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14. Jun 2013

Bright-eyed jewellery queen Kriss Põldma

However the path that took this woman with a master’s degree in marketing, who has travelled a lot and is, on top of that, an outstanding tennis player, was winding and unexpected.  You can see it for yourself: here is Kriss’ thrilling journey from the tennis court to the jewellery studio.

On a spring day I enter a café on Pärnu Road to talk to jewellery designer Kriss Põldma. Even before we start talking I realise she is a person who truly enjoys her work: the vitality reflected in her eyes makes me look forward to the interview that is about to start.

From tennis to jewellery design

Kriss Põldma was born into a family of athletes where everyone without exception was excellent at tennis. Kriss herself was also mainly keen on tennis, which, in its turn, gave her an opportunity to travel a lot. It was the desire to explore the world that brought Kriss to the United States and then made her settle in England to pursue education in marketing in both countries; she would never have imagined then that she would be passionate about jewellery design in the future. “The path that brought me to jewellery design was winding and chance played a great role in it. I needed some kind of a shake-up and encouragement because I had never studied jewellery design or done any handicraft,” Kriss says and adds that, having grown up among athletes, she had never believed creative activity could offer her something. However, when Kriss moved to England, she was shaken by an incident when all of her jewellery was stolen. “All these jewellery pieces were very significant, mostly bought during my trips, but there were also some given to me by my grandparents, for example. This was how I understood jewels were not just accessories, but also stored important emotions; I understood the value of jewellery.”  Sometime after hat Kriss was surprised to discover that she was also allergic to metals, so she couldn’t wear jewellery that was not made of gold, silver or some other specially treated material. When she was shopping around to find new jewels, it became apparent that what she liked was made of wrong materials and what would not affect her skin had a three-digit price tag. “I have never been the type of person who buys one necklace and wears only that for a year; I like change!” Kriss admits.  One day a friend, who also lived in England, took Kriss to a shop that sold gemstones to make something themselves. Kriss remembers she was not exactly excited about the idea. “Oh, I don’t think I will like it because handicraft is not my cup of tea,” Kriss recalls her first reaction with a laugh. As she was studying the various stones in the shop though, she suddenly became interested. “We bought a number of stones there, and I felt this was quite exciting!” The friends then went together to meet a jeweller and learn more about the world of gemstones. “I sat down, started carving, and didn’t notice how five hours passed. I spent all of that time pottering by myself, without even talking to anyone! It was enormously relaxing as if I were in a world of my own,” Kriss says and adds it was the first time she had felt calm and happy in a while. “It was something of a meditative state when you forget everything else and just create something. I had never had any experience and had never believed I had any talent for it! I knew I could run fast, I was a good tennis player and got good grades at school, but creativity? I had never thought I had any at all!” It didn’t take her long to realise this was the way she could make exactly the jewellery she wanted or needed as accessories to certain clothes. And this is how it started.

Tremendous support of intuition

The first piece of jewellery Kriss made for herself was a black fang she put on a long chain, and she still wears it. “My idea of making jewellery was that if someone I know came up to me and asked if I had made it myself, something was wrong: a piece of jewellery should not look as if it were made at home! I didn’t tell anyone I had taken up such a hobby.” But carving in secret did not last long, and when acquaintances heard about Kriss’ new hobby, the jewellery business between her and her circle of friends started gathering pace. “I did not want to make things for sale but rather to create jewellery I like, and wouldn’t it be great if someone else liked it!  The important thing was that wouldn’t have to hard sell that jewellery to anyone,” Kriss laughs as in the beginning she was not at all sure she would keep making jewellery. “I am generally not likely to dive in headfirst at all,” she adds.

