"I like to think of myself as a storyteller," Monica Rich Kosann says. "Whether I'm photographing your family or doing portraiture or you're wearing your jewelry, it always tells a story. Women love things that are about themselves and my jewelry is very empowering."
Around 15 years ago, Kosann worked exclusively as a portrait photographer. As a hobby, she collected vintage cigarette cases, powder compacts, and lockets from flea markets and antique shops. She would put her clients' photos into these one-of-a-kind finds, much to their delight.
"Actually they're the ones who got me into (the jewelry business) because they kept wanting more," she explains. "My husband and I went to Italy and we found the artisans who had made the old cigarette cases and compacts and had them make them new for us to hold photos and that's how it started."
Kosann has built a thriving jewelry business based on our love for personal stories and future dreams. Her lockets are a celebrity favorite, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Williams, Nina Garcia, Jordan Dunne, and Hayden Panettiere, Kosan has expanded to pendants, charm bracelets, and other pieces of fine jewelry that each evoke the memories we treasure.
She has a shop on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman in New York, where I caught up with her during New York Fashion Week, and plans to open a stand-alone store in New York soon. A trunk show of her unique designs debuts at Elizabeth Anthony in Houston Thursday and Friday (October 13 and 14).
"I think lockets are one of the sexiest pieces of jewelry a women can wear," Kosann says. "It holds your secrets, your stories, your adventures, your celebrations. I started doing lockets to debunk the notion that a locket has to be about having a picture of a baby. Women have everything in it from their travels to quotes to hobbies and aspirations. One woman I know went on a safari and put her pictures of animals in there."
Her lockets, which cost from $150 to $250,000 (for a one-of-a-kind creations), can vary from a single place to put a photo to a multiple locket called The Four.
"It's very generational in the sense that mothers and daughters buy my jewelry," she says. "It's something a woman wants to buy and eventually share with her daughter. We are lucky to have customers 40 and up but we also have customers who are 21 to 30 years old. "
Kosann expanded into locket pendants and rings, some made from fine gemstones, and also created a a new kind of charm bracelet.
"I didn't want to create charms like a tennis racket or a camera. I've seen that," she says. "I wanted grander things about women. We have very complicated lives. There are up and down times and a lot of those things are our journey. I want things about my life, adventure, having children, being with my husband, romance, things like that."
Some charms emphasize travel — individual charms of all the continents or a compass — while others highlight with life experiences. One, which she calls the "divorce charm," is a bird cage with the door slightly ajar that represents freedom, she says, or, on happier terms, it could be for empty nesters. (Many of the charms can be worn on a bracelet or a necklace.)
The most popular charm contains the phrase, "Carpe diem." "It's my favorite saying," she explains. "To me 'carpe diem' is 'You go girl.' Women go through a lot of different stages in our lives, so it takes us through all these different stages and moments."
A globe charm can be personalized with one small diamond soldered onto a location of significance (say Houston, where you got married). "It's really a conversation piece because by wearing this, you get to share if you want to," she says.
New collections include small Poesy rings with poetic inscriptions, like "forever" or "never fear," and a collection inspired by vintage watch keys. "I like to take things that are old history and make them new and modern so that's where my inspiration comes from," she says.
Her latest obsession is her new ceramic collection inspired by a French pottery called craquelins, from the Deco period, that she found in a Paris flea market. "I had never heard of it," she says. "I thought, 'my god, I have to make charms out of it."
She designed Deco-inspired ceramic lockets and animal pendants, some mixed with 18-karat gold and diamonds. One of her favorites is a ceramic fish.
"It means perseverance because a fish always swims forward. They don't go backwards," she says. "Think about it."