A few years ago, Melissa Kaye quit her day job as an engineer to pursue jewellery design. Now, the New Yorker runs her eponymous fine jewellery line, and just launched the latest collection on Net-A-Porter. Kaye’s pieces are rooted in mathematical precision—an 18-karat gold earhook studded with rubies and diamonds curves just so on the ear, and a stunning gold choker is made up of incrementally increasing triangles to resemble three-dimensional studs.
Here’s what the designer had to say about her unexpected career path, running her own business and what keeps her inspired.
How does your technical background inform your designs?
“I think my engineering background informs my mindset and design philosophy more than anything. My starting point for a new design is typically “how is this piece going to work?” Function is not an afterthought – it is central to the design. Jewellery is an extension of the wearer so it has to fit well and feel good when you’re wearing it.”
Could you imagine starting straight into design, or do you consider your engineering background essential to where you are now as a jewellery designer?
“I believe you are the sum of all your experiences. While my background in engineering and finance may not appear to be directly applicable, there are many skills that I still draw upon. One thing I have always been good at is problem solving. Being analytical and resourceful are critical characteristics to running any successful business.”
What was it like to go from deciding to pursue your passion to actually having your own brand? What were the early hurdles and challenges?
“There are so many aspects to running a business. When I think back to starting from scratch just a few years ago, I’m really proud of how far we’ve come. I think the biggest challenge has been identifying and hiring the right team. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m so happy with where we are today. There are still aspects of the business we need to dedicate more resources to, but it’s a work in progress. It’s been a fun, exciting, challenging evolution and we are really just scratching the surface!”
Who are your pieces for?
“Our client is accomplished and confident – she has a refined ease to her. Although her style is luxurious, it transcends labels. More importantly, she appreciates quality and meticulous craftsmanship. She is sophisticated yet unassuming – she pairs the collection effortlessly with a white t-shirt as well as with black tie attire.”
Are there any developments in the world of fine jewellery that you find exciting? Are we moving away from the delicate pieces that have been so popular of late back to more sizeable designs?
“There has been a gradual shift in the fine jewellery market where an increasing percentage of sales are self-purchases. As the self-purchases have increased, we have experienced a broader universe of milestones being celebrated including promotions, raises, or just because. We also found that while delicate layering pieces are always in demand, there has been an increased focus on pieces with intrinsic value (i.e sizable pieces with non-trivial gold and diamond weight) that will have longevity. Fine jewellery is generally considered a more “permanent” purchase. You want to invest in quality pieces with timeless appeal.”
The “Izzy” ring by Melissa Kaye
Walk me through your process, do you start with a sketch, are your designs guided by the raw materials and stones you come across?
“My design process is definitely not linear. I would say I’m perpetually in design mode. Inspiration is everywhere so I’m constantly trying to keep my eyes and mind open to generate new ideas.”
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