When visiting the jeweller in England, Kriss realised what she liked the most was that jewellery could be made of genuine gemstones. They mainly come from certain online shops that the same jeweller recommended her: ordering stones from the first shop you find is not very safe as it is very much likely they will be plastic. Kriss hopes to go someplace in person in the future to choose gemstones to her liking and study the range better (Kriss actually spent this March and April checking out gemstone shops in Arizona – ed.). Prices in big gemstone shops are also somewhat friendlier, but if you go to a gemstone market, for example, you need to take a gemmologist with you because some sellers could try to sell you false stones cheap there. Kriss says there is a lot of room for development: she is not trying to bite off more than she can chew and keeps reminding herself why she started working with gemstones in the first place.  “I have always been result-oriented, but now I focus on the process instead and have given myself a break.” Kriss avoids going to large gemstone fairs because that causes stress, which would have a destructive effect on the cognitive approach. “Although I do have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in marketing, I often notice that following your gut feeling works better. Sometimes you must give changes a chance.”

Hobby became work

Kriss’ pottering became work though: she set up her own company and what she has mainly been doing since last August is jewellery design. “It was a very bold step,” says Kriss who still finds time to play tennis one day a week regardless of her new time-consuming job. “One does have to keep the family happy as well,” Kriss smiles. “In a way, this is good because the world of sport is entirely different compared to jewellery.”

Kriss created her own jewellery brand called ‘New Vintage’ by Kriss. “I chose the name in English on purpose as I realised that one day I would have to think about long-term perspectives and consider expanding the business beyond Estonia. The brand name absolutely has to be clear to foreigners! ‘Vintage’ in the brand name means that this jewellery is not meant to be a short-term fancy. It has to be unique but wearable and durable. ‘New’, in its turn, means that the jewellery is new and not second-hand.”

Kriss has found a balance between pottering and communication and has created a couple of other product brands. “They tell me to be very careful about the people I share my ideas with, but I think it’s vice versa, because new bright thoughts can come up when you exchange ideas!”

Kriss does not have one established rule for the creative process and draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. “When I go out with friends, I often feel that a particular outfit lacks jewellery of a certain style.” In addition to the stylistic vision, Kriss is also inspired by certain gemstones, for example, she adores so-called stones with an attitude that have not been finished to perfection.  Kriss has long favoured large, colourful and organic agates. It is not originally brightly coloured, but Kriss receives gemstones after they have been cut and coloured, with holes drilled in them. Her favourites also include rock crystal, amethyst and druse. Even before a gemstone becomes a piece of jewellery, Kriss studies the stone’s effect and how it was used in the old times. Sometimes she will order a batch of stones though and see what they want to become. She admits quizzically that the problem of the creative process is that that she wants to make too many different things, so she needs to hold herself back. “Fortunately, there are some financial constraints, and that brings me to the opportunity of starting to play by rules these constraints establish. I also always think about what I would buy and at what price to prevent the item from getting so expensive that I could only afford one necklace per year.”

According to Kriss, her love of travelling is a very important source of inspiration. “When you get used to travelling, you will keep looking for opportunities to go somewhere again, but there are weight restrictions on your hand luggage, so you can’t take all your jewellery with you.” For this purpose, Kriss created a collection of functional jewellery that can be worn in any situations and with various outfits.  Such jewellery pieces include, for example, necklaces in the form of chains of adjustable length; she also designed a range of pendants that you can attach to the chain according to your mood.

Kriss creates jewellery by trial and error and a piece can transform into something entirely different in the process.  This is why creating the first copy takes the longest because experimenting and making changes requires time. Making the rest of the pieces should be relatively fast and easy as time is money and it has an effect on the price, but compelling design cannot be cast aside.  “There are some things I would like to learn merely because the more techniques you master, the more free your art becomes, and the better you understand what it is that you want to do and create. At the same time I like exactly what I am doing at the moment. Estonian market features excellent highly original and talented jewellery artists who make auteur jewellery, and there are many who work at home and use cheaper materials. I am not either, and I fill the gap that there is in the market. Nobody used to produce the jewellery in between, and if there was someone, their products were meant for masses.”

