In 2004, Jules Kim was a promoter, DJ, and completely tapped into the NYC nightlife scene. Then, things changed. She wanted to create something a bit more long-lasting than a wild party story, the Richmond, VA, native tells us. However, the something she was referring to involved precious metals, diamonds, and truly unique silhouettes that reimagine traditional jewelry shapes. So, as a “direct response to making nothing but trouble in the club,” she says, the Bijules brand was born.
While we’ve heard plenty of stories of DJs and club kids who've crossed over into the world of design, it’s been over a decade since Kim first hit it big with the still-popular bar ring — a style that sits on one finger, but extends, in a curve, across the others — that's been worn by celebrities worldwide and has become a signature piece in her line. But while chatting with her, it became clear that it's not just her commitment to longevity that's making this artist so successful. She’s also not afraid to criticize the industry she works in, calling it "boring" and "stagnant." Is it surprising to hear that from a jewelry designer? Sure. But it's this desire to rewrite industry standards that's taken Kim so far.
In the spirit of celebrating strong vision and unique POVs comes our final installment of The Next Set. Together with Kit and Ace — and its own mold-breaking take on technical fabrics — we got the full story on how to carve a space for yourself in an already established industry and what it'll take for Kim to create a heritage brand of her very own.
You’re pretty vocal about being a past — and still, present — part of NYC nightlife. What has that taught you about jewelry? "Nightlife is a tough place. It’s dark and people start to match its darkness if they are not careful. For me, NYC parties and clubs were the meeting point for a tight group of fresh minds and blossoming talents with a whole lot to prove. Promoting became my social connection and I learned that this passion, to share what I loved, would be my true calling. When I sell Bijules, either in my own shop on the Bowery or during market [appointments], I am selling a part of myself and my experiences as a human being.”
What was the first piece of jewelry you ever sold? “I made graffiti nameplates as my entry into the fashion world. I was spinning my Monday weekly at Ludlow Bar (no longer) and an editor came in and died over my street take on the Sex And The City 'Carrie' nameplate. I ran with graffiti heads, so I commissioned them to create handstyles. Then, I’d make necklaces for whomever wanted them. Once the celebs heard of me, it was just a matter of time for Bijules to be born.”
Your jewelry style, with its curved lines and unconventional placements, are incredibly unique. How do you think you stand out in this industry? “A unique point of view is much more valuable than just having one. I honed my own way of seeing the world through a crazy childhood and equally crazy adulthood. In fact, the amalgamation of life experiences substantiated such a strong will to rebel that I chose the most boring market to invade: jewelry.”
Really? Boring? “I surveyed the fine jewelry sector in 2004 and could not personally relate to anything other than its materials. There was no consideration for a new aesthetic or a driven style. I began designing for myself and quickly understood I was carving my own 1% space in a 99% battlefield. For me, the fine-jewelry industry seemed feeble, desperate for attention, and needed a final chance at survival. I thought to myself, I am going to save it. Everyone plays it safe. The jewelry industry likes to repeat patterns and is not interested in risk-taking. I like to break molds and defy standards. We are an interesting match.”
It seems like you went about creating iconic pieces of your own, like the nail ring or the bar ring. Do you imagine these will become keepsake pieces for your customers for the long haul? “These are most definitely iconic pieces for the Bijules brand. They were the first. Once I understood how to throw weight in the market, I also launched the Handlet (2010), Knuckle Ring (2008), and Phalange Cocktail Ring (2011). All of these iconic pieces have been playing in the market since their release. To isolate an original idea and encourage a trend also means protecting them. In order to protect them, the pieces themselves are branded as Bijules so the client can appreciate the history and build their own keepsakes.”
What do you think will change for Bijules 10 or 20 years? “I see my work as a permanent extension of who I am. Therefore, I can say that I will be designing for a long time. In 10 years, there will be more amazing product, but also more experiences to parallel the jewelry, from stores to shop-in-shops, etc. Eventually, I would like the edge of Bijules to be just as understood as the tradition of Tiffany's."
What’s it going to take to get there? Are there other brands for inspiration? “Creating new heritage takes some time. It means embracing a fresh way of celebrating life and its moments. I make ritual pieces that honor straight marriage, gay marriage, divorce, new birth, death, and ultimately, one’s self. To be honest, I keep my head to the stone and have narrow periphery — I look to maisons like Cartier, Mauboussin, Bulgari, and Chaumet for heritage references in business.”
Okay, real talk: You’ve got access to all amazing pieces in the Bijules collection, but what are the ones you find yourself wearing every day? What else is a part of your daily uniform? “I never stop wearing my 18k gold handlet and stackable diamond rings. They are all representative of over a decade of jewelry style evolution. My wardrobe consists of lots of Phillip Lim, body suits by Alix NYC, and designer vintage.” What's been the most difficult part for you in carving a place for yourself in an industry with a lot of competition? “My work is seemingly inimitable, but it is copied by many. I must admit, I am thrown off each time I am exposed to Bijules knockoffs and derivative brands and designers. It takes nerve to be inconsiderate! This issue has been a tough pill to swallow as I continue to press on with courageous designs and trend-making concepts. The territory I began in bares no semblance to what it has become now; therefore, success has had to take its time as do all good things we must wait for.” And lastly, what's next? Are there any other aspects of the jewelry or fashion industry that you’d like to turn on its head? “Haha, yes — heads will roll! Let’s just say that I hope to help consolidate a better understanding between the two industries for the near future. The world of jewelry is severely attached to stagnant traditions in design, business, and manufacturing. Most of the industry is family-owned and maintained. As I have been working in both the jewelry and the fashion industries, I find it natural to want to align the creative process into a quality-made gold product with forward-thinking concepts. In the meantime, watch for an amazing video collaboration to drop soon!”