Best selling author and Joshua Tree local Caroline Heerwagen sat down with Kate O'Connell, the creative force behind Hexorn, to get an inside scoop on her creative process, life in the desert and the inspiration behind Hexorn.
Photo by Daniel James O'Connell
Joshua Tree, CA is said to be “trending” as a retreat for LA’s elite, artist community, and an inspiration for musicians around the world. Anyone who has been there can quickly understand why. The iconic trees, and often Mars-like terrain have become synonymous with the bohemian lifestyle, and the skyrocketing price of land is a true reflection of how much people will pay to be free, as ironic as that seems. One of Joshua Tree’s driving forces of curated and artisanal, wearable art is Hexorn Jewelry. I sat down with Hexorn’s creator and designer, Kate O’Connell to find out where she gets her inspiration, and how making the move from part time in the desert and part time in Venice Beach, to full time desert last year has changed her art.
The first thing I want to know is how long you’ve been making jewelry?
I started about 2 years ago. It was the beginning of 2015.
How did you make the first piece?
I had been doing some research, and I bought some wax in tube form, and used an X-ACTO knife. I just kind of faked it until I made it, is I guess one way to look at it.
What made you want to do it in the first place?
Two things happened. I had just been liking and buying a lot of jewelry, and I started following a lot of jewelry brands that I admired on Instagram. I got really interested in all these different styles of both modern and vintage jewelry, and they started to influence me a lot.
Then, my dearest friend and star sister, Nikki - a crystal hunter in Montana -gave me a stone that she wire-wrapped in ring form, but it was with copper wiring, and I can’t wear anything that is copper or brass. So, I had this piece from her and I wanted to wear it, but I couldn’t. That pushed me into this process of figuring out how to make a ring out of this crystal that I could wear.
What was that first process like?
I think I made 2 or 3 of them before I was able to get a piece where I could really set the crystal in, and I was really happy with the way it looked. That ring means a lot to me, and it’s still the ring that I wear every day.
How did that evolve into you making pieces for other people?
I immediately got really into it after that first one. I just enjoyed the process and I started doing a lot of research into how to do it better and was excited by the entire idea. I had a handful of stones from Nikki and made some other test rings, and then I got this idea of making a scarab ring. So I bought better tools, and out of that same material carved out this scarab ring. I had a handful of them made and people seemed to want them, so it kind of naturally evolved into something I was doing not just for myself, but for other people too.
What was the next step after that?
I kept upgrading my tools, and through trial and error, a lot of research and tutorials and prodding the minds of some friends in the jewelry industry, I started quickly figuring out what was the best way to get the look I wanted. I just had this tiny little work space where I was doing everything in Venice, and Nikki kept sending me stones to work with, I used each one I got and let it inspire me further in the design process.
The brand is very influenced by Egyptian culture. Where did that start for you?
I have been extremely drawn to ancient Egyptian history, religion and their philosophy since I was a little kid. I think the religious beliefs of the people, their ceremonial practices and monument building to their gods and pharaohs, and the aspects of humanity represented by each god is really interesting. It really hits on every aspect of our life and death and the soul. They answered all of these bigger questions that we have as human beings, and that every civilization has asked. I mean, who knows if they were right or not, but as a kid, being so drawn to this I would do every book report, every essay I could on their culture, just to learn more. I just found it so fascinating.
When I was 16 I had the chance to go there and spend 2 or 3 weeks there with my art teacher and a few other kids from my high school. We met up with this bigger educational group and toured everywhere from Aswan to Alexandria and stopped at absolutely everything and learned about it all. We went in all the temples and it was such a life altering experience for me, this little kid from Montana, to go to this amazing place that I had been reading about and studying for so many years.
I had the additional advantage that I was there with my art teacher, not just as a regular tourist, and so we studied the different types of relief, and the different types of carving, and all the symbolism throughout the entire trip.
So when I got to the point where I was making jewelry, and I had to ask myself, what do I want to make? That was really a natural source of inspiration for me to gravitate towards both artistically and philosophically.
And how do your surroundings influence your line?
When I started we were living in Venice in a little bungalow, and it was fine. It was a cute space, and I had my little work area, but it was small. When we moved out to Joshua Tree full time, it really changed everything. The jewelry line just took off in my head, because the beautiful surroundings and having the space, both in my studio and in my world just changed everything so much. It made me feel like the space outside gave me space inside my head to come up with different pieces and be inspired by the nature of the stones I was working with.
