Antique to Contemporary Jewels: KIL N.Y.C.
A modern Renaissance man, Konstantinos I. Leoussis (known as KIL by his friends) does it all. He is a leading antique jewelry collector and dealer, bench jeweler, carver, and more. He gives back through his work, supporting small businesses, women’s rights, museums, and more. Read our exclusive interview, where he shares his favorite materials, what spikes his curiosity, and discusses his passion for antiques.
How did you develop a passion for jewelry, and was there a specific moment that piqued your curiosity for antique jewelry?
I developed a passion for jewelry years ago. I think the first piece of “jewelry” I made was a necklace made of Mets Baseball Tickets and paperclips for my cousin as a holiday gift. My aunt was a jeweler and inspired some of my curiosity, but that passion was ignited further by my grandmother’s best friend who I lovingly called Aunt Irene (in reality there was no familial relation but we were very close). Irene Zevon, a very famous painter and fixture in the NYC bohemian movement mentored me and encouraged me to pursue the arts. In addition to her paintings, she was also a jeweler and her work inspired some of my techniques. While I’ve been working with jewelry for years, it wasn’t until I walked into an antique shop on a brisk February afternoon in 2011 that I discovered a passion and love for antiques. I’ve spent many days and dollars furthering my love, appreciation, and skill for antiques and their history.
When you work with antiques, what are your favorite materials to work with, or look for? Are there any types of antique jewelry that continually draw you?
I am drawn mostly to Georgian-era jewelry; jewelry from around 1714 – 1838. It’s rarer and rarer to find jewelry from this time intact and everything really was one of a kind. Don’t get me wrong; I also love to collect and sell Victorian jewelry as well, but Gerogian and jewelry that predates 1714 is fascinating to me. As for materials, I love working with old gold and portrait miniatures.
How did you experience the transition from being a jewelry collector to designing your own pieces? Can you tell us about the first piece you ever designed?
Interestingly enough, I was working as a jeweler well before I started collecting antiques. I began my apprenticeship in antique jewelry in September of 2013 and began collecting antique jewelry the following year. The first piece of “real” jewelry I ever designed/created was a silver chain in jewelry School. The first piece of jewelry I designed for my company was a sword pendant that has become very iconic of my brand and has quite a demand.
You mention on your website that your inventory sells fast through social media. How would you describe the journey and role social media has played in growing your business?
Social media has been amazing at helping me to connect with people all over the world and grow my business. I’ve taken a very natural and some would say a laze-faire approach to advertising my brand. Sharing my work and inventory on platforms like Instagram has connected me with collectors and other artists and it’s been instrumental in growing my business to where it is now. The journey has been filled with ups and downs; mostly when Instagram decides to test out a new algorithm. Either my views shoot way up or go way down.
In your own words, what are the characteristics that make your pieces unique, and how does your look set you apart from others?
Hmm. Well this is a tough question to answer because I feel like someone out there in social media land is going to read this and say “Hey, my jewelry brand is pretty similar to yours” :Laughs: But I would like to think that the way I operate my company and design jewelry is a lot different than anyone else. My debut collection, Teras, is way different than anything I’ve seen on the market. I think this is mostly because my ideas were completely concocted within my own mind instead of spending time searching for inspiration and creating idea boards. I take my time carving wax and creating things that greatly inspire me and I am not concerned with trends or what looks cool etc.
I also love making statements with my jewelry – making small minimalistic things isn’t for me.
In the past, you have mentioned that travel has greatly inspired your designs. Can you speak about a place that influenced you greatly, both personally and aesthetically, and how?
I travel a ton. I’m actually en route to Yerevan, Armenia as I answer these questions. I’ve been to over 40 countries since 2017 and counting. My first collection was greatly inspired by Greece and the ancient history of my family’s homeland. You can probably tell by the Medusa and Minotaur jewelry. Japan has also greatly inspired a new collection and I am really excited to bring it all to life. Jewelry is much more minimalistic there but I’ve been inspired to find a balance between my aesthetic and Japanese style.
Previously, you have been in the jewelry industry in various roles. Can you tell us about some of these roles, and about how these experiences shaped you into the designer you are today?
Absolutely. I’ve worked for various jewelers over the years. I worked as a student and apprentice in antique jewelry for years, a jewelry store, a few private studios, and for a jewelry designer named Pamela Love.
Working for Pam was definitely beneficial for me to understand how small jewelry businesses work and how to balance a lot of things at once. It’s not easy being a small business while producing as though you’re a large one.
