Award-Winning Designer Aims for the ‘Edge of the Industry’

Erik Stewart
Tucson-based jeweler Erik Stewart, GIA GG, honed his CAD and bench skills at GIA before going on to win multiple awards for his “often architectural” designs. Courtesy Erik Stewart
Designer Erik Stewart may have debuted in the wholesale world as a JCK Rising Star in Las Vegas two years ago, but his first real foray into the industry goes much further back.  

As a child, Stewart tagged along with his mother to the jewelry design classes she taught in the parks and recreation department in the family’s hometown of Tucson, Arizona. As a young teen, tagging along with Mom meant working shows with her – and he did so “begrudgingly.”

“I’ll admit that I was much more interested in being an irresponsible teenager or perhaps entering the minor leagues for baseball at the time,” he laughs.  

But at 16, Stewart, who had been practicing bench skills in spite of his all-star dreams, sold one of his own designs.

“I was in awe that someone would pay money for something I created with my mind and hands,” Stewart says. “I became addicted.”

His professional dreams suddenly made an about-face. Supported by his parents – his jeweler mother and architect father – the high school senior decided he needed to round out his industry skills beyond bench and retail, and study gemology.

Stewart began GIA’s distance education courses while working jewelry retail counters in Tucson, then moved to the Institute’s Carlsbad campus to “submerge” himself into the world of like-minded professionals and the jewelry industry culture.

He earned his Graduate Gemologist diploma in 2003, and by that time had also earned a position as a sales representative with Neissing, a German designer. After that came a bench position at Phoenix’s Molina Fine Jewelry, though Stewart plugged away at custom designs in his downtime.

He launched his own line – the Erik Stewart Jewelry Art for the Body Collection – at retail shows in 2005.

Stewart says his “often architectural” style, though it has evolved with time, remains “deeply rooted” in his early professional experiences. “I’m attracted to the minimalist, contemporary and conceptual approach of German designers such as Neissing ‒ and in awe of the attention to the detail and precision of Molina’s Fine Jewelry,” he says.

Erik Stewart Elizabeth Ring
The Elizabethan ruff, with “small and precise serpentines,” is featured in Stewart’s palladium “Elizabeth” ring; Arizona turquoise and 0.75 total carats of colored diamonds share the spotlight. The ring earned Stewart a Silver Award from Solidscape’s BaselWorld Design Competition in 2013 “for his flawless execution of a complex ring.” Photo courtesy of Erik Stewart
The Tucson-based designer, who entered the wholesale market in 2012, also uses the skills he honed at GIA every day.

“I work from a conceptual design basis, so finding the gemstones comes second, but the criteria is always color and wearability,” Stewart says. He can narrow down those diamond and gemstone choices remotely, based on their specs alone, and select the best stones for his designs because he understands a gem’s colors, hardness, wearability and ideal applications. He can also “enhance precision and create clean lines” because of his CAD training.

“GIA gave me the knowledge needed to trust myself – I don’t guess, I know,” he says.

Stewart, whose design awards include GIA’s George A. Schuetz Design Contest, the Johnson Matthey New York Sustainable Design Award and the Platinum Innovation Awards, encourages GIA students to “build a network of support” during their time on campus, and to utilize all of the resources available to them.  

“I fully took advantage of the design contests, Career Fair and especially the library – I made many appointments to read rare books in the back room,” he says. “And the connections I built in my nine months at GIA, from peers to professionals, continue to carry me forward in ways I never imagined.”

Stewart, who lives in Arizona with his wife, Sara, and the couple’s newborn son, Hudson, says he continues to focus on knowing what makes him different as a designer ‒ and staying true to that.

“That perspective may be different from others because it doesn’t always pay off, at least not right away,” he says. “But it does keep me on the edge of the industry, where I strive to be.”

Erik Stewart Ring and cufflinks

This award-winning platinum ring, left – featuring 1.36 total carats of sapphires and 1.35 total carats of diamonds – showcases Stewart’s signature fluted design, which pays homage to the Elizabethan collar, or “ruff.” The ring won both the 2011 Niche Award for Fine Jewelry and earned the 2012 JCK Platinum Innovation Award for Platinum Red Carpet Jewelry (Buyer’s Choice). The palladium “Phoenix” cufflinks, left, are made of 950 palladium with 18K yellow gold accents set with padparadscha sapphires. The cufflinks, along with a matching ring, took first place at GIA’s 2008 George A. Schuetz Jewelry Design Contest. Photos courtesy of Erik Stewart

Jaime Kautsky, a contributing writer, is a GIA Diamonds Graduate and GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and was an associate editor of The Loupe magazine for several years.