Jewellery

Meet LA jeweller Suzanne Kalan and her trendsetting diamonds

Suzanne Kalan has grown into the darling of the American diamond scene since starting her jewellery business out of boredom

Photography by Lucy Sparks, Styling by Felix Bischof, Words by Ian Thorley

I’m supposed to be meeting one of LA’s premier jewellery designers for lunch at Avra, a glitzy fish restaurant in uptown Beverly Hills. However I’m already running twenty minutes late, and I’ve been sitting in nose-to-tail traffic for over an hour as I drive from Santa Monica, a journey of just a few miles, and my traffic app is still telling me I’ll be another ten minutes.

Embarrassed, I call Suzanne Kalandijan on her mobile to explain my situation. “Relax Ian, this is LA,” she says laughing, “and take your time, the traffic here is so crazy that I only make one appointment a day”, instantly putting me at ease. When I eventually meet her, thirty minutes late and slightly clammy, she’s relaxed and happy, a successful woman at ease and confident in herself. In a career of nearly forty years, Kalandijan has become one of America’s most successful jewellery exports. Her playful designs are available in all the best places, namely at Net-A- Porter, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, and Goop, as well as international retailers such as Harrods, Dover Street Market and Lane Crawford to name a few.

Suzanne Kalan white gold tennis necklace with blue sapphires and white diamonds
Suzanne Kalan white gold tennis necklace set with light blue sapphires and white diamonds

The jewellery scene in Los Angeles is booming. There’s a plethora of successful designers – including Jacquie Aiche, Anita Ko and Emily P Wheeler – and the style here is relaxed and casual, combining an easy mix of diamonds with denim and sportswear. The success of the city, Kalandijan tells me, is because “the rest of the world has always had a liking of American culture, especially for all things Californian.”

This is a business where it’s difficult to be unique. Brands with a rich archive and heritage reign supreme, making it much harder for new labels to be established. However, Suzanne has managed to carve a niche that’s not only unique but instantly recognisable to her. She was the first jewellery designer to use off-cut baguette diamonds and coloured stones, which were then arranged in a seemingly haphazard fashion that was reminiscent of fireworks exploding. And that’s how her best-known line got its name – the Firework collection.

Kalandijan was born in Lebanon to Armenian parents. Her father and most of her family were in the jewellery trade. “It’s a common trade amongst Armenians,” she says offhandedly. The family later moved to Montreal, Canada where she grew up before heading to LA aged eighteen where “my father opened up a jewellery store in downtown LA, which is known as the jewellery district,” she explains. Becoming a jewellery designer wasn’t always the chosen path for her. For the first ten years of her career, she worked in retail, in her father’s store with “all my cousins, my father’s cousins, they were in the business and had the manufacturing and all that”.

Suzanne Kalan rose gold bangle set with rainbow sapphires and white diamonds
Suzanne Kalan rose gold bangle set with rainbow sapphires and white diamonds

After marrying her husband Paul they started a family and she inadvertently started on a path to becoming one of LA’s most beloved jewellery designers. She was a young mum at home with a new “quiet baby” and this gave her a craving to do something else with her life.

“I thought I was gonna go crazy, sitting at home doing nothing. So, I started making some fashion jewellery, fun jewellery for myself and my sister. And that’s how this whole thing started.” The business launched in 1988, the family name shortened for ease from Kalandijan to Kalan, and financed by the sale of a wedding present, a diamond tennis bracelet from her parents. The initial focus was making inexpensive jewellery pieces, a high-volume business that the whole family could be involved in – roping in her sister, cousins, husband and his family onto an at-home production line. She recalls the advice of a friend that saw her switch to precious metals: “a friend of my brother was a rep to the major department stores and she said, “Listen, all my buyers are sterling silver buyers. If you make the same product in sterling silver, then I know I could sell this.” From there the business grew and we got our first order. That first year I sold $400,000”.

Suzanne Kalan rose gold ring set with a dark grey pearl, purple sapphire baguettes and white diamonds
Suzanne Kalan rose gold ring set with a dark grey pearl, purple sapphire baguettes and white diamonds

By the early 2000s, she expanded the brand and became even more luxurious. “Eventually we came up with the Fireworks collection,” says Kalandijan. “But even that was a struggle in the beginning because no one wanted to touch baguette diamonds back then”. The Fireworks collection is a vibrant collision of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, each cut in the traditional baguette shape. They are then tilted, clustered and arranged in a seemingly random explosion of light and colour. Mimi Hoppen, the Director of Jewellery at Dover Street Market, explains the Kalan phenomenon: “Suzanne Kalan has been fundamental to setting and driving the trend for baguettes and is so creative in using this cut. Clients are always drawn to her colourful sapphire baguette rings in particular.”

Suzanne Kalan yellow gold eternity ring set with light blue sapphires
Suzanne Kalan yellow gold eternity ring set with light blue sapphires

Kalan followed up the Fireworks line with the Vitrine collection, custom cutting the gemstones to have both a flat top and bottom. This created a window effect, allowing for diamonds set below the gemstone to be clearly seen. The Vitrine concept is yet another new and interesting way to look at gemstones, both at them and through them.

Her daughter Patile joined the business in 2012 and created a more accessible line of 14-carat jewellery called KALAN by Suzanne Kalan. Kalandijan has been looking at expanding this offering and recently started reimagining her Fireworks collection with men in mind. Key pieces range from white diamond dog tags and eye-catching pink sapphire eternity bands to chic emerald-green bangles.

Suzanne Kalan yellow gold hoop earrings set with thick baguette emeralds
Suzanne Kalan yellow gold hoop earrings set with thick baguette emeralds

Meanwhile, she’s continuing to look at more creative opportunities. In October 2021, Kalan teamed up with the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA) to create a capsule collection featuring Tahitian pearls. The glittering line-up of earrings and rings celebrates the rich undertones of black Tahitian pearls, which can appear blue, green, purple and pink depending on the light.

With her finger in every pot, Kalan puts her success down to a uniquely holistic approach to jewellery making. “I think the really successful designers think of everything, not just what I feel like designing right now or not just about business,” she says. “Don’t think about business only and don’t think about design only. You have to think of the whole picture.” And with that, she got up and left leaving me to muse my Waze app and the hideous thought of getting back in that traffic.

Jewellery assistant Joshua Hendren

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