Katie Finn I Designer I Elizabeth Street Jewelry
“ I just like something that is a little bit odd but still beautiful.”
How long have you been doing what you do?
Well, I graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design in 2003 with a major in metals and jewelry. I was never a good student, but I was always passionate about art and french. They were the only two things I excelled in and the only reasons I graduated high school...I don't think I took anything past algebra II in terms of math. I was just not good at that type of thing. Initially I thought I was going to be a fashion designer, and I would do all these sketches. One time a couple of my friends had a group “sweet 16” party and I designed 4 of their “sweet 16” dresses. They actually went out and had them custom made! They were all matching cobalt blue which is so funny to me now.
Anyway, I went to Savannah Art & Design thinking I was going to study fashion design. I got to a certain level in the program and realized that I really hated assembling garments...like really hated putting clothes together. I hated sewing so much...I just did not have the patience for it. One of my electives was a jewelry class and I took it and immediately knew that I was never going to go back. The funny thing about SCAD was that I was also a pretty terrible student there too. I couldn't quite keep my mouth shut and just made what I wanted to make all the time and almost didn't graduate….and now I have a jewelry line! It is kind of funny how those things work out for some people. We were a really small graduating class; there were only 14 of us in the jewelry department in 2003. You go through your whole education with these people and you graduate knowing what some people are good at and what skills we excelled at. We worked together a lot which was really great for training on how to work with other people. After I graduated, I worked in a jewelry studio, jewelry stores...all sorts of stuff.
Where did you grow up? and how would you describe that place?
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. I grew up in a very academic household. Both my parents were pretty intellectual and I had one brother that was an artist and one brother that was more of an academic..like mathematics and stuff. I went to an all girls catholic high school, which was definitely a formative experience in and of itself in a lot of ways. It taught me a lot about creating bonds with women and how important that is, and it is really important to me in my life still. I also grew up in a sailing household. We used to go to Alabama, Mississippi, Florida..all those places a lot. My whole family would sail across the Gulf of Mexico. Being near the water has always been important to me and living in NYC for the past 9 years - and I love the city life - and not having that ability to just to sailing or go to the beach is a little taxing. It is something we did a lot as kids. New Orleans is such a party town too. And for one reason or another we practically got away with anything we wanted. I guess there was always a part of me that wanted to misbehave in that way.
Why did you choose NYC? Does it speak to you in some way?
I didn't come to New York for the first time until I was a senior in high school. My boyfriend at the time really talked up living in NYC and I was always fascinated by it. At the time one of my best friends was living on Mott Street. When I came to visit her, I totally fell in love with it. I was one of those people you see walking around the city with a smile on their face and you think “Oh, give them time…” Just so fresh. Everything was an experience. Sometimes it is so great to have people come as visitors because it is like fresh eyes on this city. Sometimes you are on the train and you just want to start swinging at people. But at the time I was so in love with it and just wanted to come up with it.
Was there a “big break” or a moment where you knew this is what you should be doing?
No, I had a mentor though. I was living in New Orleans right after college working for a jewelry designer named Dominique Giordano. We had so much fun in her studio. It was kind of like a re-hash of the college studio experience. All of us working together to create her product and put it out, but we also had design input..so it was really fun in that way. At some point Dominique pulled me aside and said, “Katie I want you to know, I truly believe that one day you are going to be a successful designer.” I still remember that.
But my family, my dad, for the longest time has not been a huge supporter what I do. Like, “When are you going to get your head out of the clouds? When are you going to get a real job? Is this just an expensive hobby?”... But the more press I get the more he comes around. He just doesn't get a kid that wants to do their own thing and not go with the system. There is a certain amount of having balls involved in going out and doing your own thing, ya know. Like…”Ahhh, I hope I can make this work!” It is hard to do that without support, but I kind of did. One of my brothers once said to me, “I respect what you are doing. It is super gutsy for you to go out and pursue your own thing and not just do what so many other people do, which is to get a job and stick with the safe way of life." It is risky, but it has been really fun.
What does a typical day look like?
Well, it changes a lot based on my what my production orders are. I don’t just sit down and make jewelry for fun and hope that someone is going to eventually buy the piece. I have to have a place that I know it is going to go. I produce everything myself. Every piece of jewelry goes from my hands to the store or customer. There are some things, like micro pave work, that I use contractors for, so I spend a lot of time on 47th street. My workflow is very contingent on my orders, my production at the time, and contractors schedules. There is a lot of bouncing back and forth from my studio to 47th street.
But a normal day, especially since having my studio in my apartment for the past year, having a live/work situation, boundaries get super blurred. If I am in the heat of production, like if I have a trunk show or an event coming up, and I know I have to have a large body of work ready, god...it will be like three in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and you are sitting there in your underwear without having brushed your teeth making jewelry...having not gone outside for two days because you are working like a mad scientist. I imagine it’s like how computer programmers might live. It’s kind of gross and a little isolating. I don’t want to make that mistake again. I listen to NPR a lot. I have to have something else inside my head besides my own voice. I listen to a lot of talk radio and work and photograph everything here, basically start to finish.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
I like doing engagement rings a lot. Working directly with people is awesome. Recently one of my retailers in San Francisco contacted me and told me that this couple just came in the store saw my ring, bought it, and the guy proposed to her in the store. Ya know! Stuff like that is so rewarding. Like “ah, yes!” When something you made is going to be something this couple is going to have forever. When someones says, “This is my dream ring,” I think “Good! ..that is what I am doing this for.” I don't even wear jewelry. I don't have that relationship with jewelry, I just don't accessorize that way. I love making it though.
