Jewelry design

A “happy accident” leads to a successful career in jewelry design


Milwaukee-area jewelry designer Monika Lee was born in Austria and arrived in the United States as a child. She became a citizen at the age of 10. Off the Cuff spoke with Lee about his career in creating unique and beautiful pieces.

Has Europe had an influence on your jewelry creation?

I am going back to visit my family and as a daughter I would take the steam trains and travel to Florence, Italy. I went to Ponte Vecchio there, where you can see all kinds of handcrafted jewelry imaginable. It was like being in heaven and it definitely influenced me. There were women who wore the most beautiful jewelry, and I told myself that one day I would create my own. I’ve been a hairdresser since high school, so it’s always been my job. Add to that jewelry making, and making people look their best is what it’s all about. The two are interconnected.

You’ve been designing jewelry for about seven years now. What started you?

About seven years ago, I was sitting on my couch knitting a scarf, when I looked down and saw a long thread on the floor. I picked it up and tried using my knitting needles with the yarn to make a piece of jewelry. I worked on it tenaciously and ended up doing something I liked. It was the beginning, and it has taken off since then. I started bringing my wares to craft fairs and then was asked to sell them in a store. I did well at the store and will be exhibiting it in an art gallery in Milwaukee soon.

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Describe the materials used in your jewelry.

I use various gauges and colors of wire, Swarovski crystals, all types of pearls, semi-precious stones, as well as base metals such as gold, silver, copper and rose gold. I now make three types of jewelry from wire, titanium mesh, and mesh tube. I can incorporate all three in one piece if I want.

How do you constantly find new designs?

I tend to create from my imagination and work on designs as I go. Sometimes I have no idea what the finished piece will look like. That’s what makes it really fun.

Where do you show your work? Do you have an online presence?

I do craft fairs, art tours, a show at the Pfister hotel once. I have tried selling on Etsy and Online Marketplace, but prefer hands-on experience. When I can explain to people how I make my jewelry, try it on and have a smile on their face, that’s a big bonus. I also asked men to look at my designs. They look at each piece and often decide that this is exactly what they are looking for as a gift to their wife or loved one.

How does jewelry making give you satisfaction?

It’s fun to do something that I love myself and that others enjoy too. Making a customer happy is ultimately what I like the most. When I can make them happy and know that they really like something that I have done, it is both rewarding and satisfying for me. Overall, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had in life, being able to do things that I’m proud of and that will make others happy. It’s been my passion since I was little, and I’m so happy to have finally found my place ”.

To contact Monika Lee, email her at

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To read more of Grace Matson’s articles, click here.

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