Gabriela and Teresita Artigas launched their namesake jewelry collection in 2003. Thirteen years in business in this industry is a testament to their quality product and commitment to their craft. The sisters handle different aspects of the business but are constantly by their family and architecture and roots to Mexico City. The brand is based in LA and the collection is handmade there as well. The sisters continue to challenge themselves and evolve as a brand in order to build a brand that will carry the family name for generations.
Growing up in Mexico City there must have been an abundance of inspirations. What colors, sounds, experiences do you recall most about your childhood?
Gabriela Artigas: “When I think about our childhood and upbringing in Mexico, the overwhelming feeling is the idea of family and inclusiveness. Lunch is a big part of Mexican culture, and not just because of the food, but because it’s a time for relatives, neighbors, and friends to get together and talk. Much of our weekends would be spent preparing for Sunday lunch. We would go to the vibrant local markets with our grandmother or mother to buy fresh food and spices. I can still vividly recall the crowds, the abundance of color from all the textiles and fresh food, plus all the sounds and scents that go with it. After church we would set the table and prepare a huge meal which would be formally served to our guests. Our grandfather was an architect and our family moved in artistic and international circles, so we were exposed to the arts from an early age, as well as a lot of different cultures. The memories of this ritual is something I hold close to me to this day. And Tere and I still love to visit markets whether it’s the Rose Bowl flea market in LA or La Lagunilla Market in Mexico City. We spend hours scouring all the antiques, furniture, art, and clothes and I definitely find a lot of inspiration for my designs there.
Where do you see these influences in your daily life/work now?
Gabriela Artigas: “For me, everything begins and ends with family. The Mexican culture and concept of family and inclusiveness is prevalent throughout each collection. It’s most vividly captured in our Twin Tusk pieces which feature two bands that are melded together to form a unified hole. It symbolizes the spirit and partnership of our family and especially between me and my sister, Tere.”
When did you decide to start designing jewelry?
Gabriela Artigas: “In 2003 my mother and I came to LA to visit my brother, Alex, who was studying architecture at the time. During our stay, we went to downtown LA and bought some beads. Whilst at Joan’s On Third, I held up a string of beads that I had just made into a necklace to show my mother. As I did so, this woman walked by and said, “I love your necklace! Where did you buy it? Are you a designer?” Before I could say anything my mother chimed in and said, “Yes, she is!” That was the first time I sold a piece of jewelry. I always knew I wanted to design and I am grateful to that lady for being my first customer.”
The brand’s design philosophy is the idea of contrasts – can you expand on this a bit?
Gabriela Artigas: “I’ve always loved contrast when it comes to style and design. For example, when I dress in the morning I may play with proportion and pair something oversized with something more streamline. It provides an element of balance and also allows you to highlight certain features. The same goes for my jewelry. If I want to accentuate the sharpness of a line, I’ll introduce a curve. The theme of contrast also represents the difference in personalities between me and my sister. I am dreamy and whimsical by nature which suits my role as a designer. Tere is attentive and focused which are the precise qualities you want when you work in sales. We each have our individual strengths but when these qualities are combined we reach a state of equilibrium that’s helped our business to flourish. It’s this powerful form of equilibrium that I am always pursuing when it comes to my jewelry designs.”
Tere, can you tell us about your transition from grief counselor to sales director of the brand?
Tere Artigas: “It may seem surprising, but my time as a grief counselor prepared me so well for my role in sales. I have always enjoyed listening to others and as a counselor I learned how to be an empathetic listener. This is such a vital skill when you are engaging with clients, whether it be a retailer or a customer. I like learning, understanding or even anticipating what people need and then helping them find a piece of jewelry that they will wear and treasure forever.”
How did you decide it was time to join the family business?
Tere Artigas: “I always knew that Gabriela was an amazing designer and just needed an extra push to make things happen. I could also see the challenges you face running a business by yourself, and I knew that I could provide the right support, because our personalities are different and we would want to focus on distinct areas of the business, therefore avoiding any overlap in our roles and any of the typical conflict that might come with that. I also knew that we shared exactly the same core values, thanks to our upbringing, which is important when jointly running a business together. I woke up one day in 2008, quit my job, moved to Los Angeles and never looked back.”
What’s the hardest part of working with your sister? The best?
