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How Tiffany Kunz Went From Utah Waitress to LA Designer

The designer inside her Highland Park studio. Photos by <a href="http://www.allenzaki.com/">Allen Zaki</a>.
The designer inside her Highland Park studio. Photos by Allen Zaki.

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Tiffany Kunz's career path has been anything but typical. The designer hails from Seattle, Washington but she and her husband Bob, fond of the nomadic lifestyle, spent time living in both South America and Utah before settling in California. Tiffany originally went to school for cosmetology and had been working as a waitress in Utah while making jewelry for herself and coworkers on the side.

Shortly after arriving in LA, Bob came across a Craigslist ad seeking assistance with jewelry production. Believing in Tiffany's dream, he answered on her behalf and with that, she landed her first position in the business. Her initial assignment was to hand-make 75 pairs of earrings for Neiman Marcus. "I'm not one of those people that things come easily to," she said of loving the intricate task. "I really have to work at it if I want to be good at something."

A display at her studio in California.

In 2007, after a few additional design positions, the artist decided to launch a namesake line composed of bronze and silver pieces priced from $15 to $400. Kunz says that she doesn't research trends, instead staying true to her personal style with a line of unique basics that she hopes every girl can throw on before walking out the door in the morning. "I didn't like a lot of jewelry that I saw," she explains of her accessible designs. "I'm not super-girly but I'm not really rustic, either."

Leith earrings in the works.

The next step for Tiffany is incorporating gold and color into the line. Before starting her brand, she embarked on a heavy course load at the Gemology Institute of America. "They tell you all about the mining process," she says of her hesitation to work with gems. "I noticed that it's not that awesome for the people that are doing it." She recently found a company that is open about where they source their gems and is ready to embark on a gem-centered collection for Summer 2014.

Pages from the designer's sketchbook.

We visited the designer at her Highland Park, California studio to view her entire line first-hand. While there, Tiffany broke down the processes for her three main collections and explained her eco-friendly approach.Cat Wright

Stacking rings, cuffs and the Nest ring.

What are some of the major influences in your line?
"It varies so much. Shape is really interesting to me, I'm inspired by what works on the body rather than, 'I have this crazy idea that I have to make into a piece of jewelry.' Instead, it's, 'How does this compliment us so that we can just put it on and go?' I think nature is part of it too; like if I see bark on a tree, I think about that texture. I'm always wondering, 'What do I want to wear and what do my friends want to wear?' It's easy to get grandiose ideas and sometimes I have to reign myself in."

Vintage chains.

You're eco-conscious, how does that play into the brand?
"My goal is to use all reclaimed metals. The bronze comes from an industrial supply plant in Burbank; it's literally just their scraps then my caster melts them down. I get my silver from a place in West Virginia and they're ground-breaking with using reclaimed metal, that's all they do. They also try to use non-hazardous chemicals as much as possible."

Drawers filled with jewelry wax, tools, metals and more.

You have three distinct collections—describe the process of creating the Signature Collection.
"I start with round wire in its raw form. I work with pliers to get the shape that I want and then I hammer it to get the texture that I want. Then if there is soldering involved, like connecting joints, I use the torch. I'm into fluidity, so it's not overworked. I try not to solder a whole lot and just hand-forge with the hammer and the wires. From there, I take it to my manufacturer downtown where he makes the molds and casts it."

Tiffany working the metal with a torch.

And the Flight of Fancy process is different?
"That was the first collection I did with wax. I carved all of the original pieces out of wax and took them down to have the first model to cast, from that casting they made the mold. It was really a fun collection for me because I felt like the pieces were much bolder than what I had done before and I had a lot more options. It was pretty exciting."

More earrings and the designer's delicate Double Wire cuff in bronze.

And what about your latest, the Ellis Collection?
"It is totally different. This has been an interesting process because I am really focused on primitive fabrication and this involved metal molds. When you need [to make] something very perfect, you have to use a metal mold. So I made the first version out of wax. Then, I took it to my manufacturer and he took it to someone else who put it into a computer. The mold was done with a laser. It's the most high-tech."

How has your design process changed over time?
"For this most-recent collection, I started thinking about what I wanted to make three months ago and I made bracelets. Then I stepped back and thought, 'Is this really where I want to go?' I've since spent the last three months just sketching and really thinking it through. I'm trying to be thoughtful about it. That is new for me. Before I would just sit down and make everything super-fast, which I think was a product of where I worked before. So [for the holiday collection] I've sketched everything, I've thought it out and now I'm ready to make it."

Tiffany Kunz jewelry can be found online at TiffanyKunz.com as well as 30 stores throughout the US and Canada.
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