Grace Gow is an independent fine jewelry company based in Seattle, inspired by where the city meets the sea. Since 2007, designer Cat McCadden has been transforming oceanic forms into wearable sculptural pieces in gold, silver, bronze and brass accented with topaz, tourmalines and diamonds. Her work conjures the spirit of the place that inspired it—the beach. Spending summers from a young age on the Jersey Shore and the North Fork of Long Island and now living on an island in the Puget Sound, Cat walks the beach for searching for crab claws and shell fragments that wash ashore. The original forms from the line were collected on either the wide sand beaches of the East Coast or the rocky seascapes of the Pacific Northwest coastline.
Photography by Rachael Lang
Where does the name Grace Gow come from? Tell us about your origins. What led you to become a jewelry designer?
Grace Gow was born on Sept 17, 1915 in Scotland. At the age of ten, her family immigrated to New York City where her father, a ship captain, was assigned his new port of call. She married my grandfather, Stephen Hills and had my mom, Victoria, in Brooklyn where she worked and lived her entire life. Granny was an elegant woman that added art to the everyday. She completed the New York Times Sunday crossword, painted in oils, sewed, cooked, gardened and entertained. Practicality had its place, but Grace Gow created enjoyment, shared it, and savored every drop.
My grandparents owned a summer cottage in Long Island, a place to escape the city heat. As a kid, I spent time hanging out there with wide open days and very little sunscreen. Sand-free and sunburnt, we’d dress up for dinner on the sun porch. Happy hour was a mix of martinis, Shirley Temples and Granny’s personal style—caftans and colorful scarves, puka shell necklaces, filigree broaches, and always her delicate gold watch.
After graduating from Binghamton University with a degree in Art History, I followed my heart to Seattle, where city life and coastal life mixed together. My grandmother’s influence took over and led me to create. I felt a need to make something with my hands, so I began to fabricate earrings and necklaces with wood, bone, and stone elements from mineral shows. After a few successful trunk shows, I got serious in 2007.
I began to explore the realm of sculptural metal work by applying fabrication, casting and finishing techniques to the line. While training with metal smiths at Pratt Fine Art, I learned the hand skills that have allowed me to propel my ideas forward from vision to prototype to wearable art.
In 2010, I launched my website and in 2012 opened Style Syndicate, a community-centric arts space that served as GRACE GOW’s jewelry showroom in the heart of Capitol Hill in Seattle. In the last several years I’ve focused on designing and launching a number of collections of fine jewelry, getting to know my customers, and building worldwide wholesale relationships.
Your work has strong natural and coastal themes. What aspects of the Pacific Northwest are reflected in your designs?
I’m inspired by different aspects of both the East and West coasts. I’m from New Jersey where the beach has this very distinct East coast energy; you feel the urban influence of Philly and NYC, the restaurants and vendors are steps from the sand, and there are a LOT of people on the beach. Textured dunes, green grass reeds, and sandy beaches full of organic shapes that look like finished jewelry just waiting to be worn.
The Pacific Northwest has less seasonal change and it’s more wild. Huge driftwood trees lay around like matchsticks; the sense of scale is more extreme here. The beach is not just for summer—it’s an all year round affair in the Puget Sound and inclement weather is not an excuse.
When I’m collecting pieces, I look for the asymmetry found in broken shells and rock, textural patterns found on barnacles of all shapes, and the smoothness on wood and rock from forces such as water, sand or wind.
I appreciate that a barnacle is tough, battered by the ocean but not about to let go. A crab claw is elegant, yet has these gnarly little pinchers, ready to cause pain if your paths cross. There is a fragility/strength relationship in all my work that I like.
You recently moved to a new home on Vashon Island. How has the transition from the city to island life affected your work and process?
Change-affirming. Energizing. Calming.
I was mostly thrilled to move to the country (Vashon is rural) and just a little bit afraid to be further than an Uber ride from anything in the city…but, change is good. Being closer to the beach has been the best part.
Also, becoming a part of such thriving arts community is phenomenal—Vashon Island’s talented artists and makers ranging from hand tooled leather goods to local cheese makers to wood carved sculptors is great.
What is influencing and /or inspiring your work at the moment?
Old school forms re-interpreted, Australia and New Zealand, diamond earring jackets from the 1940s. A recent product design collaboration with Quiet Town http://quiettownhome.com who have released a shower curtain hook that has the look and feel of a modern hoop earring. Summertime with my daughter - seeing her fascination with the beach and her continual treasure hunts and fort building. This freedom that she discovers on a regular basis inspires me to keep working and growing every day as well.
What’s next for Grace Gow? Are you working on a new collection or on any special projects?
Yes! This summer we’ll be refining the SIREN collection. You’ll see more semi-precious and precious gemstones—more bling. This will drop in the Fall, along side GRACE GOW’s new line of tabletop accessories. We’ll be releasing East coast + West coast beach inspired functional designs like our bronze driftwood ring holders, CLAW wall hooks, BARNACLE bottle openers and brass paperweights. Also, we’ll be expanding GUS GOW, our men’s line, to include a tie clip, money clip, and generous proportion cuff bracelets.