Linda Kozloff-Turner Empowers 100 Women of Jewelry
Linda Kozloff-Turner is Owner and Designer of Christine Marguerite Designs, and author of the book, 100 Women of Jewelry. With the latter publication launching circa November 2020, we asked Linda to tell us about her personal connection to jewelry, and how her background has influenced her work and the evolution of her jewelry making. Using her experience to empower and strengthen other women, we are excited for her upcoming book, with interviews including 100 contemporary, powerful designers.
You mentioned that when you used to explore jewelry boxes when you were younger and you saw that a piece came from “one of the relatives or a person I didn’t approve of, the piece of jewelry seemed to harbor their spirit and so I usually did not like that piece of jewelry.” Do you believe that jewelry has this power to carry someone’s energy?
I always believed in the talismanic properties of jewelry. As I handled each piece of jewelry in that dresser in my family home, as a young child, I could conjure up the essence of the person that wore it, even if I had never met them. Jewelry is sometimes like music, it is a sensory memento. You can even smell the perfume of the wearer, or the wool of their coat. As an adopted child, this was something very important to me. I dreamed of the person that wore that piece! When a client brings me an heirloom item of jewelry to remake, there are sometimes a lot of tears, or laughter, upon discussing the person who owned it. I don’t think anything else in this world has that much power, or lasts quite as long, as the memory of a relative that wore that piece of jewelry every day of their lives.
You also talk about how important it was for you to find a piece of jewelry that belonged to your birth mother; how do you think heirlooms help one stay connected to family?
I have quite the jewelry story to tell here. I was adopted in the 1950’s and did a birth search in the 1980’s and found my entire birth family. It was a wonderful event in my life. I always was haunted by knowing I would never have a piece of my mother’s jewelry, but when I met my half-sister Nancy, she heard this, and gave me a three strand bracelet of amber colored beads that my mother wore all the time. I was over the moon with this gift. I went to the graveyard where my mother and father were buried. The situation between them was difficult at best, however I was wearing my bracelet and I asked my brother who was with me at the time, if we could also visit our father’s grave. Both graves are within sight of each other. My brother excitedly reached down at the gravestone of my father and pulled up a Syrian Christian turquoise cross. It was a pendant buried deep in the dirt below. He ran it over to me and I looked at him and said, do you have pliers in the car? He did! I immediately attached the cross to the bracelet and now for eternity, my parents, although not allowed to be together in life, were forever united in a single piece of jewelry. It is one of my most prized possessions.
You began your career in the 70’s when everything was directly sourced and handmade; now digital technology has changed the industry completely. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of these changes?
I am a jewelry designer and a photographer. In photography the world of cameras became digital when I taught photo at CU Boulder in the early 90’s. I believe that the tool is for the purpose. I never asked digital to be optical, nor did I ask optical to be digital. In jewelry it is the same. I do a lot of work with CAD, and am called the CAD Whisperer. I just innately know how the piece needs to be designed. If the piece calls for a handmade wax and cast, that is how we will make it. If however, the piece calls for an intricate design pattern that could not be successfully achieved by hand carving, then a CAD is made, the wax is 3-D printed and it is cast from there. It really just depends on the project. Many artisans in the book, 100 Women of Jewelry now use CAD for things like precision made clasps and other highly detailed production. Today’s digital capabilities are just another set of tools in your toolbox!
CAD has really expanded our abilities as a design studio. But we never forget the old way of making a piece of jewelry either by hand at the bench, or hand carving an organic form in wax. Each project has its own process. It is imperative that we know which process best suits the job.
You currently own a custom design studio, Christine Marguerite, how are you able to create a piece that satisfies your customers but that also stays true to your style?
The custom process is an intimate one. It is a symbiotic relationship between the client, my design skills, and the materials. Everything has to dovetail like a beautiful old dresser drawer. The client comes to me, and requests the project. I am like the court scribe, and I translate the language of their desire with the practicalities of production. Once we come to terms with a design, I move forward to have it created. Listening to the client is a very powerful skill, and in many cases that is why they choose me as their designer. For me, each piece is an intellectual challenge, and I get great joy out of creating something unique for every client. The end result is my signature of skill and wisdom, and becomes an heirloom to the purchaser. It is a win/win relationship.
What inspired you to create Christine Marguerite? Tell us a little bit about it.
Christine Marguerite was my birth name before I was adopted. As it turns out, it was both my grandmothers’ names. I had always worked for someone else, over many years, but when a partner and I were forced to move our location, I struck out on my own. I had always represented my line and work as Christine Marguerite Designs. It is like writing a novel under a pen name!
It is no easy feat to run a retail location, create all the designs, and manage a crew for sales and production. I did that for 10 years. When we looked at our sales graphs at the end of every year, we realized that custom design was our strongest suit. I downsized the studio to a more manageable environment, and work with a small but mighty production team. I have the reputation of taking on the most difficult and challenging jobs.
How does Christine Marguerite reflect women’s strength and power?
My business is one of the only woman-owned jewelry businesses in Boulder. There are two others that I know. I approach the industry with a lot of courage and very little fear. I endured overwhelming odds against me in this business including, not having unlimited funds, being a woman, and being older, although I started making jewelry on Pearl Street when I was 19, so many people in this town know me. I chose to ignore the odds and kept going based on my skill, and knowing I could be as good as anyone out there. All this has worked in my favor to date, and I have no intentions of walking away from it. Also we raised a family with this business, and I paid hefty dues (and rent) when I had a retail location and worked every weekend, while everyone else spent time with their families. I think my staying power is the penultimate example of power and strength.
We see that a lot of your work involves breathtaking gems. Do you have a personal favorite?
