clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tour Tiffany Kunz's Ultra-Cool Highland Park Jewelry Studio

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

All photos Allen Zaki.

Tiffany Kunz and her husband, Bob, didn't intend to make a life for themselves in Los Angeles. The designer hails from Seattle, Washington and the couple, fond of the nomadic lifestyle, spent time living in both South America and Utah before settling for what they thought was a brief stint in California. She also didn't set out to be a jewelry designer, originally attending cosmetology school and subsequently paying the bills as a waitress in Utah while making jewelry for herself and coworkers on the side.

Shortly after arriving in LA, Bob came across a Craigslist ad seeking assistance with jewelry production. Believing in Tiffany's dream, he answered on her behalf and with that, she landed her first position in the business. Her initial assignment was to hand-make 75 pairs of earrings for Neiman Marcus. Now, she has her own namesake jewelry line and a studio space in creative-centric 'hood Highland Park.

After a few additional design positions, Tiffany launched her collection in 2007. It's composed of bronze and silver pieces priced from $15 to $400. Kunz says that she doesn't research trends, instead staying true to her personal style with a line of unique basics that she hopes every girl can throw on before walking out the door in the morning. "I didn't like a lot of jewelry that I saw," she explains of her accessible designs. "I'm not super-girly but I'm not really rustic, either."

The next step for Tiffany is incorporating gold and color into the line. Before starting her brand, she embarked on a heavy course load at the Gemology Institute of America. "They tell you all about the mining process," she says of her hesitation to work with gems. "I noticed that it's not that awesome for the people that are doing it." She recently found a company that is open about where they source their gems and is ready to embark on a gem-centered collection for Summer 2014.

We visited the designer to view her entire line first-hand; while there, Tiffany broke down the processes for her three main collections and explained her eco-friendly approach.

What are some of the major influences in your line?
"It varies so much. Shape is really interesting to me, I'm inspired by what works on the body rather than, 'I have this crazy idea that I have to make into a piece of jewelry.' Instead, it's, 'How does this compliment us so that we can just put it on and go?' I think nature is part of it too; like if I see bark on a tree, I think about that texture. I'm always wondering, 'What do I want to wear and what do my friends want to wear?' It's easy to get grandiose ideas and sometimes I have to reign myself in."

You're eco-conscious, how does that play into the brand?
"My goal is to use all reclaimed metals. The bronze comes from an industrial supply plant in Burbank; it's literally just their scraps then my caster melts them down. I get my silver from a place in West Virginia and they're ground-breaking with using reclaimed metal, that's all they do. They also try to use non-hazardous chemicals as much as possible."

You have three distinct collections—describe the process of creating the Signature Collection.
"I start with round wire in its raw form. I work with pliers to get the shape that I want and then I hammer it to get the texture that I want. Then if there is soldering involved, like connecting joints, I use the torch. I'm into fluidity, so it's not overworked. I try not to solder a whole lot and just hand-forge with the hammer and the wires. From there, I take it to my manufacturer downtown where he makes the molds and casts it."

And the Flight of Fancy process is different?
"That was the first collection I did with wax. I carved all of the original pieces out of wax and took them down to have the first model to cast, from that casting they made the mold. It was really a fun collection for me because I felt like the pieces were much bolder than what I had done before and I had a lot more options. It was pretty exciting."

And what about your latest, the Ellis Collection?
"It is totally different. This has been an interesting process because I am really focused on primitive fabrication and this involved metal molds. When you need [to make] something very perfect, you have to use a metal mold. So I made the first version out of wax. Then, I took it to my manufacturer and he took it to someone else who put it into a computer. The mold was done with a laser. It's the most high-tech."

How has your design process changed over time?
"For this most-recent collection, I started thinking about what I wanted to make three months ago and I made bracelets. Then I stepped back and thought, 'Is this really where I want to go?' I've since spent the last three months just sketching and really thinking it through. I'm trying to be thoughtful about it. That is new for me. Before I would just sit down and make everything super-fast, which I think was a product of where I worked before. So [for the holiday collection] I've sketched everything, I've thought it out and now I'm ready to make it."

Tiffany Kunz jewelry can be found online at TiffanyKunz.com as well as 30 stores throughout the US and Canada.
· Meet the 50 Racked Young Guns Semi-Finalists for 2013 [Racked]
· Meet the Official Racked Young Guns Selection Committee [Racked]