Westmount Living Editorial
By Jodi Lazare
Ever find yourself wishing you had a great necklace to complement your favorite new dress? How about the perfect gift for your daughter’s sweet sixteen- one that can’t already be seen adorning the wrists of friends and neighbors?
Enter Designs by Erika, where clients watch and participate as custom jeweler and certified gemologist Erika Katsof designs that one-of-a-kind piece you just can’t live without.
At Designs by Erika, Montreal’s newest trend in jewelry buying, the luxuries of choice and interactivity are part and parcel.
“It’s different in that I work directly with the client,” says Katsof of her unique way of doing business. “I’ll go to them where and when it’s convenient. I’ve even met a client at 10p.m.”
Designs by Erika has no catalogue. Rather, all of the pieces are made to meet the client’s specifications, with Katsof’s help.
“People tend to come to me for more out of the ordinary requests,” says the 25-year-old graduate of the renowned Gemological Institute of America in California. And she doesn’t shy away from clients looking for something unusual. “I simply guide and direct the client to be sure of what they want.”
It was in California that Katsof learned to use Computer Aided Design to create 3D images of a proposed piece. The client can view the piece online or via email and send suggestions or questions about other styles. When the client is happy, she has a jewelry manufacturer create the piece.
By using CAD, Katsof can create the same piece in different metals, with different stones of any shape, size and colour until the client is satisfied with the final product. The software is a growing trend and according to Katsof, it’s quite unique in Montreal, with about a mere 20 jewelers designing with it.
Katsof also offers a personal shopping service. She often stakes out Montreal’s downtown jewelry district, looking for the perfect design.
Necklaces, bracelets and cufflinks are all on the menu, as are the regulars like engagement rings and wedding bands. Clientele is varied, from would-be fiancés to couples celebrating 25th wedding anniversaries, and those simply wanting to do something special for themselves.
She’s A Gem
By Nancy Snipper
Erika Katsof lives in NDG, but she has traveled from Tucson to Thailand in search of vibrant gems- precious and semi-precious stones that will find their rightful place in one of her classically modern designs. Her creations are wildly exciting, thoroughly modern, yet exquisitely detailed in execution.
“I conceive my designs like many artists do_ at anytime in any and all situations_ both mundane and really exciting. Objects, individuals and artwork inspire me. But ultimately, it is the stone, metal and design that speak to me,” said Erika who holds three distinct jewellery degrees.
This artist never does things halfway. Like her jewellery, Erika has left no stone unturned, having received her prestigious training in New York and in California. Two years of gemology, jewellery and design certainly have set her on her way, but it is her remarkable talent combined with superb craftsmanship that makes her creations eye-popping in their uniqueness.
Although she creates her own designs using a 3-D program, she collaborates in person with special jewelers to bring them to life. Each mesmerizing piece is conceived from that inexplicable place where talent and skill combine.
From diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies to amethyst, citrine and peridot, her colours definitely are the striking assets in her pieces.
“For me, the colour makes the piece. It comes alive when the right person meets his or her match in a stone. Like many people, I believe there is a connection between a person and a stone. There are spiritual and healing properties in each one.”
This is another of Erika’s gifts; she is able to match the perfect stone to the personality of each individual seeking that special jeweled item. Surprise, all her pieces are custom-designed, but certain stones can be replaced and modified as one wants.
Erika started playing with beads from the time she was five years old. She made all kinds of creations with bought beads, building up quite a business at the ripe age of 12. She also started working at a bead store in Westmount, packing beads before she hit her teens. Her boss, recognizing her love for beads and her ability to put the right ones together, introduced her to a metalsmith who in turn started giving her lessons in jewellery making.
“My love of beads progressed to metalsmithing and gemstones. It quickly became my passion. Unfortunately, it moved from an inexpensive hobby to a rather expensive one,” laughed Erika.
Nowadays, she cleverly seeks out the right jeweler for the right designs building up a rostrum of select jewelers who meticulously execute her vision. Each design is brought to the jeweler either in wax form or on paper.
She uses 18-karat gold or platinum in her work. They are high-end, one-of-a-kind pieces to treasure.
She just finished two successful bridal shows this year_ not bad for this 26-year-old whose designs are utterly unusual, so beautiful, magnificent, in fact.
It’s the drive of the design that has led Erika to say this: “I choose not to actually make the pieces; I want a master to do my designs. There are only so many hours in a day, and so I have made this choice. I keep on educating myself, go to gem shows, research new stones and allow the muse, as well, to direct me. It’s not that I am unable to make my own pieces, but time prevents me from doing it all, and thankfully there are some superb jewelers out there.”
It’s not only the gems that are bright. This highly creative artist has started her own business, proving that which glitters never loses its allure.
