Picking up the jeweler’s saw was the easy part for Claudia Kronfeld, the Rittenhouse-based creator and designer behind Claudia Mae Jewelry. Building a jewelry brand from the ground up was a little bit more difficult.
With a knack for details and an eye for the finer things, Kronfeld, 26, honed her passion for jewelry — and served as the apprentice to an Israeli master jeweler by night after college — to develop Claudia Mae Jewelry during the pandemic.
Kronfeld, who had her bat mitzvah at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, began selling her pieces at the onset of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Over the past two years, all while she balanced a full-time job, Kronfeld’s brand has grown and now has an established presence on Instagram and in Philadelphia-area retailers. She hopes to one day take the brand to retailers across the country.
How would you describe the style of the jewelry you create?
It’s definitely for the gold-lover. I use a lot of chunky gold. Most of my pieces are done in 14-karat, but I do a lot of made-to-order stuff in 18. So it’s really for the person who loves and appreciates the richness of gold and the weight of gold.
And then it’s also for the person who loves and appreciates gemstones because I am a big gemstone enthusiast. I studied at the GIA (Gemological Institution of America); I hunt for stones all around the world — so someone who loves color and is interested in the background of gemstones and where they come from and how they got here.
What drew you to those materials in particular?
My metalsmithing background started at NYU (New York University), and at NYU, we were working with silver, and I honestly hated metalsmithing when I was working with silver because I had no interest in silver.
I love jewelry, I had appreciation for jewelry, and then once I started working with those materials (gold and gemstones), I loved it that much more because making something that has inherent value is just such a different experience than making something of metal that really doesn’t hold any value.
If money and resources were not an issue, what would your ideal piece of jewelry look like?
I always talk about making my chunky nomad ring that I do with three large oval stones. My dream ring would be that with diamonds in it — three big oval diamonds and gold of course, always yellow gold.
With the market now, everything is diamond, diamond, diamond. The diamond industry is like this false scarcity. Diamonds really aren’t as rare and scarce as we’re made to believe they are; they’re just market-controlled.
I still would choose diamonds but, after that, I would love a piece with a massive emerald because they’re really as rare as we think they are.
When were you first drawn to making jewelry and metalsmithing?
I’ve always been a very creative and visual person. I explored so many different creative outlets growing up and even in high school. I started a “Crafts for a Cause” club, where we would do different projects and donate them for different causes. So, at one point, I had all the boys in my grade knitting scarves for the homeless. But I never saw my creativity as anything more than hobbies.
So when I went to college, I was focusing on what I felt was more practical and then pursuing my creative outlets on the side. So I had taken this metalsmithing course at NYU just because I had an extra credit.
And then, fast forward a few years later, when I graduated, I was working full time in the beauty industry. And I was so trapped in that corporate office setting. I would spend my lunch hours walking up and down Madison Avenue and would window shop all the high-jewelry houses. And at the time, I had really wanted a gold band for my birthday, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I became obsessed with jewelry, and obsessed with the idea of just creating this perfect gold band since I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere. Just for myself, not for anything else.
Given the time you spent in the Diamond District in New York, what’s your assessment of “Uncut Gems”?
Accurate in a lot of ways! I spent a lot of time — and still do — on 47th Street, and when I first started, I really had no idea what I was doing. And I was walking into those ground-floor jewelry stores, like the ones in “Uncut Gems,” and I’m dealing with these guys who really are very similar to how they’re depicted in the movie. And they’re looking at me like, “What is this girl doing?” And a lot of them try to take advantage of me. I’ve gotten ripped off plenty of times. A lot of them would totally laugh in my face.