Adorn is a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to luxury jewellery

The Rough and Refined World of Todd Reed

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The fashionable manchette is crafted in palladium and set with tumbled spinel (37.64 carats) and white brilliant  diamonds (11.25 carats).

The fashionable manchette is crafted in palladium and set with tumbled spinel (37.64 carats) and white brilliant diamonds (11.25 carats).

Two diametrically opposite worlds exist side by side in the revolutionary and leading-edge fine jewellery pieces created by TODD REED, a world renowned US-based designer. The predominant leitmotif of his awe-inspiring jewels highlights the earthy textures of raw diamonds that effortlessly intermix with striking metal finishes.
In love with nature and its vast offerings, the artist par excellence picks out shades, surfaces and tonal qualities of his surroundings and imbues them in his visually striking avant-garde compositions that are aimed to touch an emotional chord in the wearer. For Reed, creating and selling jewellery is a sensorial experience, and his love for all things natural extends to his environs of the boutique that doubles up as his workshop. Natural light bathes the studio, and even passers-by get to glimpse jewellery being crafted through the glass walls of the boutique.
His energy for artistic pursuits is enviable, his thoughts mathematically precise, his vision clear, and his grip on the design aesthetic firm – the very characteristics that have made Todd Reed tower over many of his contemporaries.
In an exclusive e-mail interview with Adorn, Reed speaks about his creative highs when working with rough diamonds, his favourite metal palladium, and more.

Todd Reed

Todd Reed

You are one of the rock stars among the world’s jewellery designers. When did you feel this pull towards designing jewellery?
I have always been interested in the craft of putting things together. After high school, I was working as a leathersmith making hand-stitched clothing, craft couture and handbags with designer Eric Hodges. We used many silver and deer antler ornaments in the pieces and it became my passion to expand the metal component into buckles and jewellery items. After I made my first successful concho, I fell in love with metal and quickly built a home studio, and that is when my career in jewellery design began.

Going back in time, I read that you come from a family that has been inclined towards the arts. Did your passion stem from there?
Yes, my family as far back as I know, has a strong artistic influence. The greatest being my mother, a prolific artist in many mediums. One of my grandmothers was a concert pianist and another was a nationally acclaimed floral designer whose work had a powerful social impact across the country. From an early age I was always encouraged towards artistic pursuits. As a child, I enjoyed art and spent a lot of time alone, allowing for time to be creative – making beaded items, writing plays and crafting gifts by hand. I was just following my heart and my passion for design. As a young adult, while working in kitchens as a dishwasher, I worked my way up the hierarchy of that industry and my boss eventually sent me to culinary school that helped me earn a master’s, as a pastry chef. Throughout the start of my career, I always held multiple jobs, seeking excellence in each position no matter how basic the tasks were. This is how I financially supported building my company and becoming a master of my craft from the beginning.

Your jewellery has an organic feel and you have a fascination for juxtaposing rough with smooth and sometimes serrated edges – I am alluding to your favouritism towards rough diamonds. What are the reasons that draw you to rough diamonds? And how and when did this love for raw, unpolished stones emanate?
My first interaction with rough diamonds was in high school geology and I immediately fell in love.
Then I was at a trade show and met two well-known diamond collectors Jack and Elaine Greenspan. Jack completely took me under his wing. His love for diamonds was infectious, and he showed me the artistry and miniature sculpture that appeared in the rough stones. I was riveted and wanted to know and see more. I realised then that my aesthetic was to create jewellery that would push the boundaries of what precious pieces could be, and to merge the freedom of artistic expression with the allure of fine jewellery.
Falk Burger, an incredible jeweller that I have always admired, provided me my breakthrough on how to design with raw diamonds. He hooked me up with rough diamond industrial suppliers; he provided the insight for manoeuvring through the use of raw diamonds. In the early 90s, I began to hammer metal into the rough stone to create a setting that worked with the raw diamond. The serrated edge came from hammering the gold into the stone. This technique created an aesthetic that worked well with the raw diamond.

Where do you source these gems from?
My primary procurement method is opportunistic buying, that is seeking upcycled and recycled stones that come from Australia, Africa, India, Colorado, Brazil, Russia and all around the world.

Does that mean that you even like colour gems in their natural form?
Yes, I love any raw material including raw colour gems and my first pieces were designed with raw rubies and emeralds. I focus on diamonds because they offer the most exquisite beauty, variety and luxury for my designs.

Does that mean that you even like colour gems in their natural form?
Yes, I love any raw material including raw colour gems and my first pieces were designed with raw rubies and emeralds. I focus on diamonds because they offer the most exquisite beauty, variety and luxury for my designs.

The love for raw and rough elements clearly hints at your love for nature. Are you fond of being surrounded by its vast beauty? Your studio-cum-workshop in Boulder, Colorado, USA, is unique, in that one can view nature even as one goes about working or retailing jewellery. Could you elaborate on this setup?
My connection to Colorado is strong. I feel good here and I have an incredible team of people to work with. As soon as we put up our showroom and celebrated being in Boulder by having parties and community events, our business felt complete. There’s a great quality of living here and a great pride for Boulder among our employees and I resonate with that emotion. I just love living here. I’m also very proud of our studio and showroom design. A lot of jewellery designers try to hide the process of creation, but we didn’t want to do that.
We are thrilled to have one of the most innovative jewellery studios in the world. It was built and designed by Michael Moore of Tres Birds Workshop, one of the top architectural firms in the country. Mike put the fabrication studio at the forefront of the architecture with glass walls so the public can look in from the sidewalk and watch the process happening live. The interiors of the Boulder studio include a water wall and a succulent garden at the entrance, herb and flower gardens in offices, fine art in every room, recycled wood and abundant natural light pouring into the offices divided by glass walls. I have also collaborated with Tres Birds Workshop to design and build our new Los Angeles location. The Los Angeles studio will feature a wall of over 1,000 plants that reach heights of 20 feet and extend from inside to outside the first floor. These elements create a space that is cohesive with my designs: raw, natural and artistic.