Working in the jewelry store was good for helping me understand that my aesthetic is not for everyone and not to take criticism personally. Some people like diamond halos, some don’t. Some people like big-ass jewelry and some would rather wear a tiny diamond pendant. And that’s all fine. I also learned how to use a laser to weld/solder while working in a jewelry store and that completely changed the game for me; I was able to do repairs that would normally take hours to do in mere minutes.
And naturally working for an antiques dealer was a crash course in history, construction of jewelry, and how to work with very particular people. Many collectors have a discerning eye and want things to be pristine. I get it. I’m a little zany and fickle with what I collect as well. Being in the antique world has definitely helped me develop patience and an eagerness to learn new techniques that translate into my design process.
What is a message that you want to convey through your pieces? Who are you designing for, when you create?
I love this question. There isn’t a specific message that I convey through my jewelry. I am inspired by many things and there are messages in there. But more than anything we try to stress the importance of shopping with independent businesses and using your dollars wisely. Especially during a global pandemic when a lot of small businesses don’t have access to large bailouts.
You have mentioned that you intend to keep your business independent— without investors and corporate influence; can you talk a bit about why and what that means to you?
Yes. There are a lot of layers to this. First and foremost, I used to work for a very well-known jewelry designer. I probably should refrain from saying who it was but I admired her greatly because of her devotion to keeping production within the USA. That was a huge brand ethos of hers and I believe it really resonated with her clientele. She also vowed to keep the brand entirely in her control because her name was on each piece of jewelry. Unfortunately, as her brand grew rapidly, less and less was being produced in NYC. She eventually sold her brand to a larger corporation and I found that a lot of the charm and quality was diminished. This is a potential scenario for any small business when they experience growth. Seeing this happen over time, I made a vow to myself to always keep my business in my name and not let anyone else have control over our operations or design. KIL N.Y.C. is kind of my own personal microcosm I’ve created to express myself and it is deeply personal to me.
When you introduce a new jewelry piece, how do you promote your product?
Well, I won’t lie. I am the worst advertiser. I usually rely on word of mouth and very scant advertising. I’m an artist and putting my work out there feels daunting and perhaps a little insecurity comes out. I really believe in meeting new clients at trade shows and forging relationships in that way. I do need to work on putting my work out there more. Baby steps!
KIL NYC holds some strong ethics and values, particularly around the environment, supporting small business, and supporting women. How do you incorporate these values in your every day in the workplace?
Fantastic question! First of all, our minimum wage is higher than the average wage paid in similar companies. It’s important that my employees are compensated fairly for their time, especially with women experiencing huge pay gaps between them and their male counterparts. Every 6 months, we try to offer incremental increases. We offer additional payroll benefits and I am trying to add more and more as we continue to grow. As a BIPOC LGBT individual, it is very important to me to support similar businesses. For instance, the casting company we use for our jewelry is run by a woman and her Colombian/Ecuadorian Family here in NYC. They are so nice and we really love working with them and forging a very strong relationship. We also donate 10% of each sale from our main jewelry line to various charities aiming to elevate and advocate for human and animal rights. It’s a small way of giving back and advocating for causes that are near and dear to our hearts.
Do you have a bestselling piece that you are known for, or that customers always ask about? What do you think draws people that design?
Yes, I am most known for the sword pendants and earrings. They really took off super fast especially since two celebrities purchased them and began sharing on their social media. They were also the first two designs that I created for my line so they are very sentimental to me. I think people are drawn to them because they really do make a statement and swords are popular motifs in jewelry nowadays. It’s kind of a show of strength or tenacity and that’s the feeling I try to channel when wearing them.
Are you currently working on a new collection, and is there anything that you can share with our audience regarding what is coming up next for your business?
Yes. At the time of writing I am working on several new collections; a lot of stuff on the way and there will always be more!
How would you like to see KIL N.Y.C. evolve? If you could choose anyone from any time to wear one of your pieces, who would it be, which piece, and for what event?
I would like to see us grow organically and able to grow while still maintaining our branding, best practices, and quality. Every few months, I’ve seen that we’ve grown in some way and I am truly so grateful for every milestone that we hit. My dreams are literally coming true every month.
What’s the best way for our audience to get a hold of you if they want to purchase some of your incredible pieces?
We would love to connect with all of you on social media. We are pretty engaged on Instagram at @kil_nyc. If you can please visit our website at kil-nyc.com and subscribe to our mailing list.