Kristin and Kofi Essel are a power couple and the two design creatives behind Third Crown, a jewelry brand that has found fans in Beyoncé, Solange, and Cardi B. Third Crown is known for its bold, geometric pieces, crafted exclusively from gold, silver, and gunmetal. A signature component of the pair’s designs is finding unique ways to incorporate linking, which is fitting for a couple that describes themselves as “one entity.”
The way they met sounds straight from a rom-com: “We were both in college, I was at FSU in Florida and Kofi was at FIT. We met at a mutual friend’s birthday party, then we were all going to a club and we ended up in the same cab together. We kept in touch, I graduated, moved to New York, and we’ve been together ever since,” Kristin said. And ever since, they've traveled the world, gained inspiration, and built a bomb-ass brand.
Over the phone, we spoke with the couple about boundaries, the process of jewelry-making, and what’s to come for Third Crown.
How did Third Crown begin?
KOFI ESSEL: We were doing design for some time, but we wanted to do our own thing. Originally, we wanted to do it in clothing, but when Kristin moved to New York she was mostly getting jobs in jewelry. She learned the ropes and became interested in going in that direction. I wanted a rosary, so she handmade me a rosary — it was awesome. So then I asked her, “Would you want to start a company in jewelry?” Eventually, we just started making pieces, a lot of family and friends became interested, and then we expanded.
Can you speak about the process of creating a jewelry brand?
KRISTIN ESSEL: At my previous jobs at jewelry companies, I started doing design but then switched to product development. That helped me a lot with starting Third Crown because I learned how to speak with vendors, how to actually get the product made. Being based in New York, we started with having our jewelry made in New York. We would design the product, then it was me going to the wax grower and he would make the wax for me, then I would run over to the casters and they’d make the casting for me, then I would go to my jeweler and they would polish it for me, then I’d take that piece and go to the platers — it was a lot of back and forth, running around New York. But it was good doing things step by step. It helped me to learn the process. But now we do it in a factory; we design it first, then give it to our liaison in New York, and she gets the factory to make it. They do all the things I used to do, from start to finish.
How do you guys balance your professional and personal relationships?
KOFI: It’s free-form. There’s no real boundaries. The identity of Third Crown is two creators coming together to form one entity, so in a sense the brand is who we are.
KRISTIN: Yeah, it’s not like we turn it on or off. It’s not like, “Oh, we’re home so we’re not going to talk about the company.” We went to Ghana last month and that was a vacation, but we were still looking for inspiration and meeting with stores to try to get Third Crown [carried] over there. It’s everyday, 24/7, it’s Third Crown.
KOFI: It’s our lifestyle and we’d like for it to become other people’s lifestyle as well.
Speaking of your vacation — such beautiful photos on Instagram — how do you find that traveling informs your work?
KOFI: It’s a big part of who we are, especially me. I was born in England, raised in West Africa, and throughout my life I’ve been traveling due to my dad. He works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ghana, so he was always being sent to different countries and most of the time the family would come along. I spent my school years in Belgium, then moved back to England for a while, then back to Ghana. From Ghana I came here and went to college. Even for Kristin, she was born in New York, but raised in Florida, and her parents are from Jamaica. So she has aunts, uncles, and cousins she goes to visit. [Traveling] has always been a part of who we were, even before we started the brand. So as we started, those influences floated into what we do.
For example, the first collection, the Arc Collection, was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Not so long after, we had the opportunity to travel there and visit the source of our inspiration. It’s all intertwined with how we see the world and a big part of what Third Crown is.
What sets Third Crown apart from other jewelry brands?
KRISTIN: Our pieces aren’t dainty little knick knacks. Our pieces are big, not always heavy, but they have weight; you know what you’re paying for with our pieces. They stand-out. — You can wear an all black outfit and then a Third Crown bangle and you feel good. Our aesthetic is big and bold.
KOFI: Dynamic and geometric.
KRISTIN: It’s also gender fluid in a way. We designed the Arc studs for our women’s collection, but Kofi wears them with our other Prizm studs. It’s jewelry that men and women can wear and still look good.
KOFI: That’s been a part of the dynamic of the brand; not only two creatives coming together, but a male and female creative. We design from both perspectives, but we combine them to create these pieces. They can be worn by any gender in any way.
What was a really exciting moment for your brand?
KRISTIN: When Beyoncé wore our jewelry, that was a really big moment. It was kinda a surprise, we actually gave her the jewelry like a year before she wore it. She posted a picture on Instagram and my friend tagged me like, “Hey, isn’t this your jewelry?” and I was like, “No, it’s not.” Then [Beyoncé’s] stylist tagged us in the photo like, “Hey Third Crown, this is you.” She wore the jewelry then, then went on vacation in Paris — everyday we were on the tabloids stalking her pictures. I found pictures of her in her private jet wearing our jewelry, in the museum. She wore it like everyday of that Paris trip.
KOFI: It was really interesting how that came about. We had other big moments, like when Solange was wearing our jewelry, actually before Beyoncé. Solange wore it to her Coachella performance [in 2014], she was wearing it when she brought Beyoncé on stage. Then a couple months later, Beyoncé wore it. It was really exciting to see how things were evolving.
Recently Cardi B wore one of your pieces as well. Who else would you love to see in your jewelry?
KRISTIN: My number one person would be Rihanna; she embodies sexy, cool girl, anything she wears, she wears it well.
KOFI: I don’t think I have one person, right now, I’m on my takeover shit. I want everybody. I’m thinking Tracee Ellis Ross, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar. In the perfect world, I want to have a campaign where all these artists come together in a big-ass, decked-out photoshoot.
What’s next for Third Crown?
KOFI: We’re gearing up for the photoshoot for our fall collection right now, it’s called the Prizm collection. Geometric shapes and architecture are two of our big influences, so we designed around a pyramid shape that we transformed into a signature Cuban link chain. We’re calling it the Harlem link chain because that’s where we’re based.