My Cart

Close

My Original Manufactured Line of Swarovski Jewelry. Tales of Sales.

Kate Drew-Wilkinson

Posted on November 12 2017

Here are some designs I put together many years ago.

I’ve been making bead jewelry for about 40 years now and these were made in about 1982 I think or even earlier. I was long a collector of beads and in 1982  I formed a partnership with Andrew Romanoff. He lived in Inverness and had a factory in the Point Reyes Creamery which is now a chic collection of boutiques

Let me start at the beginning. In 1982 A great storm hit Marin County, California. It was pretty amazing in Mill Valley and the surrounding towns. Floods ruined stores, rising in some of them a couple of feet, leaving a muddy tideline.

I could go into how awful it was but must continue my tale. At first I worked as a volunteer, choosing a hardware store as the most interesting.
For a couple of days or more I stood outside with a water hose held between my knees while someone handed me muddy item after muddy item to rinse off. It was fascinating! I learned a lot. Then I met a doctor who was going to drive out to Inverness. No-one was allowed there except Doctors and such. I rode in with him to meet a friend. Devastation. A vast amount of water had broken loose at the top of the village, sweeping down, carrying houses literally into the sea. Trees lying down, devastated houses in ruins if they had been in the path of huge Propane tanks.
I found my friend Elizabeth Whitney, who temporarily published the Inverness Daily News out of the Inverness Firehouse and had begun a mimeographed daily information sheet telling readers where to find food, clothing and any other necessities.

http://www.jackmasonmuseum.org/2012_winter.pdf  Worth a read.

I had somewhere to stay, and every day I went out to the flood zone with my drawing book and started a series called “Trees That Saved Houses, for Elizabeth to use as an illustration at the top of the info sheets. It was true that those houses with trees between them and the tanks suffered only flood damage to a much smaller degree. I wish I still had some of those drawings to show you. Other houses looked a bit like broken trash. As I sat, I could hear the birds distressed because so many trees had fallen and they felt lost.
During that time an artist called Inez Storer introduced me to her partner,  Andrew Romanoff, grandnephew of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas IIA. A dear gentle and amusing man, he was raised in one of the “Grace and Favor” homes at Windsor Castle. As most of you will know, most of his family in Russia were assassinated. Yes, He is a Prince. Inez introduced me to him because she saw my work and wondered if I could suggest what next for him at that time because he had a factory in the old Creamery, making bullet paraphernalia for head shops! Just recently Reagan had changed the law so that anyone under 18 could not enter the stores and so his business was dropping. Imagine the scene. Big wooden crates with rope handles probably being dragged into the factory by Andrew, who then took the gunpowder out of them to resell and use the casings for roach clips, coke spoons etc! We reckon because of his name and heritage, he was probably being followed in some way by the FBI or CIA! Anyway, he also made pony bead jewelry.
When I arrived at the factory I was fascinated. Of course it was very different then and at that time the floor was under water. The factory was a very funky place then. Concrete floors and there were all these really interesting big machines. After thinking for a while, I gave Andrew some samples of my Swarovski Crystal line to ponder, and a business began. We worked together for years. We understood the code names for the different beads and sizes. I moved at the beginning of this venture to Santa Fe with my young son Noah, aged about 8 years old. but I could code the factory new designs. Samples were made.  I would take my sample cases, fly to LA for example and find boutiques who liked and ordered my jewelry. Easier said than done, but in those days computers had not arrived and online shopping was yet to become reality. I could tell you tales, but they will have to wait for another blog. Here’s just one example. I’ve mentioned Los Angeles. I was familiar with Sunset Strip and Santa Monica Boulevard because I had spent time in the mid 60s as an actress, living on Larabee. So now I would book into the Tropicana Motel right next to Duke’s famous breakfast spot.

I was particularly interested in staying at the Tropicana because African bead traders stayed there too when great amounts of beads came from Africa through customs. Not only was I trying to sell my crystal line but also those other designs not attached to Andrew Romanoff’s factory. I didn't know how to drive in those days, so I would pick some friendly young person having breakfast at Duke's, offer him or her $20 for a day's driving plus food and my entertaining chatter and off we would go! I can't believe I was able to carry this off, but we would always have lots of fun too.
Eventually I had gathered enough good accounts to be taken on by a certain “Salesmen’s National Brokerage” They had 16 reps working nationally, so we had to provide them with 16 sample kits, but once they “hit the road”, the orders came in fast and in time we had about 300 accounts! I simply asked for 7% of the wholesale price as the designer. This meant Andrew’s factory in Point Reyes could  profit enough, at least I think the is the way it went!  Several years later, SNB took on another line, I won’t name it, but they copied my line, using steel instead of silver and changing the designs just enough to get by. The Reps wouldshow mine to buyers and then offer the less expensive line. Broke my heart. We closed our business. I moved on by myself, designing other lines which I will show you later.

By the way, it's possible that some of you bought a pair of these earrings when you were in college. College gift stores were our best accounts. Let me know if you have a pair hanging out in your jewelry box!

0 comments

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing