Jewelry designer, Christy Lea Payne, always knew she wanted to create but it wasn’t until 2002 that she realized her dream of owning her own jewelry brand when she started CLP Jewelry. Payne’s jewelry embodies her signature, rustic style that she describes as being inspired by her travels, the colors and textures of everyday life and life’s perfect imperfections. She routinely chooses elements directly from the earth — like abalone shells and freshwater pearls — and creates one-of-a-kind pieces designed to last a lifetime. We recently spoke with Payne about her art, creative process and the future of CLP Jewelry.
303 Magazine: How did you get into jewelry design and how did CLP start?
Christy Lea Payne: I unofficially started in my dad’s barn in Oklahoma, tinkering and thinking of things to make with my dad’s help. I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands but was unsure of my medium. I took metalsmithing classes in college and while I was working my “real jobs,” I always played around with stringing beads. CLP started officially in my basement around 2002. I hand-selected accounts I wanted to sell and work with. Three of these accounts I am still working with today.
303: Describe your designs and style.
CLP: I describe CLP as rustic/modern. I design talismans that aid with protection and good juju. I love incorporating items from nature and items that are not perfect. So few things in life are perfect, so your jewelry should reflect a feeling of balance and happiness. I incorporate leather, diamonds, metals freshwater pearls and antlers into the collections. I want the jewelry to be worn every day for years to come. One piece is never enough.
303: What is the jewelry design process from actually thinking up an idea to making it?
CLP: I sketch and take notes, then when time allows I communicate with my team about what is in my head. Some ideas sit on my desk or notepad for years before they unfold. Sometimes it starts with a found element from nature that gets sent to my caster and made into metal. Once I receive the piece in metal, I design how it should be finished. Then, add a diamond, add leather, beads, etc.
303: What are some of your favorite pieces to design and why?
CLP: I only design what I will wear. I am always drawn to natural materials that are not perfect. I love working with antlers, abalone shells, leather, freshwater pearls, raw diamonds and lots of turquoise. I like designing forever pieces.
303: What have you found to be the most challenging thing about not only jewelry design but making a business out of it too?
CLP: Management of people. I want to be everyone’s friend. Leading a team (or trying to) can be tough for this personality type. I like to promote flexibility and open communication. This is hard for some people to grasp. My team is the backbone of my company.
303: Do you think jewelry is used as a form of self-expression like fashion is? If so, why?
CLP: Yes! You can throw on anything basic. Your outfit can be old or new and add a fabulous piece of jewelry, viola! My canvas is typically black or denim. Then it becomes anything but basic once you add your bracelet stack, earring story and necklace layers.
303: What do you see for the future of CLP Jewelry?
CLP: I want to continue to grow my brand in a meaningful and balanced way. My pieces are unique and I want my clients to “get it” and understand that these pieces are not everywhere for everyone. I want to look to the future for more opportunities to give back with my brand. Not sure what this charitable aspect looks like yet, but I know it will present itself when the time is right. Timing is everything.
All photography by Nick Annis unless otherwise noted.