BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The trend in jewelry today is unabashedly bold—it is definitely the time of statement jewelry, not that super skinny chain. Whether it is in the fashions of Oscar de la Renta or Gucci or even in home furnishings, you see vibrant jewel tones. Everyone is really into adornment. —Clara Williams
Magnetism, both personal and technical, might best describe how Clara Williams has risen to the upper echelon of jewelry designers in Chicago in the past 18 years. A vibrant volunteer who combines both right- and left-brain skills in business, Clara says versatility and self expression account for her company’s success.
Inner circle socialites, mothers at school pickup, and executives moving from office to evening vary their Clara Williams pieces using the magnetic clips that allow for maximum individuality through interchangeable centerpieces.
Tassels of semi precious stones, multi-stone drops, and materials like leather and gold make mixing and matching a snap. Repurposing your pins and charms to fit on necklaces or bracelets and restringing older jewelry are among the services the Clara Williams Company offers alongside her own original designs.
In addition to a vibrant online business and local trunk shows, her jewelry appears in Chicago at Material Possessions and at Peachtree Place in Northfield. Resort boutiques in Palm Beach, Sun Valley, and Cashiers, North Carolina, find they can’t stock enough of her pieces. And soon, she will be connecting with new customers at trunk shows across the country, from San Antonio and Sonoma to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Begun as a hobby when she handcrafted each piece of jewelry herself, her work has become an international business, now employing 10 metalsmiths. All pieces are produced in her Near North studio. The onetime Internet executive, who is still hands-on in the jewelry process, was a “happy accident”:
“I knew as an undergraduate at Dartmouth and at Harvard Business School that I wanted to go into technology, but a non-credit undergraduate class I took in jewelry design always stuck in my mind. I worked on the North Shore for US Robotics after business school graduation until the market crashed. I was then five weeks pregnant with my daughter Margo and spent my time decorating the nursery and making jewelry–definitely an expensive habit.
“People started asking me where I got my jewelry. I had my first trunk show and took baby Margo along, with a friend running the sales while I nursed her. I was profitable in my first year. From the first, I wanted lots of mixing and matching—total versatility—so that my jewelry could be a vehicle for women to express themselves.”
Margo, now a senior at Latin, has helped her mother through the years. Once, on an airplane, they looked up at the big screen and saw Carol Burnett wearing one of her necklaces. Clara and husband David are also parents to daughter Charlie who is a Latin School freshman.
Other young people have been a part of the Clara Williams Company. Artist and Latin School graduate Dena Hobbs, now a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, thrived in her internship with Clara:
“Clara opened up the creative world to me. Her ability to seamlessly blend pieces of jewelry together reflects her talent as both an artist and a businesswoman. After my 8 months of working with her and her company, I realized that the business world (the left brain) is more connected to the creative world (the right brain) than I had initially assumed. It is for this very reason I began to consider advertising as a possible degree for myself.”
Clara is currently working with craftsmen from around the world, including Italian glassmakers, stonecutters from Germany, and craftsmen from India using a 700-year-old tradition. “Tibetan Treasures” is the title of a summer line.
Chicagoan Margaret Mary Stoetzel is one of Clara’s many fans:
“I love the flexibility and creativity of Clara Williams jewelry. Her unique clasp allows you to change the necklaces with the addition of so many different centerpieces, from casual to formal. She has fabulous designs and will also modify personal pieces for the clasp, which results in a one-of-a-kind creation. She is a Chicago treasure!”