what her design process is like, and enduring market changes. See what she had to say and catch her at JCK Tucson 2019!

 

Before venturing into the jewelry industry, you studied International Business. Were you always interested in design, specifically in jewelry, or was it something that you weren’t expecting to end up doing?
I was always interested in design, but it wasn’t on my radar as something that one would choose as a ‘real’ career. My mother was an artist and I grew up surrounded by arts and crafts. But she was a stay at home mom; I never saw what she did as a means to earn a living. But when I started working with a local jeweler on a custom piece and saw the tools, the mechanics, and the materials, I was hooked. And I was young enough not to care whether I could actually make money at!

Have you noticed a shift in consumer attitudes since you were honored with the Rising Star Award at JCK Las Vegas in 2001?
It feels like everything has changed since then! Gold was much less expensive when I started, and the economy was strong – it all felt very easy. As the economy has stabilized a bit, those of us left standing find ourselves in a less familiar place. A new crop of web-native customers challenge our traditional ways of marketing. This may be the biggest demand a business faces to endure beyond, say, 15 years, but once we embrace the change, it is so rewarding.

Describe your brand in three words.
Organic, unique, bold

Can you give us an idea of what your design process is like?
It’s all over the place, and I try to keep it that way! So much of what I do needs to be efficient and methodical, but when I apply these attributes to design, I lose. I find the more easy going I am, the less rules I place on my process and the more I let myself go in whatever direction I want, the better. I do consider things like the weight of an earring, the perceived value vs the actual price of a necklace, and the way the oxidation will wear on a ring…but beyond that, I forget the rules. No good design starts with numbers.

We know you draw a lot of inspiration from nature. What are your other inspirations when designing?
I’m drawn to texture and contrast, and I like to show nature and science in ways people don’t often see them. As much as I need people find beauty in my jewelry, I find it equally satisfying when they learn something about our natural world as well.

How do you personalize your jewelry and designs?
The use of cobalt chrome is probably the thing that personalizes my work the most – no one else has used oxidized cobalt chrome in a production line of jewelry. I can hardly blame them, as it is a very difficult metal to work with. But it’s worth it – it gives a deep, matte black finish that is rust free and hypoallergenic – no other metal can do this.

You have a number of different collections. Do you have a personal favorite?
My favorite design is always the last one sold to an adoring customer – nothing makes me happier than to see someone fall in love with a piece of my jewelry.

Favorite piece?
I have a necklace with my son’s toe prints on it…I wear it ever single day, and it doesn’t look like mom jewelry. It is just a simple, elegant golden necklace that always makes me feel pulled together, even if I am in sweats. And it is sooooo personal!

Are you partial to any particular stone or hue?
I love diamonds – they are neutral, so they don’t compete with my metal work, and they are hard, so they are easy to work with and I don’t have to warn my clients to be careful with them. Most of all, they sparkle like no other stone. A little goes a long way.

What do you think sets your jewelry apart from other companies that specialize in fine jewelry?
I think I am in the company of a handful of amazing jewelers who design from the heart, who don’t follow trends, and who have created a unique voice among a lot of sameness. We tend to have collectors in common who have found the select stores and galleries who recognize and promote originality. It’s a passionate club of jewelry makers and fans who are confident in, and proud of, our eye for truly artisan jewelry.

Describe your target audience.
My clients are artists – they may not make art themselves, but they know good art when they see it, and they wear it proudly. They tend to have moved beyond the big brands and showy diamonds. They enjoy the attention they get when they wear my jewelry, as they know they aren’t being recognized for how much money they have but rather what original style they possess.

You raise funds for Namaste Direct each year. Can you give us some background on the non-profit organization?
Namaste Direct is a micro credit organization that makes loans to women entrepreneurs in Guatemala. Equally important as the loans they provide is the business education they offer. They have created a whole generation of female business owners who have pulled themselves, their families, and even entire communities out of poverty. They repay their loans and become self-sufficient, as does the organization, as it recycles the loan repayments to the next woman looking to start a business. It is a powerful model for charity.

What are some of your favorite JCK Tucson memories?
Most of my favorite show memories aren’t fit to print…but I do recall several years back in a hot tub a woman (not there for the jewelry show) lost the big diamond out of her wedding ring! Well, wasn’t she lucky to be surrounded by us jewelers, who felt our profession made us uniquely qualified to spot a diamond at the bottom of a pool of hot bubbling water? And wouldn’t you know, we DID find it! That’s the only hot tub story I can tell you.

What are you most looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2019?
Making more memories, with what have become my many old friends! This industry has become my second family, and Tucson is a great backdrop for a reunion.

What types of designs and collections can we expect to see from you at JCK Tucson 2019?
I’m working on a collection of bold hinged cuffs in great price points with unique diamonds and just a little bit of color…it IS Tucson after all!

What are your goals for JCK Tucson 2019?
There is a new crop of jewelry stores with enthusiastic owners who are working the market as only a fresh new entrepreneur can, and I can’t wait to meet them at the show!

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