Hamptons-Inspired Jewels by Kara Ross
by danine Alati
At the age of 15, while on a safari in Kenya with her family, Kara Ross realized what her life’s work would be: to become a jewelry designer. The family went to look at gemstones, and she and her sister were allowed to select two stones each (Ross chose two emerald-cut green tourmalines), which they brought home to “Jewelers’ Row” in Philadelphia to have turned into jewelry. “We were able to design our own rings,” Ross recalls. “We were involved in the wax process and picking accent stones. It was amazing. I still have the ring and love it. This experience started it all.”
After studying literature and art history at Georgetown University and working briefly at a fashion magazine, Ross revisited her love of jewelry design, entered the Gemological Institute of America, and graduated as a certified gemologist in six months. “I love the business,” she says. “There are so many facets to it. I believe I am doing what I was meant to do.” She founded her company Kara Ross NY in 2003 and expanded her offerings from one-of-a-kind exotic fine jewelry to include accessories such as handbags and belts. Now her designs are sold at high-end retailers Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Net-a-Porter, among others.
Ross gleans inspiration for her designs all around her, drawing upon travel, art, and architecture. “In architecture I love the simplicity of the lines— very clean, uncluttered, and powerful,” she says. “Initially my Gemstone collection was inspired by Sir Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower [in New York]. The cut surfaces reminded me of the facets on a gemstone.”
Her Kara by Kara Ross spring/summer collection is all about color, referencing an aquatic theme that’s apropos for holidaying in the Hamptons. “There are bracelets and rings with fish motif; the hooked fish pendant necklace and double fish head cuff are some of my favorite pieces,” she says. “There are [also] variations of bib necklaces with mixed nuggets and cast sticks—they look like something taken off a mermaid’s chest.”
Ross reveals that the Hamptons serves as the inspiration for her new fall collection of black, pewter, and natural weave handbags as well as for a new python treatment that was inspired by reeds on the dunes of the Southampton. “They have this beautiful lightness and wispy texture that I wanted to capture in the collection. We took this concept and incorporated metallic foils in gold and platinum over black python skin to give it the edge and pop that really make this python so original and fashion forward,” she says. “This is one of many examples how stories work into designs. Every piece has a tale of its own.”
With a penchant for using unusual materials not typically found in high-end jewelry, Ross has transformed volcanic lava into a cuff inlaid with gold and diamonds, and she integrated blocks of wood from fallen pieces of a magnolia tree on the White House lawn into stunning bracelets. All of her creations reflect the same painstaking attention to detail and refined craftsmanship.
Working with a tannery in Spain, Ross and her team design the skins for each handbag collection—using the best skins available, whether it’s python, lizard, alligator, or ostrich. (Especially rare skins, like diamond dust python, are only offered in the company’s Bespoke Bag program.) All bags are handmade and hand-stitched, and production runs are small, maintaining this couture aesthetic in all of her lines. Ross favors incorporating metal hardware accents into her bags and treating them like well-made pieces of jewelry. “My handbags—like Trinity and Ace ‘Unity One’—always have hardware with precious stones. The design of those closures originated from a pair of earrings in my Fine Jewelry collection. It became my distinctive signature touch,” she explains, emphasizing that this high level of exclusivity and sophistication is part of her merchandise’s appeal. “That’s why we have so many fans; it’s hard to find true luxury in this age of globalization and mass market.”
photography by eric ryan anderson