Some people read or pour a glass of wine to relieve stress after the end of a long workday. Jennifer Welker, a neonatal nurse for six years, sketched jewelry instead.
"Nursing is very black and white, and the biological aspect of it appealed to my nerdy side," says Welker, "but it didn't allow me to be creative. I would be at work and sketching things on napkins. It's born out of [a] lifetime passion for accessories and designing."
Four years ago, Welker, a lifelong Houstonian, turned her hobby into a business, launching Golden Thread Jewelry, with every piece designed and made in Houston. The line of dainty, ready-to-layer pieces features crosses, simple horizontal bars covered with a row of irregular gemstones, and, of course, pendants bearing the shape of the great state of Texas. But it is Welker's monogrammed pendants that have become the signature of the line; a twee, modern update on a classic Southern design.
It was a monogram necklace on a simple, solid gold disk that changed everything for Welker when Pippa Middleton was spotted wearing it in London.
"I love the way she dresses—she's very ladylike and great style icon for women in their 30s," says Welker, who sent Middleton the necklace in 2011 and saw her photographed wearing it just weeks later.
"To say I was screaming [when I saw the picture] is an understatement. She wears it all the time, too. I saw that she wore it 10 days ago. That was a big deal—she's not from the South, she's from the UK and very fashion-forward. To see celebrities not from Texas wearing it shows how it fits into every wardrobe."
Golden Thread's collection of solid gold necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and pendants are carried at Saks Fifth Avenue stores throughout the country, with prices topping out around $3,000, but Welker also designs gold-filled versions of the same designs that can be found starting under $50 at boutiques including Hemline, Blue Leaf, and Magpie's.
Designed to make a statement at holiday parties, Welker's latest collection includes statement pieces like lariat necklaces, stackable open bangles, and statement rings, all under $200, and she's already sketching out her designs for 2015. On her mind: black diamonds and colored gemstones to make a pretty pop for spring.
"I'm still thinking along the lines of dainty classic but with a little bit of an edge," says Welker. "Designing and sketching is my absolute favorite thing to do. Seeing it go from my paper to someone's neck is the epitome of excitement."