WHEN MOLLY CURLEY was studying jewelry making at the University of Kansas, her parents may have questioned her once or twice about what she planned to with that degree.
“My dad always used to say when we were younger that if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” says Curley, the fourth of five children and a School of St. Mary and Lake Forest High School graduate. “I think I made him a little nervous when I pursued jewelry design, but when he saw that I was very serious, both of my parents supported me 100 percent.”
In fact, jewelry-making may have been something Curley was pre-destined to do, as her path took her to align creatively with her mother’s college sorority sister, Barbara Parker.
“Barb worked for her husband’s family’s business—Sidney Garber—for more than 35 years,” Curley says. “When we were younger, we used to visit the store to see the windows she designed for the holidays, and then we’d go somewhere fun for lunch. It was an annual treat that we’d always look forward to.”
Then seven years ago, Parker decided it was time to venture out on her own and launch a fine jewelry business. And having watched Curley study jewelry manufacturing in Seoul, Korea and intern for some of Chicago’s best jewelers, she knew exactly who she wanted at her side.
“It’s funny because Barb’s offer went something like this,” Curley says. “I can’t pay you and I can’t pay me, but here’s the concept for the brand. We’re going to take things people are no longer wearing and redesign them. Barb believed in helping people see the value in pieces they just had lying around.”
Curley loved the idea and made the jump. And before long, she was taking meetings all over Europe where many of Barbara Parker’s original pieces are made.
“Barb trusted my background and knew that I really understood what goes into making beautiful, long-lasting pieces of jewelry,” Curley says.
As the business grew through referrals and word-of-mouth, Parker fought a private battle with ovarian cancer.
“Barb was the strongest person I ever knew,” Curley says. “She just kept going and always had time for me.”
But just this last May, Parker lost her fight. Before she passed away, she and Curley had the chance to discuss the future of Barbara Parker Fine Jewelry and how the brand might continue.
“There are certain elements that were really important to Barb,” she says. “We have a buckle ring that is one of our signature pieces, and she asked that I keep it as part of our line. When she passed, she left her buckle ring to me. This will always be part of what we offer.”
As will the pansy motif. Pansies are very symbolic of the Tri Delta sorority, something Curley’s childhood home was filled with both inside and out. The pansy will always represent what brought Parker and Curley together.
“Barb’s big thing was value,” Curley adds. “Personal relationships and value. I don’t even like to use the word ‘client’ because the people I work with are so much more like family. In the jewelry business, which is such an industry of families, you’re often part of people’s big moments. Many of my friends are getting married, and to be able to help them design their engagement and wedding bands is so special. It’s heartwarming and a big responsibility to create something that’s going to be kept in a family and handed down for generations.”
Custom and redesign work is really what differentiates Barbara Parker in a crowded market. Curley recently had a client present her with a diamond necklace that she had owned for years.
“I decided the necklace needed to be a little more chunky, and a little less traditional,” she explains. “It’s not an everyday diamond necklace, but it’s definitely now a necklace that she can wear every day. By adding more modern elements, the necklace is now easier to wear.”
Even though Curley’s personal aesthetic tends to be more bohemian, redesigning traditional jewelry pieces comes easy.
“Barb taught me how important it is to know the people you’re working with,” she says. “Understanding a client’s lifestyle helps me envision what a piece of jewelry should look like.”
Curley will be hosting the annual Barbara Parker Fine Jewelry trunk show at the Deer Path Inn near the holidays (no date was set at press time). She’s looking forward to shoppers seeing some of her newer pieces, including a pansy interpreted in an ombre sapphire.
“Barb used to say that ‘jewelry is the bonus points of life,’” Curely adds. “And to always be honest—it’s not about selling. She may be gone, but her legacy most definitely lives on in all of the timeless jewelry she created.”
To learn more about Barbara Parker Fine Jewelry, visit barbaraparkerfinejewelry.com.