When Josette and Mark Patterson founded their jewelry brand in the mid-80s, they didn’t know where the jewelry business would take them. Now, Josette and Mark are celebrating 30 years of innovation in the luxury and bridal jewelry industry with a new coffee table book. Written by their friend Amy Elliott, the book tells Josette and Mark’s story, starting when they were students at GIA. Josette and Amy recently joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the making of the book. Read the episode transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, we’re talking with Josette Patterson and Amy Elliott. Josette is the cofounder and creative director of the California-based jewelry brand Mark Patterson. Amy is a freelance writer and contributing editor to JCK. With Amy’s involvement, Josette and Mark have completed a coffee table book reviewing their 30-year history. We’ll hear all about the Mark Patterson brand today as well as the jewelry journey. Josette and Amy, welcome to the program.
Josette: Thank you.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Please tell us about your jewelry journey, Josette. We’d love to hear about your jewelry journey. It’s such an interesting one.
Josette: It started when I was very young, I think. I was in art school and I decided to quit, because I heard about this jewelry program in the United States, and it was something I always wanted to do. When I was a kid, I used to draw tiny little drawings and everybody would say, “Oh, this is interesting. Where did you get your inspiration?” And I said, “I don’t know.” Art school was a beginning for me. It was interesting; it was very formative, but it wasn’t enough, because it was a wide field and I wanted to concentrate in jewelry. So, I researched GIA, and I thought the programs were great. I took an engraving class with a master engraver at GIA. They don’t give that class anymore. They probably gave it for a few years, then he retired and passed away and they didn’t do it anymore. It was a great class, and it was the beginning of everything for me. After that, I took their jewelry design class, a jewelry art class, diamond classes, colored stone classes, almost everything GIA had to offer. It was interesting, but again, it was not enough. For me, it’s never enough.
I met Mark at GIA and we both decided to go to New York. When I was in New York, they had continuing education at FIT and at Parsons School of Design. I started taking classes at FIT first. I had great teachers. Most of the teachers I had were working in the industry, working for Harry Winston, working for Bulgari. At the same time, I felt like I was continuing my jewelry design education. Once I was done with FIT, I decided to go to Parsons because somebody told me there was a great teacher at Parsons. So, I went to Parsons, and it was great because we were four or five students at the most. It was like a private class, and the teacher was the most inspiring teacher I’ve ever had. He used to be the head designer for Cartier, and he was great. We learned so much more from him than anywhere else.
After that, I started freelancing. I was basically on my own freelancing, and it was interesting. I met somebody in the elevator going up to GIA one day in New York. She asked me, “What do you do?” and I said, “I’m a jewelry designer,” and she said, “Me too, and I’m freelancing. I’m going to give you the name of a company where you can go and freelance.” I thought that was very generous. I didn’t even know her. I just met her in the elevator and I followed her lead, and that’s how I really got started.
Sharon: Wow! Now, you went to GIA when it was in Santa Monica.
Josette: Right, yeah. It was really nice, because I would take art classes at night at UCLA, life drawing or water colors, whatever. It was very enriching for me. It was really nice.
Sharon: Did you like jewelry? When you were drawing these pictures when you were young, did you like jewelry? Were you aware of it? Did you put it on?
Josette: No, not really. I like to work with my hands. I used to do little sculptures with clay. I like to work with my hands, and jewelry has a component where you work with your hands, whether it’s drawing or wax modeling. Eventually, when I started to learn more about jewelry, I decided to focus only on design because, at that time, I thought the creativity was in drawing the jewelry on paper. Like you can see, the jewelry industry has definite facets. You have modern makers; you have setters; you have wax model makers; you have casters. It’s a field where you basically have to concentrate in one segment of it, and I decided it was best for me to concentrate in designing on paper.
Sharon: When you met Mark—I’m curious because you’ve been together for a long time—did you think, “Oh, I can collaborate with this person,” besides that you were interested in him?
Josette: This is interesting. We met at GIA. We were both students. We didn’t even think about that. When we went to New York, Mark was working for GIA teaching; he worked in the lab first and then he was teaching for GIA. Eventually we thought to combine our knowledge, both of us, and that’s how we got started. We didn’t have anybody. We were two kids, basically, who didn’t have any parents in the jewelry industry. When you’re young, you don’t know what you’re doing. This is how we got started.
Sharon: So, you met Mark. Did you go to New York individually?
