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Stack 'Em High at Colleen Mauer Designs

Photo: Maria del Rio

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Last month, jewelry designer Colleen Mauer celebrated 10 years in the biz. Her simple and clean pieces can be easily layered, stacked or, for true minimalists, worn alone. Although handmade here in San Francisco, Mauer's jewelry can be found in 75 stores across the US, Canada and Japan. Not bad for a former industrial designer who used to dabble in her jewelry-making side hobby.

Mauer set up her hybrid studio/shop in the Mission (1406b Valencia Street) just two-and-a-half years ago. And, recently, we got a chance to check out her digs and talk with the designer about her unique jewelry business—and get the dish on the new Ring Bar. (Yes, please.)

Photo: Sarah Deragon

Photo: Sarah Deragon

You started your career as an industrial designer. How did you make the leap into making jewelry?

After moving to California in 2001, I spent the early part of my career working with a furniture design company in Oakland. Although I loved being in someone else's studio, I started envisioning a future with a design studio of my own. At the time, I was still unsure exactly what I might be designing. Making jewelry was always a hobby of mine, a side project of sorts. I would design pieces as gifts for friends and family; and over time, I was encouraged to pursue it as a career. Ten years later, and the rest is history.

Photo by: Maria del Rio

Photo: Maria del Rio

What's the inspiration behind your current Black & Gold collection?

Black and gold are two of the most versatile colors and materials in any wardrobe. I love how gold pops against a black dress, or how you can dress up a black tee by throwing on a classic pair of gold hoops. When I was first designing the collection, I thought to myself: Why not combine these two materials? It took a lot of tweaking to achieve the perfect matte finish on the black components and super-high polish on all the gold parts. Black & Gold is modern— it's sleek and one of my favorite collections to date!

Photo: Erin Conger

Photo: Erin Conger

How did you come to have a showroom/shop in your studio? How do you balance managing the store and designing your jewelry?

Like many things in life, things just sort of happen. When I left my small studio at Secession Art & Design, I wanted to bring a similar concept to my next space. I needed more room as the company was quickly growing. I was looking at other places around town when I got a call from the artist Sirron Norris asking me if I was looking for a larger space. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. We shared the space for a while, and then I completely took over earlier this year when Sirron moved on to work on larger projects. Since then, we have opened a separate production studio and a formal showroom. It's ever evolving, but I feel so lucky to be able to work at street level and to have a showroom on the Valencia Corridor.

To manage the store and design jewelry while doing it, takes an army. I am able to do it with help from all of my amazing production workers and sales associates. We are a small team, but we just divide and conquer on the regular. I couldn't do it without them!

Photo: Erin Conger

Photo: Erin Conger

What's the concept behind the shop's new Ring Bar?

We love to stack here at Colleen Maurer Designs (CMD). I loved the idea of making an interactive space in the showroom. Although we have sold our rings individually for a while now, I thought it would be fun to make a bar where the customer can come try on our existing stacks, or, essentially, design one of their own. I love seeing the excitement and creativity flow at the Ring Bar. Of course, trying on our designed stacks can serve as a great place to find inspiration.

Photo: Sarah Deragon

Photo: Sarah Deragon

Recently, CMD celebrated its 10th anniversary. What's one of your fondest memories?

The week of my 10th year, I was feeling so incredibly nostalgic, loved and supported by my community of friends, fans and family. What more could a girl ask for? But, my fondest memory comes long before CMD came to fruition. I was a hostess (among many other talents) at Greens restaurant in San Francisco. Though I wasn't selling my jewelry at the time, I was certainly making it and donning it each night at the hostess stand. One evening, a woman approached me and asked where she could buy my necklace. Amidst my blushing. I told her I created it myself, and she immediately requested a handmade piece. Little did I know this woman worked for SFMOMA. She and her colleagues became regular customers of my up-and-coming collection. As a fiend of all things design, I was at the museum myself quite often, too. Twelve years later, reps from SFMOMA approached me at NYNOW in NYC and placed their first order. It's a full-circle moment that will always make me smile.

What's next for you?

Although I will always be focusing on new designs, I will be thinking a lot more about how to create experiences for our customers. The Ring Bar has really sparked a lot of exciting ideas, such as a traveling Ring Bar that could be a part of an existing store in some other state or a pop-up in some new city. After many years in this industry, I have learned that the most exciting part of my job is when the customer connects with one of my pieces. When someone says to me, "I love this ring....I wear it everyday," that is the ultimate compliment. I feel that I have done my job well. I strive to continue to create pieces and experiences that will fulfill people in their day-to-day lives. I can't wait to share the next chapters of Colleen Mauer Designs with all of you!