I love so many gems, it is hard to decide. Gemstones can be very magical, so it depends on each piece. If someone is born in September, then maybe we look for a sapphire. Spinels are really a darling of the industry right now, and certainly I love diamonds, but the rich tones of the colored gems are much more interesting to me. I am drawn to unusual cuts. I am finishing up my GG degree with GIA, and I have learned so much! I think anyone can deal in diamonds, but to really know the colored gemstone world is a lifetime of experience, and practical application.
Getting to interview all these amazing women in the jewelry industry, how has that inspired you, and how do you hope it will inspire others?
Every woman I have interviewed has truly blown my mind. I started this project not fully understanding how deep it was going to go, and now today, I do not regret a single interview. I have reached across all cultures, and insisted on including a diverse group of women in culture and style. My intention is to represent a broad spectrum of women jewelry artists working in the industry today. I could have never known the struggles or the pain that many of the women endured to become successful. Every artist I have interviewed has something profound and relevant to offer, and I remember everything we talked about. I draw so much inspiration from their words of wisdom. I hope to bring that essence to the book. I hope that you cannot wait to read each interview, and learn as much as you can from each woman’s experience. I certainly feel that way!
After hearing hundreds of stories from designers, is there a story you resonated with specifically? Besides a love for jewelry, was there a common thread that you noticed these 100 women share?
I think there are common denominators that are woven into the stories. I was surprised at how many women had lost children, and jewelry saved their lives. I was shocked at how many women were affected by copyright infringement. I was aghast at how so many women had trouble with manufacturing and production. I spoke with one woman who was a refugee and her story was incomprehensible as to what it took to become a designer. Many of the stories have common themes, and I make sure and approach each interview with a clean slate. Our goal is to stay positive and problem-solve for the next generation to come, but how each woman got there was on a very different path. It takes a lot of strength to be successful in this business, and success doesn’t always come easy, and sometimes does not come in the form you expect. Many of the women still contact me to let me know how their story is continuing. When I meet each artist, I tell each her that to me, she is the true treasure. I cannot say that one story has stuck out, because I am deeply involved with all of the stories. Everyone has something to offer.
Your journey to write this book started back in 2016; how did you meet all of these designers, and what was your criteria before choosing them?
My criteria for selecting the artist was a process that developed over these 5 years. I started by just trying to find names! That was much more difficult than you can imagine. Then I tried to go to each artist’s studio but that was not cost effective, although a lot of fun. Then Michelle Orman offered me and the photographer, Hardy Klahold to attend Couture every year, and that gave me an opportunity to see the women’s work in person, and to interview and photograph them during the shows. I wanted to include women artists currently working, as I did not want to write a historical perspective. The artist’s work had to be striking, unusual and well crafted. Keep in mind I am the curator of an exhibition of all 100 women’s work. I included diversity of style. I was determined to include diversity of culture. I also required that the artist have an incredible story. We now say that these are 100 women’s stories that all happened to be jewelry designers. When Covid hit I had just done my 60th interview with Sharon Khazzam in her gorgeous studio in Great Neck NY. I was really at a loss, as I had a definitive time line for this project. I just got the courage to continue the conversation by interviewing the remaining women on Zoom, and now we will arrange the portraits this year when we can travel. All of these principles had to come into the equation, and the result is that every woman I have interviewed has been simply amazing. One technique I used was to ask each artist at the end of the interview, who they thought I should include, and that was extremely helpful. I was introduced to many artists I would have not known otherwise.
We understand how difficult it can be to stand out and succeed in the jewelry industry, especially as woman. You talked about having people ask you to lower prices, as if your work is worth less than the work of a male designer. After 47 years in this industry, have you seen any progress regarding gender inequality? What has changed?
I think progress is being made, but when you see that white women make .82 on the dollar compared to men, and women of color, .66, I just cannot accept that we are there yet. I am also aware as to how men are recognized as the authority, and I must say, culturally this inequity has still not been resolved. What I do think is that more women are in the industry, and simply the energy of that fact has the propensity to change the pendulum to swing more equally. I will give the industry a B for effort, but a lot has to be done to make it equal. What we do not see is how other countries treat their miners, and the women that work for the mines. It is a complicated question that is best resolved with a concerted effort on so many platforms. Paying equal wages would be a major start to this process. What can we do?
Education is the key. Provide resources for more women of color to have an opportunity to start their own businesses. Training needs to be made available. Yianni Melas @gemexplorer speaks of how providing gem cutting experience with the gemstones at the individual mines, would provide the impact needed for more women to support their families. This is traditionally held back from the local population by the mine owners to intentionally dis-empower the workers. Business practices of this nature need to be stopped, and corporations need to be held accountable. This will begin the turnaround process for more equality for women in the industry. Providing resources for women will greatly increase the scope of the jewelry industry for everyone involved.
Creating such an inspiring network of women, do you have any plans for future projects in mind?
I have several things I am working on for the future. After the launch of the book and exhibition in November 2022, I intend to create a grant for women jewelry designers at FIT. I am about to finish my Graduate Gemology degree with GIA and my intention is to become an appraiser, as well as a designer and author. The next big goal is to obtain my PhD in humanities, and to become a speaker for women’s rights in the jewelry industry. There is a lot still to be done!
The book will be offered in 2 volumes, Volume 1 and 2. Volume 1 includes a tribute to Cindy Edelstein written by our editor, Frank Stankus. Volume 2 will have a tribute to Professor Yupadee Kobkulboonsiri from FIT, written by her husband Steven Fishman.
Please sign up on our website https://womenofjewelry.com/ to be put on our mailing list, for details regarding the launch of the book and exhibition, and follow us on @womenofjewelry Instagram. Please join our FB group ‘Your Jewelry Stories ‘ to hear more about these amazing stories!
All reproduced images are courtesy of Linda Kozloff-Turner.