Colorful, youthful, unique, beautiful, elegant, eye-catching, stylish, graceful, chic, classic….you can go on forever listing adjectives to explain the appeal of Kelley King’s jewelry. A surprising description, however, is affordable. With one of the most popular items—enamel earrings—priced at $45, even someone on a limited budget can find that special gift for that special person.
If your wallet allows for a pricier present, you can choose from a wide selection of incredible necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and broaches. An $8,000 necklace is the highest priced item in King’s store, but there are many exquisite pieces ranging in price from $100 to $1,200 to satisfy even the most discriminating shopper. And while King’s jewelry is timeless, her pieces are also ageless, meaning you can find something charming for your grandmother’s birthday while you also choose a “fab” gift for the teenager in your life.
Now that celebrity stylists have discovered King, her creations are showing up on fashionable arms from New York to Hollywood. Celebrity fans include Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Ritchie, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Anna Faris, who requested several pieces for a magazine photo shoot.
Shopping for jewelry at KEP Designs (the initials stand for Kelley Elkin Pillman, her maiden name) is a low-key enjoyable experience. Her store is housed in an historic brownstone on East 71st Street and each shopper is treated with care. If King is not away showing her jewelry at a home sale or trunk show, she will wait on you herself. In her absence, you will be in the capable hands of the company’s Vice President, Bekah Greenberg.
While the store’s space is small, the jewelry is well-displayed and your only challenge will be reaching a decision on what to buy. Besides all the enamel jewelry, we loved the filigree earrings, whisper-light in gold or silver with or without precious stones (from $100 to $180), and the freshwater coin pearl necklace with an unusual and colorful tulip-shaped clasp ($350).
Besides the store and website, KEP jewelry is sold in 30 boutiques around the country, including Lily Pulitzer signature stores. The color and playfulness of King’s creations, accented with embellishments such as golden starfish, sand dollars, and seashells, make them a perfect match for the summery, floral pastels that define Pulitzer’s clothing. We can also see these designs complementing J.McLaughlin’s spring/summer line. (King has done many trunk shows with this Upper East Side mainstay).
All jewelry is made on the premises, and King invites custom made orders. She designs jewelry for bridal parties. For her own wedding party outfitted in bright green strapless dresses, she designed freshwater coin pearl necklaces.
King didn’t start out as a jewelry designer. A sociology and economics major at the University of Vermont, she worked in advertising, including online advertising, after graduation. Along the way, she continued to nurture her creative side, with ceramics and photography. “I started to make simple necklaces, a single strand with Swarovski crystals in between and I sold them with delicate handkerchiefs made by my mother,” she said. She made more than a dozen necklaces and gave them to friends to wear during a summer vacation on Nantucket in 2001. “I wanted to make the items appealing, so that if I had a store I’d want to talk to this girl and carry her stuff,” she said. One store owner on Nantucket was impressed, put in an order, and the jewelry sold out immediately. “That was the first time I sold in a store,” she said.
Outgoing and sociable, King makes good use of her network. Her childhood friend, Khaki Young, owns Gramercy Boutique on the Main Line in Philadelphia and she features KEP designs. “In New York I have friends from business and college,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people end up here.”
She designs all the jewelry and finds ideas wherever she goes. “I get my inspiration everywhere—from museums, nature, flowers.” She spends time going to gem shows. One of her current favorite stones is the aqua-colored Peruvian opal, a natural for summertime jewelry.
King’s mother and stepmother as well as her two mothers-in-law (her husband of almost two years, Terrence, is an investment banker) enjoy wearing KEP designs. “My mom, stepmother, and mothers-in-law have more jewelry than you can imagine,” she said with a laugh. No one, however, is complaining.
Recently she had one of those “pinch me” moments when she found herself traveling to shows in London and Paris. “I worked in corporate America, but I always knew I would do something a little more creative,” she said. “I love it!”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Shop: Bergdorf’s
Favorite Place to Eat: So many in New York, but one of my locale favs is J.G. Melon’s, 1291 Third Avenue at 74th Street
Favorite New York Sight: The Metropolitan Museum
Favorite New York Moment: Opening my New York City shop on the Upper East Side
What I Love About New York: The energy of the city, the wide variety of fashion….I could go on and on….everything!!!
What I Hate About New York: Walking places in 90 mm heels
157 East 71st Street