One can’t speak about San Francisco-based jeweller Kate Jones and not mention the sea; it is the quiet undercurrent of everything she stands for. Most of her childhood was spent on her parent’s sailboat; her email address starts with ‘saltyjones’; and her wedding ring has ‘The Sea’ engraved into it.
It was a surprise then to meet Kate in the desert, with its inescapable heat and parched lands, the nearest coastline more than three hours away. But what the desert and the sea do have in common is isolation, a long horizon line, and that feeling that you are not in control, only guided by nature and its elements. Having that relationship with the land is perhaps something that drives Kate’s creativity. Her recent Ursa Major collections always acknowledge both the shape and the power of plants and minerals: using the ancient technique of inlay, working with precious stones, and dedicating an entire range to the Southwest.
Not one to shy away from the sun, I photographed Kate while she tweaked and adjusted on the set of her No 6 collection look book shoot in Joshua Tree. To escape the heat of the day, we took a drive to a 3.5-acre sculpture garden in Yucca Valley, filled with giant biblical statues and rows and rows of olive trees.
Interview with Kate Jones
In your own words, how would you describe what you do?
On a daily basis I’m a jeweler, on a long-term basis, I’m someone interested in adding a sort of permanent beauty, not excess, to the world. Working to make pieces to stand a lifetime, to be worn everyday, is easy and special at the same time. These words get tossed around a lot lately…. but they still ring true: it’s modern heirlooms I’m after.
I want to hear you speak about your time on your family's boat! It feels like this is a big driver for you in terms of direction and tone. How do you think this idea has realized itself in not only yourself, but also your work, today?
The time on the boat (named Ursa Major) was huge. We did most of the eastern Caribbean, chain-sailed all the way from Antigua to Venezuela. I watched my parents’ ambition and determination bloom into this incredible journey. And I think it’s kept me playful at heart, and never in doubt that, if you put your mind to something, take the time to map it out, you can make any dream come to fruition.
There’s a real purity to that kind of life. Sure, anyone who’s ever had a boat knows that a life with it is no simple task, but there is a beautiful simplicity to the feeling of it all. You hop on a boat, head off on the water, and everything is better, and clearer, and feels just a little bit more like “hey, it’s not all so complicated after all”. And that’s the ethos I put into my work.
You are very close to your mom. Both being makers/jewelers aside, can you tell us about her and what she has taught you as a woman?
Oh wow. She’s magic… So independent, creative, intelligent, poised, curious, and has been immensely supportive of me pursuing an artistic career from the very beginning. She’s been a graphic designer, a ceramicist, a curator, a painter, and now a jeweler. But…. I was the jeweler first!
When people who knew her way back when say I’m cut from the same cloth, I’m flattered. She has the coolest random stories, like running into Dustin Hoffman while she was living in NYC, right after he’d made The Graduate. She walked into a diner on 6th Ave, shopping bag in hand, and was ordering a sandwich at the counter when he said, “What’s in the bag?” And it being ‘68, she said, “a jumpsuit”. He replied “Well let’s see it” which led to her trying it on, there in the diner bathroom, and briefly dating his roommate who had been there that day. The proof that I am my mother’s daughter — years later when I was living in NYC, I ran into Dustin, said “Hi! Hey you met my mother years ago right after you’d made The Graduate and…” before I could finish my sentence, he looked right at me and said with excitement “Are you my daughter?!” I was so floored all I could say was “No!” I wish I’d played into it and said, “Yes!” He couldn’t quite remember it all, and sadly I only remembered the part about her dating his roommate and later bringing him (DH) chicken soup one day when he was sick. But he said, “Well…you tell her, that if she’s anything like you, I was stupid not to have dated her myself.”
Can you tell us about your working space? Who do you share this space with? How do you find this environment in terms of bouncing ideas off creatives in other practices?
