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Janis Savitt Started Creating Incredible Jewelry in High School and Hasn’t Stopped Since [INTERVIEW]

Designer says: "I did the same thing then as I do now — make things I like to wear.”




BEFORE SHE WAS out of high school, Janis Savitt was already an established jewelry designer with a list of venerable clients that anyone would envy. For years, her string of successes continued as she worked behind the scenes to create influential, and instantly recognizable, collections. After decades in the business, she’s stepped into the spotlight with a namesake line and is still learning new lessons along the way.

New York Story

“All my life I’ve lived in New York City. One day while I was in Bloomingdale’s with my mother, I saw jewelry making saws and files in a display, and I asked her to find me a jewelry class. Before that, I was making papier-mâché jewelry and doing copper enameling. I was always dabbling and doing things as a little kid. My father was a painter, and both my parents used to go to Sotheby’s regularly and buy art and furniture at auction. They always encouraged creativity. We went to every museum. I did it all as a child.”

First In Class

“I started making jewelry at the YWCA in New York. It was a fantastic place. There were Alvin Ailey dancers downstairs, and there were bookbinding and stone cutting and silversmithing classes, all with really great teachers. And that’s what I did from the age of 12 through high school. I used to go to classes on Saturdays and people would say to me, ‘I like your bracelet. Who made it?’ And I’d tell them I did. That’s how I got my first orders. I just started making jewelry for anyone who asked.”

Early Entrepreneur

“Once I got started, I asked myself: ‘Why not take the jewelry to Bloomingdale’s, or Cartier, or Van Cleef & Arpels?’ That’s what I did. And I sold to all of them. Then one day, Harper’s Bazaar suggested that I make some of my things in gold and diamonds, and I said ‘OK!’ Everything began from there. I became a freelance designer for the big houses. They would buy jewelry from me and put their name on it. I think I was doing work no one else was doing and they were receptive to it. And when the stores got the jewelry and it sold, they were even more enthusiastic about it. I did the same thing then as I do now — make things I like to wear.”

Sister Act

“For years, I had a line with my sister called M+J Savitt. We had our own fine jewelry collection, but all the while I still designed for other brands, too. I did jewelry for Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Stephen Sprouse … you name it. And I still design and produce jewelry for fashion brands today.”

Going Solo

“Since 2008, I’ve had my own collection. Having my own brand is the best. I can create my own destiny. My Janis Savitt collection is entirely fine jewelry; there’s also Janis by Janis Savitt, which is a high-end costume collection. It’s made by hand, but without precious materials. It’s a different aesthetic; I can use things that aren’t available as real materials, or would be prohibitively expensive, like giant pearls and massive chains.”

Learning Curve

“Designing under my own name is still a fairly new thing. The first time I showed my own fine jewelry collection, it was mainly 18K gold and diamonds, and now I’ve added color. With time, I’m getting a better sense of what clients want, in the right price range. For my first collection, I did tons of rings. I was really into it. Don’t ask me why! Now I’m doing tons of earrings. I think they’re a great way to explore ornamentation. You can have a straight stud, something in front of the earlobe, behind it, around it. There are so many interesting variations. People are excited that I’m doing this kind of work again, and it’s all stuff I like to wear. I am my best customer.”

Q&A: Getting Personal With Janis Savitt

Where do you go to get away from it all?

“I love to go to the beach. I have a place in Westhampton. Sometimes I’ll go there for just a quick 24-hour visit. I’m a boat and beach girl.”

Who inspires you?

“My mother and father are still a big inspiration. Millicent Rogers had amazing style. I love people who are different and light up a room.”

What do you love to shop for, besides jewelry?

“Anything! I’m a consumer. I feel a day isn’t complete unless I’ve bought something, even if it’s a quart of milk. Grocery stores around the world are fascinating. I love the packaging.”

If you could have any other career, what would it be?

“I really love jewelry. I’ve been doing it since I was 12 and I’m never bored. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to design carpets or wallpaper or furniture, too.”




When There’s No Succession Plan, Call Wilkerson

Bob Wesley, owner of Robert C. Wesley Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., was a third-generation jeweler. When it was time to enjoy life on the other side of the counter, he weighed his options. His lease was nearing renewal time and with no succession plan, he decided it was time to call Wilkerson. There was plenty of inventory to sell and at first, says Wesley, he thought he might try to manage a sale himself. But he’s glad he didn’t. “There’s no way I could have done this as well as Wilkerson,” he says. Wilkerson took responsibility for the entire event, with every detail — from advertising to accounting — done, dusted and managed by the Wilkerson team. “It’s the complete package,” he says of the Wilkerson method of helping jewelers to easily go on to the next phase of their lives. “There’s no way any retailer can duplicate what they’ve done.”

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