With her clean lines and unique choices of stones, California-based metalsmith, Emi Grannis, is making a name for herself with her handmade treasures. We sat down with Grannis to go through her journey as a metalsmith and maker, talk about her triumphs and struggles as an entrepreneur, and discuss the resurgence in popularity of all things handmade.
Grannis traveled down a few different paths before she landed on jewelry. She originally studied studio art but didn’t quite find what she was looking for there. So she transferred to art school in Oakland. However, Grannis still wasn’t quite sure she wanted to do jewelry then so she enrolled in as many classes and programs as she could to try to determine what resonated with her. Grannis ended up taking a jewelry class and falling in love with it. She said, “it became very clear. This is a combination of what I like doing and I can see how I can make a career out of it. I get to work with tiny precious things. I get to make these long lasting special pieces for people.” From there, she studied jewelry metal arts at California College of the Arts (CCA).
In May 2013, Grannis started her company and one year later she launched her website, which has been up and running for over 4 years now. The first year, she focused primarily on custom work. Today, she also has her core collection which includes rings, necklaces and bracelets that are sold on her e-commerce site.
// Cut from a different cloth
What defines Grannis’ brand is her attention to detail and the level of care that she puts into every piece of the process. She described that she has hit many crossroads throughout her career but has always chosen the path that is “more hands on and requires more care”.
Grannis acknowledges that she could at some point in future need to scale up and outsource certain things. For now, she enjoys being able to provide her clients with her personal touch, meeting with them one on one, and getting to find out first-hand about their styes.
Attention to small details is at the heart of Grannis’ business. She understands deeply the value of human connection and wants her customers to get an experience that she herself would love. Grannis makes every piece of jewelry end to end, by hand and by herself. Her pieces are mailed to clients in hand-stamped packaging that she makes herself and every package includes a hand-written note enclosed with a wax seal. Grannis stressed, “It’s not just about the jewelry. It’s about the full experience. They’re special pieces. I like knowing that the things I make will probably outlast me and people will carry them throughout their lives. So I want it to be special.”
While scaling up may be something Grannis will need to take into consideration sooner than later, she says that she’s interested in finding a way of having a balance of both continuing to grow her business while remaining hands on. She explained, “I’m realizing now that it’s not sustainable for me to make every little stacking ring by myself forever.” In the future, she may consider casting or find ways to be more efficient with the way she makes her smaller pieces. She can then focus more of her efforts on one-of-a-kind or custom pieces.
However, Grannis is certain about one thing – at no point would she want to give up her involvement in the “making” of her pieces. She said:
“A lot of brands scale up and then the lead jeweler becomes the designer. They’ll make design decisions, outsource and have employees working for them. I feel like first and foremost, I identify as a maker and a craftsperson and as a business person second to that. I don’t think I ever want to lose that part of the business because that’s what I love. I love making things. Even if I do scale up and grow I think I always want to maintain that.”
For Grannis, even her design process is unique in comparison to most other jewelers today. Grannis said, “ a lot of times I just make what I wish existed in the world. And that goes for even before I made jewelry, just art in general. I think I’m very focused on process and not the end result. I think because of that I associate less with the term jewelry designer and more with jewelry maker or metalsmith.” Today, it’s not uncommon for tech to be a key aspect of the initial design process and the use of Computer-aided Design (CAD) is the norm. Grannis admits that she sometimes wishes she knew how to use CAD programs. If she even does anything, it’s hand sketching but she usually does not even sketch.
The process for Grannis is a very hands on, in the moment process to design. She remains focused on the connection with the metal and many of her design decisions are guided by the material itself. She typically lays out all of her materials, picks up stones with tweezers and places them on different style bands with wax. Grannis will make a number of prototypes and see what feels best. For Grannis, it’s a 3-dimensional process.
// Maintaining Authenticity
Grannis maintains her sense of authenticity by making sure she takes the time for self reflection. She described that she will often stop, breathe and do a self check. She tries not to focus on the end goal and instead focuses her feelings on that moment. Grannis said,
“Usually the question I ask myself is, am I happy? Am I enjoying what I’m doing on a daily basis? When that starts to shift and I’m not happy or I’m really stressed out, I ask myself how do I reverse engineer this so that I’m happy with how I’m spending my days. Whatever that leads to in my career I feel like that will bring me the most authenticity.”
While she does set goals for the future, Grannis prefers to grow her business slowly and have a steady secure base. She wants to make sure she doesn’t completely burn out or become something she’s not.
Grannis draws inspiration from her own culture. She is half Japanese and says that Japanese culture has had a significant influence on her visually. In particular, she is drawn to the subtle, beautiful detail, well-made and high quality pieces. Japanese designs tend to be minimal but classic.
As far as people, Grannis looks to her sister, Kina, as a source of inspiration. Kina Grannis is a singer-song writer who has garnered significant popularity on Youtube. In 2018, she released an album on her own record label, funded entirely by her own supporters. Most notably, Kina Grannis made an appearance in the award-winning, box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, singing her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love”.
The Metalsmith and Maker described that it’s been nice to look at her sister as an example of how you can build your career to look completely differently. She said, “You don’t have to take this tried and true path. You can make your career whatever you want it to be. You just have to build it yourself and work really hard. So it’s been fun to look to her as an example of forging your own path and making your own creative career happen.”
