Online jewelry designer opens storefront in Moraga
By Lou Fancher
For Natasha Grasso's jewelry designs, love could be anything but linear. The narrative behind her love-knot series -- now in a bricks-and-mortar boutique in Moraga -- might be "love is twisted."
Grasso, 39, has followed a circuitous path from her childhood on the peninsula to life in the East Bay. Influenced largely by her parents -- her mother, an architect/interior designer; her father, a chef/entrepreneur -- Grasso redecorated her bedroom every two weeks.
"It was my sanctuary and my parents didn't put their footprint on it. When I was 5 and too small to do it myself, I had a neighborhood boy come in and move shelves for me."
Soon enough, she had been "conditioned" to thinking of herself as a maker and designer of fashion.
"To this day, I buy a coat and change the buttons because I don't like them," she says, recalling her mother pointing out buttons on coats of passers-by. "I'll buy vintage buttons that enhance the design."
Grasso eventually wound her way from a job in brand development at Coit Services through private design consulting to working in marketing for Ethan Allen.
"The thing I took away from it all was to go with your idea when you're at 70 percent. Don't wait until it's perfect. I remind myself of that 70 percent thing everyday."
A second lesson, be willing to change in order to respond to the marketplace, has proved equally valuable.
Grasso introduced her first collection of fine jewelry in 2009 on the online shopping Etsy site. Expanding to meet demand, the necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings that range in price from $65 to $1,100 are carried in specialty stores and boutiques nationwide, and museum shops, including those at the Getty, deYoung, California Academy of Science, and others.
"The museum buyer appreciates art, hand crafted items, things made in the United States -- and they're willing to pay the price," says Grasso.
Pricing the jewelry leaves Grasso wrestling internally with a daily conundrum: fabricate the items in the United States, or offshore the manufacturing?
"As much as consumers say they want things made in the U.S., they don't want to pay the prices for things that are American-made. It's all made here, but it's something I'm challenged with daily. I don't want to compromise quality just to sell something."
The realities of opening a storefront in Moraga contributed additional pressure, with user permit and license fees.
But Grasso's motivation took root eight years ago when she happened upon a metal smithing class, and learned the process for fashioning the mostly gold, silver, and gold-plated bronze jewelry that features stones in neutral colors, including natural sapphires, labradorite and gray moon stone.
"The moment I picked up that torch, I just had to keep doing it. To move metal, to create from something ordinary something extraordinary was fascinating."
Grasso designs and makes an original and a replica of each piece. She finalizes the design while making the master, and times the production of the copy. A select group of artisans -- Grasso, married, and with a 20-month-old daughter, handpicks primarily stay-at-home moms -- create the items sold to customers.
Unwilling to give up her favorite aspects of being a jewelry designer -- being an active player in special moments of customers' lives and sharing the stories of her creations -- she says a store is inevitable.
"A lot of times with jewelry it's the story that sells the piece. It's the meaning behind it that makes a person feel attached."
Grasso never wears the love-knot series she designed while going through a tough time with a friend.
"It was a way to work through it -- bending metal. It made me think of all the relationships in my life and how the crazy and the good parts make you who you are. It's a knot, just like owning a business. The person who works hardest, takes risk everyday, stays in the game, will be successful."