The concept of the ‘curated ear’ has been trending for a few years now, but one designer’s offering certainly ups the ante. KATKIM, the fine jewelry brand by Katherine Kim, has gained attention internationally for its now-signature Ear Pins—not to mention A-lister fans such as Rihanna, Charlize Theron, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, and Taraji P. Henson. The Central Saint Martin/FIT-trained mom-of-two also has a stellar selection when it comes to engagement rings, diamond bands, and everything in between. We caught up with the sustainably-minded designer to hear how it all began.
What’s your backstory?
Jewelry is such a specific sector, and I never would have imagined to be where I am today in my earlier years. No one else in my family or anyone I knew growing up was in the jewelry industry. I never thought about pursuing it until I was in college. I started off majoring in graphic design at Art Center College of Design [in Pasadena, CA] and after a few internships in design agencies, I quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted as a career. I have always loved jewelry and how it is often a token that represents a memory that you keep forever. So I decided to take a break and learn jewelry at Central Saint Martins. I quickly fell in love with the process of turning my ideas into tangible objects that can be worn and cherished. That, to me, was so rewarding. I decided to switch tracks and pursue jewelry design/studio as my major and that’s what led me here today. I think this career found me instead of the other way around.
When did you launch your brand?
I launched my brand in the fall of 2015 in New York City. I have always believed in putting the environment first. The jewelry industry can be very opaque and I wanted to ensure I was making the most responsible choices possible, which meant working with reputable vendors that abide by ethical values and policies, keeping my production local, and being transparent in my overall practice with my customers.
Tell us about how sustainability underpins your brand ethos.
Sustainable practices have [always] been at the forefront of my business. It requires a thoughtful approach as there is so much to consider. My team and I strive to have as minimal of a negative impact on our environment and community and mindful of how much waste is produced by our business. We make an effort to reuse any plastic that ends up in our office or reuse our shipping boxes whenever we can. We only work with trusted and reputable suppliers who have an ethical supply chain for all our stones and gold, which is also why I keep my production local so we can overshadow the entire process. We are also committed to buying green on all our office and studio supplies and I make sure I am investing in my team by providing vacation days, healthcare, and an overall positive work environment.
I’m obsessed with your ear pins—as is every celebrity on the planet! When did you conceptualize this design, has
it always been a main part of your collections?
The idea of my Ear Pins transpired in my NYC apartment back in 2015. I always loved how iconic the safety pins were and I wanted to create a simple yet striking way to wear one. I had a stash of jumbo safety pins laying around that I cut in half and put it through my piercing and I knew right then I had something. The next day I went to my studio and for almost a week, I spent time developing the idea and perfecting the fit to serve all ears. That was my pivot point and my Ear Pin was born! Since then it has evolved into many different designs from adding diamond pavé to a silhouette of Cs to petites. It is the core and staple of my collection, and I am always working to showcase new ways of wearing them.
Do you remember who the first celebrity to wear your designs was? What did that moment feel like?
Oh yes, it was the amazing Taraji P. Henson! She came out wearing my Diamond Thread Ear Pin at a Vanity Fair
event and I was in tears. My incredible publicist and consultant [Francesca Simons] and I were on the phone screaming and crying. I can never forget that moment!
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Do you still get the same buzz when you see someone you admire wearing your pieces?
Absolutely! It never gets old. It’s so humbling and exciting when I see someone wearing my pieces.
You also have a beautiful engagement ring offering; what do we need to know?
My engagement ring collection grew very organically. I started receiving requests from people to customize my collection pieces as their engagement rings. I started off with a small Floating Diamond Ring from when I launched my brand and so I would say that has been one of the most requested design. I have gotten requests primarily for different cuts of diamonds or larger carats. I also spend a lot of time working privately one-on-one with my clients to create bespoke engagement rings for those looking to create something outside of the collection. The bespoke process is all about engaging storytelling. For me as a jeweler, and for my clients that know exactly what they want, communicating a story through a design is one of the most exciting things and being involved in their journey is hugely exciting.
You’re based in L.A. now. Does living there inspire your work?
I moved to L.A. from NYC two years ago. It has definitely been a big change, but finding harmony in many different perspectives and influences plays a large part in my design process. Also my clients are my biggest muse and I am inspired daily by them.
How has this year been for you, personally? Were you WFH? We saw you were homeschooling too!
It has been filled with a whirlwind of emotions and it has been challenging having to adapt to this new climate personally and professionally. I am WFH in Manhattan Beach with my husband and two daughters (ages four and seven). For the most part, I have always worked from home, but having to simultaneously homeschool my two girls has been challenging. I honestly haven’t had much time to get anything done! The little time that I do have, I try to make it as productive as possible.
Any upcoming fun projects or launches you can let us in on?
Yes! Iʼm am working on a new bridal collection, which Iʼm incredibly excited for! Itʼs a selection of seven engagement rings, each of which has a specially designed wedding ring to nestle together with for the perfect wedding set. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to create many bespoke engagement rings for lovely couples who had struggled to find something that suited them. My approach for the wedding collection was to design the pieces so that they can be completely customized with different metal and stones options.