As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, Claudia Kretchmer ’04 (MA) spent six years studying how galaxies morph from infancy into maturity, hoping to one day join the space program at NASA, and maybe even become an astronaut. Her ambitious plan, however, took an unexpected turn just months before she was supposed to receive her PhD.
In 2006, Steven Kretchmer—Claudia’s stepfather, an award-winning jewelry designer— was killed in a motorcycle crash. Six months later her mother lost her battle with breast cancer. The couple left behind an impressive legacy: Steven Kretchmer Designs, their prestigious and thriving jewelry business.
Kretchmer had no formal training in either business or jewelry design, though she had helped her parents with trade shows and other aspects of the business since age 14. After the deaths of her mother and stepfather, however, there was no question she would step up. “I’m the fourth generation,” she says. “Legacy is important to me.”
Still, she says, “I was petrified. A lot of people were watching to see what would happen. They knew me, but as the astrophysicist.”
Kretchmer says she drew on some lessons she learned at Hopkins to help her succeed in her unexpected new career; namely, how to overcome her fear of public speaking and fear of failure. And, she says, “I learned to go for things that you don’t think you can do or achieve.” The transition from science to jewelry design was not easy. “As a scientist, I was used to being very organized,” says Kretchmer. “I would wake up and have a plan for things I wanted to accomplish that day. Then you go into business, which is fluid and dynamic. Things come up all the time; new things, different things. Even though you have a plan, you have to be okay with that plan changing.”
Kretchmer credits Steven with having taught her the aesthetics of jewelry design. From there, she called on her network of contacts in the jewelry industry for advice and support. “I just got up every day and got to work and did the best I could. Trying to think through things and ask a lot of advice,” she says.
Ten years later, Kretchmer is making waves of her own. Last February she won the American Gem Trade Association’s Spectrum Award, one of the highest accolades in the industry, for her design of the piece Rockstar2. In August she was awarded the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Excellence in Design Award for her body of work.
“It’s really special to be part of people’s lives in such a subtle way and make them happy,” says Kretchmer. “I love that part of it.”
At a recent art and antique show in Baltimore, where she was showing some of her designs, Kretchmer said her love of astrophysics and astronomy inspires her work.
“I still have a passion for science. This year I launched a new line that I’m building on, called Stellina Blue, which means ‘little blue star.’” The star in each piece is represented by a small sapphire.