Kate Ellen : Interview & Studio Tour

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KATE ELLEN | JEWELRY DESIGNER & OWNER OF CROWN NINE | OAKLAND

Old Oakland is a thriving community of independent retailers, small businesses, and fun dining experiences located in the historic district of downtown Oakland. One fixture to this community, also known as "popuphood," is Crown Nine. Kate Ellen is the owner and master-mind of  Crown Nine, a jewelry boutique and showroom that boasts a handful of skillfully crafted jewelry lines from local Oakland designers and beyond.

Kate Ellen not only curates the showroom and gallery she also runs her own jewelry line, Kate Ellen Metals, and can often be found making one-of-a-kind metal pieces in her work studio conveniently located upstairs overlooking the showroom. If there is someone that stands as a symbol of a maker/designer, longtime resident, and active member of the Oakland community, it is Kate Ellen. I got a chance to talk to Kate Ellen about her business, space, and love for Oakland.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business and what you do? 

I'm a jewelry designer and retail boutique owner.  I started my jewelry line about five years ago, and opened my flagship store Crown Nine about two and a half years ago, our mission is to connect people to 'Real Beautiful Things Made by Real People'.  I personally create limited edition works in silver and gold under my eponymous line Kate Ellen Metals at Crown Nine, my studio is lofted above the showroom floor.  I design things that have a very hand-hewn look with raw textures and loose lines that tend toward asymmetry.  I also design custom wedding and engagement jewelry which is definitely my favorite part of my job. 

At Crown Nine I show the work of over 25 independent jewelry artists--about half of who are local.  The style, medium, and materials range, but each artist I select is grounded in high quality craftsmanship paired with a truly unique voice.  We also carry artworks in ceramic, glass, leather, as well as rare plants and apothecary.  

Can you talk about your process as a jewelry designer/maker? 

I tend to play.  Play is very important because there is no expectation during play, the point it to be in the moment and explore ideas.  I have discovered what works for me is to get a general sense of what I want to make by running through some rough sketches, purchasing the right kind of raw materials, and then blocking out full days in a row to crank up my stereo and just play around.  I start with drafts, lots of designs, and then after a bulk of work is produced I take my editors eye and start selecting yeses and nos.  Some of my most successful designs were accidents or afterthoughts.  It's really important to me that a design feels pleasurable in a tactile sense on the body, so I usually wear all my work for a while before releasing it, just to really make sure it flows with clothing, hair, movement, and just feels and sounds luxurious while on the wearer's body.

For my latest collection, Harena, I created a lot of wax models in different shapes, many of them inspired by hiking trips to The Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite.  I then sandcasted these models in my studio to give them a dug up out of the earth texture.  Sandcasting is one of the most ancient ways of casting and I love doing it, it feels like being included in the arc of history.  From there, I created rubber molds and each piece is lost wax cast.  I also played with setting the deep, penetrating blacks of spinel and onyx, and star setting diamonds.  

How does the community shape your practice, vice versa? 

The Bay Area has been a dreamy place to start this company-- primarily because there are so many customers who just 'get it' and understand why it's important to choose things made by real people, and who value the same things I do in regards to ethically and sustainable sourcing materials.  I do not have to spend a lot of time educating clients on the benefits of shopping local, supporting artists, or paying a premium for items that protect the environment.  

I also have so much support from the other jewelers in this community-- it really feels like an open door network of incredible people.  Anytime I need a resource or have a questions, someone in my circle happily offers help.  I likewise get gratification from supporting my peers and helping people who want to get into the industry.  I really don't believe in 'competitiveness' in the traditional sort of way, I prefer to think of other designers as teammates on my same team, people who challenge me to grow and innovate and be my best self.  I really think there is enough room for all of us to be great.

What/Who is inspiring you lately? 

I've been consulting on some interior design jobs recently, so I've been looking a lot of art.  I am really into Katherine Rutter, Megan Donegan, Mecedes Dorame, Nancy Christensen, Jonathan Barcan, and a bunch of the artists as Creative Growth like Franna Lusson, Donald Mitchell, and Dan Miller.  I also have been listening to a lot of music produced by T-Bone Burnett-- I recently discovered that he has produced many of my favorite albums and movie soundtracks.  

What are some of your favorite places/spaces in Oakland? 

I have so many!  

Tacos: Cosecha

Burger: Chop Bar

Cocktails: Dogwood, 355, Fauna, Cafe Von Cleef

Dive: The Avenue

Pizza: Boot and Shoe

Patio Seating: Forge

Vegetarian: Encuentro

Bakery: Sweet Adeline

Coffee: Blue Bottle and Caffe 817

Beer: Heart and Dagger

Wine: Periscope Cellars and Ordinaire

Trivia Night: Rosamunde

Hike: Joaquin Miller East Ridge Trail

Live Music: New Parish

 

+ Words and Photos by Loren Crosier 

Crown Nine Kate Ellen Metals


Oakland/SF Local is an ongoing collaboration with LoCro Studio as a part of City Local, an 1137 original column that features art and design savvy people, places and thoughts from different cities across the country as told by even savvier local contributors.