I wanted to share this article which was such a fun experience. I was contacted to do an article which was placed in the business section. Both Andrea James Reporter and Karen Ducey Photographer truly captured the essence of my spirit. I hope you will enjoy this article!
Small Retail: Jewelry maker bathes Seattle’s brides in crystal
Last updated April 18, 2008 11:32 p.m. PT
Photo by Karen Ducey / P-I
The Looney Maiden Jewelry studio is small and intimate — and has no clocks.
By ANDREA JAMES
THERE COMES a moment when a bride-to-be looks in the mirror and the necklace that she is trying on becomes hers.
Judith Cartier Oliver recognizes the look each time, but doesn’t let on. The Seattle jewelry maker has been running her home business, Looney Maiden Jewelry, since 1992.
"There’s a look that we give ourselves in the mirror — it’s a look that we see ourselves that day," she said. "I always know. It’s quite cute when I see it. I can tell which one. They’re comfortable in this piece."
She specializes in bridal jewelry — earrings, chokers, necklaces and hairpieces — and makes half of her sales in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia via the Web. But her favorite part of running the business is the private 90-minute consultation sessions with local customers. She calls it fun girl time.
"Meeting my customers inspires me," she said. "That’s something I learned about myself: I need to meet my customers."
A bride usually brings a photo of her dress or the gown itself. When Mom, a flower girl or bridesmaids join in, the session becomes a jewelry party. "I love the mother-daughter experience and connection that occurs," Oliver said. "It’s really sweet."
The showroom is intimate, with plush chairs, ivory crushed-velvet table coverings, display necklaces and many mirrors and natural-light lamps. There is no clock. It is a timeless space. Oliver, 47, said she gives each bride a hug at the end.
Oliver has an apprentice whom she is teaching to weave handmade combinations of Swarovski crystals and pearls, sterling silver and 14-karat gold fill.
"Judy has definitely taught me some different techniques with wire working," said apprentice Andrianna Panebianco, 26. "When you are working with wire, the pieces you create tend to be able to last a lifetime versus having to restring it every couple of years."
Scores of boxes of beads cover a center table in the studio. Customers can customize jewelry designs and colors, and there’s plenty to choose from — Swarovski pearls alone come in 30 shades including white, cream, cream rose and light-cream rose. Genuine pearls come in their natural color.
"This is like color therapy every day," Oliver said.
An order can range from a pair of earrings to nine pairs of bridesmaid sets. The typical bride spends between $200 and $250 for her hairpiece, earrings, necklace and bracelet. Bridesmaid jewelry can bring the order to $600.
That said, everyone’s budget is different, Oliver added.
Tiaras start at $65. One tiara on display with 125 pearls and crystals costs $160. Chandelier earrings range from $39 to $85. Drop earrings start at $14 and end at $36. The priciest piece on display is a $249 choker made with more than 200 vintage Swarovski crystals.
"I’m all about the sparkle, of course," Oliver said.
Karen Ducey / P-I
Jewelry maker Judith Cartier Oliver helps bride-to-be Sharon Flaherty try on a necklace at her home-based shop, Looney Maiden. Her bridal earrings, chokers, tiaras and hairpieces are woven of crystals, pearls, silver and goldfill.
Oliver moved to Seattle from Akron, Ohio, in 1979, when the economy there slumped. Her first career was social work — she has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington.
After eight years of doing social work full time at a hospital, she needed more balance and decided to turn her jewelry-making hobby into a business. The first time she went to the Fremont Sunday Market in 1992, she rented a booth for $20 and sold $90 worth of earrings.
"I was so surprised that people liked my jewelry," Oliver said.
It took 10 years before Oliver made enough money to leave hospital work and make jewelry full time.
Looney Maiden is the company’s second name; the first was Inspirations. The quirkier name comes from a horoscope, which became a joke between Oliver and long-term partner Tom Schmitz, who would call her "my looney maiden." He is the company’s Web designer.
Oliver’s work has gained nationwide attention several times. The latest is the Looney Maiden choker bracelet a model is wearing on the Spring/Summer 2008 cover of Manhattan Bride. The business first opened a Web site eight years ago when Oliver’s work was featured in a Discovery Channel special on Renaissance weddings, she said.
Oliver likes to self-frost. She wears chandelier crystal earrings to the grocery store.
"Why dress down when you can dress up?" she says of her philosophy. "It’s about feeling pretty and being a woman. Celebrate that."