// Passion Project
There’s no shortage of creativity when it comes to Grannis’ work or business model. At the top of the year she described that she was feeling completely burned out. So Grannis began what she calls her passion project. Grannis decided that once a month she would make one piece of jewelry simply because she was inspired to, whether it be because of a stone she’s been dying to use or a new style of setting she’s been wanting to try. Since conception of this idea, she has made more than double the number of pieces she had initially committed to making and it has breathed new life into her work. To make things even more exciting, Grannis doesn’t sell these pieces on her website. She decided to completely bypass her website and reveals each one-of-a-kind piece on her Instagram stories. If one of her followers wants it, they can claim it instantly and that’s it!
She described,“Any time I have a free moment in the studio, I make a brand new thing that’s never existed before. But that process was so much fun for me to just say, I love this diamond, I want to make this ring. There’s only one. I wonder if someone wants this. So I post it and it’s been really fun to see people’s responses. The few times I’ve done that, the pieces have gone immediately.” Grannis revels in the fact that the process so direct and raw. She says that it has brought a whole new level of joy to her work this year.
// Handmade and the Makers Movement
There has been a resurgence of ‘makers’ wanting to create handmade products and consumers who are willing to purchase those products over those that have been mass produced. This has been dubbed the “Makers Movement”. According to Forbes, “Today, more than 46% of Americans (135 million people) identify as being part of the maker community, both young and old.”
Grannis is a strong supporter of the Makers Movement and believes that “people want to see the hand of a maker in all sorts of stuff. They don’t want to use an Ikea mug when they can get a mug from someone they know or a local artisan.”
From her view, getting to know the actual maker, see the hands that created a specific piece and even seeing the desk where it all happened is refreshing to many people. For decades, mass produced jewelry was the leader, it was mall chains and big impressive name brands. Grannis believes that today’s consumers would rather put their money towards something that’s completely unique and that also supports local artists. She believes that people find value in knowing they can develop a relationship with a maker and purchase more pieces made from that same artisan in the future.
She said, “I think it also has to do with people wanting to feel more of a sense of community now and just connecting with humans.” Grannis believes that people are craving more human connection and more of a connection to how things are created. She feels much of it is about slow movement, slow living. Grannis loves when clients have identified her as “their” jeweler and she gets to be a part of all of the important milestones in their lives. She said, “I’ll do their engagement ring, and then I’ll do their wedding bands and then I’ll do a push present and then I’ll make like a baby bracelet for them.”
// The Maker Fam
Grannis also finds support within the “maker” community. This is especially important as a small business owner. The first 3 years of Grannis’ career, she described her experience as being very isolated. As a brand new business owner, she explained that it didn’t occur to her that she could reach out and connect with people who do similar things.
The game changer was when she began realizing that she could connect with other artisans in jewelry and also in completely different mediums to share ideas from business to all things creative.
Two and a half years ago, Grannis and three other artists created a mini community which she calls her “maker fam”. Each of the artists work in different mediums ranging from paper to high end custom furniture and wood art. For Grannis, it was helpful to get together to bounce ideas off of each other whenever they would hit a wall creatively and also to discuss business, such as contracts. This has been a way for independent business owners like herself to feel as if they have co-workers and it has been invaluable for Grannis to have that connection.
She also finds support within the larger community of artisans. This is largely done by participating in shows where she can meet up to 50 other vendors who are also makers in jewelry or other mediums. She said, “It does turn into this maker love fest where everyone’s maker crushing on each other.”
// Advice for up and coming entrepreneurs
Grannis receives lots of messages from people asking for advice on how to become a jeweler. Her biggest piece of advice is to be realistic. She said, “I definitely think it’s possible for anyone. If you love it and you want it enough, you can. But sometimes people can over romanticize it.” She’s often heard from people that her line of work “sounds like a cute job” or that they “want to make stuff with diamonds”. However, the reality is that it’s not unusual for her to work 16 hour days, 7 days a week.
Grannis admits that finding balance has been a constant struggle for her since the beginning. She said, “it’s hard when you work for yourself because you can always be working. A lot of times I’ll stay in the studio until the sun comes up. Just try to find that balance and take care of yourself. If you’re the only one steering the ship and you go down, everything goes down.”
// Upcoming trends
We asked Grannis what she expects to see will be up-coming trends in fine jewelry, engagement rings and fashion.
As far as fine jewelry trends, Grannis says small minimal dainty jewelry has been big for some time now and she definitely does not see that going away any time soon. In addition to that, something that she has been doing is adding big, bold, chunky pieces to her daintier jewelry. She said “I used to only wear really tiny dainty stacking rings. Lately, I’ve been loving putting a 10mm gold cigar band on. I think mixing in bigger pieces and having that contrast is definitely having a moment.”
Engagement ring trends
For engagement rings, Grannis finds rose cut diamond engagement rings to be beautiful and unique. A few years ago, the use of rose cut diamonds and galaxy (or salt & pepper diamonds) began gaining popularity and Grannis thinks this trend will only become more popular.
In fashion, she expects we will maintain the clean classic lines but she really likes seeing texture, whether that’s in fashion or jewelry. In jewelry that might be a hand hammered texture or some organic distressed texture. She enjoys seeing the same thing in clothing as well. For example she likes seeing a natural fabric, such as the knit in fabric instead of really clean, polished, pressed, sharp edges.
// Upcoming Events
Clients who would like to see Emi Grannis’ work in person can attend the following upcoming events in San Francisco:
West Coast Craft — November 17 & 18
Pop-up at Earthen — December 8th
Pop-up at Seldom Seen — December 15th