Interview with Jennie Kwon

Interview with Jennie Kwon

A Southern California native, Jennie’s designs reflect the art, natural beauty, and style that surrounds her. Each piece is meticulously designed to be graceful, balanced, and wearable. Learn more about her method and what inspires her in this interview.

Get To Know The Woman Behind The Designs

A Southern California native, Jennie’s designs reflect the art, natural beauty, and style that surrounds her. Each piece is meticulously designed to be graceful, balanced, and wearable. Learn more about her method and what inspires her in this interview.

How did you begin designing jewelry? Was this the career you had planned on pursuing?

Designing jewelry was really a detour, as I had been working as a corporate lawyer for the past several years.  For the last few years of this, I admittedly was looking for an exit strategy.  

When my twins were born and I was on maternity leave, I took this time to not only get used to being a new mother (of two!) but also to take night classes after putting the babies to sleep, exploring things such as ceramics, knitting, and metalsmithing.  

While ceramics and knitting didn’t stick, metalsmithing came very naturally to me.  My first piece was this really neolithic-looking pendant -- heavy and made of brass -- and my second piece was this Star Trek-looking layered triangle ring.  The instructor and class really loved these pieces, and I caught the bug.

Fast forward two years later, and I finally decided to pound the pavement trying to find a jeweler with a handful of new designs, zero design experience, zero connections in the jewelry industry, and a few thousand dollars to put into these initial pieces, a badly cobbled together website, and basic packaging. 

And this is how JKD began!  Within the first month of starting my jewelry line, one of my still largest retailers, Catbird, found me via a small Oregon-based blog, and the rest is history.

Your designs are known for being delicate and self-dubbed “quiet classics.” What drew you to designing this type of jewelry?

At the time I entered the market, believe it or not, delicate jewelry wasn’t prevalent.  There were a few designers dabbling in it, but it wasn’t the massive thing it is now.  

I was in my mid-30s when I started to design jewelry (no!  You’re not too old to embark on a new career!)  This came after being a violinist and then a corporate attorney at a big firm, then at a movie studio.  All that to say, I designed pieces that I would wear as a 30-something-year-old.  Something that felt unique, beautiful, not mass produced, yet dainty enough to comfortably wear daily without feeling the burden of having to remove it with each hand wash or feeling the weight of the piece on my hand while trying to do daily things.  

I love dainty jewelry as you can still make a statement and still wear color, but on an everyday scale.  The colors are vibrant and pop but aren’t in your face or giving off cocktail ring vibes. And the profiles are all fairly low, so you don’t have to be super concerned about having the pieces snag on things or get knocked around.  

Where do you go for inspiration when working on a new collection?

I often take inspiration from the materials I work with.  Whether it be a brilliantly azure ceylon sapphire, a more muted mossy green sapphire, the splintered beauty of a diamond, or just plain gold, I try my best to honor that stone and metal and feature those things in the most beautiful way possible.  

All of my pieces are a direct reflection of my aesthetic which is formed by my love of textiles, my culture as a Korean American woman, being a mother, travels, architecture, and nature.  I’m continually in awe of the level of minutiae in nature when you examine a single leaf or insect, but also the grandeur and awesomeness of all of it from a distance.

3 Sapphire Equilibrium Gold Ring on model's hand, stacked with other gold rings with colored gemstones

A variety of Gemstone Rings

What’s your process like? How long does it take you to conceptualize a new ring, for example?

Really, once the creative juices start flowing, designs come very organically to me.  I usually design pieces that are a part of our collection twice a year and block out a few weeks to really work with materials and concentrate on design during that time since being a small business owner can really pull you in a million different directions.  

Once I put pencil to paper, so to speak, I usually design around 30-40 new pieces each round.  

What do you think it is about your jewelry that draws consumers back to your brand?

We hear time and time again from our clients that they are drawn to our brand for its authenticity, thoughtfulness, unique designs, and personal feel. 

There are so (so) many jewelry brands cropping up every day, including these massive venture-backed DTC brands, so delicate jewelry is accessible to more people than ever before.  However, what our clients say when they try our pieces on is that, outside of being more beautiful in person, there’s just something very intimate and personal about them.  They can actually feel the preciousness and soul of the materials featured in the piece. 

And, of course, we consistently hear that, despite their dainty scale, our pieces feel substantial and well-made.  

What would you most like your clients to understand about the work that goes on behind the scenes at JKD?

That each piece is truly a labor of love.  Even our tiniest pieces often have our signature milgrain and other unique details that require our jewelers and stone setters to take painstaking care in creating them.  

Every single one of our pieces is handmade here in our downtown Los Angeles studio.  Every stone and finding is hand-selected right in our office, and every piece passes through our hands before going out to our clients. 

We are a small, hard-working team, and everyone cares about what they do.  

What is one of your earlier designs that you are most proud of?

My earliest designs are still some of my and our clients’ favorites: the Emerald Lexie, East West Onyx, Semi Pave… 

But I’d have to say our cuff rings.  My first cuff ring design was our White Equilibrium Cuff ring, and this is still one of our strongest sellers.  She’s, of course, beautiful and eye-catching on her own, but is also such a multifunctional piece.  

For people who don’t want an awkward gap between an engagement ring and a straight band, this is the perfect sparkle to absorb that space and create a flush stack.  For people who want to stack a tall center stone with a curved band, once again, she absorbs that space and allows the curved band to sit tight with the stack.  

A gorgeous stack, including the Black Equilibrium Cuff Ring

What is your process when designing custom rings for your clients?

We are lucky to be able to work with so many custom clients and create beautiful pieces that hold such intense meaning to them. 

We always start the custom process by first meeting them and listening to their stories, whether it be by Zoom or in person.  It’s so important for us to get a sense of who they are.  

Then it really depends on our clients’ needs.  If they need us to source a stone for them, we embark on that process of trying to find that perfect stone that meets the client’s needs while fitting within their budget.  

If a client sources their own stone or provide one to us, which happens all the time, we have a conversation about how we can best feature that stone.  

It’s a fun dance between the client and ourselves and in the end, our clients are always grateful and thrilled with the result. 

Who would you most like to see wearing your jewelry?

Our jewelry is made for the everyday woman.  We’re not particularly celebrity motivated as we are inspired by the woman you know- your sister, friend, mother, who values precious and unique things. Who isn’t necessarily trend driven, but has the boldness to wear things that resonate with them personally.  

And if we really had to choose a celebrity to wear our pieces, we love Sofia Coppola, Kate Moss or Michelle Obama. 

What is your favorite current jewelry trend?

Mix and match to your heart’s desire.  We tell clients this all the time, but you really can’t go wrong in creating your own look.  We’re big fans of mixing metals, stones, scale and creating something you find beautiful! 

What advice would you give to someone looking to work in jewelry design today?

With jewelry, no one is reinventing the wheel, but it’s important to have a strong and unique voice.  It’s a very crowded industry with a low barrier to entry but in order to have staying power, this is what sets established designers apart from the rest.   

Don’t copy or be overly inspired by other designers!