Josette: No, we went together. Mark had a student who was from Saudi Arabia, and basically he was the one who told us, “I need you both to work for me.” It was him who got us focused on it.
Sharon: When you decided to do this book to commemorate your long jewelry journey over 30 years, how did Amy get involved? How did you find Amy?
Josette: I met Amy when she got first started. Amy, correct me if I am wrong. I think it was her first assignment; I am not sure. She was working for a bridal guide magazine.
Amy: A bridal guide, yes. I’ve had a long tenure in the editorial world. One of my first jobs was a jewelry editor of a bridal guide. I went to the Centurion Trade Show, and Mark and Josette were among the exhibitors that were kind enough to meet with me, answer all my questions and indulge my enthusiasm. I liked them immediately. Also, obviously, I liked their product, but I remember visiting them. The first time I ever saw tsavorite was in their booth, and I got to handle gemstones I never even knew existed. So, Josette and I stayed in touch. That was a really long time ago, so we’ve known each other for a long time.
I ended up becoming the engagement ring expert and editor at about.com, which is no longer with us; it’s now known as The Spruce. I was creating engagement ring content because it was a topic I knew well. I connected with Josette on that, and she asked me one day, to my sheer delight, if I would be interested in collaborating with her and Mark on a book commemorating their 30-year history. I jumped at the chance. I think we always liked each other, and I loved and adored their work, so it was a natural collaboration.
Josette: I felt very comfortable with Amy from day one. She’s an incredible person. She’s nice; she’s talented; she’s a great writer. I felt a connection, and I thought, “O.K., if Amy says no, I can’t do it. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Sharon: Amy, Josette and I were talking prior to this conversation about—it’s impressive, when you look through the book, to look at the jewelry journey and the fabulous things that Mark and Josette have done, but we were talking about the fact that it was so well written. I was very impressed with the way it was written. It was complementary to the brand, but it wasn’t a puff piece; it was very well done, and I thought it was a good balance.
Amy: I did have the opportunity to stay with them in their home in Huntington Beach, California and see how they lived, see the art and sculpture in their home, interact with the family dog and eat cheese and spend a day with them at the studio. I got to see them in their element and look in their vault of stones. I really spent quality time with them, so I think it allowed me to tell a more intimate story.
Sharon: As you were putting the story together, since you’ve known them a long time, what surprised you in terms of putting the book together?
Amy: There were so many delightful discoveries. Just looking at Josette’s renderings from the time period was absolutely educational. It was wonderful to see freehand drawings of jewels that were about to come to life. I definitely developed an appreciation for that part of the process, especially now since CAD is the go-to. It was great to see and to picture a young Josette with her pencils, just letting her imagination run wild. That was really interesting.
I think it’s the plot points of their jewelry journey that really impressed me. Josette already mentioned the elevator moment. That always struck me. I mean, she just happened to be riding in an elevator, connected with a fellow jewelry freelancer and then she was doing designs for private clients. She mentioned the Saudi Arabian student who furnished them with exquisite jewels to make gorgeous parures, red-carpet-level jewelry, at such a young age. Josette casually mentioned in conversation that Mark had shown his work to Claude Arpels when he was the CEO of North America. He went up to the store in New York and had an opportunity to show him his work and get some feedback, and I think that’s such a major moment for a young designer. That connection came through Josette’s aunt, who had met Claude Arpels at a party and was wearing a Mark Patterson design. I actually chose to start the book with that anecdote because I thought it was a wonderful way to draw in the reader and work backwards from that. I loved the romance of the serendipity of “I was wearing my jewelry and someone noticed.” That was a pivotal thing for them.
I also loved that one of their most iconic collections, the one that really put them on the map and that all the retailers wanted, was a collection called Intensity. It centers on a rose petal and the ombré colors that are displayed on a single rose petal. That idea occurred to him as he was leaving the house one day to catch the train to go into the city. They had roses in their garden in Westchester County, and you would never know that unless you spent quality time talking to them.
The final plot point that was interesting to me was when they made the decision to move in the mid-2000s back to California. They’d always shared space with Jean Francois Albert of JFA Designs; they had always been next to him as exhibitors at shows. They had developed this lovely friendship with him. He was getting ready to retire, and they were able to absorb his equipment and some of his staff. It wasn’t a turnkey situation when they arrived, but they were in such great shape to continue the work they were doing because of JFA, or JF as they call him, and I love that. As someone who’s attended trade shows for a lot of her career, I love knowing this important thing came together at one of the shows and through this lasting friendship. Those are some of my favorite anecdotes that get layered into the story.
