By Barbara Perry Bind
When you look at the creations of jewelry designer and former Greenwich resident Kimberlin Brown, you can see right away the influence of growing up on the water.
There's a sea anemone ring made of 18k gold with mandarin, pink and yellow sapphires, an 18k gold bangle with south sea pearls, and a ring with a Tahitian pearl set in sterling, with diamonds.
Brown, who created her first piece back in college, says she has always drawn on the natural beauty of the Greenwich landscape and was especially taken with the coastline and the town's beaches. The designer recently introduced her work at a boutique in Greenwich, St. Germain, located at 375 Greenwich Ave., the exact site of what was once the Greenwich Food Store, owned by Joseph Bruno -- who just happened to be Brown's grandfather.
Greenwich Citizen caught up with Brown to talk about how she decided to focus her art on designing jewelry, her affinity for nature and its influence on her designs and her involvement with coral conservation.
How did you get involved in designing jewelry?
An intimate observer of nature, at a young age I began collecting and sketching shapes I found on walks along the rocky sea shores in Greenwich. I have always gravitated towards the beauty in nature -- especially the sea. Its sound, its shapes and the perfection that lies in the wake of its waves are a constant source of inspiration.
This passion is revealed through my unique forms I use in my designs as well as my reverence for natural aesthetics. My childhood, and the beautiful nature it was submersed in, was the genesis for my collections.
How would you describe your style and approach?
Unique, bright, intricate and full of life.
You studied sculpture during college. How did this influence your jewelry-making?
I studied sculpture at two prestigious schools -- The Art Institute of Chicago and Maryland Institute College of Art, where I earned a BFA in Fine Arts. After I completed a workshop in famed silversmith Georg Jensen's studio in Copenhagen, I furthered my education studying ancient Etruscan art and modern Italian goldsmithing in Tuscany.
In college I made larger sculptures. The process I use now is the same -- just on a smaller scale. Instead of welding, it is soldering. I was 20 years old when I carved my first small scale piece for a `lost-wax cast' using precious metals.
I was hooked! Later, in Italy, fell in love with buttery, 18k yellow gold.
In sculpture, you see things in all dimensions -- and this is how I design my jewelry. The interior of a piece is as important as the exterior. Movement is also important. I design pieces to capture light and swing delicately with the gestures of the form.
Jewelry must become one with the wearer.
What is your greatest design inspiration?
The sea and nature. I have been fortunate to have visited many wonderful places and cultures. From snorkeling coral reefs from the Caribbean to the Cote d'Azur to hiking through the exotic terrain in Iceland, my collections reflect my love of nature and exploration. I visited Iceland a few years ago -- and it was unbelievable. The closest thing to visiting another planet while still being on Earth. With lava rocks, thick carpets of moss, bubbling hot natural springs and beautiful people, it is truly a spectacular place. When I returned with my memories, sketches and a few samples of the flora and fauna unique to that country I began my `Iceland' collection. Creating a ring form a lava rock that I encrusted with diamonds, moonstones and sapphires became extraterrestrial, how Iceland felt to me. I am proud to say this ring recently became a new addition to the permanent collection of The Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.
Who have been your mentors, and whose work do you really admire?
One of my mentors in Tuscany was the uber talent Manfred Bischoff. He said `If you create close to your heart it will be good' and I have always taken this advice `to heart.' I admire Ted Muehling's work and I also adore the whimsy of the Victoire De Castellane collections for Dior.
What jewels and stones are your favorites to work with?
Tahitian pearls! The lustre and color in the nacre of these pearls is so mystifying. Layer by layer, the colors build upon each other, creating great depth and luminosity. What I love about this `organic' gem is that no two are exactly alike. Peacock-hued Tahitians are my favorite, and I have been lucky to find some rare beauties -- purpley green iridescent orbs of delight.
One of my favorite pieces I have made is a ring I call `The Gauguin Pearl' It is big and wild and pays homage to the beauty that Tahiti creates. Gauguin once said `I close my eyes to see' and I will never `see' Tahiti the same after knowing his vivid abstractions and the colors in its pearls.
Tell us about your line for "Too Precious To Wear" and your involvement in coral conservation.
As you know I am a native to Greenwich so, weather permitting, every day my mom yelled for me and my siblings to grab our bucket and pails and we spent the endless days of summer at Tod's Point. My childhood was peaceful and always near the water; now, I am still most at peace by the sea.
My `Sea Anemone' and `Coral Reef' collections have come from my passion for the sea. This body of work lead me to my partnership with the ocean-conservation group Sea Web and the `Too Precious to Wear' campaign. Along with Frank Geahry, Paloma Picasso and environmentalist film maker Celine Cousteau I am helping spread awareness about the critical situation our oceans and their beautiful creatures are facing.
How does your jewelry relate to ocean conservation?
When I first moved to New York City, I worked my way up in a company to become head designer, creating fine jewelry collections for Barneys and Takashimaya. A few seasons I had to incorporate coral. Intrinsically I knew working with coral was wrong. I investigated and this search led me to Sea Web and the `Too Precious To Wear Campaign;' they had the answers I needed.
Just as with ivory, people need to be educated on what they are adorning themselves with. My own collection I began at this time, with its shapes relative to the sea, was a perfect fit. I launched my line two years ago debuting my `Coral Reef' pendant with `Too precious To Wear' I create pieces inspired by -- not derived from -- our ocean's living creatures. Through this campaign, we have empowered consumers and industry professionals to create a demand for coral conservation. We have changed laws on the international trade of endangered species, and this is very satisfying.
Are you always wearing one of your pieces?
Yes. I love to wear lots of different pieces layered in unique combinations, but often find myself in a classic pair of my Tahitian pearl or Japanese `Biwa' pearl earrings. On my right hand is always a `Sea Anemone' ring. The colors of its gem stones, especially in the sunlight, makes it mesmerizing to look at.
Lastly -- have you ever been asked to sell a piece you were wearing?
This did happen once! One evening I was wearing a pearl necklace to Del Posto in NYC. It was a new piece I was taking out for a `test drive' (I like to make sure pieces are comfortable and lay perfectly). A woman fell in love with the beautiful shapes and colors of the pearls, the perfect length (opera) and the intricate clasp made from a golden twig. It was a one-of-a-kind piece, like most of my work, and difficult to make another exactly the same.
So, with a big smile and a new necklace, she left Del Posto with it on. I continued the evening in my pearl earrings and `Sea Anemone' ring.