Who inspires you?
My grandmother. She passed away this past December, which was really hard. There are weird little tidbits of her all around here. Like that little bell...the shell...these pillows. She had impeccable taste from the inside out. Her home was a reflection of her taste. She was a collector. She lived in London, and I would go to to see her and just piddle through her jewelry box. Somehow or another, it just kind of seeped in. She was a big influence in my life in that regard. She was my muse. She is the type of grandmother who would commission a piece of jewelry to a T..."I want this..this is how I want it made...” She mostly had a massive collection of vintage stuff. Actually, the work that she bought from artists in the 60’s is now archived in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It's pretty cool. The last time I was in London I got to go to the V&A and see this weird collar that she had made for her. It said “Commissioned by/on loan from Lady Gloria Dale.” I am like, "Are you kidding me?! " Growing up in Louisiana, we didn't have that kind of metropolitan lifestyle...cultured in that kind of way.
What does authentic mean to you?
It’s funny that you ask that, because I am about to move to the west coast, and it is a conversation I have had with a lot of people over there. Authentic to me means having some grit. Having some life experience under your belt. No matter what life’s trials and tribulations and no matter what shit happens to you, being able to still maintain a foundation enough where you can produce...no matter what. I have been in situations before where something happens and I don't want to eat, I don't want to sleep, I don't want to do anything...but I do want to make jewelry, and that is authentic to me. A real drive that comes from within. It is always going to be there, and it eases my mind. To be honest I don't ever underestimate someone's ability to make something with their own hands. I don’t give a fuck if you are knitting a sweater or cooking a meal or making a sculpture or building a bike or welding a table, being able to produce a product with your hands is a powerful thing.
How do you think your work is received?
It is always funny for me to meet people for the first time over a drink or at a party or something. And my jewelry isn't on the forefront of the discussion, but it’s always like “What do you do…?” I say that I make jewelry and it is always like “Yeah, okay, sure she does…” Then, I'll get an email or a message on my instagram, and it says “Holy shit, I just checked out your jewelry and it’s so tasteful..I'm so surprised.” You might look at me and not see the connection and think “Why?" Because I curse like a sailor and drink like a fish, or dress the way that I dress? People have trouble with that association and then will be like “I really want you to make my wedding ring!” Like, okay... thanks. I don't wear it on my sleeve. I don't wear my work, and I think that is part of it.
How do you think your designs have evolved to what they are today?
Materials are super important to me. I work in high karat gold, I use 22K or 18k and am just now starting to integrate platinum into my line. Actually, one of my stores just told me that platinum is super risky because “White is a hard sell.” But I really like platinum as a metal. I am kind of a metal pervert. Platinum has a really nice weight to it when I put it in my hands. It feels good to me. I am really material oriented. I will base a design around a stone. Recently I have taken a little departure from that though. When I started out I was working with big tourmaline slices. There is kind of a collective consciousness, especially in the jewelry world, and stuff starts to look really homogenous. I started to notice a lot of other people out there doing the same thing. I used these large colored tourmalines and hand fabricated these big 22k bezel setting until my fingers were bleeding, but then had to change that up because tourmalines became more and more prevalent on the market. It is based on what stone dealers have available, and as more people request the same item that is what’s available and everyone's shit starts to look the same.
You have to try to keep it fresh in any way possible. A lot of times for me that means going to my stone dealer and looking at stuff and thinking, “Okay, how can I flip this or turn this…” Aesthetically, I like long necklaces. I like long layering. I like a lot of rings on one hand. I like mixing metals..using rose gold, yellow gold, platinum. I just like something that is a little bit odd but still beautiful. And something that is not going to break after two weeks. I don't want throw away jewelry, and I don't make throw away jewelry. I want to make stuff that people hold on to. Heirlooms. I want to make heirlooms.
Do you have any personal affirmations?
No. A mantra? No. No. Hold on, wait...one of my friends once told me a good one. Hold on...no, see that’s how little I pay attention to affirmations…I don’t even fucking remember it. No, I don't do affirmations. That’s not my bag.
If you weren't doing this what would you do?
There isn't anything else, but I suppose I would work in the art world as a gallerist or curator. Work with fine artists and try to sell their work and make money. I can't personally produce a painting, but I love working with artists. Connecting people is really appealing to me. It is something that I do all the time. I like people, and I like putting people I like together.
Do you have any advice to someone who wants to become a jewelry designer?
I say just fucking do it. By any means necessary. What ever you have to do, just do it. The need to create has to be strong enough for you to want to do it. If it isn't coming from within then forget it.