Jewelry designer caters to clients’ individual tastes
By Elaine Cohen, Supplements Co-ordinator
When clients meet the jewelry designer Erika Katsof, founding owner of Designs by Erika, they receive her full attention and honds-on expertise without having onlookers buzzing around counters. Katsof then takes charge of the process from design and implementation to gift wrap and delivery.
Katsof designs custom-made jewelry for all occasions and resets and remounts heirloom or family pieces people want remodeled or updated. She also does reproductions. Her clients are men and women of all ages who want high-end jewelry and mezuzot for special occasions at competitive prices.
“I can design something stunning to suit the client’s particular tastes and budget,” says Katsof, a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
A certified gemologist, she received comprehensive training at GIA’s main campus in Carlsbad, Calif., and in New York City. She took courses, applied the theory in lab work and fulfilled challenging commissions on location in Carlsbad as well as on Diamond Lane in New York. She returned to Montreal in March 2004 and worked for seven months at a jewelry manufacturer before branching off on her own. She also keeps au courant by attending trade shows, taking workshops and reading journals.
Katsof has studied every aspect of jewelry manufacturing and spent many hours working at the bench. As part of the process, she learnt about wax carving and was graded on her creations that included rings, bracelet links, earrings, pendants and clasps.
“We learned to keep up at a certain speed. This is important once in the profession because a designer has to respect deadlines.”
But she doesn’t hurry when working with her clients. “unlike jewellers who tell clients that it’s not worth their time, I take the time. I’ll work with clients to get what they want. I insist on giving high quality products and I want my clients to walk away with confidence. I grew up surrounded by fine family ethics and I believe in being honest with clients. I’ll educate them in the four C’s of diamond care (carat, clarity, colour, cut) and I’ll stand by my product.”
Certified in working with metals and gems, Katsof specializes in designing original jewelry, creating necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, and other items with gemstones and beads.
When a couple becomes engaged, it is customary to present the bride with a ring. While this may be the initial piece of jewelry, there are many more to come. The groom’s family often gives the bride earrings and/or a neckpiece or bracelet. Furthermore, the bride and groom will select their wedding bands. The bride and groom invariably show their appreciation with gifts for the bridal attendants. Whether it’s the best man, maid of honour, bridesmaids or groomsmen, these individuals cherish unique mementoes of the occasion.
Katsof’s eyes sparkle as she offers suggestions for all of these wedding party needs: cufflinks, tie tacks, brooches, button covers, bracelets, earrings, neckpieces. Prices vary depending on the intricacy of the design and types of metals or gems used in the piece. For example, if a client prefers platinum, it costs more than gold. Designs by Erika specializes in high-end stones or metals.
The 25-year-old jewelry maven became enamored with beads in her early teens. She landed a part-time job in a bead store and her passion for the profession intensified over the years.
“My employer introduced me to a metalsmith. I took private lessons and began working on different pieces, for example, a breast plate for a synagogue.”
In addition to the creativity, Katsof enjoys interacting with the customers. “It’s gratifying to see them walk out elated,” she says. “Since I specialize in made-to-order designs, my work is never boring.”
Katsof recently pleased a social worker by designing a two-sided ring. “My client want her ring to be dressy for evening wear, yet low-key for her daytime duties.”
In another instance, a woman celebrating her 25th anniversary wanted Katsof to update her diamond ring. Designs by Erika replaced the classic ballerina style with an elegant new look.
“Today, it’s not uncommon for couples celebrating their 10th anniversary to redo their rings. Sometimes, the brides want more stones or different settings.”
Katsof also responded to a former employer’s request to look after one of his clients in New York. The customer wanted a pearl and diamond necklace that could be worn during the day for a meeting as well as for evening wear.
Last April, Katsof took pride in outfitting an entire bridal party. Besides designing the couple’s wedding bands, she also provided matching pearl necklaces and earrings for the bride, crystal earrings to complement an existing necklace for the mother of the bride, sterling silver necklaces for the bridesmaids and a pendant on a chain for the maid of honour.
After her private personal consultations, Katsof often communicates through e-mail. “After we come up with a design, I’ll e-mail it for review, quotes and permission to proceed.”
A perfectionist, Katsof ensures the work is executed according to specification and everything links, looks fits, sparkles and clasps perfectly.
In addition to providing jewelry for various occasions, Katsof contributes her talents to the community. She designed pins for Jewish Employment Montreal as part of a FEDERATION CJA project. “They were selling pins to raise money for the employment program,” she says.
She also fashioned pieces for cancer research fundraisers. Her sterling silver and silver-plus gemstone mezuzot grace the doors of synagogues, organizations, and private homes.
For more information, potential clients can phone 514-484-7452 to arrange prive consultations or consult Katsof’s website, www.designsbyerika.com.
