Every piece of custom jewelry Karen Lindner creates is a timeless work of art. Passing on the legacy of the historical treasures she uses at the core of her designs is one of her professional passions, which she also considers a personal calling.
Karen feels her artistic endeavors have flourished with loving support from her family and the intrinsic rewards she receives from making a client happy with her jewelry designs are immeasurable. She also treasures the professional relationships she’s made and personal bonds she’s established through her work. The feeling is reciprocal with many of her clients considering her a genius and a gem in her field.
The talented, compassionate multi-tasker believes in paying her success and blessings forward in many different ways. Karen’s 18-year-old daughter Erika is a cancer survivor and one of her daily inspirations. Her entire family heavily supports their local Relay for Life and she donates a portion of her jewelry design proceeds to American Cancer Society.
In part one of our March 6 exclusive interview, Karen and I discussed her creative process and collaborations with couture designer Anne Barge and Grammy winning singer Miranda Lambert. Click here to read part one of the interview.
In part two, we discuss Karen’s exciting new line of jewelry for Detroit singer/songwriter Jeff Gutt’s JAGarmy fan base, she shares tips for aspiring designers and discusses her favorite jewelry pieces.
E: Your pieces are all just so breathtaking! Where can people buy them?
KL: Thank you. I have four stores that I specifically create collections for and other stores I've done shows at that are all listed on my website. I have a handful of stores I do specific collections for, like the Charleston store. She sent me a bunch of chandelier crystals from Charleston mansions that are from the 1800s and they were historically relevant to her area so I created a collection.
The things that I do personally for people are by far and away most rewarding and even though the things for the JAGarmy are not each one its own piece, it’s such a personal road that I've traveled with its meaning. For me personally, it’s just as rewarding.
E: I saw the necklace you did for Jeff Gutt that he tweeted. Did you discover him on “X Factor?”
KL: I had been so busy last fall that I didn't get into “The X Factor” and I have to say, I’m a huge “Voice” fan. I have personal and professional reasons I love “The Voice.” My daughter said “You've gotta watch ‘The X Factor.’” I said I can’t get into a series. I can’t get into something that I have to watch. She said, “You’re making a huge mistake. There’s a guy on there who’s your next Jon Bon Jovi.” I’m like, whatever. She said, “Please just watch this with me.” He sang “Without You” and I had to leave the room after he performed. I was in tears. When my cousin died, I was in college and I had that tape and I was playing it when I got the phone call he died. He was going to be a pilot, like his father, like my dad. He was logging hours with a student and got hit by a drunk pilot and they drove his plane into the ground and he was killed instantly. It was just a real tragic situation. He was only two years older than I and so young. That song was playing and I will never forget lying on the floor in the fetal position dying inside from this loss.
E: How sad! I’m so sorry.
KL: So Jeff’s singing this song and I’m thinking a) he’s really good and b) why is he singing this song? So then I’m really intrigued and besides that, he blew the song out of the water. I thought okay, wow. This is so stupid he’s on this show. He’s already a star. He’s so talented. Then he starts talking, he’s got his hands clasped in front of him and he’s looking at the judges and you could just tell that he’s humble and kind and well-traveled. This wasn't his first rodeo. I kind of wanted to say you should be in the judges’ seats. You should have this spectacular career. Then, I researched him and every song he sang had a personal point in my life. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was huge for me. I was a huge Queen fan and “Daniel;” I have military in my family. My father was a fighter pilot. I have the utmost respect for that and the fact that it was dedicated to his brother. “Dream On” was the pinnacle and I thought good for him for being on this stage and giving us all this gift. This guy needs a megastar career – now.”
E: So you decided to make him a necklace?
KL: I found his “Hallelujah” video and was listening to it. The core of the song is not uplifting in its emotion. It’s pretty negative and yet it still speaks to you in different ways and I saw his video for the first time and I thought wow, this makes me feel good. So I sent a tweet out and he retweeted it and followed me within an hour.
I've had fabulous relationships with the people I have worked with who are celebrities. I've had pieces worn by “E” entertainment hosts and placed in magazines. So, I've had bits and pieces of contact with some of their people. I still have this idea I’m a behind-scenes person. I’m so shy. I love what I do but you couldn't pay me a million dollars to be famous. I couldn't do it.
