Todd Reed opens up about the early years of building his fine jewelry business and how, after 25 years of success, it’s evolved from just a diamond in the rough.
“Back then, I was just a kid,” says Todd Reed, founder and chief creative of the fine jewelry studio, Todd Reed Inc. “I was super naïve—I didn’t know a thing about business.”
Nevertheless, Reed’s business has thrived for 25 years strong. So, despite what he says, he must have done something right…
The Early Years
At the end of high school, Reed moved to Durango. To support himself, he worked as a leathersmith for a local fashion designer, where most of his responsibility was simply to experiment.
“He’d say something like; I want to put silver buttons on this jacket. Well, I got so into that that I put a jewelry bench in my apartment and started making things by myself,” Reed explains.
It was the early nineties, however, and there wasn’t the wealth of resources for learning that there is today. Being in the Four Corners, he picked up tricks watching Native Americans make jewelry. It didn’t take long for this secondary craft to become more of an obsession for Reed.
“But I had another job—another career path. So, I recruited jewelers and taught them how to make the jewelry or whatever I was making at the time. Meanwhile, I would go to work and come back and make more jewelry at night,” he recalls.
He would even do jewelry work for other artists in exchange for stones and other materials, and look for gold in the La Plata Mountains.
Of course, there’s more to the story than Reed leads on. That first team of jewelers? Those were Reed’s buddies.
“I was like, hey, I can’t really pay you, but you can live out here and make jewelry—I’ll teach you what I know!” he laughs.
It was a simple trade: food and space in his house for metalworking and stone cutting and setting.
The arrangement couldn’t last forever, but it was a start.
Building the Brand
Between 1996 and 1999 is when Reed’s brand really came to fruition. He began printing catalogs, making multiples of a design, and truly driving the business toward a larger audience—even if it meant filling up his Subaru with jewelry, driving through the night across the country, and saying to people, bring your friends over, I’m going to show you my work.
Eventually, Reed decided that Boulder held the greatest opportunity for his business. After building his studio and working on his own again for a while, he hired his first office manager. She accompanied him to his first show in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that featured his raw diamond rings and helped him sell over $100,000 in total. Reed describes this as the moment they realized, “Oh my gosh, this is what we do now!”
Design, First and Foremost
A lot has changed in the company’s 25 years. “But at the same time,” Reed says, “design is and has always been the driving force.”
“I like playing with design more than trying to say something—that’s been consistent through everything I’ve ever done,” he elaborates, “But at the beginning, I was using design to question society and its relationship to value.”
To do that, he started using a rough diamond cube, a 4-mm cube that equals 1 carat in weight, which is what the Todd Reed brand has since been built on.
“At the time, there was a big ad campaign that said, she’ll like you at a half carat, but she’ll love you at a carat—it just felt ridiculous.
“For many years, I was making fun of diamonds; I was kind of playing with that (social construction) in terms of your value, especially how you’re measured by how much money you have or how big your diamond was.” Reed adds, “Now, I’m continuing that emphasis on design and still being playful, but more with emotions—be it rage, sexiness, loyalty and so on—not just making stuff to make stuff.”
One of his most recent designs comes from a memory he has while sitting in a Jacuzzi in Puerto Rico with his daughter. Most people look at it and call it ‘Starry Night.’
Reed reaches behind his seat, sifting through items scattered across the desk. He locates a shiny, anticlastic metal cuff with small clusters of varied sized jewels saturated near the base, rising and then tapering at the top, giving an effervescent-like effect.
“It brings out curiosity, which is an element that I think nature brings out, too,” he reflects. “It’s not so much, this is what I saw when I looked into the water, it’s, this is what I felt.”
More Than Just Business
Reed admits that business has not always been his forte.
“Sometimes the universe would want the business to grow, and I wouldn’t let it get bigger—I would hold it back because I wasn’t emotionally ready. Or sometimes we would be too big, and I would get scared and shrink stuff to keep myself healthy and the work innovative; and then the universe would tug at the reigns again, and we’d get bigger, and the work would suffer.
“In a way, my emotional sensitivity has dictated the direction of the business, and that has been the biggest lesson thus far: to follow my intuition.”
You might say that, for Reed, his work is treated more like a relationship. Reflecting on this, Reed ruminates for a minute before answering, “I’m still young, so this business has been most of my life. It’s an extension of me and my growth, my development—not only as an artist but a human.
“It wasn’t that much of a coincidence that the moment I became a father, my business started to become more responsible, more consistent and trust became a bigger part of my value system.”
He adds, “The jewelry business has allowed me to be creative and to live with my heart on my sleeve—I might not have been able to do that in other directions of life.
“It’s just been so damn good to me.”