Katie Grover has traveled all over the world, and her souvenir of choice has always been jewelry. She enjoys being a student of the world, and jewelry enables her to not only keep specific symbols of culture but to wear them.
“I love to travel and we travel a lot, that has always been a priority for my husband and I. I found jewelry a really interesting thing to look at in different countries because the crafts and iconography are always different," said Grover. "I would look at jewelry in museums, and when I could treat myself, I would buy it for myself. So I ended up building a collection and paying attention to the distinctive and special kinds of jewelry that different countries value.”
Through the years, her desire to collect iconic jewelry transformed into a need to create.
“The jewelry thing really came about first as a collector, but then I met this goldsmith in Istanbul. I had an interest in making a few pieces for myself that I had envisioned in my head but didn’t see on the market,” said Grover. “So I began designing pieces for myself and having him execute them 14 years ago, and then I had friends saying ‘I really like that, could you make me one?’”
From there, Grover’s project has expanded into a burgeoning business. The majority of her jewelry is 24-karat gold and made to order as the pieces are too expensive to manufacture in bulk. So, if Grover has an idea for a piece, she will have her goldsmith make just one and then sell it online or at Sylvia Antiques at the bottom of Main Street.
“I usually like the piece enough that even if nobody buys it I would be happy to have it. If I can’t afford it, I don’t order it. But if people like it then I will order more of it. I have to work very small because it is all so expensive,” said Grover. “Although if you are going to have a business and inventory, there are a lot worse inventories to have. They aren’t cabbage, gold isn’t going to go bad. Much of my inventory has appreciated since I bought it because the price of gold has gone up in the last six months.”
One piece may cost tens of thousands of dollars because of the craftsmanship and purity of the gold. Grover acknowledges her hefty sticker price, but reasons that buying one of her pieces is like investing in artwork and that her product should be considered “wedding jewelry.”
“Not that Americans would wear it in weddings, but that is the way that it would be thought of in the rest of the world. People give and wear high karat gold in weddings, just like people give silver flatware here,” explained Grover. “In the course of my travels and studying jewelry I started to notice 24 karat and 22 karat that was used by the ancients, and that became interesting to me. In many parts of the world to this day they value high karat, that’s where people put their wealth. The world has always turned to gold during economic uncertainty or war. Whenever anything bad happens in the world economy, gold goes up, because it is a safe haven over time. I remember when gold was $500 an ounce, now it is $2,000.”
While 24-karat gold is emphasized in Grover’s jewelry, she also incorporates diamonds, precious stones, and micro-mosaics in many of her pieces.
“Years ago I took a micro mosaic of the pantheon in Rome to my goldsmith, and he painted me a larger version of it. He is a very artistic guy which is why it has been such a joy to work with him, and I think he enjoys it as well because I am asking him to do a lot of different stuff,” said Grover. “I may not be his biggest client but I am his favorite! He would rather do work that is one-off and creative than mass producing something.”
Grover notes that the working relationship she has developed with her goldsmith has made her business possible.
“None of this would have happened if I didn’t come across him,” said Grover. “I met him through a jewelry store in Istanbul. I kept asking them to do custom work and finally, they just introduced me to him and then I started having things done. It was always quite easy.”
While Grover does not speak a word of Turkish, and her goldsmith does not understand English, they have managed to communicate over the years at first through an intermediary, and now through the help of her goldsmith’s sons. Despite this, they have developed an efficient and intuitive workflow.
“When the middle man moved from Turkey to California, I was like ‘Are we going to be able to keep doing this?’ but my goldsmith’s response was ‘Your instructions are so clear, I think it is going to be OK,’ and he would get somebody to translate. It has been seamless,” said Grover. “It flows remarkably well. He’s really fast, the Nantucket bracelet, for example, takes about three weeks, and of course, that’s not the only thing he is working on at the time.”
Grover describes her design process as “free-form” and entirely dependent on the piece and its complexity. She considers her acorn and strawberry earrings, for instance, to be quite easy to conceptualize, and then it just comes down to measuring and proportions. Her Venetian windows bracelet, on the other hand, was much more challenging to design.
“I probably took a hundred photographs in Venice of different leaded pane window patterns, and then as I started to look at how I was going to construct the bracelet I needed hinges so I looked around for things that would lend themselves to a finial on the hinge,” said Grover. “Then I had my eyes searching for things that would resonate as Venice but could be used as the toggle, so part of it is just the lens you look at your environment through.”
Grover’s attention to detail distinguishes her jewelry; the flourishes on the clasp of a necklace or hinge of a bracelet are all full of meaning and intention. Her Nantucket bracelets feature replicas of six historic houses, including the Jethro Coffin (affectionately known as the Oldest House) and Hadwen Houses, with the names of the buildings and the date of their construction on the back. The clasp features two Great Point Lighthouses tail to tail and a design taken from the Methodist Church on Centre Street.
“When I went to do the Nantucket bracelet, I pretty quickly ended up on the Library of Congress website because they have the best collection of photographs of old houses. That would not be possible if Nantucket weren’t such a special place,” said Grover, whose island roots trace back to her parent’s honeymoon.
She began coming to the island in the summers as a child and then through college. Thirty years ago she and her husband bought a piece of property north of town and split their time between the island, New York City, and wherever their travels take them.
“Nantucket is an easy place to love. The natural beauty is hard to beat and I have always enjoyed the community,” said Grover.