The Massachusetts Institute of Technology isn’t the first stop for many jewelry designers, but Melissa Kaye has always resisted trends. After earning a double degree in Engineering and Computer Science from MIT, she obtained a Masters in Computer Finance from Carnegie Mellon. After graduation, she spent 10 years at Goldman Sachs in quantitative strategy before deciding to leave the corporate world and pursue her passion for jewelry design. She took a two-year jewelry design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to learn the craft. Then, in 2013, Melissa launched her first high jewelry collection. Its most recent launch is the Ada Collection, a chain jewelry set. She believes in creating wearable everyday jewelry that always represents elegance and luxury. She tells us about her career, her new collection and the making of playful jewelry.
After a career in finance, what made you want to get started in jewelry design?
After years of intense technical and financial work, I realized that I wanted to move in a different, more creative direction. At the time, I was working with an interior designer on my new apartment. This creative outlet was so fulfilling that it ultimately motivated me to pursue my lifelong interest in jewelry. I tested the waters by taking a few introductory FIT classes which I loved and then completed her two year jewelry design program before launching Melissa Kaye Jewelry.
What parts of your business experience are helping you make the transition? Were there any unexpected benefits from your previous career that helped you in your jewelry business?
Although finance and jewelry are radically different fields at first glance, there are many skills that I developed in my past career that I still rely on today. I have always had an analytical and resourceful mind, which has lent itself very well to what I do now. Particularly with running a business, my ability to strategically break down issues into smaller, more manageable pieces has been a huge advantage.
As far as jewelry is concerned, my training as an engineer has definitely influenced my sense of design. I look at the concept of a room the same way an engineer would look at the blueprints of a building. Yes, it has to look good, but there’s so much more to it – feel and function (and even structural strength) are just as important.
You are known for your diamond designs and as one of the pioneers of the neon enamel trend. What was your inspiration for creating these designs?
Diamonds and 18k gold are at the heart of the collection. I have always been interested in incorporating enamel because it brings an element of texture and a range of different colors. Associated with gold, enamel gives jewelry a more relaxed and accessible atmosphere, making it easier to wear on a daily basis. I’ve been obsessed with neon forever, so introducing fluorescent enamel into my designs was a natural fit.
Do your customers collect different colors or do they stick to just one shade? What would you say to someone who thinks neon is too bright or cannot be worn?
Since launching the Neon Enamel Collection in 2019, one of my favorite things has been seeing how individual customers wear and style the pieces, especially when they create combinations that I hadn’t thought of before. . There are clients who like to stack the color, while others go for a more neutral look, using neon enamel for a pop. Even if you’re afraid of colors, there are ways to incorporate bold enamel pieces without them feeling overbearing. While we like to mix different neon lights, they can be toned down by pairing them with gold and diamond coins.
What’s your favorite piece of jewelry you’ve ever designed?
I don’t really have a single favorite piece of jewelry. At different times, I really feel connected to different designs. I like to keep pushing myself to keep creating new innovative pieces, so at all times my favorite piece is usually the one I’m working on next.
What is your everyday jewel look?
Depending on my mood, my favorite jewelry ranges from very low key (like a pair of hoops and a ring or two) to layers and layers of jewelry. I have a lot of piercings so my ears are often layered in earrings and ear cuffs. I like to mix and match, and I tend to wear a lot of asymmetrical looks, combining different colors and sizes of earrings like the Cristinas or the Lola Needles. I also like a good stack of rings and have recently created my personal collections of bracelets and necklaces.
Tell us about your very recent launch of the Ada collection. There are a lot of channels out there – why join a crowded domain?
I think with a piece as classic as a gold chain, there is always room for interpretation. In fact, embarking on creating a unique style was a self-imposed design challenge. We took our time to develop different ideas until we finalized a silhouette that had the proper proportions and weight. The result was a modern take on a sailor or anchor chain with swollen solid gold links that not only lend themselves to standard necklace and bracelet styles, but also earrings and rings that can be worn. layered for a full chain effect. Ada is also unique in that it is available in a range of finishes – although we offer classic versions in gold and diamond, it is also available in our signature enamel.
What makes Melissa Kaye different and unique from other jewelry lines? Does he have a specific message that you want to share with the world?
Especially since the launch of the neon collection, fun luxury has been at the heart of the brand. Jewelry is something to wear and enjoy – not to sit in your safe. I have made it my mission to create jewelry that has a portable, avant-garde voice and is made of the highest quality materials.
Melissa How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business and what have you done to pivot?
We’re so lucky that technology makes it easy for us to stay virtually connected to our audience. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Instagram has been an incredibly useful tool for sharing our brand and connecting with people around the world. We have also adapted to using other online platforms such as Zoom to stay in touch with our business partners and customers. While we certainly miss seeing everyone face to face, technology has really allowed our business to thrive during this time.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to change careers? Is it ever too late to follow your dreams?
I really don’t think it’s ever too late if this is something that you are really passionate about. I have found it extremely helpful to go to school and learn more about jewelry before you take the plunge, but I know that you learn a lot by doing. Expose yourself and open up to making mistakes and growing from them rather than being discouraged. This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned along the way.