You will instantly fall in love with her high-end jewellery because it is different! She is credited with interpreting unpredictable and curious patterns in her collections – a jumble of baguette diamonds contrasted with oval, pear or cushion-cut gems or her famous Vitrine collection that portrays a cluster of diamonds shining through flat-cut luminescent and transparent gems. Meet American designer SUZANNE KALAN, who started designing jewellery in her spare time about 27 years ago, but today has to squeeze time to pursue her other hobbies that include cooking and unwinding by the seaside. However, she is a devout reader and a self-confessed bookworm, who has a rapacious appetite for reading historical, funny or romantic novels. Her choice of reading influences her creativity, too, as Kalan’s pieces have a happy mix of classical, time-honoured references tempered with modern aesthetics.
By SHANOO BIJLANI
You have been in the field of jewellery since 1988. Tell us about your milestones and the accolades that have come your way.
One of our proudest moments was when we won the 2014 couture design award for our 18-karat gold fireworks diamond baguette shield ring in the retail couture design category of diamonds below $20,000.
You decided to design after the birth of your daughter. Could you tell us what beckoned you to this field in 1988?
It was the first time in my life that I had spent so much time at home because I had always worked. With my daughter being such a good sleeper, I had extra time on my hands. And that is when I started making my own fashion jewellery. Subsequently, I started receiving requests from store owners to make some for them. This is how the company started.
Tell us more about yourself – where were you born? In which university did you study? Were you inclined towards the arts even as a child? Both you and your husband Paul belong to families involved in the jewellery business. Did that influence your decision to become a designer?
I was born in beautiful Beirut, Lebanon. They used to call it the Paris of the Middle East because it is a very fashion-forward city. They’re always up-to-date with the latest trends. Growing up, my mother loved to design clothing for my sister and me. I used to watch her create these beautiful pieces and I always thought to myself, you can make what you want, no problem! My father had a jewellery store and my husband was a diamond setter. My husband’s father and brother were also jewellers. That is how I decided to start designing jewellery.
Have you done a course in gemmology and designing? Or did you get the experience at work?
I’ve never taken any design or gemmology lessons. All of my designing and gemstone knowledge came through my work experience.
You have a penchant for selecting colourful stones for your jewellery pieces. How do you go about selecting the gems? Does it involve a lot of travelling?
Yes, I travel a lot all over the world. I also work with my suppliers by asking for specific colours that I’m looking for and I request cuts that would work in my collections. Everything is cut according to my specifications, except for most of the one-of-a-kind pieces. Our unique jewellery is made with stones that I fall in love with and I design around them after we purchase them.
How often do you discard your designs/ideas?
I have a hard time discarding, but it’s usually done by my daughter who designs our 14-karat collection and I’ll do the same for her. It’s sad sometimes, but once in a while we need to eliminate some styles.
What is the creative process that goes into designing each piece?
At times, a lot of ideas pop into my head and at other times, I’m blank for a while. When ideas start flowing, it feels great! It’s a very exciting process. My first step is the idea, then I either play with the colour stones, or if it’s just diamonds, I work with my CAD designer to get my ideas across. Once i see what I want, then we print the wax, cast it in the type of gold colour that I think would look best with the stone or diamonds that I’ve chosen and then we finally have it set. If the whole process goes smoothly, it takes approximately 2-3 weeks. A few years ago when I started, we did not use CAD and it was a completely different process.
What is it that sets you apart from others?
It’s our choice of unique gem colours, the cuts of our stones, the use of baguettes, and our vitrine collection that uses diamond clusters that sparkle through gem surfaces and are enveloped with baguette-cut diamonds arranged in a jumbled manner. Also, the way that we combine our materials together is unusual. When you see our jewellery you instantly recognise it as the Suzanne Kalan brand.
What are the basic metals/coloured gemstones you prefer to work with? Do you have any favourite gems? You also use baguettes and Vitrine effects in your line. Could you tell us more about it?
Rose gold (18-karat) is my favourite metal. Our rose gold colour is very soft and looks great on every skin tone. I love the combination of most colour gemstones, champagne diamonds, and white diamonds on rose gold. At the moment, my favourite gemstone is London blue topaz, but my favourites change every season. I’ve had the most fun working with baguettes lately. Ideas keep popping up and it’s so exciting to see the results. The vitrine collection is what sets us apart from other designers and took us down a more exciting path. Vitrine is my baby. It has a special place in my heart.
What inspires you?
You have been in this business for more than two decades. How do you chill out?
I’ve been doing this since my daughter was born almost 27 years ago. I love cooking at home with my husband, daughter and son. We enjoy having a glass of wine, relaxing with music in the background, and spending time together. We all get in the kitchen and do something. I love to take vacations by the seaside where the waters are calm, blue and beautiful, and bordered with white sand. The sea, sun and calmness are the best medicine for my mind and body. I also love to read books. It’s important that I read every day. I love historical, happy, funny, and romantic novels. I tend to avoid books that are emotionally draining if I’m very busy working.
What’s your design philosophy?
I strive for my designs to be different and to stand out. I want the woman who buys my pieces to be able to wear them for eternity and eventually pass it down to her daughter or granddaughters.
If you were not a jewellery designer, what would you be?
Wow, that’s a tough one! I can’t decide, but sometimes I think I may have become a writer. I admire writers. I also love to cook, and may be, I’d have loved to be a chef, but maybe just for fun (smiles). If I came back to life again, I would love to have been a singer/dancer. I can’t sing or dance unfortunately.
How often do you unveil your new collections?
In January, we show a small selection of our new ideas. In May, at the couture show, Las Vegas, we unveil large groups of each of our collections. Then we add a few pieces throughout the year. We never stop designing!
What are your bestselling jewellery pieces?
Rings, rings, rings and rings! Big, small, colourful, and filled with diamonds.
Of all your jewellery collections, which piece do you think every woman should possess and why?
I think a fireworks vitrine piece is a must-have. It has the elements of the two collections that are our signature. it’s unusual, edgy but wearable and classic.
What is the profile of your regular consumer?
The woman who wears Suzanne Kalan is modern, chic, and fashion-forward. She could be young or mature. She wants to be different and stand out, but does not need a label on her jewellery to see its value and quality.
How many boutiques currently sell your jewellery across the globe?
We are in over 300 boutiques in the us and 30 international stores.
In 2012, you and your daughter Patile designed a new collection, KALAN by Suzanne Kalan. Could you tell us more about the collection and how different it was from the ones that you have created so far? Patile must have brought in her own aesthetics to the collection.
The collection represents a modern twist to the basic design. She created a collection that is hip and traditional, infused with a natural elegance. Her philosophy is very similar to mine. She enjoys designing jewellery that will always be in style; something that she needs and would wear herself. Her collection is a lighter and easier version of mine. She designs pieces that are more price-point conscious. Patile created a collection that a young woman can purchase for herself and cherish forever.
Does Patile work with you now? If so, how is her role shaping up? Is she a trained designer? And how different or similar are you when it comes to designing?
Yes, Patile has various roles and responsibilities aside from design. Her daily agenda is always fluctuating and she is constantly busy and focused on design, production, customer service, and business development. She does exactly what I used to do when I first started the business. She was trained in every aspect by me.