With fans including Sarah Paulson, Kate Hudson, Lucy Liu, and Hunter Schafer; the finance world’s loss is the fashion world’s gain. Melissa Kaye pivoted from a linear trajectory (she has a degree in engineering and computer science, an MA in computational finance, and a 10-year stint at Goldman Sachs under her belt) in order to indulge her creative side. And thank goodness she did! Her seven-year-old namesake line is a go-to for arresting diamond and neon enamel designs, and need we mention her best-selling, Rihanna-approved ear cuffs? As it turns out, her seemingly incongruous original career path only served to propel her made-in-NYC jewelry design brand to new heights. Here, she let’s us in on how the two industries aren’t as different as we might think…
Your undergrad is in engineering and computer science, and your Master’s is in computational finance. When did jewelry come into the picture?
I can’t pinpoint a specific moment that turned me on to jewelry, but I’ve been in love with it for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I had a little bench set-up in my bedroom and was always working on new projects. My mother has held on to a few of my childhood designs, and although they’re definitely not my finest work, she still loves them!
In what ways did your 10-year stint at Goldman Sachs come in handy when you launched your own business?
I believe you are the sum of all your experiences. While my background in engineering and finance may not appear to be directly related to what I do now, there are a lot of skills from my past life that I still draw upon. For example, one thing I have always been good at is problem solving. Whether it’s a math problem, design problem, or a business development problem, the ability to break-down an issue into smaller, more manageable components is incredibly helpful. Being analytical and resourceful are critical characteristics to running any successful business. While I developed these qualities in a different environment, they are still applicable.
What about your aptitude for math, does that still come into your work every day?
I think my math and engineering background informs my mindset and design philosophy more than anything. My starting point for a new design is typically, ‘How is this piece going to work?’ Function is not an afterthought—it is central to the design. Jewelry is an extension of the wearer, so it has to fit well and feel good when you’re wearing it.
How did you know it was the right time to go back and study at FIT?
After years in an intense, technical role, I wanted to pursue a different direction. At the time, I was working with an interior designer on my new apartment. That creative outlet was so fulfilling that it ultimately motivated me to pursue my lifelong interest in jewelry. Of course, at times it was overwhelming to make such a dramatic career shift, but once I made the decision to pivot, I was fully invested.
What are the similarities between the industries you’ve worked in?
While there isn’t a lot of obvious overlap between the two industries, I think the biggest similarity is that both are client service oriented. Ultimately, excellent client service is critical to a business’s success.
Do you remember the first piece you ever designed or made?
I don’t specifically remember the first piece I ever made, though I definitely made a lot of beaded jewelry as a young child. I also remember taking a jewelry class at summer camp, where I made some fun pieces out of stained glass.
What’s an absolute non-negotiable when it comes to your brand?
Quality is of the utmost importance to the brand. We will never compromise on the quality of design, materials, craftsmanship, or client experience.
Have you always utilized color, since you launched your brand in 2013, or is this a newer addition?
Diamonds have always been our core focus, with occasional pops of color from precious gemstones like rubies and sapphires. We introduced neon enamel in 2019 and the response has been amazing! Alongside neon, we also offer black and white enamel for something a little more neutral. I think the addition of enamel—neon especially—gives us a strong fashion-forward point of view that is not only super luxurious, but also fun.
Your pieces are handmade in NYC, tell us what that process looks like.
Our pieces are handcrafted by expert artisans using responsibly-sourced precious metals and stones. Each piece is meticulously crafted, and I manage our production from start to finish, so every piece of jewelry passes through my hands before it goes out into the world.
What do we need to know about the new Ada collection?
Ada is our first (and long-awaited!) chain collection. I’ve been looking to develop a custom chain for a while as the chain is an important styling essential that jewelry collectors can’t live without. We wanted to introduce something unique, that’s true to our aesthetic and would work in all of our signature finishes—from tried and true yellow gold to our full range of diamond and enamel offerings. We took our time exploring a variety of different concepts and ultimately developed a silhouette that had the desired look and feel. The Ada chain is bold and luxurious, and its substantial weight makes it feel like a second skin.
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Our style needs have definitely changed this year! Have you noticed any certain category rising in popularity?
Now, more than ever, when athleisure has become a mainstay in our wardrobes, jewelry is the ultimate way to elevate even the most casual of looks.We have been selling consistently across all categories and have found it’s mostly about what pieces a client connects with style-wise. Some lean toward our neon to inject some playfulness into their jewelry wardrobe, while others opt for more classic diamond or gold heavy pieces. Earrings are certainly having their moment, with so many of us doing virtual appearances on social media and Zoom. Styling the ear has become a craft unto itself, with clients looking to build a collection that includes earrings of different shapes, sizes, and colors that they can mix-and-match and have fun with. It’s been exciting to see the different combinations that clients have come up with.
Ok tell us about when Rihanna wore your Aria ear cuff. That must have felt pretty major!
I am a huge Rihanna fan! She’s a chameleon and full of surprises. I love that she experiments with emerging brands. It’s clear that she dresses for herself, and often influenced by her mood, which I really admire. Seeing her in our ear cuff was the ultimate seal of approval!
What’s next for the brand?
We are always hard at work on new projects. We really listen to our clients and take into account what they are looking for, while also pushing the boundaries of design to introduce fresh and exciting new pieces. We are working on a number of extensions to the collection and are looking forward to introducing some of those next spring…stay tuned!
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