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Behind The Scenes

Kate Jones’s Two-Year Sailing Expedition

Get this: For two nine-month periods when Kate Jones was growing up, her parents sailed her around on a 44-foot sailboat to visit 27 islands in the Caribbean. Her dad learned to man a boat while he was a doctor in the army and got hooked immediately. Once he married Kate’s mom, he mapped out a voyage that would take his family from Antigua to Venezuela, and set sail. “Most of our life has been about the boat and moving to places where we can take advantage of being on the boat,” Kate explains. “It’s always just been us following mom, who’s following dad, who just keeps sailing.” And she wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s a really crazy sense of freedom,” notes the jewelry designer, who named her line after her primary mode of transport. “I went exploring alone during the day a lot, and at night I would go out and dance with the locals. There weren’t many kids my age, so I learned how to find common ground with a variety of people.” Here are some of the stories she brought back with her. ­—monica derevjanik “Our boat was named before we got it—so I’m not sure why it was specifically named Ursa Major—but there’s a long history of boats being named after constellations. And, of course, our dinghy was named Ursa Minor. It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat, so we kept it.” “This picture of my mom and me was from my first year on the boat. I turned six while we were down there. It was the worst birthday ever. My dad took me into town in the morning and told every person we saw that it was my birthday. When you’re a kid, you’re like, ‘Stop, don’t embarrass me’. Later that night we went into town to have dinner and then there was this band that was playing outside of our restaurant. My dad suggested that we go listen, and as soon we walked in, they started playing ‘Happy Birthday’ for me. I ran away crying, and while I was running, something stung me—so I freaked out even more. For years after that, they wouldn’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.” “We were pulling into an anchorage when this photo was taken. I turned to my mom and dad and said, ‘Not another beach!’ I was dead serious. I was being a little spoiled brat.” “Our boat was being hauled out for repairs here; maybe it needed to be painted or something. I was always sad when the boat was pulled out of the water. I hated not being on it.” “I remember so many meals like this. There were always places that were doing barbeque chicken. This photo just epitomizes what it’s like to be a kid traveling in the Caribbean.” “Our home videos from these trips are so funny because you see my mom in them, and then in the background, you see me swinging all over the place. I hung off of anything I could. And she’s there trying to make rum punch or something, her saving grace. Recently she said ‘You know, you soon realize that you have all of the same responsibilities down here on the boat in the Caribbean as you do on land in the States.’ I was laughing to myself and thought ‘What did you think was going to happen? Did you think that you were going on vacation?’ So the second time we sailed through the islands, we got a 23-year-old nanny, Matt [pictured here]. He helped homeschool me and take care of me and my brother.” “I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but my winter 2011 collection was based off of my memories and the patterns I was surrounded by—mostly Southwestern, but also stuff we had seen in South America. We made it all the way down to Venezuela and went up to the Andes. We stayed in this mission that had been converted into a hotel, and I was in awe of the white walls against the mountains in the background.” “I got cornrows done with this girl named Katie, who was on vacation with her parents. I actually just found out last year that Katie works with a friend of mine. It’s been 20 years, but we made plans to reconnect at some point.” To see how these voyages affected her line, take a peek at her amazing Omega Cuff for Of a Kind.
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Meet Ursa Major

Kate Jones, the San Francisco-based jewelry designer behind Ursa Major, has the kind of life story that would make for a fascinating memoir—one that would promptly be turned into a screenplay. At age five, she sailed with her family from Annapolis to Venezuela, homeschooled (boatschooled?) all the way. After spending nearly two years aboard the Ursa Major (her family’s vessel and her company’s namesake), she moved to Maine and began making her own jewelry. One day, her mother walked into a local boutique wearing a brooch that 12-year-old Kate had created, and the shop owner wanted to stock it immediately. “She ordered about 20 pieces for Christmas, and I was only able to make 10,” Kate laughs. “They were these abstract, Keith Haring-esque animal brooches made with lots of different patterns and various colors of polymer clay. Each one was unique and took forever to make.” These days, the jeweler and part-time baker—look for her famed olive oil cake at Four Barrel in SF—keeps up with much larger orders, and her architecturally inspired pieces are a bit more understated. “Jewelers have this opportunity to create pieces that can be around 200-plus years from now,” she explains. “Why wouldn’t you want to make something that is pertinent now, and can still be pertinent that far down the line?” Sounds like the story’s hardly over yet. —monica derevjanik Oh, just wait til you see Kate’s creation: You’ll want to wear this rad silver-tipped brass cuff every single day.
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Kate Jones’s Journey Through Jewelry-Making

Many 11 year olds have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up, but it’s fair to say that they usually change their minds by the time they turn, oh, 12 years old. Not so for Kate Jones, who started making her own jewelry then, had her line Ursa Major in stores within a year, and has kept up with it ever since. Take a look at how it all began and where she’s landed now. —monica derevjanik Now’s your chance to get your hands on one of her latest (and dare we say greatest) works: a silver-tipped brass cuff that we want to wear every day from now ‘til forever. 1996, age 15“When I started out at age 11, I experimented with doing dog- and fish-shaped pieces. Then I wanted to do something that was a little less literal, like star shapes, and I started to play with mixed media. I was getting really into color, and I was super detail-oriented. It was all about being precise and building layers.” 2000, age 19“These brooches are from my early years at the Rhode Island School of Design. The project was an exercise in building prototypes using non-metal materials, so I used balsa wood and cotton muslin with beading. I drew inspiration from the stitching patterns I saw in sails.” 2006, age 24“I always wanted to do a whole series of enamel pieces that mimicked the patterns on shells, but I just never got around to it. Luckily, my father asked me to make my mom a 25th wedding anniversary present from all of us, so I made her these two brooches using enamel and sterling silver. She’s always collected shells, so I tried to incorporate a cone shell pattern into one brooch and a coral pattern into the other.” 2012, age 30“I try to create jewelry that is obtuse enough so that it can be left open for interpretation. I really want consumers to have their own dialogue with the piece and have it mean something to them—whether or not it means the same thing to me is irrelevant. When I began designing the Omega collection, I was playing with the idea of making a ring that had an opening and a chain to connect the two ends. Instead, I put an ellipsis on each end and decided that I liked the open-ended look. When it came time to name it, a friend suggested looking at Latin names, so we began looking at words that alluded to beginnings or ends. I told my mom about it and she said, ‘Well, what about Omega?’ For her, it was about the literal shape, but Omega actually represents the end. So it ended up being the perfect name.” [Ed: Hey, that’s her Of a Kind bracelet! Scoop it up now.]
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