Fine Living: Brilliant Idea, Dazzling Jewelry

Bruce Kerr knew Bali was a beautiful island. But when he went there to experience its beauty first hand, he discovered much more.

Kerr, who has lived in Edmond with his family since 1983, is a former lawyer, a certified public accountant, and currently manages two labs that analyze industrial waste samples. About three years ago, Kerr added another venture to his resume when he started the jewelry company, Arista Designs.

While working on an environmental project in Indonesia, Kerr visited the island of Bali and was amazed by the exquisite art and jewelry that he saw there. “I just got to thinking,” Kerr said, “that’s something I could probably do… make jewelry.”

Kerr didn’t have to look far for a designer. His 23-year-old daughter Kelly was perfect for the job. When she was a Santa Fe High School student, Kelly was not only mastered her math and science classes, but she impressed her art teacher so much, that he recommended she study art in college. Kelly decided to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Oklahoma instead, because she thought it was an interesting and challenging field. During her sophomore year, however, she realized that her true passion was designing jewelry.

“I wanted to be a jewelry designer since I was a little kid,” said Kelly. “I didn’t really think it was an actual possibility, but I designed a little in college, and after I graduated, I started working here full time.”

Kerr made another trip to Bali to search for a skilled artisan, able to recreate Kelly’s designs. He went from store to store, showing the craftsmen different pieces with an interpreter, asking if they could duplicate them. A jewelry maker at one of the stores helped Kerr find one of the best artisans on the island. The artisan and the two people who worked with him on that trip later became Arista’s first employees.

From there, the real work began.

Kelly now makes the sketches, showing the pieces from different sides and angles. Then mold makers duplicate her design in wax while craftsmen create a cast piece that serves as a base. Afterward, gold workers and the stone setters add the rest of the sparkling elements.

The final products are rings, bracelets, necklaces and pendants of sterling silver, incrusted with 18K gold and embellished with garnet, amethyst, topaz and citrine. Everything is made on the island and the prices range from $100 to $3,000.

Kelly said her designs are inspired by the art and architecture of the ancient world. She reads books about different cultures, but also studies fashion magazines and goes to jewelry shows to keep up with current trends.  

Since its launch in 2007, Arista Designs has grown fast. Kerr started the business with only three employees after that trip to Bali. Now, the company has upwards of 80 employees and plans to add hundreds more.

Arista jewelry is sold in up to 130 stores in the United States. Seventeen of them are in Oklahoma, including stores in Oklahoma City, Norman, Edmond, Enid, Chickasha, Duncan, Ada and Stillwater. The next step for Arista Designs will be to test the international market.

Kerr said the advice from Paul Brockhaus, an experienced jeweler in Edmond, helped the company head into the right direction. Brockhaus also recommended their best sales representative. “Paul really played a key role,” Kerr says. “He gave me some real pointers on what we needed to do.”

The road to success hasn’t been always smooth.  Kerr said because Arista’s manufacturing facility is literally on the other side of the world and most employees don’t speak English, it can create some communication and shipping difficulties.  

“You just have to keep moving forward, and you have to realize that you’ll always make mistakes,” Kerr said.  The work has been rewarding and has brought a lot of joy for the Kerr family, as well as their customers. “I enjoy seeing Kelly’s designs come to life,” Kerr said. “I like to see people wearing our jewelry and talking about how much they really like it.”

Edmond residents can find Arista jewelry at the Simpson Brockhaus store at 1289 East 15th Street. They can also visit the company’s website at www.aristadesigns.com

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