08/04/2014
de novo, Palo Alto, CA, USA

Todd Reed has been designing jewelry for over 20 years, and is today living and working out of his Boulder, Colorado studio. His early work incorporated raw diamonds, which was quite unusual at the time. His venture has grown from a one-man operation into a large team of master jewelers, and Todd spends his time creating new designs, collaborating with his team, and managing the business. He currently has a show at de novo in Palo Alto, California, and this provided an opportunity to ask him about his background and current work. 

Bonnie Levine: How did you get your start as a jeweler? When did you know you were interested?

Todd Reed: I started to get interested in jewelry when I was 10, primarily watching and being interested in the craft of putting things together. By the age of 19 I had a studio and was teaching myself jewelry making and starting to realize what it took to turn an idea into a well-constructed finished piece. At this time I was a leathersmith and making silver adornments for handbags and leather jackets, etc. I would simply adapt the ornaments to jewelry items by adding an ear wire or ring shank.

You were one of the first jewelers to work with raw diamonds, which redefined their use in contemporary jewelry. Why were you drawn to these natural raw diamonds rather than to the polished, cut stones that were the norm in commercial and studio jewelry? 

Todd Reed: When I started making jewelry I knew I wanted to create a heritage brand; I did not know, however, that I would come to be synonymous with raw diamonds. I got turned on to raw diamonds in a geology class and loved the idea that society was fascinated with cut diamonds, while the raw ones were what I considered perfect in every way. Initially as I started as a teenager, the raw diamonds offered a bit of dialogue to otherwise stagnant jewelry. In other words I was poking a bit of fun at diamond jewelry. Then I came to love everything about the raw diamond, mainly the incredible potential to communicate and connect with people in a natural and raw way. Raw diamonds offer a unique character every time; the unique surfaces and textures are individual and deeply inspiring.

Today your business consists of 16 master jewelers, sales and marketing teams, a building expansion in Boulder, Colorado, and a new boutique opening soon in Los Angeles, California. What is your primary focus now and how do you spend your time? Do you still spend time at the bench? 

Todd Reed: My primary focus in my company at this time is two-fold: I am the sole designer and creative visionary. Then I lead the management teams and always try to be a part of everything that happens, to make sure the voice is the same and that all departments always stay connected to purpose. So I talk a lot and answer questions and try to transfer as much knowledge as I can, and keep a great, fun, and innovative place to work. I do have a bench in my office where I make samples and ideas, and I made the first run of a leather men’s collection. I make gifts and donations, as well as collaborations. I do maintain 20 working benches in the company and feel good articulating my designs to the workmasters and jewelers.

After more than 20 years in the business, what continues to inspire your designs, and how do you keep your work fresh and innovative?

Todd Reed: I keep my designs fresh and innovative a number of ways. Mainly I do not look at the design as the work. I live my life in the art as the art, and it is all one thing. This is likely why living or working around me can be frustrating … seriously, though, I don’t have another filter as to how to interact with business or relationship or design. So as I get through life and have experiences I have feelings and emotions and they get processed as thoughts and turned into objects. So the inspiration is life or energy itself and it’s a literal well. The primary work is to filter the many ideas into things that my team can get behind and my clients will get turned on by.

Has there been a major accomplishment(s) you’re most proud of or that was a seminal moment in your career?

Todd Reed: Twelve years ago my daughter was born and I immediately had a strong pull to be better—at everything. Thank you, Flora.

Your work is being featured at de novo in Palo Alto, California, from July 25–August 2, 2014. Tell us about the work you’ll be featuring in that show. 

Todd Reed: I met Cherry LeBrun at my first major show … at ACC Baltimore sometime in the late 90s. I was introduced to her by an art jewelry icon, Abrasha. She was professional and beautiful and statuesque and she was fantastic. She looked at my jewelry as she does today, each piece as its own small-world wonder and desire in each one and she got it. I am extremely thankful for what we would call now early adopters like Cherry and de novo. This exhibit will feature a range of work showcasing gold and diamonds. The contrast in this collection is subtle and fantastic and the many one-of-a-kinds are inspiring.

Your work has appeared in all of the major trade publications and popular magazines, and has been worn by models and celebrities. How do you see the relationship between jewelry, design, and fashion? Is your work more rooted in one discipline than the others?

Todd Reed: Art, jewelry, fashion, design to me feels all the same. It feels like self-expression. The collector gets to draw their own conclusion about the purpose of the relationship. I think that the wonder and true beauty of art or fashion or jewelry is the obvious outer symbol and the more cryptic inner meaning or symbol. I think it’s sexy and alluring and the thing I most love about art.

What advice would you give to young jewelers who want to take their work to the next level? 

Todd Reed: Young jewelers or designers or anyone really wanting to take anything to the next level should decide exactly what the next level is, then why they want to get there. If they still like it, then I say go with passion, follow intuition above all else, love what you do, make every attempt to balance health and personal life knowing that while the attempt is necessary it is fleeting. At the tippy, tippy top of it all is stay connected to your purpose!

Bonnie Levine

Bonnie Levine is co-owner of Hedone Gallery. She has loved and bought contemporary studio jewelry for many years, determined to become a gallerist when she left the corporate world. That has now happened!