Creative marketing

Kriss wants to encourage those who potter by themselves though. “I am, too, actually one of them. On the one hand, my approach and choice of materials has been different from the start, but on the other hand, I also started with making things at home.” She appreciates those who have courage to indulge in creative work or a hobby and she says such activities always have a positive effect on the person. “The problem might lie in the fact that the craftsman does not think beforehand who the jewellery is meant for. I started with making it for myself, and then other people who sensed they could feel my art appeared.  The important thing is that I don’t have to or want to hard sell my jewellery to people whereas many customers find me through someone else who wears it. But when you are trying to sell things to people with entirely different aesthetic views, success will not be quick to come. This is why I had pondered what I would be doing and what I wanted to do in the first place. For instance, I do not make auteur jewellery and, consequently, do not try to sell my products to people who look for auteur jewellery.”

Nevertheless, Kriss has plenty of marketing tips to share. “It is so weird when there are events in your life that seem to be unconnected and make you ask why this and that just had to happen to me. I had the same feeling of incoherence in connection with my studies. It takes time for things to fall into place, and now I thank God I studied marketing.” Despite the fact that many have asked her why she studied this profession at all, Kriss believes that the knowledge acquired in the course of marketing studies comes in handy anywhere, and one does not have to work in an advertising agency to use it.  “What is crucial about marketing is to be able to think logically: studying will just strengthen you logic.” Kriss considers the skill of relating the vision of the woman for whom her jewellery is meant to potential customers to be a very important aspect of jewellery design.  “My art is born from a certain idea and visual, and I have managed to explain it to a wider audience. It is understanding your own vision and being able to explain it to others that is extremely important for marketing your brand. You need to create a clean-cut image,” Kriss is convinced; she believes that marketing does not differ from jewellery design that much because it is a creative activity in a way as well.

Work and smile hand in hand

Despite focusing on sport in the past, Kriss is sure she has always been a creative person, but she simply did not realise it until the time was right. “It would have been great, on the one hand, if I had understood earlier that jewellery design was the right choice for me, but on the other hand, everything that happened in my life actually needed to happen. The period in between was important for me because I could use the opportunities to travel and get life experience.” Kriss thinks that people who understand in their teenage years what they would love to do are lucky, but she does not believe she could have been ready for such a career earlier. “When you have already become good at something, changing your life dramatically is difficult. You are scared to start something entirely new as you are afraid you might not succeed. But this is what you need the ‘school of life’ for: to help you pluck up courage.” Kriss knows that there certainly are people who still look at her new job with contempt, but she doesn’t bother her head about that. “I am rather thin-skinned and I think I would have found it harder to take criticism when I was twenty,” Kriss says. “Now I am completely sure though that what I am doing is right for me. I will not be discouraged by the fact that it’s difficult at times; I will not be affected by the fact that all of this takes so much time; I do not stop to think that I might be happier doing something else. Honestly speaking, at the moment I am so happy that there’s always a wide smile on my face despite my crazy schedule. Sometimes I burst into loud laughter when I’m all by myself out of the sheer joy that my job gives me! I finally understand those who told me that one had to make a living by doing what one loved: for me those clichés are not worthless words anymore as I now understand what they mean. My works gives me an opportunity to live, and this is what is so good about it!” Kriss admits the excitement of creative work never leaves her even when she must face difficult times. “Despite the worries, there are more positive than negative factors in my life. My biggest fear is that at some point I might not be able to do jewellery design; I love it dearly,” Kriss says and bursts into laughter. It was only through creative work that she also learned to trust herself and be open even to the craziest ideas. “Jewellery design has made my life so much more enjoyable. I am so happy about how things go that my attitude to what’s around me has changed too.” Kriss now feels a more compelling desire to share her ideas with others because she feels that she does what she must in life. “My day has a point,” Kriss sighs. “I have something to give to the world!”

