You may have seen Kristen Shirley’s byline before. The writer and editor has covered food, fashion, travel and fine jewelry for Forbes, Bloomberg, Robb Report, Elite Traveler, Travel & Leisure and other luxury publications.
In her work she’s become fluent in the nuances of the various luxury categories, but says she often felt the content on luxury “too entry-level or written for experts,” she says. “I didn’t find a resource where I could easily learn in-depth information about the luxury world. Most luxury publications focused on news, and didn’t provide introductory, evergreen information for their readers. Or if they did, it was buried deep in the archives and difficult to find.”
The notion of providing background information on major topics of the day for readers is one that some news sources have embraced—now-New York Times columnist Ezra Klein founded Vox on the premise of providing deep context for readers of its daily news stories, to name one example of this.
But that inclination hasn’t really landed in lifestyle journalism. So, earlier this year, Shirley unveiled La Patiala, which she calls a “luxury encyclopedia” that provides readers with insight into the elements that make certain brands, products, and destinations exceptional, and world-renown. In addition to educating, the site is also meant to make perusing and purchasing luxury goods less daunting, so readers will feel empowered to travel, shop, and collect with confidence.
“It was important to me to make a strong statement about my love and commitment to the jewelry industry,” says Shirley. In fact, the name “La Patiala” is a reference to a famous story from the house of Boucheron: In 1928, Bhupinder Singh, the maharaja of Patiala visited the Boucheron atelier in Paris and commissioned one of the largest bespoke orders of all time: 149 jewels in all, featuring the finest diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and pearls.
Now that Shirley has “entered the chat” in this new capacity, we were eager to talk with her about her plans for the site, her sense of fine jewelry’s role in the luxury marketplace, and her personal jewelry wish list.
The Zing Report: Your work has touched so many different aspects of fine jewelry category. What criteria does something have to meet for you in order to qualify as a luxury jewel?
Kristen Shirley: I am very passionate about jewelry, and I have gone out of my way to learn as much as I could about gemstones, jewelry design, and jewelry houses. I ask a lot of questions! For me, luxury jewelry is about impeccable craftsmanship and fabulous design. It’s not necessarily about the biggest gemstones—I’m seeing absolutely incredible luxury jewelry in unique materials. Of course, rare and unique gemstones will always have a special place in my heart, but the jewelry industry today is about much more than massive stones.
What role will jewelry play in La Patiala moving forward?
When it comes to jewelry, knowledge truly is power. Right now, about a third of the content on the site is related to jewelry. In the future, I will expand to have more designer profiles focusing on historic houses and independent designers. I plan to alternate between them to ensure that inspiring designers working today get their time in the spotlight. In addition to the designer profiles and trend features, I will educate readers about gemstones, the basics of jewelry design, and bridal.
I want to inspire people to learn more about jewelry and to develop their own collections. I hope they discover new designers and gemstones and develop a passion for jewelry. Many of the stories are shoppable online, so I hope readers will use it as a resource to find well-edited selections of jewelry that they can click to buy.
Can you tell us a personal story from your adventures in covering fine jewelry that changed your perception of the category and industry?
Going to India with Sanjay Kasliwal and the Gem Palace in 2019 was truly incredible. I had the opportunity to try on insane jewelry, see Golconda diamonds, and wear hundreds of carats of diamonds to fabulous galas. It was really amazing to be able to wear and experience jewelry like a collector, and it gave me a new appreciation for exceptional pieces. It also taught me new things to look for when editing and writing about jewelry, like considering how heavy earrings were. After several days of wearing massive earrings with significant gemstones, I had a new appreciation for the lightness of titanium!
What is the most treasured jewel in your personal collection?
I wear a diamond pendant necklace that my parents gave to me every day. I never take it off. It brings me so much joy every time I see it in the mirror.
What’s on your list of dream jewelry acquisitions?
Truly, too many to count! I would love to have a diamond tennis bracelet. I’m a big diamond girl. I also love Alexandrite and having an exceptional Alexandrite ring from Oscar Heyman would be a dream come true.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you see in the future for the luxury jewelry market—are consumer behaviors and tastes changing?
Gen-Z definitely needs to be educated about jewelry, particularly about sustainability. I see a lot of people tossing around inaccurate information about sustainability and ethics in jewelry. Brands will need to be completely transparent about their sourcing and educate clients as they shop.
There’s also a big focus on personal style in Gen Z, which I see continuing in stacking bracelets and necklaces, as well as multiple piercings. It’s great that they are getting interested in jewelry at a young age and finding affordable fine and demi-fine jewelry. As they grow up and become more successful, I hope that their passion for jewelry will continue and they will turn to more significant pieces. —Amy Elliott
Top photo: A workshop photo from Vacheron Constantin on La Patiala all photos courtesy La Patiala)