Sharon: That definitely comes out if you go through the book. One thing I always think about, because being in the position of trying to find all those photos—
Amy: Oh my god, yeah.
Sharon: How did you do that, finding them?
Josette: This was kind of a nightmare, because when we moved to California, one of the boxes that was lost had most of the pictures in it, the negatives. Eventually, we had to ask every retailer if they had any transparencies we had sent over the years for them to use for advertisements. It took a long, long time to get most of the images back, especially some of the iconic pieces, and then we had to scan them. We had to scan even some magazine pictures, then we retouched them. We found, for example, the picture at Sotheby’s because we had a piece that was auctioned. I don’t remember if it was Christie’s or Sotheby’s, but we had to ask them to send us the image. We had to send it to the retoucher. It was continuous for five years. We asked our clients if they’d like to send some of their pieces back so we could take pictures of them, whatever we could. It took a long time.
Amy: The art direction and the photo element of this book is the heavy lift, I think, to write this story. Josette and her art director worked really hard tracking down these photos. That was a trip down memory lane, revisiting the work and reconnecting with the retailers that supported them early on. It was an arduous journey, but I think it paid off.
Sharon: I think everybody had a part. Yes, it was heavy lifting, but your part in telling the story in a very balanced way is also part of the heavy lifting. Josette, I’m thinking about the Excel spreadsheets somebody would need to keep track of, “O.K., now this photo, now we’re scanning it, now we’re…“ I don’t know what people use today. There are probably other things besides Excel, but I’m thinking about the tracking and the detail of it.
Josette: Yeah, the tracking was very hard. When I first started with the book, when Amy was done with the writing, they didn’t scan some images. It wasn’t done everywhere, so you had to send them to New York, to specific companies, and it was too complicated. Eventually technology for scanning images made it much easier. I have to say I had a great photographer and he had a great retoucher. Between both of them, they brought life to everything.
Sharon: The photos are beautiful. They’re so detailed and very, very clear. What brought about the idea for a book? Were you in a market drinking coffee on a Sunday morning one day? How did it come about?
Josette: It was very interesting. We were sitting down and we thought, “Here we are, two people with no family in the jewelry industry, and we were able to get to where we are today.” We thought it would be an inspiration for other people like us. That was the main thing; let’s tell our story. Let’s inspire other young people that they can do it, that they can aspire and become jewelry designers.
Sharon: Why a book, though? There could have been a lot of different ways to tell that story.
Josette: The book is because we have come out with certain—I don’t know how to say it exactly, but for example, the Intensity Collection, which was a graduation of tones of color, wasn’t done prior to us. We did that. Mark had to go to Bangkok and establish a coding system for the color to be able to order from New York. He had to say, “I need A No. 11, I need B No. 10,” to be able to do the color graduation, which opened to the public eventually. After a few years, the cutters in Bangkok were selling all of this to the world. It was something we are proud to say we were part of.
At the same time, there is always room for creativity in this industry. You can be the next one who does something like this, maybe not with sapphires, maybe with something else. It’s the same with the type of settings we’ve come out with for our bridals. We’re always trying to push the envelope. This is probably what pushed us to write to the book, to show other young people that you can come up with something; you can be like us; you can create something. Don’t fall into the trap of “you made it” when you’re at the top of the ladder. Continue, continue.
Sharon: Have you met young or emerging art jewelry designers or artists that you wanted to encourage?
Josette: Yeah, there are plenty that are at the trade shows now today. I don’t know their backgrounds; I don’t know a lot of them. It is sad that at the trade shows, sometimes we don’t have time to go out and talk to them. I don’t know how to say this, but there are a lot of new guys today who are incredible. There’s Fernando Jorge, who is a great Brazilian jewelry designer. There is Atelier Zobel that has always come out with interesting things, and Peter is a very good friend of ours. There are many you can name, and this is what’s interesting: you want to tell them, “Continue to do what you’re doing. Don’t stop.” Don’t ever stop, and if you have setbacks—because we did have setbacks—just forget about them. It’s in the past. Always work. Always look at the future. Always work forward. Be creative. It’s the only thing that will keep you alive.
Sharon: Those are good thoughts for anybody doing anything. The Mark Patterson brand is known for high-end engagement rings, bridal and things like that. Has this changed your focus? Has the book refocused you? What do you want from it for you?
