Sierra Otto - The Gem Behind the Gems

I’ve known Alex Uritis, the head lady of AU & Co. for quite some time, back when she was a Beshk, even. We go way back, to say the least. We grew up together, experienced many life-lessons together, and we g-chat together nearly everyday. We are close. So close, that when she was at the glorious University of Kansas, I felt what was probably my first pang of real jealousy. Alex had met someone. Not a dude - she had her love already. She met another friend. A great, life-long friend. She met Sierra Otto, and I was jealous that I had not met her first.

Sierra on the land where she grew up in Manhattan, KS. 

Sierra on the land where she grew up in Manhattan, KS. 

I heard stories, of how awesome this Sierra Otto was, and how Alex just knew we would hit it off. We were both (first and foremost) cat ladies by heart and nature. We both liked soccer, and enjoyed a nice glass of wine - her parents own a vineyard, and that just immediately screams classy AF. I first met Sierra when she was visiting family in California from Kansas, where she was born and raised, and of course she was going to visit her friend Alex. I was lucky enough to have a half empty keg at my house from God knows where, and that was enough to entice the two of them over so I could finally meet the enigmatic Sierra.

She was (is) so beautiful, and no joke, you could feel the cool on her. I respected her immediately when I frantically told the small group that had accumulated at my house that we couldn’t let the cats outside. She was the first to say “got it,” and didn’t roll her eyes like nearly everyone else did - she knew the ways of the cat, and I knew that we were kindred spirits.

I had the opportunity to visit Alex at KU when she and Sierra were living together in a house that Sierra’s parents owned. It was winter, and my California bones weren’t ready for the midwest cold. I was weak, but Sierra’s house was warm and welcoming, and it rapidly satisfied my winter chill. With unique artwork and custom, mismatched furniture, the house worked - in the best way possible. It was easy to see that this house contained a bohemian, artistic vibe, but encompassed the structure needed to start a jewelry business, which is exactly what Sierra did once she finished school, worked for Silpada, and got married to her high school sweetheart - she started Sierra Winter Jewelry.

Sierra quite possibly fell in love with jewelry making at a young age before she even knew it: “as a child, I had three main interests. Rock collecting, drawing, and cats.” She described this memory subtlely on her blog, but it’s apparent that identifying precious stones and gems, along with drawing and designing, was Sierra’s forte.  

Sierra & Alex in their college house dressed as the cats they are holding - Batman & Swiper. #ballers #rockchalk

Sierra & Alex in their college house dressed as the cats they are holding - Batman & Swiper. #ballers #rockchalk

I have never interviewed anyone (well, not since Grandparent’s Day in like, third grade, but I don’t think that counts - sorry Marj) so I was a little nervous to chat with Sierra, even though she has always been so gracious toward me. I think I was slightly intimidated by her raw awesomeness, but the intimidation quickly subsided as we talked, and the inspirations behind Sierra Winter Jewelry quickly came to light.

Sierra is above all, a family gal. It’s as clear as day that the motivation behind her jewelry stems from experiences and moments that she has with loved ones (much like AU & Co., which leaves no wonder why these two women are such close friends), as well as her childhood growing up on the Kansas prairie.

Her favorite piece in The Prairie Fire Collection - her debut collection - are the Buffalo Mound Earrings, which are my favorite as well (click the link - they’re dope). They were the first pieces she designed in the collection, and I needed to learn more. I asked where the name came from, and the story delivered. “There is this hill in Kansas that we would drive by all the time on the way to soccer games or wherever, and it was known as Buffalo Mound,” she said, with a hint of giggle in her voice. “Every single time we passed the hill, there and back, my Dad would point it out and say ‘there’s Buffalo Mound,’ and we would always agree and laugh - yeah, Dad, there it is. Every single time,” Sierra said, adding that, “everyone acknowledged that this hill was called Buffalo Mound, but I have yet to hear someone outside of our family call it that.” I like to think that we can all relate, and appreciate, this family moment, and the silly “Dad comments” that are a unique, yet repetitive goldmine. After hearing this story, the Buffalo Mound Earrings became my favorites even more.

Sierra Winter Jewelry 

Sierra Winter Jewelry 

I asked Sierra who was someone she admired, and she said her Mom. Plain and simple, didn’t expand at all. She didn’t need to though. The way she answered, so immediately and confidently said it all. Sierra is pregnant with her first child. That is a bond between Mother and Daughter that I can’t yet fathom, but it seems that there is a silent agreement, and an understanding that happens when the torch is passed. I can tell that Sierra has (and wants to continue to make) her Mom proud, and the Prairie Fire Collection reflects that beautifully.

When you look at Sierra Winter Jewelry, it’s apparent that there is a Southwestern flair in the design (beautiful turquoise, people, b-e-a-utiful turquoise). Being from the Southwest, I had to know where the Kansas babe got the desert feel. “My great Aunt left me some of her vintage southwest jewelry,” explains Sierra. “I have always loved it. She would hit up casinos in Nevada and then go to the jewelry shops with her winnings and purchase jewelry - #goals,” she says, and it’s hard not to agree - Sierra’s great Aunt had it going on, and it’s well represented in the collection.

Sierra Winter Jewelry

Sierra Winter Jewelry

Sierra’s designs are modern-classic, but she isn’t opposed to the garish flair that was once the real deal. Her favorite accessory growing up was one of her Grandmother’s rings. “Omg, it was this pink and purple blinged out costume jewelry ring,” laughs Sierra, “it looked like a discoball on your finger and I thought it was the most priceless piece of jewelry I had ever seen. When she passed away I got a lot of her jewels, and this gem was one of them. It's absolutely perfectly hideous, and has a nice bed in my jewelry chest.” Statement pieces change with the ages, but precious (albeit ‘perfectly hideous’) jewels are timeless, and sentiment has everything to do with it.

Sierra starts a design with a quirk - she always starts designing by drawing a line down the center of a white piece of paper, almost methodic in a way. This process, however, comes with a steady side of daydreaming, like what a dinner with her, Iris Apfel, and her Grandfather, Norman, would be like: “I want to hear stories from her lifetime, and he is 92, and I think they would be quick friends. I imagine she would drink a martini and eat very little, whereas I would probably drink a lot and eat a lot,” describes Sierra.

 

With the daze of daydream at dinner with Grandpa Norman and Iris Apfel steady at hand, and the memories of her Dad actively pointing out Buffalo Mound hill on the roads of Kansas (with Garth Brooks playing in the background, obviously), it’s no wonder that Sierra Winter is truly the gem behind the gems of Sierra Winter Jewelry. She brings her family’s history, her passion, and her creativity alive in her collection, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the soon-to-be mother brings to her collection.

Vibe on,

RG