The Jade is Greener at Mason-Kay
Mason-Kay, a family-owned business, has established themselves as one of the most trusted jadeite labs in the field. Read below to learn about how Kristina Mason has contributed to Mason-Kay’s dominance in the jade industry, with her one-of-a-kind designs.
Congratulations on 40+ years! We were curious, looking back on the business, what advice would you give to yourself during the early, or difficult, years?
I was not actually at Mason-Kay when it began in 1976. Mason-Kay was started by my husband’s (Jeff Mason, G.G.) father and uncle. Jeff’s uncle, Don Kay, joined Jeff’s father, Leon Mason, an already well-known and well-respected fine gem dealer, and formed Mason-Kay in 1976. The idea was to have a jewelry business dedicated solely to natural jadeite jade. Jeff joined the business in 1984 after earning his Graduate Gemology degree from GIA. I joined Mason-Kay in 1993, after the company moved from Los Angeles to Denver, and I had moved from New York City to Denver.
Regarding difficult years, one must understand the ebb and flow of a small business in general. It is important not to become disillusioned during rough patches and have belief in your product and yourself. The best you can do is work hard and treat people well! That motto has worked very well for us. We try to take excellent care of all our customers, wholesale or retail, and like karma it will come back to us.
Can you explain what it means for you, to have a family-owned and operated business that has experienced such success?
I think our success is due to three reasons. The first is an amazing niche product. We are only one of a very few companies in the US that buy and sell strictly natural jade. We are very serious about selling only natural, untreated jadeite and have the capability to test for ourselves, so we can guarantee the authenticity of our product.
The second thing is our customer service. We are always available to assist with jade issues and questions. We pride ourselves on superior customer service, which includes a leader in the jewelry industry. Jeff Mason, President of Mason-Kay, oversees our jade testing and valuation services department. With his Graduate Gemology degree in addition to 36+ years of experience in the jade jewelry business, Jeff is considered an expert in his field and a well-known and well-respected member of the jewelry industry. He is also serving his second term on the AGTA Board of Directors.
The last reason is our designs and our extensive inventory. We have made a concerted effort to create jade collections that appeal to anyone and everyone. I like to say, “From fun to fine, jade is always fabulous,” and I mean it. You do not have to spend thousands of dollars to own a fabulous piece of jade jewelry. Jade in general is fabulous. We work hard to purchase our jade well and create designs that will appeal to many. We have many designs in each of our collections: Designer Jade Collection, Estate Jade Collection, and Classic Jade Collection. In each of these collections there are very affordable pieces. Once someone owns their first piece of jade, they will be hooked for a lifetime!
Why do you think Mason Kay has been so reputably dominant in the industry? Can you explain the importance of ensuring quality products and customer service?
We have spent decades working hard on our reputation. It is nice to see a positive reaction to that.
I think because natural jadeite jewelry is clearly a niche, and we treat customers honestly and fairly, we have been able to remain dominant in the industry for this product. Producing great designs at very fair prices helps as well!
While price/value is of course crucial, I don’t think there is anything more important than offering quality products and great customer service. If customers do not like the quality or service, the price really doesn’t matter.
We also make an effort to educate everyone about natural jade. We field many calls daily with questions and concerns. We feel the more that is known about natural jade the better, as more folks will seek out the natural product instead of settling for the much cheaper treated material.
Currently, Mason Kay is the only commercial jade jewelry company that has the ability to use infrared spectroscopy to test for impregnation in jade jewelry. Can you elaborate on what this does and means for your company?
It was a game changer for us. We have had infrared spectroscopy capabilities for quite a while now. In fact, we upgraded to a better, faster, smaller machine a few years ago.
Since we pride ourselves on our natural jade, we must be able to certify this as true. Over the years this capability has contributed to a high level of credibility and trust.
There is a tremendous amount of treated jade, and jade simulants, sold in today’s market. Disclosure is minimal for two reasons. First, there are unscrupulous dealers unwilling to disclose. Second, there are many who are unfamiliar with jade and it’s possible treatments and are simply unaware of what they are offering for sale.
Treated jade can contain dye, polymer/resin, and sometimes acid. These treatments can greatly compromise the internal structure of the jade and turn what is one of the toughest gemstones on the planet into quite a brittle piece. Some go as far as to say treated pieces are not technically even jadeite anymore.
Not only do we test all our inventory, but we offer jade testing and valuation services to the industry and the public. Our lab services are a well-known and trusted service in the industry. Unfortunately, we too often see pieces sent in for testing that turn out to be treated jadeite, or in some cases not jade at all.
With your mother having much success in a variety of mediums, were you expected to follow in her artistic footsteps? When did you know that you wanted to become a designer?
Actually, my mother had many struggles in her life and therefore feared for me pursuing a creative path. But I think she knew it was inevitable.
Since I joined Mason-Kay in 1993, I had the desire and passion to design jewelry. I got my opportunity in the early 2000’s. I absolutely loved it! Within a few weeks, I was addicted.
Your designs bridge ‘current contemporary’ to ‘nouveau traditional’ styles. Can you tell us a little about what this means in your one-of-a-kind creations?
After I have made my evaluations of our current finished jewelry inventory for ‘basics’ that we may need, I can then concentrate on the fun. It is important to me that Mason-Kay’s designs are actually wearable. You will never find a Kristina piece that has sharp, or pointy edges, or can get caught on your clothes. Our jewelry is to be worn and loved.
