For Stacy King, it was a baby monitor.
After graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in Fine Arts and an emphasis in ceramics, the Mill Valley resident dove deeply into being a production potter for 10 years. And then?
“I’d just had my son, who is now 22,” she says. “Ceramics is such an intricate, multi-stage process – it’s very hard to leave it. And I found myself getting interrupted by a baby monitor while being covered head to toe in clay. So I grew tired and hung it up for a while.”
Ever the active artist, King took up jewelry as a hobby, finding plenty of similarities between the two – and one key difference.
“I had studied so much about balance and form and color and composition that once I became interested in jewelry, I already had the foundation of understanding composition, which applies itself to any medium,” she says. “I’d made hundreds and hundreds of bases and forms, so when I started making jewelry, I found that I had a really good eye for balance and the weight of stones and understanding the balance of form.”
The biggest difference? She could take as many breaks as she needed to – without worrying about being covered in clay while holding her baby.
King became quite prolific in her newfound hobby, often wearing her creations around town and catching the attention of friends and owners of the stores she frequented. Many of those stores offered to carry her creations – Summer House in Mill Valley was her first account. The self-taught jeweler also sought out galleries and boutiques and met a sales rep who brought more businesses into the fold.
She launched Lulu Designs in 1997, first out of her home studio in Blithedale Canyon, then in her garage on Locust Avenue, and then in a studio near the ICB building in Sausalito, with a small gallery down the road on Princess Street.
“I’ve had my eye on what was going here for years,” she says. “It’s always been a dream to come back home, and to do it here at the Lumber Yard – Matt and Jan are very invested in making this an artisan community and curating it. It’s a thriving environment – and such an atmosphere of collaboration.”
“The environment we’re working is just magical,” she adds. “Being surrounded by nature and redwood trees and having a creek running under us – the quality of life is so vastly improved.”
In those early years following her transition to jewelry and rewarding response in the community, King got serious about her jewelry creations. She sought people who she says had a higher skill level than her: master bench builders.
“And that’s who makes us up today,” she says.
King’s all-female team is led by master bench jeweler and Mill Valley native Kristina Saxen – “my right hand,” she says. King first met Saxen when the latter was right out of Tam High, and after her graduation from Rhode Island School of Design jewelers program, Saxen returned to pick up where she left off with King.
“She has an innate artistic skill,” King says. “She’s 20 years younger than me and she’ll take the torch when the time comes. She’s phenomenal and I’m so grateful for her.”
The other women working for King are master metalsmiths Lauren and Chie, as well as Petaluma-based diamond setter Aimee.
The team around King fits with Lulu’s lotus logo, she says. “Each woman is a petal of the flower. I’m the visionary – I conjure up these hair-brained ideas and I hone it – and they execute beautifully.”
In addition to its own gallery and retail space at the Lumber Yard, Lulu’s jewelry – mostly sustainably sourced metals fitted with precious gemstones – can be found in a host of prominent locations, including the Sundance catalog, Anthropologie, Peruvian Connection and Garnet Hill. King has also been one of the featured artists at the de Young Museum in San Francisco for a decade.
“All of our pendants have spiritual and uplifting meanings behind the motifs,” King says. “They’re inspired by botanical and architectural design, moments of beauty from my experiences on hikes and walks. It kind of permeates my consciousness and comes out in my jewelry.”