Designer Sarah Graham has a lot in common with 19th century
Americans who headed west in search of finding a life or career
where they could make their mark.
Originally, the San Francisco-based designer seemed to be
following in her family's business-minded footsteps. Her father is
a CPA and her sister a successful restaurateur. Sarah even earned a
bachelor's degree in international business, fully intending to
pursue a business career.
"From the beginning I didn't expect I would be a jeweler, but I
really loved the business," she recalls.
She worked in a retail jewelry store and learned painstaking
training in cutting, soldering, wax model making and other bench
work techniques while working in a jewelry workshop.
So Sarah was well equipped and trained when in
2000 she burst onto the scene with a revolutionary concept,
combining gold with a type of blackened steel. At her first trade
show, where she made her international debut, her innovative
product was a runaway success.
Beyond the fascinating materials Sarah uses, there's her love of
translating nature, natural shapes and organic wonders into jewelry
design. Each piece from the slimmest stack ring to her largest
links has a naturalistic texture that begs to be touched.
A lover of the outdoors, Sarah has found inspirations on hikes
in the mountains and walks on the beach. Just some of her natural
inspirations include river rocks tumbled about in white water
rapids, driftwood found on a beach, decayed wood displaying a
lacelike structure or Jacaranda pods, dangling from a specimen in
Why she's even created an elegant chandelier-like design based
upon a single-cell marine organism.
"While I have always known that to get a 'random' or 'organic'
look one must measure and layout carefully. But I had no idea just
how symmetrical nature is when viewed at a micro level. Seemingly
haphazard petals or branches are actually laid out with
surprisingly precise proportions that have given me a new
appreciation for nature."
Sarah says it's ironic how many times she uses a digital
millimeter gauge and calculator to figure out how best to replicate
a natural design into her palette of metals.
"Actually much of nature is based upon specific proportions,"
Sarah says. Which she follows to a certain degree.
"Once a shape is in place, we let go of formulas and breathe
life into a piece by adding in indiscriminate touches or
additions," she says.
Thus while truly based on organic formulas, her designs remain
slightly abstract as well. "It wouldn't be mine with a touch of
For Sarah, design is all about contrasts. No where is that
better exemplified than in her unusual combinations of metals,
which is a signature of her designs.
"My jewelry is all about the metals," Sarah says. While expertly
trained in goldsmithing, Sarah also delved into experimenting with
other metals, settling upon oxidized cobalt chrome, a kind of steel
that has a matte black appearance and is actually 60% lighter than
Sarah artfully juxtaposes her blackened cobalt chrome with 18k
yellow, rose and white gold, adding in white and cognac diamonds,
and sometimes pearls.
"Actually my cobalt chrome sells the gold. When you see it
paired with any color of gold, both appear richer and more
interesting," she notes.
The result is jewelry that is both bold and daring without
sacrificing any elegance or sophistication that assure its
Even beyond her use of atypical metals, Sarah instills in each
piece a rare combination of femininity and organic textures. Many
of her shapes and textures are inspired directly from nature: river
rocks, drift wood, coral, seed pods and plants. It's almost as if
Sarah extracts the essence of these objects, replicating their
nuances and subtleties in metals. And as any metalsmith can tell
you, that's no easy feat.
"Trying to be safe is the most unsafe thing," Sarah says. "When
clients first saw my jewelry -- even touched it -- they tell me my
jewelry is unlike anything they have ever seen. It's my
Sarah is constantly evolving how she mixes her metals, and
refining the organic textures that define her look.
All her hard work and ingenuity has been rewarded including being
named Designer of the Year several times, most recently by
the Women's Jewelry Association.
Bright colors aren't my thing. That's why I love the genius of
Bottega Veneta where the patterns and textures take center
I really like Rachel Comey, too, her tailoring is perfection.
And although I don't relate to her as a celebrity, I have to admit
Victoria Beckham's dresses are great.
I think there's a parallel in what they shop for in their
clothing to their jewelry shopping. They look for small, emerging
in smaller boutiques and better department stores. They are more
concerned about the personal service, interaction with the designer
and finding things that really fit well. And it doesn't have
to be a major name designer.
One of our chain necklaces. They are perennial bestsellers since
they can be worn everyday, appropriate for dressing up or dressing
1. A great pair of boots that is stylish and comfortable. Living
in hilly San Francisco, I seldom wear heels.
2. Comfortable sandals for warmer weather. I like Cole Haan.
A camping vacation to Vieques in Puerto Rico.
My art studio in Santa Cruz, where I have a bench, is a great
getaway. And Big Sur near Carmel, where I started in the jewelry
A fingerprint -- or rather toe print necklace in 18k gold. The
toe prints are from my son, born in 2010. I also have a fingerprint
necklace with my husband's prints. We do these on a custom
I'd say any of our stacking rings. They are a fun way to create
a look by choosing different colors and combining them. Also our
oxidized cobalt chrome hoop earrings.
It's not necessarily a famous person. I really admire women who
don't care about dictates of fashion. They see their wardrobes as a
way to reflect their own individual personalities.
A woman who understands the power of accessorizing. She has self
confidence in her style and she knows how a great piece of jewelry
can transcend fads and be a statement in her wardrobe for
Knowing her love for nature's pure designs, a relative visiting
the Huntington Botanical Garden insisted Sarah see a Jacaranda pod.
A true marvel of natural design, its beauty lies in the unusual
structure of a pair of opposite compound leaves that seemed to have
a pretty ruffle around the edges. The two sides of the pod join at
the top and spread apart creating an interior space, the perfect
setting to add movement with dangles of diamonds.
A signature look from Sarah, the Pebble collection is inspired
by the natural shapes found in stones tossed among the currents of
a river. Once jagged edges of rocks now have been smoothed and
gently shaped and tumbled into softened yet irregular forms. The
outlines of these smooth stones are translated into simple links,
lying side by side. Nature's own version of geometry.
Luckily for Sarah Graham, she can find inspiration in the most
ordinary of objects. A four leaf clover shape in one of the
custom-made drawplates her workshop uses to pull handmade wire
through to twist into chain, inspired what has become one of her
best known collections: Clover. The chains in this collection also
have Sarah's organic touch. A twisted texture makes each handmade
link appear as if it were once a vine on a tree.
The Flowering Coral collection is based on one of the thousands
of corals illustrated by Ernst Haeckel, the preeminent German
biologist, zoologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician and artist
who discovered and described thousands of new species in the 19th
"His concentration on form rather than function allowed him to
make leaps in his studies that other scientists -- with their heads
buried in their data -- were not able to make," Sarah says. "His
findings proved what I always strive to portray in my jewelry: art
and science are one in the same. When searching for pure beauty,
one needs look no further than their natural surroundings."
Sarah Graham named this collection for the confluence, or
coming together of friends, ideas and inspiration. Inspired by a
piece of jewelry given to her by a jewelry designer friend, each
piece is based on a cup shape made in either 18-karat gold or
blackened cobalt chrome where a diamond often rests delicately
inside. Carefully hand assembled Sarah believes the attention and
care put into making each individual piece is like the care we put
into nurturing our friendships.
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