Industry Profile

The Beach-Inspired Designs of Jeweler Cat McCadden

Why the Vashon Islander behind Grace Gow left the corporate world to make jewelry informed by the natural world.

By Kyle Kuhn March 28, 2016

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Cat McCadden's customers have been excited about her lifelike designs for a few years now, and she just recently showed off her jewelry at this year's rendition of the annual SoDo Fashion Show and Market. Her crab claw necklace and barnacle rings are available through select retailers or at the Grace Gow online store. We caught up with McCadden and got the skinny on why she prefers the "slightly askew" design of the natural world.

Where are you from?

New Jersey. Just outside Philly and a half hour from the shore. I went to college in upstate upstate New York. I moved to the West coast 14 years ago.

Did you always want to make jewelry for a living?

I had no idea I could make jewelry for a living. I was a corporate creative, a graphic designer, advertising art director, and later worked on websites for a tech company. I was about 30 years old when I truly believed it was possible. Prior to that, I needed to learn what it takes to build my own business from the ground up.

What do you feel has been the reason for your success so far?

A firmly established creative point of view that is fully authentic and broad enough to feel like one diverse body of work. Also, supportive family and friends. Sounds so cliche but there are people in my life who have pushed me, caught me, and called me out. I’m lucky to be surrounded by that honesty.

Grace Gow was the name of your grandmother. How did she inspire you?

Grace Gow Hills, my maternal grandmother, lived in Brooklyn and had a summer home on the east end of Long Island. There was an aloofness [to her], a formality from her Scottish background, an appreciation for the finer things. We would visit her in New York City and I would never want to go back to the suburbs.

Your beach collection is very asymmetrical. Was that about portraying how relevant nature is to this collection?

Asymmetrical forms are interesting, and they’re metaphorical. I’m more comfortable when things are slightly askew. Texture is a big part of my jewelry, and is typically a very nonuniform design element to cast. Resilience is an important theme of my work. I use a subject, a barnacle, known for hanging on no matter what. The ocean waves are brutal. Anything I collect usually has edges broken, or entire chunks missing. Crab joints are dislocated. I find beauty from what’s been a bit beaten and distressed by nature.

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How do you get such lifelike designs?

My day starts with collecting objects that jump out at me. I have shelves and shelves of found objects in my studio–bone, stone, shell, and glass. An idea for a finished piece will spark, and I’ll make a mold of that raw form, and then work with that original and edit it in wax. I then add elements, take away, and smooth edges. After that, I use the lost wax casting process to melt silver, gold, or bronze into that form. I finish the piece with polish and set stones which are often times rough cut tourmaline, topaz, sapphire and ethically sourced diamonds.

Where did you learn to do all this?

I trained to be a metal smith at Pratt Fine Art in the Central District of Seattle. Through that community of working artists I’ve been lucky enough to meet my mentor, a fine jeweler with 30-years experience, an excellent local lapidary and stone cutting partner, and other skilled artisans.

What’s your vision for Grace Gow’s future? And what do you want to accomplish through the company?

Grace Gow is for anyone who wants to bring a symbol of the sea into their modern urban life. I want to always create and travel for continued inspiration and for beautiful stones.

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