"Ethereal, feminine, lyrical is how I'd describe them," says Los Angeles designer Cathy Waterman of the pieces of jewelry she's created for the past 2 1/2 decades in her Santa Monica studio. Chances are good that you've seen some of her elegant work, on film, at red carpet awards shows and in the non-working lives of numerous Hollywood A-listers. In a town full of loud bling, her jewels stand out for their nonaggressive beauty. She says a natural outgrowth of her work is her Love of My Life betrothal jewelry collection, begun in 2008.
What does the title of your betrothal collection Love of My Life encompass?
Eddie Kislinger is the love of my life. We've been married 35 years, and in all that time I have never worn a wedding ring; we didn't even have rings for the ceremony. Convention means nothing to me, and I found that I follow my own path in most things. That said, I named my ring collection Love of My Life in honor of Eddie and to perhaps make up, a bit, for not wearing a ring. Once I began designing jewels, the perfection of form that is a ring inspired me to no end.
Was evolving into betrothal jewelry something planned for your business or did it occur more organically?
Everything seems to be organic. I don't plan, and, as I said, the form just mesmerized me, and that propelled me forward. That's what happened first. Soon after came the realization that people were choosing my rings as that object in their lives to symbolize their commitment to each other and express how they feel about the other. I am honored to receive this trust. This has been the sweetest, most rewarding part of my work.
Why Cathy Waterman rings?
They are beautiful and lyrical and embody all that I believe in: authenticity, devotion, consciousness and true, true love. I've always felt that life and work are about connection and have sought to imbue my work with that intangible quality that magically connects me with the person who wears the jewels. I would attribute it to my energy, the energy of everyone who works in the studio, including the gold and platinum smiths. We are happy, conscious people who love their work, and I believe it shows and the clients feel this. This might sound sentimental, but I believe it's true.
Can you describe a traditional versus nontraditional engagement or wedding ring?
This "traditional" category didn't exist before the '50's really, propelled by the amazing De Beers campaign, "a diamond is forever," and suddenly, that's what everyone wanted, or thought they should have: a diamond solitaire. A nontraditional ring looks like the wearer the minute they put it on.
I don't remember alternatives (except for vintage rings) when I began designing rings. But I do remember the absolute chicness of Audrey Hepburn's three small rings: a diamond baguette eternity band and two hammered bands. She is one of our style icons, and the way she wore these bands, one at a time, not stacking, was truly her own. Many style fashion icons had nontraditional wedding and engagement rings.
What are the primary drivers pushing this trend toward the nontraditional?
There's a modern woman who has been buying my rings for the past 25 years, and she believes that there are no rules, only traditions. She is looking for meaning in this object that will witness her married life and wants something deeply personal. It must be real and honest, and they are looking for an object to which they connect. The ring is about them and what moves them. [It is] the ultimate in jewelry because it's the piece that we look at all day. ... The modern woman who knows what she wants and what she wants to look at all day long is driving this business.
Walk us through the process of creating a ring from the original first thought to the client putting it on her finger.
When I am making an engagement ring for a custom client, I first ask the client to tell me about their intended; that will drive the feel of the ring. For the Love of My Life collection, it begins with a drawing, often of what I see around me — a shadow of the ferns outside the studio door, a little bit of moss growing between the rocks — and I draw and draw and then leave it be and go back to it or not.
If it's a single stone or a multi-stone ring, I often start with the stones and see what they say to me. I'm a crazy perfectionist and have stone dealers around the world sending me stones (they say I am their most particular client). With a colored stone, the process is similar; lots of sketching and then carving. I'm pretty lucky that I see fully formed jewels in my mind as I am sketching.
What have been the largest influences on your jewelry?
Nature and history and travel. I am always traveling and looking for what I haven't seen before. ... I see things that do not exist and yet they do, in my mind or in my dreams. I studied ancient and early church history and am fascinated by all periods of history. I am also often influenced by the turn of a phrase in literature; that's where the idea for my jeweled branches came from, two words in a novel I can't remember reading.
Do you consider yourself primarily a jeweler or artist?
Actually, a mom. One time my daughter said, "You know what? My mommy makes magic." I like that. I'd like to be seen as a magician, as silly and heady as that may sound. To me, they're one and the same. I can tell you it's not about the selling or the wearing of the object I create, but the moment when I finish, and it's a feeling of revelation, that moment of seeing.