CK: When did you know that you wanted to become a jewelry designer?
EW: I had worked in theatre for well over a decade when my future husband Peter proposed to me with a diamond engagement ring. That ring, and everything it symbolized, inspired a full-on immersion in the artistry, history, science, and meaning of jewelry. I went on to earn my graduate gemologist degree at GIA, then started in retail sales, selling both antique and designer jewelry. I also worked as an independent jewelry writer and photographer with focus on designer lines. I’ve always had a keen aesthetic and design sensibility, and during my time in retail and as a writer, I designed many pieces for retailers, my friends and colleagues, and myself. I loved design and had envisioned a career in jewelry design, but did not design my first collection until December 2013, when Grace Lavarro of Jewels by Grace, who knew my aesthetic very well, asked me to design a bridal collection. From there, Erika Winters Fine Jewelry was born.
CK: What was your first design?
EW: The first design I produced for the official collection was the Caroline Halo, which is a floral, octagonal style that I created for a very beautiful antique cushion cut diamond. My first collection was all set with antique cut diamonds, as I have a deep and abiding love for old cuts and unique shapes.
CK: You’ve always taken beautiful photographs of jewelry. Do you think that influences your designs?
EW: Photography definitely influences my designs. I often begin a design for a unique stone shape by first studying the stone through the camera. I live in a bit of a macro-photography world: I’m nearsighted with what I call “loupe vision,” so I tend to look at everything up close and experience shorter depths of field naturally. So a DSLR camera with my favorite macro lens is my absolute tool allowing me to express how I actually see gemstones and jewelry. Often when I’m designing, I’ll envision how the piece will photograph, so yes it’s a huge part of my process.
CK: Your Instagram feed is amazing. Has it played a role in your success?
EW: Thank you so much! My photography has enabled me to express my vision and creative direction for my brand. It’s important for me to show how I see jewelry—it’s a tangible thing where you almost want to reach through the screen to experience and feel the jewelry. I do think it’s played a strong role in my company’s growth, as I launched my collections entirely online. My expansion into wholesale has been in part to give people the opportunity to see the work in person, as even the very best photos can’t illustrate just how fine the work is… So the fact that I was able to launch a line online as a relative newcomer armed with new designs and a camera—makes me very proud, and I appreciate you noticing that work, Cheryl.
CK: How would you describe your collection in three words?
EW: Modern. Forward. Romantic.
CK: Your pieces have a lot of vintage detailing but they are most often in yellow gold. What inspired that combination?
EW: I love gold! And I have a deep love for gold jewelry from the Victorian period, when the metal was so prominent. I’m fascinated by ancient gold jewelry as well, and the Victorian period was bursting with ancient, classical design revival, so definitely an inspiration!
CK: What’s inspiring your newest designs?
EW: My new collection breaks down the wedding jewelry concept to its essence, hearkening to simple and elemental jewelry pieces worn thousands of years ago. It’s wedding rings for both women and men inspired by ancient architecture with a distinct, almost futuristic feel, exploring the timelessness of ring design—past, present, and future. And yes, this collection was created in gold!
CK: Do you approach bridal and fashion designs differently?
EW: Yes and no. When I’m in development (as I am now with Couture on the horizon!) on both bridal and fashion, my process is the same. I’m very process-oriented and development is my favorite place to be. It’s those moments of discovery that excite me like nothing else. With engagement rings specifically, the process is a bit different, as my focus is on the fine balance of creating durable rings to endure for generations that also feature delicate, intricate details with a light and airy feel. Bridal has very specific parameters in that way, but fashion does also. With my fashion, for example, my focus is on both ease-of-wear in addition to design. I’m big on everyday jewelry pieces that are worn effortlessly.
CK: What’s your greatest challenge right now?
EW: My greatest challenge right now is a perennial challenge: editing. I have many designs on deck that I’d like to produce, but each line requires a significant amount of time to launch, and I only have a finite time in which to complete production of my new collections for this year. So I must edit.
CK: What other artists and jewelry designers inspire you?
EW: Oh there are so many! I was a jewelry writer who worked in designer jewelry sales prior to launching my own company, so I’ve been celebrating designers for as long as I’ve been in this industry. When it comes to bold and conceptual work, Elena Votsi excites me so much. She has the rare ability to deconstruct jewelry on a conceptual level that blows me away. In terms of both design and business aspects, I have always had a deep admiration for Temple St. Clair. I’m also very inspired by earlier-to-mid 20th-century jewelry artists, including Suzanne Belperron.
CK: All the designers you mentioned are women. Do you think that women approach designing jewelry differently?
EW: I do. We are the ones that actually wear the jewelry designed for women, so I do think we tend to pay attention to details with regard to wear and how pieces work with our bodies specifically. With the women designers I mentioned, they each work or worked with bolder shapes and larger scale pieces, which speaks to what women choose for themselves. Each of them creates or created jewelry I consider powerful and empowering for women, with bold, strong shapes.
CK: What’s your favorite piece that you made in the last year and why?
EW: My favorite piece would be from my new wedding collection that is set to debut at Couture! Why? I developed a shape that excites me very much. It’s bold. It’s gold.
CK: What's your favorite way to relax?
EW: Read. Drink champagne (ha!). I work a lot, and so I really need to decompress after work, and all but virtually shut down. My husband and I have a ritual after work where we come together at the end of the day to discuss the business and events of each crazy day.
CK: If we were visiting you in Seattle, where would we go and what would we do?
EW: Come to my studio, and hang out with me! I’m right down the street from Pike Place Market, so come in the summer, and we’ll explore the market, come back to my place to cook and chill.
CK: What the best advice you received when you started your business?
EW: Stay the course, and keep your eyes on your own paper. Focus and believe in yourself. And never forget: There is no overnight success. It’s work. Hard work. And your work ethic will see you through it all.
CK: If you could give women one piece of advice about jewelry, what would it be?
EW: Wear what you want. There are no rules.
Cheryl Kremkow (@kremkow) is a brand strategist and recovering journalist. Gemobsessed.com