The solitude, and the quiet, and the beauty of this place connects me back to nature, which is a big part of the jewelry. The stones are almost completely unchanged, unaltered from how they’re pulled out of the ground and the settings that I do are made to look organic, as if the stone is growing out of the piece. So, trying to create this connection to nature while living in a city was pretty jarring, it was difficult to get that focus on nature, whereas living out here has just been a huge push in that direction.
In my studio I sit with a window that looks out at my yard, and there’s nothing beyond it, and that’s how I am able to lose myself of any thoughts of stresses of the day, or other work, politics, or anything that’s going on and just meditate on that space. I can watch my dogs run and be idiots. I can laugh at that, and feel all of this space both beyond my walls, and then within my head because of that. It’s really great. It’s focused me outward on bigger things than just myself and things that are going on with me.
I have that same feeling. It’s as if the space outside here opens up the space in your head and you have room to focus on what matters.
Yes. It’s a really hard thing to describe, but it gave me the room inside myself to be creative. That’s been the real gift of this place. And I think you can see that in the jewelry.
One of the other things I’ve noticed is that in your messaging for the brand you talk a lot about personal empowerment. Does that come from something you learned from somewhere, or is that your own philosophy thrown in the mix?
I think that’s really more my own philosophy. The thing about working with crystals is that everyone feels a different kind of energy from these stones. So while one person may say, “smoky quartz draws out negative energy and does such and such a thing”, it may not do that for everyone. It’s a very personal thing. Some people may feel something, and some people may feel something else that’s completely different, or nothing at all.
I present the pieces with those concepts. That this piece may do one particular thing for you, but in my head it’s always with the disclaimer that this should represent what you need it to represent. I really believe that with crystals, as with just about everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. I want my pieces to be beautiful, but to also represent a way for people to channel what they want or need. Whether it’s focusing intentions, or emotional healing, or whatever it is… if these just work as little talismans to remind you of what you need to do, then it doesn’t matter what the stone is.
That’s what they do for me. When I wear my ring, it reminds me to refocus my energy and use my intentions on what I need for that day. That’s why I made it, and while I do have attachment to the vibrations in that stone in particular, some people don’t have that relationship. And in the end it has to mean more than that. The power truly comes from within you, not the stone.
Where do you want Hexorn to go? Do you have an end goal in mind when you think about the future of the brand?
I do and I don’t. I do in that I am continuing to push the brand, both on Instagram selling to people directly, and through building awareness with retail, by getting more store accounts. And of course I would love that to keep growing and gaining momentum. I would love to be in every major department store and to have a team of people who are working with the stones that I select. But I never want my hand to go away from it. I don’t mean that in a controlling way, I would just never want to lose passion for the brand, and I want it to be able to grow organically.
For instance, no matter what, I always want to make the one-of-a-kind collections myself. I also want to continue to expand the pallet of what we offer. So I’d like to go from just rings, bracelets, and necklaces to earrings, hair pieces, brooches and what ever else I get inspired to create with these stones.
It’s paramount to me that the brand never loses what it means to me, and to the people who invest in these pieces. I wouldn’t want it to become a mass-produced brand name that’s just another jewelry line focused around crystals. I want to make sure that the pieces, and what they represent are always powerful and meaningful, so that the people who buy them will know that these pieces matter to me, and then hopefully to them as well.
Finally, I noticed you gave away a percentage of your profits over the holidays to the protesters at Standing Rock. Why do you think it’s important for brands to take positions such as these? And do you have any future plans for Hexorn in philanthropy?
It is so important to me that I use any social influence that I gain to not only sell my product, but to push social awareness and consciousness. By creating products that people connect with, I am given an opportunity to use some of that influence, and profit, to make a difference. I try to keep Hexorn's philanthropic actions in line with our Ethos - giving to Standing Rock was important, because we unendingly value their rights to their land, and feel protecting nature from corporate greed is incredibly important, especially if we want to keep pulling these beautiful stones out of the earth!
We will definitely continue to push our philanthropic efforts. We are creating a ceremonial collection in the next few months, and our main focus with that collection will be marriage equality. Our plans are to donate a portion of the proceeds of the collection in the continued fight for equality.
This will be an ongoing effort within Hexorn, we want to make a difference in the individual lives of those who buy our product, as well as in the world in which we all live.