Back in February, UncommonGoods partnered with jewelry industry authority JCK on the second annual JCK Tucson design challenge, pitting emerging jewelry designers against one another in (fun, friendly) competition. After much deliberation, our panel of judges—which included UncommonGoods Jewelry Buyer Sharon Hitchcock and Paula Lee, Accessories Editor for O, the Oprah Magazine—settled upon a winner whose designs embodied the spirit of creativity and fine craftsmanship we value here at UG. Jewelry lovers, meet Lee Ann Jones, winner of the 2017 design challenge and founder of the Lee Jones Collection.
A former lawyer turned full-time jewelry designer based in San Antonio, Texas, Lee Ann blew us away with her Diamond Fairy Dust Necklace. (Trust us, there’s been a whole lot of ooh-ing and ahh-ing over her samples here at the office.) Masterfully crafted from 14k gold, Lee Ann’s winning adjustable necklace incorporates two tiny cylinders “dusted” with diamonds, one hidden discreetly at the nape of the neck. Elegant, subtle, and—best of all—sparkly, Lee Ann’s winning piece is now available for purchase at UncommonGoods, along with her equally stunning Double Heart Diamond Necklace, which features diamond-studded hearts in place of her winning work’s cylinders.
To celebrate her win and welcome her to the UncommonGoods family, we spoke with Lee Ann about her history as a jewelry designer, what inspires her, and more. Read on for her answers to our questions, and—as a bonus—some pictures of her very cute dog.
How did you get your start in jewelry design?
It’s all boys in my house (including the dog) and I was looking for an outlet outside of work and home so that when all of my boys were otherwise occupied with boy things, I would have a go to project to work on. A friend and I decided to take a metalsmithing class at night to spend time together so we could learn how to make jewelry. Those classes were the only time in my week I thought of nothing else except about what I was learning and doing in class. I enjoyed it so much I then took more classes and fell in love with the creative process of design and the satisfaction of completing a piece. I was wearing a lot of the things I was making and friends would literally ask to buy pieces off of my neck. I sold a lot of my early pieces to friends, but then decided to stop selling and create a small collection. When the collection was finished, I took it to a local boutique where it was picked up immediately and proceeded to sell out. At that moment, I knew I had a small business on my hands.
Your work is striking, but delicate. How do you maintain that kind of balance?
My design philosophy is to create chic, relevant, and modern, yet classic pieces which a customer can incorporate into her jewelry wardrobe. I love delicate jewelry but want my pieces to stand on their own, but also work and layer with other pieces. When I design a piece I work on striking that balance by keeping things true to my aesthetic of delicate and classic, and adding an element that makes a subtle statement.
Describe your process. How do you get from idea to finished product?
Inspiration can strike at any time and when it does, I make notes on anything I can and collect them on my desk. Then when the design mood strikes, I start on paper, sketching, erasing, sketching, fine tuning, repeat. For the designs that I end up loving, I work with a CAD designer. I receive and review files and files of the designs, fine tune again and again, and make a sample. I like to wear each piece for a week or so to make sure it is fulfilling my expectations as well as reflecting the movement I like to see in my designs. I may make changes to the sample, or may not move forward with that design, but once I am satisfied with a design, I then put it into production.
Could you talk a bit about your winning piece? What inspired you to create it?
The Fairy Dust Collection was inspired by a lake house community where we formerly owned a home. A good friend also owned a home there. We used to joke about how our families would arrive at the lake house and immediately begin their fun while “the fairies” unloaded the groceries that had previously been shopped for, unpacked the overnight bags that had previously been packed, opened up the homes which had not been used in a while, cleaned, started dinner, etc., and then started our fun a few hours later. I started thinking about how a lot of women really are “fairies” in their daily lives as they continually make things happen without others truly knowing what goes on behind the scenes. I wanted to create a collection to represent this image that showcased “fairy dust” throughout the pieces so that my customers sparkled from front to back and had a subtle reminder at the nape of their neck of all they accomplish for their families, their workplace, their communities, charities, etc. When I discovered the choker necklace was going to be a statement piece for 2016 and 2017, I want to create a simple choker design for layering that could also return to a “regular” necklace post-choker fad so I made it adjustable for many lengths. The Diamond Fairy Dust Choker was the award winner for the JCK UncommonGoods Design Challenge at JCK Tuscon 2017.
How has your work—or your process—evolved since you first began designing jewelry?
I started designing high end fashion/bridge jewelry and incorporated a lot of antique components into my designs. I spent hours and hours at warehouses, antique stores, and trade shows selecting unique pieces for my work. I would then modify the pieces into my designs and most of the pieces were one-of-a-kind. I did a lot of plating over base metals for those collections and only minimally worked with 14k gold. As my line progressed, I started using semi-precious beads and stones and utilizing more and more 14k gold, making multiples of each design so that each store I was partnered with could have a full collection. I then made the big decision to enter exclusively into the fine jewelry arena in 2015 and expect that is where I will stay as I love working with the materials.
I hear tell that you moonlight as a lawyer. How has that informed your craft?
I practiced law for over 20 years and just retired my license in January of this year. I had practiced part-time for the last 13 years, but once my jewelry business started to grow, it became harder and harder to do both jobs well. Since jewelry design has become my passion, I decided at the end of last year it was time to close my practice and do this full time. The business experience I have from being a lawyer has been tremendously helpful in the jewelry business. It may not seem like it would translate, but with everything from contracts, to intellectual property components, to collections, to being prepared for meetings with people of all backgrounds, I find that it has made my transition to this industry very smooth. Do not get me wrong though, I am used to operating on strict deadlines and in this industry that is not the norm. I have had to overcome getting frustrated with people who do not move as fast I would like them to, and have survived by adopting the philosophy that I no longer have to be on such strict deadlines myself which is definitely a healthier perspective.
Do you have a favorite material or motif? What about something you’d like to experiment with, but haven’t just yet?
I find being a designer a little hard at times, because there is so much I want to try and do and sometimes I feel myself being pulled into wanting to experiment with new things, but then worry about the end result not translating to my collection. At THENEXTNOW in New York earlier this year I was fortunate to be able to talk with designer Melissa Joy Manning about my process and concerns. She gave me some great advice which was to try what appeals to me and what I love and be the trendsetter… it does not all have to be exactly the same. So I am adopting that philosophy as I work on new designs for fall with colored stones which will be new to my collection.
When you’re not busy making jewelry, what else do you like to do to unwind?
Spending time with family and friends is what makes me happiest. I love cooking, music, traveling, being outdoors, playing cards, reading and in January you are certain to find me snuggling with my Boston Terrier, Rosco, and catching up on all of the movies I did not get to see over the past year.