My style tends to be clean and refined, but that doesn’t mean they are not fun. It can waiver between contemporary but remain classic or more traditional, but with a current twist. Simple bezel set earrings are a good example. The bezels are classic, but I will make them with satin finished gold giving them a more contemporary appeal.
There can be small but mighty design elements that make a traditional design more current. I am not one to use the typical simple bail for pendants for example. I prefer an oval high polish, or more likely an oval satin finish ring bail. Still simple but much more current. Also, that style of bail does not make the assumption that the wearer will use a gold chain. The oval ring bail is worn beautifully on a leather or silk cord, etc.
Jade can also be very gender neutral. Many of our pieces can be worn by anyone! And I love that! I design many pieces with that in mind. As always, I try to develop jewelry collections of all price ranges and varying styles which is easy to do with such an eclectic loose inventory. Each loose stone or carving is so unique and then motivates me to develop differing styles to design for each.
What is your favorite part of the process when designing new pieces? How long does a typical creation take?
For me it is all about the jade first. How can I enhance the beauty of the piece? What gold color, what gold finish, what additional stones or accents can I use to create a design that showcases and distinguishes the inherent beauty of a jade cabochon, carving etc.
I also keep in mind when designing not to over price the mounting in comparison to the jade. “Is the jade worth the design?” There is no need to make a very reasonably priced carving very expensive by adding a large diamond or fine jade bead accent.
I often use this expression when making an initial evaluation of a piece for design, “Does this piece need a decision or a design?” Sometimes, a piece needs very little. It may only need a bail and a tiny accent. That is more of a decision than design. However, designs require inspiration and effort.
I love to play with color. I am very lucky to be able to play with one of the most amazing gemstones, not only for its incredible durability, but also its truly astounding array of vivid colors. Some accent colors are enhancing, and some are detracting. I play until I feel I have gotten the color combination just right. Then the rest of the design can be completed.
Sometimes designs come quickly. Often overnight, in which case I must jot down notes immediately before I forget. Other times, I can spend several days laying pieces out and creating sketches over and over until I feel satisfied. Once I feel the design idea is complete, then I will draw it out several times until the drawing with notes is satisfactory as well.
What has been your favorite all-time piece you have created? When did you create it and for whom?
I become quite attached to my designs. I often need to be reminded that we are here to sell them, ha! I have many that I am very proud of and that I love, but there are two that do stand out. Neither were made for anyone specifically, but both sold to jade loving customers, which gives ultimate happiness to a designer.
Coincidentally, they are both pin/pendants. One was inspired by the key pieces of the design. It was four green jade pieces that inspired the wings for a dragonfly pin/pendant. I love to use cabochon rubies and sapphires with my designs. I feel that depending on the hue of the green jade, rubies and/or sapphires can enrich the green color. The cabochon cut works quite well with jade. Sometimes, like in this piece, I have used both rubies and sapphires as accents, but in different ways. We’ve dubbed this piece ‘Imperial Dragonfly,’ since it has both classic and contemporary elements. It actually sold from a photo before the end user even saw it in person!
The other design was one that came to me overnight. I was somehow inspired by a peacock and the thought of using so many colors of jade with other gemstone and diamond accents. I immediately knew what stone I would use for the head of the peacock and all the pieces fell into place rather quickly after that. It took several days to lay all the stones out just right. It was a challenge to sketch, but ‘Penelope Peacock’ was born. This piece sold to one of our very best customers for their very best jade customer!
Can you speak a bit to Chinese culture, and the country’s relationship with jade? Is there a particular piece from history that inspires you?
One cannot truly understand jade without gaining some knowledge of Chinese culture. It is rather intertwined. This became clear to me as soon as I became involved in the business.
One of my favorite stories is about the Chinese emperor who said he would trade 15 cities for one fine piece of jade!
As far as historic pieces, the one that stands out is the circa 1933 Cartier 27-jadeite bead necklace owned by Barbara Hutton, later sold by Sotheby’s in April 2014 for US$27.4 million. This was and still remains the highest price ever paid at auction for a jadeite piece.
As you know, Chinese culture strongly utilizes symbolism in their art. Do you have a connection with a particular symbol? Can you tell us what it means to you?
Well, one might think that I would love roosters since it is my Chinese Zodiac sign, however I am rather obsessed with dragons. Dragons are symbols of strength and goodness. It is also the fifth symbol in the Chinese Zodiac and represents the masculine, while the feminine is represented by the Phoenix. Together they represent the yin and the yang. We have some amazing carvings that have a Dragon (yin-male) on one side and a Phoenix (yang-female) on the other side. These are usually pieces that do not need much design – the carvings speak for themselves and are beautiful on their own.
I also like the endless knot design. I love the symbolism it represents – infinity as well as true love and longevity!
How have you been able to stay creative and inspired during the pandemic?
Fortunately, we had many new loose pieces already in our inventory that needed designs. During the lockdown I was able to spend some time thinking about new design ideas and working on some sketches. After the lockdowns, the office was somewhat quiet which provided me with the opportunity to develop existing collections, like our Jade Bubble Collection, and create new designs as well. I am really never lacking inspiration; it is always around me.
One of the most exciting and stressful aspects of designing is seeing the results. I tend to create 25- 50 designs at a time and then send them off to our goldsmiths. When they come back, my stomach is filled with butterflies as each piece is unwrapped. Our goldsmiths do a great job, and seeing my designs become completed pieces of jewelry is beyond thrilling!
Mason Kay offers high quality natural jadeite jewelry, exceptional customer service, experience, and unique designs. To see more Mason-Kay pieces, follow along on the company’s Instagram at @masonkay_jade or visit online at www.masonkay.com.