More Coloradans taking a shine to fine custom jewelry

(Photo: Courtesy of Carla Morrison Fine Jewelry)
<p>Carved aquamarine and diamond ring by Carla Morrison Fine Jewelry</p>

The Denver Art Museum’s new Cartier exhibition shows off the Parisian fine jewelry house’s artistry and craftsmanship.

From Marie Bonaparte’s Belle Epoque-era, diamond encrusted tiara to the colorful Art Deco “Tutti Frutti” bracelet that belonged to Cole Porter’s wife, the show emphasizes Cartier’s strong relationships with the rich and powerful. It was not for nothing that King Edward VII of England dubbed Cartier "the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers."

Though Cartier cultivated these relationships on an unparalleled scale, here in Colorado, high-end jewelry designers are developing similarly close relationships with their customers -- a client base that has been flourishing lately.

Booming in Boulder

Carla Morrison Fine Jewelry Design based in Boulder functions like a boutique fine jewelry house, à la Cartier.

Owner, designer and goldsmith Carla Morrison and her three-man crew – a wax carver, setter and fabricator – maintain high-quality production of limited edition and one-of-a-kind pieces.

Morrison is known for her modern, unfussy concave designs and organic circular and oval forms. Her jewelry ranges from $900 to $50,000 for ready-made pieces and from $1,000 to more than $100,000 for commissions.

Morrison prefers to design for the long-term and encourages her clients to build what she terms a “jewelry wardrobe.”

Just like a clothing closet, a jewelry wardrobe includes go-to pieces to wear day or night. For example, Morrison says she may suggest three key items to a client -- diamond hoops, a gold chain and a cocktail ring.

“That’s what these women did with Cartier,” Morrison says. “And I love the old-school nature of working that way.”

The local market for jewelry made by Colorado designers seems to be growing. Morrison says that her customers are buying more jewelry these days.

Spending among Morrison’s clients who buy items in the $3,000 to $10,000 price range - a group that was impacted by the recession - is up. This group is now purchasing two to three made-to-order designed pieces a year.

In-house designs in demand

Colorado designers are also doing well at Oster Jewelers, a luxury boutique in Denver that sells high-end jewelry by such Coloradans as Samantha Louise alongside pieces by major brands like Bucellatti and Carrera y Carrera.

Melissa Oster, co-owner of Oster Jewelers, says her company’s in-house designs are the most popular type of local jewelry they sell. She says customers enjoy the collaborative design process and creating a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry.

Jeremy Oster, Melissa’s husband and co-owner of Oster Jewelers, says the company has been offering custom work since opening in February 2002. But the real growth in this area has been recent.

“Our custom design business has grown an average of 20 percent per year over the last five years,” Jeremy Oster says.

Jeremy Oster attributes much of the quick growth of the custom business to being more experienced in the process and using cutting edge technology to improve production. In comparison, he says the sales of the company’s designer jewelry is more moderate, yet healthy.

“We’re happy to carry local designers that have a unique aesthetic, especially up-and-comers,” Melissa Oster says. “Customers want to see local designers supported by local boutiques."