Karina Brez is known for winning Miss Florida USA in 2012; but the 33-year-old, who grew up in Palm Beach County, has just achieved another long-awaited goal.
The certified gemologist and jewelry designer recently opened her own store, Karina Brez Jewelry on Worth Avenue. Her equestrian-themed 18-karat gold jewelry with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other gemstones is displayed in glass cases. The store with garnet green décor is on Via Amore behind Lilly Pulitzer and next to Café Flora.
Brez lives in Palm Beach with her husband, Dr. Curtis Emmer — an ear, nose and throat surgeon who is chief of ENT at St. Mary’s Medical Center — and their daughter Chloe, 4.
“It has always been my dream to open a store on Worth Avenue. The timing felt right. I found the perfect spot here,” Brez said. “My first and earliest memories are of my parents taking me to walk the streets here, and I admired the windows in amazement.”
The 200-square-foot space fills her need for a space to meet with clients away from her home. A large part of her business is creating custom engagement rings and wedding bands. The 18-foot ceilings, a 10-foot geometric crystal chandelier, mirrors and large windows overlooking a courtyard garden give it a bigger feel.
“There are so many jewelry stores here in Palm Beach. I did not want to be just another jewelry store. This is me. I know everything about jewelry, and I am very resourceful. There are so many stores opening and closing on Worth Avenue with rent being so high,” Brez said. “I wanted something that was easy and comfortable, not grandiose and big, so I could see my clients and give them a one-on-one private showing.”
While diamonds and what is known in the industry as the “big three” ─ sapphires, emeralds and rubies ─ are always in demand, Brez also loves rare colored stones.
“I like mandarin garnets and pink sapphires. I pick stones that are very vivid and happy colors. I love color,” Brez said.
Her Huggable Hooves collection includes rings and bracelets shaped as wrap-around horse hooves set with pavé diamonds. The bracelets can be worn solo or stacked.
“My No. 1 seller is the bracelet,” Brez said. “It is the horse hugging you back. We get to hug horses, but horses can’t hug you back.”
Other collections are Horse Luv and Lucky Horseshoe. All the jewelry is made with white, rose or yellow gold.
Brez has been designing jewelry for almost a decade. During Wellington’s winter equestrian season, she has operated a shop inside the Wellington Equestrian Center’s International Club and has been a corporate sponsor of the Winter Equestrian Festival.
She also sells the pieces, priced from $3,750 to $250,000, at equestrian events around the country, as well as through her website, karinabrez.com.
Customers in Wellington have included Olympic riders, equestrian team owners and horse enthusiasts, as well as non-equestrians who believe horseshoes are lucky or just fall in love with the jewelry.
Brez had promised herself that if after 10 years, her business was successful she would open a Palm Beach store.
Among her fans are fashion designer Ariana Rockefeller and elite equestrian and Wellington stable owner Jennifer Gates, who is Bill Gates’ daughter.
In an article she wrote that appeared in Forbes, Rockefeller stated that Brez’s jewelry has a strong following among the equestrian set, and added, “It’s hard not to want all of it.” Equestrian Living Magazine quoted Gates as saying Brez is her favorite equestrian jeweler and helped design her engagement ring.
A native of Ukraine, Brez emigrated at age 1 with her parents, Alex and Rimma Brez, and her older sister to Austria, then to Italy, finally arriving in the Queens borough of New York months later. They lived in New York for three years.
The family struggled financially. Her father did whatever he could to earn a living, including jewelry repair, and eventually started his own jewelry business that’s now based in Boca Raton. Her mother is a partner in the business.
The family moved Palm Beach County after visiting family in the area, and settled in Wellington after several moves. Without knowing any English, she started kindergarten at Palm Beach Public School. She is a graduate of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.
Brez loves horses, but doesn’t own any, and has never ridden professionally. .
She attended Palm Beach State College and wanted to go to the London School of Design, but her parents didn’t want her to be so far away.
“I wanted to go to London for accessory design. I wanted to come up m with my own designs. That was my thing,” Brez said.
She earned her Graduate Diamonds diploma from the Gemological Institute of America in 2007, founded her company Palm Beach Gemologist in 2010 and became a graduate gemologist in 2012.
It was while representing Florida in the Miss USA pageant that the idea to design jewelry began in earnest.
“In designing my gown, we had incorporated moonstone and silver into the dress itself. I designed a couple of pieces I had on,” Brez said. “A lot of my friends in the pageant loved it, and said, ‘Why don’t you just go and do jewelry, this is great.’ So, I said, ‘I think it’s time.’”
Brez had always been under the impression that jewelry designers were “starving artists,” so she decided to become a gemologist and appraiser.
“My Dad has always been someone I have looked up to, and he has helped me with a lot of technical questions about making and designing jewelry. He has been my sounding board with a lot of my pieces. I have always helped him out in his business,” she said.
“Being an appraiser, I understand value. It helps me with my pieces, especially when I buy stones. I know what something should be worth,” Brez said.
After Brez designs a piece, her father makes a prototype, which is sent to be manufactured at factories in New York and Los Angeles. The custom items, such as engagement rings, are made in Boca Raton.
“I source my stones from a dealer in Israel. They can be from Russia, Canada, South Africa or Australia, if they are pink diamonds. It depends on the stone and what it is. Diamonds are diamonds,” she said.
“White diamonds are timeless. That is always a best seller. With engagement rings right now, what is really popular is oval-cut diamonds and cushion-cut diamonds. I design an average of 12 engagement rings a month. I also design pieces for my Dad,” she said.
“Yellow diamonds are always the second color diamond that is always a popular seller in rings and earrings,” Brez said. “I did a special custom bracelet for a client with yellow diamonds in my Huggable Hooves. Within my collections, clients can request their own take on a style.”
Showings are by appointment only Saturday through Monday, and the store is currently open Tuesday through Friday. The grand opening will be held in partnership with the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation on date that is to be determined.