Dianna Rae High: Art + Emotion + Design
Feb 06, 2017 03:13PM
● By Marisa Olson
Designs inspired by nature
Before starting her day, Dianna Rae High pauses to collect her thoughts, and sits quietly in her backyard, which is wreathed with lush greenery and vivid flowers. The weather is unseasonably mild for January, and the morning light reflects and scatters faintly across the surface of the swimming pool. “One of my favorite things about living in Acadiana is its beauty. At almost any time of year, I can step out the back door and enjoy the warmth, the sprawling oaks and towering magnolias. It feels like a vacation.”
Dianna’s affinity for the beauty of the natural world compels her to retreat to the mountains each summer for hiking and camping excursions. She spent her last vacation trekking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once rejuvenated, she returns home to Lafayette, eager to resume the work she loves: Running her business, Dianna Rae Jewelry, and creating award-winning, custom pieces, whose designs are nature-inspired. A diamond and gem specialist for over 25 years, Dianna has cultivated a sensibility for the exceptional and exquisite. She then translates her esthetic talents into tangible and extraordinary works of jeweled art.
Dianna wears a striking, lustrous strand of Tahitian pearls, which she lifts slightly: “This is my favorite piece of jewelry. Each pearl is irregular and unique, with its own hue and shape. It reminds me how, even in chaos, there is beauty.”
Learning the trade
“Mr. High was always tossing around funny old clichés like, Don’t Forget who the real boss is: The customer! But he meant those clichés, and lived by them. Except for the bookkeeping, which was Mrs. High’s specialty, he handled every aspect of the business, from sales to design, to taking out the garbage, which he joked was his ‘real’ job. They modeled hard work and led by example, and were at the store from open to close every day. My boss took people under his wing in a loving way. He apprenticed his sons, but taught us all what we needed to know about opening and running a jewelry store. Philip, Jr., still owns and operates the Philip’s Diamond Shop in Marion.”Dianna, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, began her lifelong passion and career in jewelry design while a high school student, when she took a part-time job at Philip’s Diamond Shop in nearby Marion. At the family-owned and operated business, she learned the jeweler’s craft from her boss and mentor, Philip High, whose son, Jeff, she would later marry.
After turning 19, Dianna married Jeff, and the young couple moved to California to attend gemology school. The following year, in 1985, they returned to Iowa to expand the family business by opening a store in the Quad Cities. The Philip High brand was always associated with unmatched quality and craftsmanship. Jeff and Dianna’s store, which they independently owned and operated, proved no less successful than the flagship location. Several years later, they decided to close shop and raise a family, but maintained a small-scale version of their business from home.
How a work-at-home mom benefitted from the revolution in jewelry manufacturing
“As custom jewelers with our own store, we had always created designs by hand,” Dianna
explained, “but Jeff was always the techie, mad scientist type, and had this idea to use computers for designing. He pioneered CAD-CAM software, which stands for computer-aided design and manufacturing software, a program that utilizes two and three-dimensional imaging and design system to create custom jewelry.” Jeff High’s technological innovation revolutionized jewelry manufacturing, bringing him international recognition from jewelry makers who purchased his software. Jeff High’s family business catapulted from a home-based cottage industry into a multi-million dollar enterprise. The success brought the family closer together, and improved their quality of life:
“While I was raising my daughters, Ronni and Rio, Jeff’s software was the perfect solution for me as a mother, and helped me to strike that elusive work-home balance. From my kitchen table, I used the program to custom design pieces for clients, with my children playing or studying within arm’s reach. It enabled me to negotiate the competing demands of work and motherhood on my own terms, so that I could prioritize the needs of my family.”
A cordial, Southern invitation
About four years ago, High’s international reputation as an industry pioneer captured the attention of a Lafayette jewelry maker who quickly became a loyal client. The company persuaded the family of four to leave Iowa and make Acadiana their home. After the first year of settling in and getting their bearings, Dianna decided to open her own jewelry business.
“Jeff was highly supportive, and by then, Rio was 19, and Ronni was attending high school at Ascension. For me, going back into business wasn’t about making sales or making a job. I had decades of experience in retail, running a traditional jewelry store. That business model no longer held appeal, nor did it reflect who I am creatively. I wanted to open my dream store, where I could offer a personalized, customer experience in a beautiful, inviting space. And I wanted to design original pieces that commemorated cherished moments in a person’s life. I envisioned my store as a jewelry playground. It had to be light, sunny, and airy – cheerful - and the girl in me wanted it to be pretty.”
On August 12, 2014, Dianna Rae Jewelry opened for business.
“Emotion goes into each piece”
Upon entering Dianna Rae Jewelry, one immediately notices the radical departure from tradition and formality. The space is luxe and dazzling, yet maintains a relaxed, hospitable warmth.
“Our focus is on art and design, not price, and our art spans the community. Everything is custom. Meaningful. And although our pieces are high-end, they are economically priced.”
At times, Dianna emotionally connects with her customers through the pieces she designs and crafts for them, understanding that the finished work will come to reflect the unique taste and characteristics of its owner. When a finished work leaves her hands, Dianna knows the piece is predestined to become a treasured heirloom that will be passed from one generation of women to the next, gathering momentum in memory and sentiment. Dianna has her own fond memories of the many customers who’ve come to her store. She recalls one widow who came to remount her wedding ring. Dianna added a diamond for each year of the woman’s marriage, and incorporated the deceased husband’s birthstone: “Emotion goes into each piece.”
Dianna has assembled a small but tightly knit dream team of experts, which includes a watchmaker (Trey Graham), a bench jeweler and goldsmith (Brent LeBlanc), a jeweler and CAD/CAM Specialist (Preston Warnick), a marketing maven (Rachael Landry), and of course, Dianna herself as Owner and Lead Designer. Rio, Dianna’s daughter, works behind the scenes as Dianna’s “support staff and right hand.” After Dianna’s father-in-law, Philip High, passed away, her mother-in-law joined the family in Lafayette, and now manages the bookkeeping, just as she did for her husband’s business for decades.
Dianna, of course, uses her husband’s famous software to design exquisite pieces, which have won numerous national awards.
The National Jewelers of America in New York awarded Dianna Rae Jewelry two prestigious 2015 CASE Awards during the association’s annual Jewelry Design Competition. The CASE Awards recognize the creativity, artistry, style and excellence in jewelry design from top jewelers across the nation. Beating out 50 competitors, Dianna took first-place in the Jewelry under $2,000 (retail value) category and the Buyers’ Choice CASE Award.
Dianna supports numerous charitable causes in Lafayette, especially for education and the arts, and each year donates many of her fabulous, original creations for auction fundraisers benefitting St. Pius, The Acadiana Symphony, Our Lady of Lourdes, Christian Youth Theatre, and the Black and White Gala for the American Cancer Society, among many others. She also designs corporate jewelry, and charm bracelets for the Lafayette Ballet Company, creating individual charms for each event that can be added to the bracelet.
In 2016, she co-sponsored FACE Magazine’s 5th Annual Scholastic Arts and Writing Competition, providing local high school students an opportunity to showcase their talents, and to compete for awards and a college scholarship.Since moving to Lafayette and opening her dream store, Dianna Rae High’s reputation for excellence, quality and creativity has spread like wildfire from a loyal following of satisfied customers, which continues to grow. Her rapid success and popularity in Acadiana is a testament to her kind and humble nature—something of which everyone can take note.
Written by: Marisa Olson
Photos by: Moore Photography
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