Courage to create

Despite the enthusiasm, Kriss is open to constructive criticism. “When someone criticises my work, I have to remind myself it’s not about me as a person. My art is very personal for me, so the English saying ‘business is not personal’ does not apply to me.” Kriss is always open to recommendations though and considers them in deciding how that piece or another can be made better. “I feel there are many things I would like to improve and do differently. This is why I actually like sincere criticism and I realise that there are people around me who have mastered the art of making jewellery and know something about the creative process. As I am just a beginner in the world of jewellery, obtaining the necessary information is important. The unpleasant thing is that I have to read critical reviews, because there are a number of waspy comments and when I read, I don’t always understand whether the person actually gives advice or just criticises for the sake of it.”

I ask about her attitude to those who lack creativity themselves and consider such work superficial, and this is how Kriss replies, “I believe that the majority of people are actually creative even if their job implies working on the computer. One of the reasons why fashion and the whole visual world exist is that those people also want to be a part of this creative world. I think many of them are like me and have, so to say, grown up in a box: they were told they were not creative or they never were encouraged to try such activities, so they keep thinking inside the box. To venture to express oneself to others, one has to be a bit of a daredevil and egoist in the best sense of the word. I can actually see that more and more people dare to be creative, and I believe this is an uprising global trend.” Kriss loves to organise evening meetings for customers, and during these meetings she has noticed that her dramatic life change has an effect on other people and makes them realise that such a step is not unbearably difficult.

Gemstone astrology

Our exciting and motivating conversation about the positive aspects of the world of creativity stops as we realise with astonishment that we have been talking for almost an hour and a half and have lost track of time. A lot has been said about the powers of gemstones and their effect on people, so I come back to Kriss’ art and ask if she ever paid attention to so-called gemstone astrology before she started designing jewellery. “I do read horoscopes and like pecking out the good qualities of my zodiac sign in them,” Kriss chuckles and says that she actually never kept up with gemstone astrology before. However, working with gemstones made Kriss realise that most people recognised ‘their’ stones and jewels. “I have noticed that people find a piece of jewellery with a particular gemstone at the very beginning of the buying process, but they think they should hesitate and try other stones. But in the end they come back to the first thing they chose. This is a fascinating topic, and I believe these gemstones do have some effect. The more I work with stones and jewels, the more I realise it.” Many web sites recommend certain gemstones to different astrological signs (Kriss’ web page also has materials about gemstones suitable and the most recommended for certain signs – ed.), but Kriss still believes it is some kind of a gut feeling that draws people to gemstones. “At the same time I must admit there have been cases when the gemstones I wanted to work with and felt particularly connected to at some point happened to match my zodiac sign according to horoscopes.” Nevertheless, she will certainly not tell each customer which gemstone will be right for them because she believes that each stone will influence the wearer anyway.

In the first place, Kriss has received direct feedback about the influence of gemstones from those who bought necklaces with colourful agate. “People have been saying that large agates calm them down. Indeed, agates have an interesting property: they become warm to match the wearer’s body temperature,” Kriss shares her knowledge.  Some of her customers have also asked her to spend as much time as she could on making a piece of jewellery as it was supposed to imprint the author’s energy in the stone. “What we think and how we do it has an effect on our lives. I believe that people create their future themselves, and what kind of life would be more exciting is a matter of choice. Is life more beautiful when you believe that any miracles and chances are possible? Of when you don’t believe it? I do because I like it and I feel this faith adds colour to my life. It is indeed a very personal topic, but I believe in gemstones and feel their magnetism.” Still, Kriss does not feel that she should impose her views and beliefs on a wider public because she thinks that people who need gemstones or are just interested in the topic will find the necessary information themselves anyway. “It is absolutely understandable that many people buy my jewellery just because they like the colour of the gemstone in it or the overall design of the piece. I don’t feel the need to try and convince them that a certain stone is meant just for them.” Kriss herself will not be convinced to buy a gemstone if, for example, someone says the stone means this or that according to feng shui. “I trust my intuition. If you keep reading and reading about all the various effects of stones, it will kill your intuition. But if someone feels that putting a gemstone under the bed will help them, then this is what they should do. My flat is full of gemstone, and as I am surrounded by them and work with them all the time, I wouldn’t last long if I got emotional about every single one. It is also necessary in order to retain a certain degree of scepticism and control, and this is why I have never bought gemstones according to feng shui but have merely chosen them to make jewellery.” What Kriss does consider important though is when someone gives a gemstone away to her or she gets one as a present. “Then the question is why it is this particular stone that found its way to me.”

