Faye Kim Designs: Timeless Classic Jewelry
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield County Life Magazine, April 2012)
Westport, CT – A mother’s whim became a career path for an Asian immigrant whose Westport-based fine jewelry store has become a destination for well-heeled women with a penchant for unique accessories. Faye Kim, of Faye Kim Designs at 190 Main Street, spoke with FCL about her start in the field and why her clients keep coming back for more.
A Wilton resident and mother of three, forty-eight-year-old Kim was born in Korea, the middle of five children. At age seven, she and her family emigrated to Islip, NY, where her father pursued the telecommunications business.
As Kim emerged from high school, her father tried to steer her to medicine or computer science. She tried to please him, earning an economics degree from Stony Brook University and then doing some accounting work with her sister. “But,” she said, “It wasn’t a good fit, and, yet, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.”
Her mother suggested she go to the Gemological Institute of America in New York, after hearing about a family friend’s experience there. Kim enrolled in a six-month program, achieving a graduate gemologist degree. “The experience opened up new doors and I began working for a wholesaler on 47th Street, sorting diamonds,” she said.
Without contacts like other GIA graduates that had come from jeweler families, however, her prospects appeared limited. Then her instructor recommended her to the famous Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. She became a merchandiser there, in the pearl department.
Two years later, another great opportunity presented itself. “A friend recommended me for an assistant buyer position in fine jewelry at Bergdorf Goodman,” she said. “Tiffany’s gave me the opportunity to work with pearls and loose stones, while Bergdorf exposed me to the high-end luxury retail business.”
She was quickly promoted to buyer, however, began to find the work grueling and “all about numbers, not creativity, which was my leaning,” she said. At the same time, she had recently married and wanted to start a family.
She left Bergdorf and used the “time off” to raise her children while also exploring the design and manufacturing side of the jewelry business, through classes at Parsons School of Design and Cecilia Bauer Studios. “I learned a technique called granulation, or fusing, that’s done with high carat gold, which has become my present-day signature.”
Kim and two classmates from Cecilia Bauer began renting a working studio together, sharing resources and developing their individual style and techniques. Kim then moved from New York, first to East Norwalk, in 1995, then to Wilton four years later.
“My jewelry design pursuits became my saving grace in the suburbs given the change of life from big city energy to quiet rural living,” she said. She made pieces for family and friends, and did the occasional trunk show, until 2003, when a combination of factors led her to open her own shop in Westport.
“I had a client in Santa Barbara who carried my jewelry and encouraged me to start the business,” Kim said. “Her clients – confident women in their 40s and 50s, for whom name brands were not a driving pursuit – were my buyers. They liked my casual, unique wearable items.”
Her initial location was steps away from the present site in the same retail complex, in what is now Luxe wine bar. She was there for eight years, selling jewelry and some home accessories. Ultimately, she said, “The business evolved, the designs evolved, I evolved, and in October 2010, we moved across the lot to a space that had been occupied by Cocoa Michele.”
The current site boasts an 800-square-foot showroom, which is exclusively dedicated to her own designs. A large majority of the inventory is made in an adjacent workshop.
“We try to make our space welcoming and nurturing – elegant without being fussy,” she said. “I carry every category and many different precious metals, though most pieces made are 18K green gold. I don’t do trendy pieces, but am mindful of fashion and colors. Jewelry is an investment and having a person behind the product with the knowledge I have is important.”
Faye Kim Designs is located at 190 Main Street, Westport, CT. Phone: 203-226-3511. www.FayeKimDesigns.com Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm and by appointment.