She creates custom jewelry for the White House, collaborates with will.i.am, and is a red carpet favorite for the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Louise Roe. Kara Ross has over 20 years’ experience in the jewelry industry and is widely celebrated for her unique gemstone pieces that highlight each stone’s organic beauty. We caught up with her to learn where she finds inspiration, the career achievements she’s most proud of to date, and why women supporting each other’s work is so important.
How did you come to be in the jewelry industry?
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 jewelry. I attended the Gemological Institute of America over 20 years ago, and became a certified gemologist just prior to opening my business.
Where do you seek inspiration for each collection?
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 a world 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.
Can you talk us through your jewelry design process?
My design process often starts with the gemstones themselves, especially for our one-of-a-kind pieces. I look at the stones and see how they can be worn together in their raw form or if there are shapes and textures that would be interesting. We then start sketching pieces and finally work directly with our lapidarist and bench jeweler to create the pieces. There is a tremendous amount of craftsmanship that goes into each piece. All of our jewelry is made from hand cut and hand polished stones, including our diamonds. Each piece is handcrafted – making each piece truly one-of-kind.
What drives you in work and in life?
My family is the most important thing in my life and always comes first. Creativity and having the power to create something unique is also a driving force in my life. I’ve always had the mindset that I can achieve anything I set my mind to and I instill that in my children as well.
What is your favorite gemstone to work with, and why?
Gemstones are my passion so it’s very hard to choose a favorite stone. I really enjoy working with lesser-known gemstones and creating a piece that is wholly unique and unexpected.
Tell us about the proudest moment of your career.
There are a few moments that stand out and more yet to come! The first would be designing jewelry for the White House as gifts for dignitaries, heads of state and the First Lady herself. The second would be opening our store on Madison Avenue in 2013.
You are passionate about celebrating strong, independent women. What advice would you give to women who want to start their own businesses?
It’s important to have passion about the business, you will spend much more time at launching and running your own business than working at another company, so you have to love what you are doing and be passionate about it. Planning and execution is also a key; make sure you have a clear vision about what your business is and how to execute it. Surround yourself with advisors knowledgeable about the industry in which you are launching and get their opinions – and always remember that the road to success isn’t short. There are many twists and turns and uphill battles, but keep going.
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The White House commissioned you to create exclusive designs crafted from magnolia wood in their gardens. What was that like, and how were the pieces conceived?
It’s definitely one of my proudest career milestones. The White House learned about the jewelry I had designed 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. The bracelets were based on my signature shirt cuff bracelets and feature colored gemstones on the closures. These cuffs have been used as official gifts of state for the President and First Lady to give visiting female dignitaries. The White House also requested something that could be gifted to men, so I designed a tray which is a solid piece of wood carved from the tree with a sterling silver placard with the dignitaries name engraved, I am very proud to say that the late Nelson Mandela received one as a gift.
You design handbags and bejeweled centerpieces, in addition to jewelry. What are the similarities and differences between developing each category? Is there a common theme that connects all of your designs?
Unique materials and gemstones are the common theme that connects everything I do. Exotic skins are akin to gemstones as they are all truly unique, no two gemstones and no two skins are exactly alike. Craftsmanship is also a common theme – each piece of jewelry and each handbag are made by hand. Personality is also a common theme – I don’t think fashion should be too serious. Our MyPURSEonality handbag collection and our tabletop collection are fun and whimsical. Lola the Lobster’s new BFF, Opal the Octopus will make her debut for Holiday 2015.
Can you give us any hints about what’s next for Kara Ross?
My mantra for life is the power of women. I love that women can be independently successful and powerful. I instill that in my daughters and design for confident, sophisticated women who are able to make their own choices and buy what they want, not wait for someone to buy it for them. Stay tuned, for a major announcement this fall about a new initiative to empower women around the world.