Jewelled Delights

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With a vision to create jewellery that has character and imagination, Kara Ross finds inspiration in alternative
materials to invent pieces that are warm and stylish. Rosemin Manji talks to the dynamic woman to discuss beginnings, evolution and the next step

Describe the women you design for?
The Kara Ross woman is an intelligent, confident, naturally elegant woman who loves wearing bold jewelry. She is determined, and doesn’t take herself too seriously or try too hard. Call it an effortless elegance.

How long have you been in business and where did you attend school tolearn your craft?
When I was a teenager, my parents took me on a trip to Africa where I bought some loose gemstones. When I returned to Philadelphia I designed my first ring around them Ever since, I’ve been in love with jewellery. I attended the Gemological Institute of America over 20 years ago, and became a certified gemologist just prior to opening my business in 2003.

How have you and your brand evolved over the years?
My vision has always been to create jewelry that has character and imagination – in fact; I like to think of my designs as wearable art. WhenI began the collection in 2003, it consisted of one-of-a-kind fine jewellery pieces. Since then it has greatly extended to include fine jewellery designs that are made in multiple units, handbags, and a fashion line of boutique jewellery in 18kt gold plated brass. Although I am still maintaining all of them, my focus will always be, first and foremost, on fine jewelry.

Where does the inspiration come from?
First and foremost, gemstones inspire me – when I come across a spectacular and vivid one, the design unravels before my eyes. Also travel – it opens aworld of creativity because it exposes me to new and beautiful places and ideas. I am inspired by all of the new places, people, customs, clothing, and architecture that I see.

When was that ‘tipping point’ when you knew that you had made it?
Two things come to mind. several years ago the White House approached me. They learned about my jewellery designs made in wood, and commissioned me to create works made from magnolia wood that originated from a tree President Andrew Jackson planted on the White House lawn. These bracelets and trays have been used as official gifts of state for the President and First Lady to give visiting dignitaries, including the late Nelson Mandela. In addition, I like to think of my designs as wearable art, and am proud to be included in several museum exhibitions around the country, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Forbes Gallery in New York. The Museum of Arts and Design in New York has one of my designs in their permanent collection.

Tell us about the design process?
Each season we start with inspiration boards that come from so many places. I travel quite a bit and a lot of my inspiration comes from the places I go,whether it’s Greece, India or the Middle East, I am inspired by local
cultures and the natural surroundings. I also attend gem shows each yearand get a lot of inspiration from the gemstones and other minerals that I find. Once we have the stones we want to work with and our inspiration for the collection, we set to work sketching. Once a sketch is complete, we take it to our bench jeweler who cuts the stones and makes the pieces come to life.

The handbags have your signature gemstone? Were accessories a natural progression from the jewellery?
I’ve always wanted to establish a consistency between the categories – my love of gemstones inspires both my jewellery and handbag designs. Some of my earliest bag designs were clutches that resembled cut/faceted gemstones. Like my jewellery, my bags are typically made of unexpected and contrasting materials and natural textures.

You have had some successful collaborations including Tory Burch and Donald Robertson. Tell us more about how you work together?
Most of my collaborations are very organic in developing. I’ve known Tory since high school and casual conversations led to our collaboration. My collaboration with Donald Robertson started with an introduction by
a mutual friend (Lisa Perry) on Instagram after which we started commenting on each other’s posts. We finally met for lunch and the ideas started flying. We settled on creating luxury ‘Whole Foods’ grocery bag totes from materials like python, calfskin leather and waxed canvas on which Donald would use his favorite materials – paint, gaffer’s tape and sharpies to create his whimsical works of art.

What’s in store in 2015?
I had such fun with the collaboration with Donald that I would love to do more. I am currently working on a
special collaboration with recording artist He is the nicest guy, a creative genius, and very humble. I met him through my husband, and we started talking about a smart watch that he’s working on – which is also a telephone, it’s so cool – and then we got to talking about gemstones, and it just evolved. It’s been really fun and exciting to work with him.

Advice for a young designer?
Fine jewellery is an expensive business, so young people trying to break into it must rely on support and input from other more seasoned people. It’s hard to be a small brand when there are the long-established companies like Cartier, Bulgari, and Chopard who have deep pockets for enormous marketing campaigns. The most important thing for young designers to remember is to stay true to themselves and establish a consistent and strong product range that will become instantly recognizable as their own

How to you juggle being a mom, designer and running the company?
My family always comes first, my daughters and husband are the most important things in my life. I always have my eye out as a designer whether I am shopping at the vintage stores I love, walking through the streets of Manhattan or on a trip overseas with my family. I have been lucky to find agreat team of talented people to work with that help me bring my ideas and designs to reality. Each person on our team has a unique set of talents and we all work together which is what keeps the business running.