Erica Weiner started making jewelry in 2005 “with an emphasis on craftsmanship and affordability.” Her playful, vintage inspired work is now sold all over the world, including at Karmaloop. We had a chance to catch up with Erica about what inspires her, the challenges of starting her own business, and her favorite Cinco de Mayo beverage. Read on!
Which came first: an antique trinket collection or the desire to design jewelry?
A collection of antique trinkets. Even when I was broke, I scraped up money to buy the objects I absolutely HAD to have when I’d stumble upon them. Being broke actually shaped my collecting instincts – I had to make thoughtful choices, and I learned to leave things behind if I had any doubts. I often have a romantic, love-at-first-sight feeling with objects, and I’ve honed that to a sort of radar. BUY or LEAVE? The worst thing is leaving behind something that haunts you years later. Also, in those post-college years, I was moving apartments a lot, and living out of a suitcase (couch-surfing) often. My collections of stuff had to not take up too much precious space. Thus, antique fur coats or furniture were not possible to collect. “Smalls”, as they’re called in the antique business = perfect.
How do you find your materials? And on that note, how do you manage to obtain workable quantities?
My favorite sources are ebay, a few giant deadstock jewelry warehouses in New England, and Maine antique markets, near where my parents live. Obtaining workable quantities is often harder than finding cool stuff. I have some traditional jewelery techniques in my arsenal that allow me to reproduce small pieces. Some jewelry I make can only have a very short run due to limited parts, which my wholesalers hate. I remember when I found a box of antique pen nibs in a dusty barn – I instantly knew that they would make perfect pendants. (See our “Pen Nib” Necklaces). There’s an almost unlimited number of them out in the world, unused, and they’re obsolete so they are relatively inexpensive to buy. Plus they evoke that nostalgia I love. That was an exciting moment. Less exciting was when I realized you can’t drill a hole in stainless steel – I broke a lot of drill bits trying. We had to find someone who would solder rings onto steel using some kind of special technique. Other antiques that come in “workable quantities” – old photos. It’s one of my favorite materials to buy and work with. (See our “Mnemosyne necklace”).
What challenges and obstacles did you overcome in starting your own business?
The absolute worst parts have been the bookkeeping. Payroll tax, budgets, quickbooks. I hated math in school and now most of my day is spent looking at numbers. Also having to be an employer is pretty gnarly sometimes. Usually it’s great, and I love the women who I work with, but it’s very tough sometimes to figure out when to be a boss and when to be a friend. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it.
Many of your pieces are accompanied by interesting backstories. Tell us a little about how you learn these origins.
I was an Art History major at Vassar and my business partner studied Anthropology at Barnard. We are primarily interested in studying visual culture. And there’s this awesome tool called “Google”… Also I try to ask tons of questions when I buy antiques. Collectors are more than happy to share their knowledge. Reputable auction sites like 1stdibs.com has great write-ups of antique pieces. I go there a lot and browse, so when I find a similar piece, I know some basic background info.
Describe your perfect day in May, who/what/where/when/why style.
Is “day in May” a euphemism for a wedding? Or is it a literal question, like what would I like to be doing/wearing when this winter weather finally lifts? I am planning my wedding, so I’ve got them on the brain.
What has been the hardest antique find to transform into a piece of jewelry?
See above, the pen nibs. Weirdly, they took a while to figure out how to make them without too much extraneous hardware and connecting pieces, which I hate. I always try to simplify hardware as much as possible. I think E.B. White had a quote: “Omit Useless Words”. I hate too much STUFF without purpose on a necklace.
Are you designing for a specific kind of female customer?
Smart ones with a sense of humor.
Does Erica Weiner jewelry reflect your personal style?
Yes and no. I only wear my own designs when I’m test-driving them. I wear a new piece every day for a week or so to make sure there are no technical problems and they look good with different types of outfits. I also load up on my own jewels when I’m working in our new shop. It’s like I put on my “battle gear”. I take it all off before I go home. The only jewelry items I wear regularly are family heirlooms.
Most played song in the Erica Weiner studio?
In the studio everyone’s obsessed with this podcast called “Uhh Yeah Dude”. Hundreds of hours of that have been logged. NPR too. But there’s also plenty of Pandora. Mostly 90′s music.
Preferred Cinco de Mayo drink: Margaritas or Corona?
Corona. I love beer too much.