Gabriela Artigas: “I think Tere mentioned it earlier, but we share the same intrinsic values which is important when you work together all year round and jointly manage a business. We both agree on the direction we want to take to the brand and because each of our livelihoods depend on our business we are more committed than anyone. I want my sister to have the best in life and she wants this for me so we each work hard in order to make this a reality for the other.”
Tere Artigas: “I get to work with my best friend every day and nothing beats that! In the beginning, when we were starting out, we both took pay cuts which helped ensure the long‐term success of the business. We also approached, and continue to approach, our business planning with a long-term perspective that allows for solid strategy and decision-making. We want to leave a legacy for generations of Artigas’ to come! Also, because we are family we are willing to wear several hats and take on tasks outside of our formal jobs in order to ensure the success of Gabriela Artigas & Co. You will never hear us say, “Sorry, but that’s not in my job description,” because there is a greater sense of commitment and accountability.
How has the way women wear jewelry changed since launching the business? How has Gabriela Artigas & Co adapted to these changes?
Tere Artigas: “When Gaby first started designing, it was in the era of the costume jewelry boom. Everyone was all about super statement necklaces, rings and earrings. Each piece was bold and oversized and took center stage. Women tended to wear pieces in isolation – it would be too maximal to combine everything. And then because everything in fashion is always cyclical and the pendulum swings the other way, women started looking for more refined pieces. Fine jewelry increased in popularity and we started producing sleeker necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. Influencers like Leandra Medine from Man Repeller, started showing the versatility of these pieces with ‘arm parties’ and soon stacking, mixing and matching pieces to create a statement whole became popular. Rings soon followed suit and then ear cuffs that crawled all the way up the ear came into the mainstream and the ‘ear party’ became the new ‘arm party.’ Stacking and layering fine pieces is still relevant now and we have also introduced weightier pieces with more dimension into our collection. For spring/summer 2017, we have produced a collection featuring matte black and white onyx stones in larger settings. These look great when styled on their own but they are also versatile enough to be mixed and matched with other pieces.
What are you doing more of now vs. when you started out designing?
Gabriela Artigas: “We are working with a lot more precious and semi precious gemstones than we used to and we are increasingly experimenting with color. We use diamonds and pave diamonds in white and black and produce pieces with rubies or sapphires. We design nearly everything in 14K white, yellow or rose gold settings but these days we also work with materials like brass and sterling silver to create pieces at more accessible price points, particularly for our younger customers. We definitely produce more carryover styles than we did during the early days of our business because we have a loyal, repeat customer base that continue to turn to us for modern classic pieces. Each season, we carryover our signatures and best sellers, like our Infinite Tusk or Mini Axis Earrings which we may re-imagine in new materials. For example, for the holidays, we enlivened our chain rings, bobby pins and earrings with pave diamonds for a touch of sparkle. We continue to create limited edition pieces and exclusive collections for stores like Des Kohan in LA although we are limiting these projects to 2-3 times per year so that we can really focus on our main, seasonal collections.”
How are you challenging your design skills season after season?
Gabriela Artigas: “I draw inspiration from nearly everything around us but especially when we travel so I always carve out time in my schedule to visit somewhere new. Tere and I took a trip to Iceland and its dramatic and evocative volcanic landscape combined with the magical Aurora Borealis and channeled this into our new spring/summer 2017 collection, while also adding an exciting new dimension and luminosity to our pieces and new gemstones such as black and white onyx.
Our customers – both existing and new – also help to propel my design skills forward season after season. Thanks to our showroom on La Cienega in Los Angeles, which doubles up as a by-appointment only retail store, Tere and I have had the opportunity to connect with our customers face-to-face and understand and anticipate their continually evolving needs.
New technology also helps challenge our design skills. We have testing a lot of 3D printing and it is opening up a whole realm of design possibilities.”
How do you see the brand continuing to evolve?
Tere Artigas: “We are expanding into lifestyle for the first time with the creation of a Gabriela Artigas candle which is available now just in time for the holidays. Next year we also have a really exciting home ware collaboration coming out with a top LA design studio. However, our main priority is to continue to create amazing jewelry collections that evolve from one season to the next, featuring pieces that our customers love and will want to wear forever. We also want to provide our customers with greater access to our products so we are focusing on fine tuning our e-commerce business, and bolstering our wholesale business so that we can become a globally-admired brand stocked by the most discerning boutiques and major stores all over the world.”