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Rare Gem Jewelry designer Karen Curtis has always loved working with her hands. "When I was in college, I took classes in sculpture and while away at summer camp, I taught metal crafting and jewelry design to the other kids. This was when I first developed my love for jewelry making," she recalls. But before committing to it fully, Curtis dabbed in textile design. After going abroad for six months and studying fashion design at Polimoda (a private school in Florence, Italy, affiliated with F.I.T.), Curtis cultured her interest in scarf design. "Its kind of like painting as you can pull different artwork elements together into you own creation. I enjoyed it for the same reasons I now love jewelry design. With both mediums," she explains, "you begin with an idea, but don't know how it'll turn out. It's exciting because the design just evolves."

Today everything in Curtis' evolving jewelry collection is made with Swarovski crystal. She explains that because she only works with Swarovski's vintage collection, her handmade designs are either one-of-a-kind or limited edition pieces. To create different looks, she uses gold-filled or sterling silver chains as a base with a range of different crystal sizes and shapes, everything from round, oval and pear to drop, cone and cube. Mixing in larger-sized beads further contributes to her distinctive look.

"She applies all the classic styling and beadwork, but she tends to design on a larger scale. That direction, combined with dramatic color combinations, gives her designs a theatrical feeling," says Kenny Hwang, co-owner of Main Floor, which represents the line. "The first thing we noticed were the color combinations." Curtis explains that she'll either combine colors from the same family (such as green and blue) or mix contrasting colors such as citrine, rose, amethyst and topaz for impact. Hwang, who describes the designs as having a retro feeling, praises Curtis for using aurora coatings, which are particularly difficult to work with and to manipulate with metal." Curtis says she love the look and points to a design that features stones coated in vitrail. 'It reminds me of the disco days." She recalls. "For holiday, I'll. be showing a lot of gold combined with AB-coated Swarovski crystals.

Essentially crystals coated in 24-karat gold, these designs epitomize the fun glamour looks that color everything Curtis does - whether it's a simple single-strand choker, multi-length bib necklace, waist bracelet or earrings.

-Mary Beth Hinchliffe