Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

The artful antiquarian

The intricately crafted wedding jewelry of Erika Winters evokes the romance of bygone ages and has earned her enthusiastic accolades from peers.

By Jennifer Heebner

Image: Erika Winters

When Erika Winters’s now-husband Peter proposed to her in 2006, the one-time Los Angeles-based performance artist loved the man, but not the engagement ring he offered. The white gold piece had a sky-high setting — a peghead mounting with a terribly unsexy connection to the ring shoulders. Fortunately, her beau didn’t take offense at her disdain for the design, and she set out to sketch her ideal ring. This move paved the way for her current eponymous wedding-jewelry line, which has drawn high praise from some of the toughest critics in the business: bench jewelers.

“Almost immediately, I started drawing the ring I would have liked to receive,” she recalls. The perfect engagement ring became an obsession that sent her down a rabbit hole of education and research. She secured a graduate gemology degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), relocated to Seattle, Washington, for a better quality of life, and worked in retail selling antique jewelry. That’s where her signature style was born.

Made to order

During her stint in jewelry sales, Winters designed pieces for herself and friends, and employed skilled American craftsmen to bring her visions to life. Among the styles were rings with low profiles and a brushed finish that had the look of a piece worn for decades. “It’s not quite a matte or a shine, but a sheen,” she explains. Tiny milgrain edging and hand-cut beadwork rounded out the effects that now characterize many of her present-day designs.

People started noticing, and orders mounted. But it wasn’t until a new retailer asked her to create a bridal line that Winters took her budding talent seriously. She accepted the challenge and sketched out 10 rings, all born of her passion for perfection.

Her love of diamonds also intensified — and not surprisingly, so did her affinity for vintage cuts. So when she debuted her collection in December 2013, she did so only with antique-cut diamonds she had sourced from a network of dealers, many in New York.

“They’re like time capsules for me — cut for candlelight and cut 100 years ago,” she says. “There’s just something about a 2.90-carat, old European-cut center…that’s a 120-year-old diamond on someone’s hand.”

Delighting in the details

Because of her love for old stones, special cuts, and heirloom diamonds from clients, every ring is fabricated — there are no molds. Her craftspeople create each ring from scratch, sustainably and locally in Seattle, since Winters prioritizes support of stateside artisans. Even the location of her business — a building dating back to circa 1890 in the city’s historic district, which lies in the heart of a booming tech hub — reinforces her ties between old and new.

One result of this approach is a remarkable attention to detail. “We work incredibly tiny — we want the rings to be miniature sculptures that are really intimate to the wearer,” she says. “We employ old-world craftsmanship with 21st-century technology to hit a sweet spot of romance of the past, but with precision.”

The intricacies of her designs have many retailers getting starry-eyed at the mention of her name. David Iler, owner of Alchemy in Portland, Oregon, is a client and a trained bench jeweler who isn’t reticent about putting Winters’s work under a microscope just to admire the handiwork.

“When you look closely, you realize you’re looking at quite possibly the finest craftsmanship in the industry,” he says. “Her execution is absolutely perfect. You can look underneath the stones and see them all polished perfectly; she even lines up the tables on bead-set melee. They finish milgrain with the beading tool so it goes right into the corners and terminates perfectly. Customers like most what they can’t even see; they know intuitively that they love her work, but I know why they love it, because I look closely.”

One and only

The Winters bride certainly wants more of what she’s making. By the time a woman reaches out to the designer, the client has done her homework on the line and knows every ring available. Commissions are frequent, but they’re not “design by dictation,” Winters says. “They trust us to make something.”

Round and oval shapes are fixtures in her creations, and lab-grown diamonds are appearing with more regularity. Yet clients remain traditional at heart. “Whether someone is same-sex, non-binary…someone is getting down on bended knee,” Winters declares.

Also in the works are more wide bands, offerings for men, and new solitaires. Retailer David Johnson is keen to see these new styles, considering that Winters was one of the first bridal designers he featured in his DC Johnson Limited store in Columbus, Ohio. Johnson likes that every ring is made to order. And though his store is only three years old, he is a jewelry veteran who knows exceptional when he sees it.

“In 30 years, I have never seen any work as fine as hers,” he says. “Even her melee — she makes sure that her tables radiate to the center of the piece. The attention to detail…there’s not another bridal designer that can hold a candle to her.”


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2021. To subscribe click here.

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