Josette: This is interesting, because the engagement rings were actually something we started after witnessing September 11 from our studio in New York. We saw the second plane hit the tower. We saw the towers crumbling and we thought, “We have to keep our jewelers here. We have to stay here. What direction are we going to take? Nobody wants to buy jewelry now. It’s 2001. Everybody’s rethinking their lives.” This is what got us focused on designing engagement rings. We actually find it enriching as an experience, because we find that our jewelry has meaning. When you’re designing engagement rings for young couples or older couples, the jewelry has a meaning. It is a very important factor for us. We have enjoyed doing it and we will continue doing it. It will remain our focus because it’s giving us a meaning rather than just making jewelry.
Sharon: Right, you’re not just churning it out.
Josette: Yeah, I don’t how to say it better than it. I know my English isn’t that well. It’s not my first language.
Sharon: I would disagree with that, but yes, go ahead.
Josette: This is why we have decided to continue in it, not doing it on the side, making five pieces and that’s it. No, we continuously do it. At the same time, it has become more challenging today than it was five years ago, because every piece we’re making today has become a custom-designed piece. Even the orders that are coming from retailers, their clients are telling them, “Well, I like the band that Mark Patterson has on that engagement ring, but I would like to have that top that is over there.” It has been very challenging. We don’t say no; we just do it. Eventually we said, “O.K., this is interesting. If we’re selling more of it that way, we should put it in the collection so when we go to the trade show, other retailers will see it and like it.” Besides designing a collection of engagement rings, that collection is evolving week after week after week. When you say, “Are you going to design a new collection?” I would say, “We’re constantly designing engagement rings.” We may have a collection we take to the trade show, but that collection evolves almost every week, and we can’t show everything we make to editors at the trade show. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know how to describe it, but this is where it has come today.
Amy: As someone who has covered bridal for a good part of my career, I think it’s very hard to innovate within that category. One of the things the Mark Patterson brand did, they were among the first to strip away—settings were very chunky and very heavy, and they were one of the first, if not the first, to err into these engagement ring settings. I think that has caught on and been replicated in a variety of brands. Through the custom design requests and having been at it for so long, I’m amazed at how they can find different ways to improve on this. Whether it’s setting it lower down to the finger—there’s a lot of thought given to physics and the engineering of a ring and how it’s going to showcase the stone just so. They’re extremely precise, and that’s a word that came up over and over again: the precision, the technical proficiency that is applied, but without comprising the artistry and the European flair Josette brings to the product. That cannot be undervalued when you’re looking at what they do. It’s bridal design on a different level.
Josette: I think Amy said it right. We’re always trying to push the envelope, whether it’s fusing platinum with rose gold or platinum with yellow gold or the different type of settings we do.
Sharon: You use the word precision. Josette was just giving me a virtual tour of the workroom, which is the cleanest and most organized one I’ve ever seen in my life. You look at it and go, “This is a clean room,” like in IT and medical they talk about clean rooms, no germs or anything. I believe that precision.
We will have links to the book and how you can get a copy of it when we post the podcast, but tell us how you came up with the idea that you wanted to raise money for a charity through this book. That’s unusual.
Josette: My mother is Lebanese and I lived there, too. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was a member of the Red Cross. She used to teach nursing and she did a lot of work during the Civil War. She was an incredible woman who was given the highest medal of honor from the International Red Cross, which is the Florence Nightingale Medal, for her services and her creativity and everything she did. After August 4, when they had that big bomb blow up in Beirut, everybody was raising money for charity, and I thought I would do this in honor of my aunt. The Red Cross has done so much for everybody on both sides, whether they’re Christian or Muslim, in Lebanon during the Civil War, for anybody. I thought it would be great to donate money to the Red Cross because we know where it’s going. It’s not going in the pockets of corrupt politicians.
Sharon: It’s beautiful. As I said, we’ll have the link, but you will send the book to anyone who donates at least $70 to the Lebanese Red Cross and sends you a receipt. That’s great. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.
Josette: Yes, I was very touched by an email I received from somebody I don’t know who gave a $2,000 donation to the Red Cross. That made my day. I was in tears when I read that email.
Sharon: Thank you so much for telling us the story. It’s a short amount of time to tell a 30-year story, but I really appreciate it. It’s inspiring. It’s a great story, and the cause is definitely a worthwhile cause. We’ll have all the links and pictures of your work when we post the podcast, so everybody take a look at that. Thank you so much, Josette.
Josette: Thank you.
Sharon: It was so great to talk to you.
Amy: For sure, thank you.
Josette: Thank you for having us.
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