Local jewelry designer turns stories into style

Tucked next to the bustling Pannikin Coffee & Tea on North Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas , a humble jewelry storefront welcomes latte-toting customers to view, try and purchase various pieces.

But Three Sisters Jewelry is more than meets the eye, embracing a story as meaningful as the necklaces worn out the door.

A few steps in, and you'll spot Zoe Mohler alongside her trusted team of 15, working away to craft personalized jewelry that contains powerful significance.

Mohler, a Cardiff native, once lived a life very unlike that of an acclaimed jewelry designer whose work has appeared in magazines such as Lucky, InStyle and Us Weekly. The former attorney, who handled the marketing at a San Diego law firm, eventually quit her job when she began caring for her ailing mother who had been diagnosed with cancer, while she had two young children to raise.

In a moment where creativity met necessity, Mohler began working as a photographer, shooting weddings mostly, and getting her first taste of running her own company called Lisa Pierce & Zoe.

While the photography business sustained, in 2007 Mohler started making charm bracelets to sell on the side, which evolved into individualized bracelets for friends, family and clients. Taking a leap, she launched a professional website to help sales reach national levels, using her background in marketing and SEO to promote her unique and highly customized product.

In fact, the day the site launched, the "Today" show featured her jewels on air, resulting in 8,000 web hits in one auspicious afternoon. Three Sisters Jewelry suddenly found itself in big business.

Three Sisters Jewelry gets its name from Mohler's three daughters, Jette (13), Ellika (10) and Britt (7), as well as Mohler's mother who was also one of three. Her daughters, she says, are the inspiration to her life and work.

"It's important to me that they are confident in who they are, and don't feel the need to fit in. They're always pushing me and reminding me to stay true to who I am," Mohler said.

What makes the jewelry exceptional here are the inimitable handstamped, engraved details that are then delicately distressed to resemble an heirloom. Necklaces, bracelets and rings feature initials, names, important dates and symbols personalized with every order. "We don't have 500 charms just sitting around. It's all hand-crafted touch," Mohler said.

Because of the nature of personalizing pieces with the names of family members, significant others and anniversary dates, to name a few, the stories Mohler and her team receive are often emotional and moving.

"Everything that we make is handmade, and we take great pride in what we do. We're proud of everything that leaves the door," Mohler said. "We take it personally in the way we approach it. It's important for us to have a relationship with each customer."

Even celebrities such as Heidi Klum , Ellen Pompeo and Eddie Vedder have been spotted wearing the jewels. Impressive, to say the least, for a woman who once began her business by making everything in her own home, on the kitchen counter, while her kids were napping or at school.

"I'm a super curious person by nature, and I've always been interested in how stuff works," Mohler said. "That's a key trait of a self-driven person."

One of the bestsellers, the Imperial Palace necklace, came about on a trip to that Las Vegas hotel. Mohler found herself at a blackjack table next to a man whose wife was at home. "I told him I just had to make her a necklace," she said. "So I sent him one, and the Imperial Palace design was born. That was the necklace later worn by Heidi Klum. I believe good deeds come full circle."

While her ingenuity and passion has propelled the ship, Mohler credits much of her success to her team, all of whom are locally born and bred. "We have an amazing group of people. Everyone believes in what we do and takes the work very personally."

Most orders are completed online, but the showroom and workroom are well worth the visit, an open space to see how the engraving, stamping and antiquing processes all take place under one roof. They do it all in their bungalow-type office space, the only jewelry shop in San Diego to have both production and sales under the same roof. If customers stop into the showroom, the team aims to produce the piece the same day.

"Now that we cast and design our own charms, we have more creative ability; before they were cut from sheet metal and it was very industrial. We've been able to integrate more heirloom style, more detailed pieces and a more unique collection of charms."

Online orders take about two weeks to process, and customers can modify charms, length, metal types, names, dates, characters, special finishes and more. Prices for the personalized jewelry range from $29-$300. An average necklace is about $80.

For more information on Three Sisters Jewelry, or to place an order, visit threesistersjewelrydesign.com.

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