Currently I rent part of it to several amazing ladies — two gals, Ivanka Matsuba and Amanda Luu, who have a stunning floral business called Studio Mondine, and Courtney Klein, who’s one half of a maternity wear company called “STORQ”. We have so much fun when we’re all in there. It’s a serious working studio often filled with overflow of flowers and jewelry and stones and boxes. My husband is a total minimalist and every time he sets foot in there he gets overwhelmed, but I just say “Hey, we’re getting shit done here!” It’s been so great having Courtney there, we both relocated from NYC and we get to laugh about all sorts of business world commonalities, personalities, annoyances…aka venting. Ha. And the flower gals? I mean, who doesn’t love being surrounded by flowers? Fortunately no one’s got allergies.
Also, is there anything in your workspace that is not there for functional reason, but purely enjoyment / reference / mood?
Well, I’d say those three things are totally functional reasons. Must haves for a good studio environment. We’ve got a couch (handed down from my grandmother) and a marble coffee table for lunchtime, plants (permanent - exclusive of the flowers coming and going), and a big framed David Hockney poster (a drawing of a Panama hat sitting on a chair)…just to name a few of the numerous objects and knick knacks to keep the mind scheming.
Can you tell us about your favorite tool? Perhaps, where you sourced it, or if it was handed down?
Probably the biggest and loveliest tool in there is the big 5-person workbench my husband built for me. We don’t have five of us, and I work mostly at my own bench, but Sarah, my assistant, works there and it’s where I get to spread everything out. Half of it’s probably covered with stones for inlay. I call myself one of those “messy creatives” although my ongoing goal is to be an “organized creative”.
Do you practice any daily rituals?
I take a morning and afternoon walk to the Sightglass coffee shop a couple blocks away. I try to sit outside for a bit, take in the sunshine.
What was the last personal project you embarked on?
Purchasing a house on the coast of Maine (…currently in the works!)
What was the last thing you saw/read/heard that really moved you?
Twyla Tharp’s “In The Upper Room”, music by Philip Glass, costumes by Norma Kamali, performed by the NYC Ballet. I knew what I was getting into, but seeing it in person, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
When you need to escape the city, where do you go, what do you do?
Land’s end in Cape Cod, Provincetown, MA. I’ve been going since I was 16 and lived there two different phases in my life, before and after my time in NYC. Somehow it just has the ability to slow me down. I swim almost daily, get the catch of the day straight off the boats (clams, striped bass, and lobster are the regular diet), and just use my bicycle and feet to get me around…simple pleasures coming from the city!
San Fran feels like it has always harnessed a supportive environment for its local makers. Do you feel this still applies? How do you enjoy your local community of makers?
Some think it’s hidden under a layer of tech these days, but oh, absolutely it’s there. I see one of my best friends, Gina Esposito, who has Nu Swim, multiple times a week. We’re lucky enough that our studios are only a block away from each other. We sell to really similar people so it’s great to have each other to bounce stuff off of. Talk-shop-therapy-sessions. When you’ve got a tricky account, or a horrible production deadline, it’s such a relief to have someone who gets it. In terms of peers in my market, it’s mostly women. And women can be tough! But not here. There is so much unconditional support, so little competition, and so much talent. And I want to give a little nod to my newest friend and peer, Oakland ceramicist, Jessica Niello. We got together to collaborate on some recent jewelry displays. Now we can’t stop. More therapy! Nothing like hands in clay.
Can you share with us your favourite seafood / shellfish recipe!?
This might be the shortest answer yet: steamed lobster, melted butter.
What are your plans for this year? Anything exciting coming up for you and Ursa Major?
Plan a trip to Sicily, or Sardinia, and New Zealand and Australia for next year. Both have been too long in coming. I once lived in Melbourne and always thought I’d move back…. that was 10+ years ago. So at least a visit is in order. And for Ursa Major? I’ve been trying to put together a bridal/engagement specific line, but it’s daunting. I don’t want it to be anything like what’s out there. And I myself am not a traditional-ring-minded-person. It’ll be focused on unique materials, classic lines, and art inspired. For the independent woman who prefers understated beauty.
Interview and photography by Yasmine Ganley
Kate Jones Website