As I started following Jeff on Twitter it was so interesting to see the dynamic and how fans treat celebrities on Twitter. I made a comment like, “This dude needs a jewelry line.” I wasn't thinking of it for myself. I know several artists who do mass production and do it really well and do it made in America. Even though I source antiques from all over the world, I’m a huge supporter of Made in America products. So I said as much.
Jeff’s merchandiser, Chris Beck, sent me a message and said I've looked at what you do and I’d want this to be something that had to do with your line, too. He started sending me pictures of things he’d pulled off of my Twitter and my website of mostly the love tokens. He said, Jeff has seen these and he loves them. The one picture had the cross and he said the cross, and the coins, this is really his look. I decided to make Jeff a necklace as a gift.
E: What did you put on it?
KL: I really wanted to think about Jeff the person, a person I don’t really even know. But, I knew enough that I could piece together the things that I thought would be meaningful to him. The first thing I saw was the love token with the “T” and the “J” [for Talon and Jeff], and I had a pencil, I knew he did a lot of his own writing and the cross – he had already said he liked it. The military wings are in honor of his brother who is in the Navy. I made everything removable. At the clasp, I put the emerald, which symbolized our birthdays. [They share the same May 2 birthday]
E: So then Chris thought this could be a great basis for a JAGarmy line of jewelry?
KL: From there I sent Chris a couple pictures that he then tweeted of a couple charms that I knew based on the necklace I did for Jeff, that I could have made in a more mass-production way. Each picture was based on his piece and it got narrowed down to the wing and the skull.
E: You've gotten a lot of great feedback from happy JAGarmy members about the JAG pieces. How does that make you feel?
KL: I am so grateful, and truly happy that what I make, makes other people as happy as it does - and has personal symbolism and meaning to them. I can't say how touched I am by all of the messages and emails from Jeff's fans - they are truly like a family. I am just an artist who is interpreting his logo and brand, but fortunately it has really resonated with his fans. He's the inspiration, the talent and the reason behind the pieces. I was inspired by him when I created the choices and designs. And I am a fan too…..this is personal for me as well. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him. Plus, I need to send out a special thanks to Chris for his amazing support in all of this. He works so hard and is really the backbone of the JAGarmy.
E: Your daughter Erika is a cancer survivor and you donate proceeds from your JAG line and other jewelry collections as well to American Cancer Society. Can you share a little of her story?
KL: She was diagnosed in 2004 with Neuroblastoma. She was eight years old. Her tumor was between her spine and her heart. She had surgery to remove the tumor and she didn't need radiation or chemo or any of those things. We just had very frequent trips to oncology for a few years and a lot of tests. After that she’s been fine and it’s so inspiring to me. I can’t ignore it.
E: Your jewelry business is a one-woman operation. How do you balance juggling work with being a wife and mom?
KL: I think for me personally, it has a lot to do with where I am in my life. I had my family right away and I put my career on hold a little bit. Now my kids are at an age where I’m not as hands on needed. I think it’s worked out really well. I feel like a workaholic sometimes but I love both of my companies. I love what I do. My husband is such a busy Type “A” personality we kind of divide and conquer and meet in the middle.
E: What advice would you have for people who want to break into design or jewelry or start your own business?
I think you have to know what your goal is with it. If you’re gonna treat it like a career or you want to start as a hobby. Really do your homework, even talking to people who are involved in those jobs or careers or hobbies. Seek out people that you find influential that you like, whether it’s a jewelry designer or an interior designer or somebody who does window displays, a fashion designer. If you can talk to them personally, do some research, usually their bio is out there somewhere. Find something you’re really passionate about too; something you really love. If it’s design, I want to say there’s a million jewelry designers out there. But, there’s also a million new ways to get your product out there. Choose a few that aren't so scary whether it’s Etsy, or some other online store front.
Take your pieces to your favorite store. Or, just going to your favorite store in your town and saying, “This is what I want to get into. How do you do your buying? How do you pick your lines? A lot of times if you can start your exposure that way, it’ll give you a really good sense of how what you do is perceived. It’s kind of like going to an audition. That’s kind of the hard part. And you have to learn you may love what you do the way you do it, but, if it’s not gonna sell and your goal is to make it a moneymaking business, you also have to find those people who wanna buy it.