Creative Incubator

Kriss joined the Creative Incubator in December 2012. “I had known about it before but wasn’t ready to join at the time because I wasn’t sure what exactly a wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Then a faint hope occurred that other people might like what I do and what if I actually could cope?” Kriss understood at once what she expected from the Incubator: she needed counselling. “While I can deal with marketing and logistics, and make jewellery, and do all the rest all by myself, then searching for legal assistance, for example, can require too much time and money. This is exactly why I had to postpone many of my plans: I simply didn’t have enough time for everything! So it is very good when there is one place where you can have all of your questions answered. When I have an idea, I ask counsellors in the creative Incubator what the most logical steps would be, where I should go or send any documents. I would spend days looking for that information by myself, so being a member of the Incubator saves me an unbelievable amount of time. Paperwork is not exactly one of my favourite pastimes either, so I tend to procrastinate at times. The Creative Incubator is an institution that is good at helping me maintain discipline: quarterly reports need to be filed and they cannot be postponed forever. In addition, the Incubator deals with marketing and advertising, and that is a pleasant extra bonus,” Kriss says; she admits that she never expected this at the start.  “Now I have also decided to open my parlour in the Creative Incubator (open to customers starting with May – ed.). Even if I had a fancy studio in the Old Town, I would be all alone there because I work alone most of the time as well. The pleasant atmosphere of the Creative Incubator feels like home, and I am surrounded with people like me. If, for instance, I need a small piece of leather, I come by Kadri Kruus’ workshop (a leather artist – ed.) and ask for some. There is a certain symbolism which makes you realise such a dramatic life change probably wasn’t that crazy. You feel that now at last everything is FOR REAL,” Kriss sighs.

According to Kriss, in the future ‘New Vintage’ will expand to Europe. “At the moment I am testing the waters and trying to decide where to go next and how to do it sensibly. Preparation is important so that you will already have acquired a general idea by the time you make the decision and start setting things up properly and developing the project. I realise I could never afford to pay a large company for market research, so I am trying to learn everything myself upon second thought. I also stand by the principle that I will never take out a loan: if you can’t start up the business yourself, it might not be a good idea. If you can do it using only your assets and knowledge though, there is hope.”

In addition to her existing jewellery brand, Kriss wants to bring somewhat different brands and products onto the market in cooperation with a couple of other people. One of them was launched in March under the name of Papa Ladron (Papa Crook – ed.). Papa Ladron jewellery is a bit more rock-n-roll and masculine than Kriss’ works so far, but she likes the change like that herself. “Papa Ladron is a particular personality that we have created. One day the Ladron brand will also be producing jumpers, T-shirts and other clothing,” Kriss promises. “I have plenty of ideas!” Kriss notes another positive aspect of the Creative Incubator: you can share new ideas with everyone and you don’t have to worry that someone might steal them.  “If you potter by yourself most of the time, it’s good to be able to say your fresh idea out loud and ask the others if it would pay off at all. Up to now they have, of course, always said ‘yes’, but my ideas keep coming,” Kriss smiles.

I leave the café motivated, inspired and charged with fresh energy: Kriss’ sincerity and fresh attitude to life have brought a glimpse of real spring to still cold Tallinn. Not long after our meeting I also bought a neck chain made by her, and a number of jewels with colourful gemstones are waiting for their turn. I don’t know whether it is because of the author’s love for her work, these mystical gemstones or that positive attitude to life, but her jewels do have a wonderfully beautiful aura.

New Vintage by Kriss website:

Britta Talving