This L.A.-Based Fine Jewelry Designer Has a Love Affair With Houston
jared lehr took beyoncé's "single Ladies" advice to heart: The Los Angeles-based designer fell in love with the Houston market almost immediately upon his introduction to it, just months after officially launching his eponymous fine jewelry business in 2016. Ever since, he's considered the Bayou City a second home of sorts for his art-inspired stunners, putting opulent rings on the fingers of well-heeled socialites all over town.
And while Lehr has yet to land a piece on Queen B herself—key word being yet—he has been icing out other celebs on red carpets galore for years now. In fact, you've caught a glimpse of Lehr's work if you've seen Cardi B at this year's Billboard Music Awards, Taylor Swift's "ME!" music video, Miley Cyrus's "Mother's Daughter" music video, Rihanna's Savage x Fenty campaign, Tiffany Haddish at the Oscars, Allison Janney at the Emmys, Zoe Saldana at the Avengers: Endgame premiere ... and the list goes on. The latter, by the way, just happens to be Lehr's fiancé's sister.
Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Kesha, Sofia Vergara, Tyra Banks, Ashley Longshore, and more have all worn Lehr pieces, too, which—hand-crafted in the U.S. with 18-karat blackened gold, sparkling diamonds, and precious gemstones—come at celebrity prices, like $84,000 for a show-stopping bracelet and $28,000 for a tourmaline and diamond ring.
Lehr sells exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue in Houston, and only when he's in town—which, luckily enough, is often these days. He's back this week for private dinners with top clients and cocktail receptions for local charities. "I'm telling you, I love Houston," Lehr told us recently from Toronto. We asked him to elaborate on his H-Town admiration, where he draws inspiration, and what it's like to see mega-stars wear your designs.
Why are you so invested in the Houston market?
When I got to Houston for the first time with my collection, I just felt a connection to the city. I go to all the cities in America, and it just felt like everybody had such open arms and was so hospitable and there was such support for my jewelry. I felt really welcomed, and I felt connected to the city and to the people that are there, especially at Saks Fifth Avenue. Certain clients that I really connected with introduced me to different charities. I just felt really, really at ease and at home in the city. It's often overlooked—I overlooked it for a long time, then after I got here I was like, why did I let this place be off my radar for so long? But sometimes things slip through the cracks. I kind of don’t want people to know how great it is, because then they’ll all start coming. I’m keeping it on the down-low a little bit.
Why do you prefer to sell privately through trunk shows rather than stock a collection in-store?
I do exhibitions. I make one-of-a-kind pieces, and I don’t mass-produce. Every piece I make is a piece of art, and I kind of have separation anxiety with all of my pieces. They’re my children, and I don’t like to have them live anywhere else until they’re adopted. They’re each so special to me—I live with them for so long, I conceptualize them, I find the stones … when they’re purchased, I can put that aside. But things are changing for me; I do have to expand.
What's your design process like?
When I started designing, I went on a six-month sabbatical. I traveled through London, Paris, Barcelona, Croatia, and I just started drawing all the things that inspired me. From that, I have archives of jewelry that I haven’t produced. I have archives for the next 10 years—I don’t have to design a new piece, I just have to go into my archives, like, this is what thinking at this point, this is the whole collection I wanted to do. I’ve only started to dig into that. Once I dig into each specific collection, there are offshoots and different variations. Sometimes I get a winner everyone loves and I start making different versions—a little elongated, a different color-way, different combinations. It kind of morphs into different things.
What about fabrication?
I have my own studio [in L.A.] where I do everything in-house. Nothing is done overseas; I do everything in-house from start to finish—the only is if I find a stone in a color like a tourmaline or an aqua, there’s one city in Germany that does all my cutting for colored stones. They’re universally known as some of the best cutters in the world. The stone is a separate entity, but all of the jewelry work is done in L.A. Typically it takes three to five months to make a piece. It starts with the conception in my head, then to paper, then it goes from paper to my computer-assisted design, which does wax carving. From the wax I burn it out in gold, from the gold it goes to pre-polish assembly, and then I set all the stones and it goes back for final polishing and final finishing.
Did you always know you wanted to make jewelry?
My dad was a real, true old-school New York designer, and I was creative director of his company for many years. I learned under him, and he was just this very, very particular perfectionist and that kind of rubbed off on me. I was in school for jewelry design at FIT and they asked me not to come back ... then I lived the true artist life; I made sculptures. Then I thought, why don't I do jewelry? I love gems—I always worked with gems with my dad growing up—and then I fell in love with stones. Once I went back to jewelry after sculpting, I just knew this was it for me. It was instant: I’m going to make jewelry for the rest of my life.
What inspires you?
Other jewelry has never inspired me; it’s always been the beauty in architecture. I love being in old cities and seeing how they were built. I can see an old, old, old building, and I just see different angles. From the way the building is, I think, okay, I can cut this and do that and make a pair of earrings out of it. Different objects that have nothing to do with jewelry, just how they’re positioned and how things are put together. You can make a beautiful piece of jewelry, but if it’s not functional and it doesn’t lay right or it’s too heavy, nobody will wear it. I always look at those types of things.
What's it like having celebrities wear your pieces, often to major events?
I love it. The bigger the event, the happier it makes me. There are certain events that are kind of benchmarks; I always wanted to be involved in the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Then the premieres—I’ve been a part of some of the biggest movies of all time. There are little benchmarks, but there’s still other people I’ve got my eye on. I’ve learned to be happy with who I have. I can get Rihanna one day and I’m like, yeah, but why don’t I have Beyoncé wearing my stuff this month? I mean, come on! I have to learn to be somewhat more humble. I know the trap in life is to always want more, to always want what you don’t have and is not currently in your possession. But that goes along with being an artist; I always want to do better and to do better work, and I struggle with a lot of artistic perfection. But art is not perfect. I don’t look at it like I make jewelry; I make art.