I did my first trunk show at a small store that I really loved and the feedback was immeasurable. It was the best way for me to see what people liked and it was also a great way for me to interact with them. And talk to them about what I did and why I did it and how I did it. It takes time to put the right steps into place to make that happen, but it’s really important.
E: What kept you going during the pitfalls?
KL: The love of what I was doing. I just never gave up because I believed, never in a conceited way, I truly believe in what I’m doing. I believe that God’s given all these artists all these talents and if somebody isn't going to pay homage to the artistry and bring these tremendous pieces of history back to the forefront – I feel like that’s my job. I feel like that’s my calling, to bring them to a new generation and show these lost arts in a new way. And I feel like I have such a love and a passion for the history and the artistry that went into these simple little things that I believe so strongly that other people will see that too. I can’t do anything without love. I feel like my family, my immediate family and the family I came from, my parents, have modeled so much compassion and so much love in my life that it means nothing if it can’t be done with love. I feel connections with people and I don’t forget them. They’re in my heart. It’s how I live. I have to have that passion and compassion and I think it kind of resonates in my work. I feel passionately about what I do.
E: What is your favorite piece you've ever made?
KL: That is really, really hard! As strange as it sounds, each piece I acquire is like a temporary gift of history and true the artistry of someone long gone, and I feel like I have the obligation to make sure it doesn't get forgotten. That being said, I have favorite pieces I've had the privilege to design for high profile people who I admire greatly, but as for a specific piece itself, it would have to be the rarest one I have ever designed with a c1850 gilded sterling and semiprecious stone purse handle made by the famous jewelry house Bailey Banks & Biddle. This incredible piece was definitely carried by someone who lead a spectacular life, and I would have loved to have been able to know more about her. I do not know what the fabric portion of the purse looked like since it was gone when I acquired the handle, but I am sure it was stunning too. I was in awe just holding it.
E: Why do you think jewelry usually has such special meaning or emotional significance in our lives?
KL: Of course some jewelry is purely fun and ornamental, but other pieces are much more than that. Whether inherited, found, or custom crafted, they can symbolize memories - and we like to feel like we have tangible evidence of events or people or places. Even if we like to believe that the important things in life shouldn't be "things", sometimes a piece of jewelry can be a powerfully significant and cherished "piece" of that person, place or event that we hold close to our hearts and want to be constantly reminded of. But combined with the symbolism, I think that the actual physical act of wearing something and touching it and having it that close is a very intimate reality, and it's therefore inherently more emotional than say a piece of furniture that belonged to someone that you now have in your home.
E: What is your favorite piece of personal jewelry that has the most special significance to you?
KL: That is so easy. My grandmother's engagement ring that I wear 24 hours a day. My grandfather couldn't afford to give her a ring until their 25th wedding anniversary - and even then, it was very modest. But it might as well be 100 carats for the love it represents. She willed it to me, and I have worn it ever since she passed away. She was the grandparent I was closest too, and a truly strong and inspiring woman. It's a constant reminder of someone very, very special to me.
My second favorite piece are my dad’s wings from his USAF fighter pilot days. I hate flying and never travel without them! Hospital "travels" included! They’re also a huge mutual design inspiration for Jeff's necklace - for him and his brother, Daniel.
E: Finally, what is the most rewarding part of your work?
KL: The combination of honoring these treasures and the hand in hand personal relationships that it’s given me with their new owners. I can’t express how invaluable that is in a job. I can’t imagine going to work and crunching numbers and giving somebody an account report. It has to be personal. It’s kind of like my favorite movie ever. My favorite movie is “You've Got Mail” and favorite line is “It’s nothing if it doesn't start by being personal. It has to be personal.”
Browse Karen Lindner’s jewelry collections via her website at karenlindnerdesigns.com and follow her on Twitter @KLDDesigns. Click here for information on supporting and donating to American Cancer Society.
Karen’s exclusive Jeff Gutt JAGarmy line is available at jeffgutt.bigcartel.com.