The station  chain  bracelet  is crafted in 18-karat gold, sterling silver with patina finish, Tahitian pearls, silver, brilliant-  cut diamonds (8.57 carats) and raw diamonds (0.10 carat).

The station chain bracelet is crafted in 18-karat gold, sterling silver with patina finish, Tahitian pearls, silver, brilliant- cut diamonds (8.57 carats) and raw diamonds (0.10 carat).

What role does nature play in influencing your designs? We see a lot of textures in your pieces.
Nature is part of my design vocabulary but is not a literal or figurative inspiration. It is the energy, the tones, the shadows, the texture of some quality of nature that inspires my work. It’s not about the object in nature; it is about an essence and energetic connection. I look at something I am inspired by in nature and turn it into an emotion.

You are the first designer to incorporate raw diamonds into fine jewellery. Did you face any hurdles in selling the pieces at first?
I was the first jewellery designer to make raw diamonds part of the luxury jewellery industry. I started using them in a way that no one else was doing at the time. I faced the same hurdles that any innovative designer does when trying to change acceptable norms. I had to convince people that fine jewellery was art and built my business with art collectors, showing at museums and galleries. My jewellery designs are meant to evoke emotions which are what defines great art.

When did you open your first boutique in Boulder? Do you have others as well?
We opened our Boulder location in 2010. This year, we are opening our second location on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California. Additionally, my work is sold through the best retailer partners in the world today.

We would like to know the process of creation. Do you first draw a design on paper and then take it to the work bench?
I am always sketching in my sketchbooks that later provide me a constant reservoir of designs that I pull from. I actually tape the diamonds right onto the drawings and then put them into the production queue. I meet regularly with the shop master to discuss and work through fabrication details. Each jeweller will create the piece from start to finish, which is unique in the jewellery industry. Keeping each piece with one jeweller keeps the aesthetic and the energy of the piece in balance.

Which is your favourite metal? And which are the gemstones that intrigue you – other than rough diamonds, of course?
I typically work in 18-karat gold, sterling silver and palladium. Palladium is one of my favourite metals because I am very attracted to its colour. The grey is sexy and simple, and totally natural. I like the warmth of the metal as opposed to platinum that feels a bit cold. I also enjoy palladium because it is mined in America.

What is the USP of your designs?
The unique quality of my one-of-a-kind jewellery designs are dictated by the energy and passion I put into each piece.

Are all your pieces handcrafted? Can you give me an example or two of a piece/or pieces that required a lot of detailing and craftsmanship from your end?
Yes, all our pieces are 100% handcrafted. One piece in particular that took a significant amount of detailing and craftsmanship was one of the earliest pieces to be made from the new pearl collection. It is a sterling silver cuff featuring 14 Tahitian pearls; each pearl is encased in palladium and then set with diamonds. The cuff’s centre stone is a magnificent 25-carat garnet set in a palladium bezel. This piece was a great achievement for us because it required ingenuity and technical innovation. We refuse to compromise on any design and every piece is a true team effort.

How long does it take for you to complete each piece? And how often do you unveil your new collections?
When I design a new piece, I do not consider how much time it will take to complete it. It could take five minutes to design a piece of jewellery; however, it might take months for it to reach the jeweller’s bench. On the other side, I’ve a collection of designs that might not ever reach the jewellery shop.
I unveil new collections in February and in late may each year. It’s so exciting, we host events, pursue and receive great press and create a lot of energy around launching the lines. The rest of the year is spent designing and developing custom designs, 68% of our work is custom.

How was the response to your first collection?
I was immediately recognised as an innovator and people quickly connected to the design aesthetic. In the beginning, I would sell jewellery by sending out polaroids and handwritten notes to my potential collectors. It was seen both as art and as fine jewellery, which provided a much broader market to resonate with the work.

How was the journey from then on? How many artisans work with you today?
We have 25 jewellers, another 30 operational associates and 70+ incredible retail partners across the country.

Tell us about some of your latest collections for this year – especially the one with pearls.
I have been collecting Tahitian pearls for a long time and was recently inspired to use them in a very innovative way. Each pearl is encased in metal to create a more modern look on a classic trend. I am also very excited about my new men’s line, for which we are incorporating jade and leather in innovative ways. The men’s line will be exclusively fabricated in our new Los Angeles location.

What are the qualities to be a good jewellery designer and to make standout jewels and surprise oneself and one’s clients time and again? In short, what do you attribute your success to?
I attribute my success to not giving up and not wavering in my vision. I believe being consistent is important and to follow through is also critical.

Who is the woman you design for?
My jewellery is designed for all types of women. I really love women, so in general I am simply designing something provocative and beautiful. I design with a woman’s ‘everyday lifestyle’ in mind. The jewellery is durable and wearable yet elegant.

What is the philosophy of your brand?
We authentically strive for excellence while synergising our process and our efforts, and above all, we must communicate the experience to our collectors.

Tell us about your other interests.
I spend much of my spare time with my family. I also enjoy playing golf and riding my motorcycle through the mountains. Our new space in Venice, California, is a couple of blocks from the beach, so I look forward to learning how to surf.


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