Brianna Schaub, owner of Kristen James Jewelry, has worked in the jewelry industry since she was 17. Each piece is handmade in her home in Nashville. With a style she describes as “Bohemian with a modern twist”, Schaub has collaborated with several local models, makeup artists, influencers and photographers. Her jewelry has also been worn by VIP guests at the CMA Awards.
Kristen James Jewelry. How did you choose the name of your company?
I went through two other names before settling on Kristen James Jewelry! I wasn’t in love with the others I had come up with, they just didn’t sit right with me. I wanted my business name to have a personal feel but using my first name did not feel like the perfect fit, so I took my middle name and my husband’s middle name and created Kristen James. My husband is my number one fan and my business would not be here if I didn’t have his support, so it seemed perfect!
What is the best advice your mom has shared with you from her years in the industry?
My mom is a teacher at heart and now spends all her time sharing her passion with fellow jewelry designers through her classes. She has similarly shared this passion with me. She’s taught me that if you find something you love to do, to never give up or quit. She’s also ingrained in me that learning is something you should do every single day. These values have helped me so much, because as we all know, there’s always adversity to face whether you’re pursuing a hobby or building a fledgling business.
Working yourself in the industry since 17, how has jewelry design evolved over those years?
I’ve definitely seen evolution both in my own design as well as in the industry as a whole over the last 15 years. Personally, my pieces have evolved from somewhat simple bead and clasp type pieces to pieces that require more expertise and specialized equipment such as soldering, setting stones and stamping with a hydraulic press.
As far as the industry as a whole I’ve seen it become more decentralized with many more independent jewelry makers selling unique creations. Over the years I’ve noticed that like fashion, jewelry trends tend to recirculate. When I was younger, I watched my mother start her jewelry career making clay pieces, and now I’ve seen that trend re-emerge with various makers offering clay jewelry. Over the years I watched her own designs evolve from early clay pieces to silversmithing. She is now one of the foremost silversmiths in the Southwest. With respect to the types of jewelry that I love to create, they’ve always been around, but have recently begun to come to the forefront as a result of more creators entering the jewelry marketplace.
Where do you draw inspiration for your own designs?
Like any artist or creator, sometimes I find it a bit difficult to kickstart my creativity. I strive to ensure that my pieces are one of a kind and stand out in a crowd. Although it sounds a little cliché, it’s something I take a lot of pride in. It is a double-edged sword because it can compound my ‘jeweler’s-block’ as I strive to put together a piece that will stand apart. I grew up in Tucson, which is home to the largest gem and mineral show on earth. I have always found that walking the aisles there and being surrounded by the many thousands of druzys and geodes, as well as all the other creators has been a great inspiration to me and fuels my fire to create new pieces. However, that’s a once-a-year experience. One thing I do on an everyday basis to give me inspiration is to look at the fashion world and the outfits and wardrobes of people I follow. I then try to think about what I could create that would complement those outfits. One of my favorite things about jewelry is that it is also art, and so I am able to pull inspiration from anywhere.
Can you describe your company’s brand identity?
As a brand Kristen James is focused on making everyone who wears my pieces feel gorgeous, empowered, and confident. It is a brand that prides itself on being inclusive and sharing my passion for jewelry with the world. KJ offers something for everyone, from statement pieces to custom bridal designs.
Do you think new technologies will eventually replace the use of dies?
As with any older industry, technology has advanced and replaced a lot of the old techniques. More modern methods have taken over many aspects of jewelry making that used to be done by hand. However, I think that in today’s world people appreciate something that is hand-made in a more traditional way because it is different and special in a way that a mass-produced item just can’t be. There is a little bit of the maker’s soul in each piece that they create.
I have been lucky enough to be associated with an amazing company dedicated to preserving the history of these old dies. With that I have seen a small but very dedicated community of jewelers that have found a love for using these older pieces to create amazing things. Because of this I do not think that new technology will ever completely replace the use of dies.
What do you hope customers feel when they think about your line?
I want my customers to feel confident most of all. I also want them to be inspired by my pieces and stir their imagination into thinking about ways that they could incorporate them into their style. Being confident isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially with social media influencing people. I love nothing more than getting messages from my customers telling me how beautiful their new jewelry has made them feel!
“Bohemian with a modern twist”. What features are unique to your line?
I think the main thing that makes Kristen James truly unique is that I’m able to incorporate some of jewelry’s history into my designs. Some of the impression dies I utilize were originally made over 100 years ago! This brings a truly unique vibe to my pieces that is hard to find.
In addition to incorporating little hints of history into my pieces I also add my passion for bohemian trends into my designs. The agates, druzys and geodes are a nod to bohemian fashion. To finish off my unique blend of influences, I draw from more modern trends and incorporate cubic zirconia ear posts and different finishes such as gold, silver and gunmetal.
Fashion weeks in New York and London allow clothes designers to share their latest collections. You’ve attended these shows that influence future trends. What trends did you incorporate in your line from what you saw on the runway?
Though jewelry has always been a passion for me, like many people know, life can take you in different directions. My unique opportunity to attend fashion week was afforded to me by the fact that I’m also a talented hairstylist. I attended these events in that capacity, but the experience has proved valuable to me long afterwards.
My time at these events left me with two big lessons that stick with me to this day. The first was seeing designers be able to create collections that included pieces that looked totally unique at first glance, but if given a closer look, had elements that tied them together with the rest of the collection. The second lesson I learned was to not be afraid to get a little crazy with design. I noticed that many designers were not afraid to put together color combinations that some people would never think to use. It was eye opening and inspiring to see the boldness that some of these designers approached their work with. I try to incorporate both lessons into every piece I make.
Moving from Arizona to Tennessee. What was it like the first time you saw an artist wearing your jewelry on the CMA Awards red carpet?
It was surreal at first to see my pieces in such a high-profile setting. This is an opportunity that was uniquely possible due to my move to Nashville. I was truly flattered by the fact that someone would love my pieces enough to add them to what is a very carefully thought out wardrobe. It was also a very validating experience for me, it showed me some crazy things can be achieved with hard work and dedication. It was a key moment that came early on in my brand’s existence that really gave me a glimpse of where my brand could eventually go.
Have any of the Nashville artists requested custom pieces?
One thing that is unique about Nashville is that there are so many up and coming artists who are incredibly talented playing all over the city. As my brand has grown, I’ve been lucky enough to have requests for pieces from various artists around town. Some of my pieces can be seen on artists playing in bars on Lower Broadway every night, or even on the ears of a former American Idol contestant! No matter how big or small the stage an artist occupies, I’m so excited that they come to me to help them look great on that stage.
What’s ahead for Kristen James Jewelry?
What I would love more than anything is to be able to share my designs and love for jewelry with a wider audience. I’m working to grow my social media presence so that I’m able to reach more people who are looking for that unique piece that helps them stand out in a crowd. Additionally, I’m pursuing opportunities that would land my collections in boutiques in major cities around the country. My long term goal is to be able to create jewelry and follow my passions full time!
Brianna Shepard, Kristen James Jewelry