When the clients consult jewelry designer Erika Katsof, they receive undivided attention in the privacy of her refurbished factory loft in the heart of Montreal’s trendy downtown fur and jewelry district.
Clients don’t have to contend with other curious customers looking over their shoulder and competing for time. On occasion, Katsof is pleased to pop open a bottle of wine, and she’s always eager to offer a cup of freshly brewed coffee plus put out a plate of cookies. Consequently, clients can bask in the warm atmosphere and concentrate on the design of their dreams.
“That’s why I see clients by appointment,” Katsof said, inviting them to phone 514-484-7452 or e-mail [email@example.com]. “I’m happy to arrange an appointment at a mutually convenient time.”
The 27-year-old jewelry designer has had her own business for four years and now she is planning to launch a line of her own. Her website (www.designsbyerika.com) will soon include a build-your-own section. She is also contemplating a diamond data base, so clients can purchase online. Katsof has access to high quality diamonds at competitive prices.
A passionate artist, she designs and oversees every step of production from conception to completion. “It’s thrilling when clients receive the finished product,” she says. “They are so excited and their reaction is worth everything.” Katsof’s artistic boxed presentations are exemplary for gift giving.
A native Montrealer, Katsof honed her craft in Carlsbad, Calif. and New York City. Along with jewelry design, she studied wax carving and computer-aided design, and completed a comprehensive apprenticeship with experts in the field. A graduate of the Gemological Institute of America, Katsof practiced her trade in New York City, and often attends workshops in North American centers to keep abreast of digital technology and industry trends.
Throughout her youth, Katsof expressed an affinity for jewelry making and design. “I always built things with beads,” she said. “I love vibrant colours as well as black and white. There’s no in-between.” Nevertheless, she always respects her client’s whims. For example, one of her current clients has her heart set on acquiring a specific stone. It’s an uncommon colour but Katsof is determined to find it at one of the gem shows she regularly attends.
“My goal is to fulfill my clients’ dreams and guide them all the way. I advise but I never impose my ideas. If a client brings me a picture of something she has seen and admired, I can reproduce it.”
Conversely, what Katsof really enjoys is sitting down with a client and configuring designs from scratch. Subsequently, she will e-mail sketches and confer with the individual at each stage of production. “I work with jewelers to ensure the technical aspect is correct. There are many ways to construct a model. My way may be more complicated but it ends up the cleanest. Sometimes, when I get the metal back, it has to be assembled. I may work with two pieces or even 10. It depends on how the design is built. Regardless, all my designer pieces are of the finest quality. They are original pieces and all are handmade.”
Clients often consult her about heirloom jewelry they acquired from a loved one. “I’m able to remodel it, so that it retains that antique estate-like quality, yet has a modern look.”
If someone wants an initialized bracelet, cufflinks, earrings, or brooches, for a birthday, graduation, anniversary or other occasion, Katsof can comply. However, she is quick to point out her forte is specially designed, upscale jewelry that requires sophisticated skill and entails an intensive labor of love.
“I prefer to design unique pieces that cannot be found in any store,” she points out.
Katsof takes pride in designing jewelry that’s attached to nuptials. “I love to work with couples on engagement and wedding rings. I will help them choose appropriate diamonds and I give them a quote. If they return to me for their wedding bands, I’ll offer a package and fit the bands and rings to complement one another.”
She says jewelry can run from a few thousand dollars to “a lot more” but she works within the client’s budget. “I don’t want clients to sacrifice their lifestyle to buy a ring. If they wish to resize the ring, I’ll do it, and the same goes for design.”
Since Katsof is a certified appraiser, she can offer an estimate or refer clients to an outside appraiser.
There’s a lot more to learn about jewels than just the 4 Cs. For example, did you know that some gems are too soft for certain settings? Neither did we.
With an investment this size, ignorance is definitely not bliss.
If you have any questions about buying jewelry, or you’re interested in having a little somethin’ somethin’ custom made, Erika Katsof of Designs by Erika is your go-to-expert.
A former Bead Emporium employee turned certified gemologist, Erika’s design and consultation business uses state of the art technology (the same kind of program that engineers use to build airplanes) that allows clients to see 3D computer images of their customized piece before it’s made.
She can design something totally original for your wedding or special occasion, re-do your old engagement ring, or make a copy of the picture you ripped out of a Modern Bride magazine. Either way, she works closely with clients to understand their needs to create the perfect piece. Prices range from a few hundred up to whatever a client wants to spend.
If you just want to learn about certain stones or settings, or have any questions at all about the wide world of gemology, Erika also offers consultations starting at $75.
Consultation… now that’s a great way to lead into “Guess what ring you’re buying me…”
Designs by Erika