A pair of heirloom earrings played a significant role in the recent season five finale of the hit NBC show “This Is Us.”
When a main character was a child, her mother — before she left the family — gave her the striking gold and blue earrings to wear on her wedding day. They made three appearances and served as a catalyst for a major decision in that character’s life.
The maker behind the meaningful piece of jewelry that helped tell the story is none other than Kim Jakum of Elkhart Lake.
Since 2012, Jakum has made jewelry for about 20 TV shows and movies, including “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Bones.”
“It’s pretty amazing when you think about it — to think that somebody from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, can have their stuff worn on television and films,” she said.
It all started about three decades ago when Jakum, a Plymouth High School graduate, worked for a phone company and was “intrigued” by the colored copper wire found in telephone cables.
Jakum’s jewelry journey
While Jakum was a service technician and cable splicer for Plymouth’s Verizon (previously General Telephone & Electronics Corporation), she would “play around” with little leftover pieces of cable.
“I’m inspired by color,” said Jakum, a Sheboygan native.
From there, she got into beadwork. She gave a lot of her beaded jewelry away, and put some for sale in the women’s lounge at the phone company.
Since then, Jakum has designed thousands of items, and people across the nation purchase her pieces.
And it’s not just for celebrities. Her jewelry can be purchased online at kimjakum.com, in person most Saturday mornings at the Elkhart Lake Farmers & Artisans Market and at Slightly Unhinged in Chilton.
She primarily makes jewelry with traditional metalsmith techniques and precious metal clay, which some of her pieces on “This Is Us” have been made out of.
Jakum said she is “mostly self-taught,” besides taking a handful of beadwork and metal-smithing classes and workshops over the years, and works out of a fully equipped metalsmith studio in the basement of her home.
Success on ‘This Is Us’
Warning: “This Is Us” spoilers ahead
After a couple years of selling her jewelry on Etsy, Jakum started reaching out to shows’ costume designers to ask if they’d be interested in using her jewelry.
More often now, they reach out to her.
Emmy-nominated “This Is Us” costume designer Hala Bahmet said Jakum contacted her around season three. Since then, Jakum’s creations have been selected for the series numerous times.
“Not only do we get the quality and the aesthetic and the uniqueness with Kim’s jewelry, we also get to support a woman artist, an independent artist,” said Bahmet, who grew up in Minnesota. “And those are the kind of people that I want to feature their work.”
A couple months ago, the show reached out to Jakum to see if she would be interested in making a special pair of earrings.
Jakum said all she knew was that the earrings were to be vintage-inspired, gold-colored and have blue stones.
“We can never tell anyone the storylines because everything is top secret,” Bahmet said.
But since Jakum had been watching the show, she had a hunch they might be for Madison Simons’ (played by Caitlin Thompson) wedding to Kevin Pearson (played by Justin Hartley), the father of her twins. She’d end up being right.
To create the earrings, Jakum pressed NuGold — a type of brass that resembles real gold — into a hand-carved jewelry die that predates World War II, which she got from Potter USA. She cut the earrings out with a jewelers saw, then set Swiss blue topaz gems into them.
Show went ‘crazy’ for her earrings
Jakum’s pair were among about 20 others that were in the running.
“I was on pins and needles waiting to find out if they were going to pick them or not,” Jakum said. “My husband’s like, ‘Kim, even if they don’t pick your earrings, the fact that they asked you means something.’ “
When Bahmet presented the earrings to the show’s director, showrunner and the actress who they were for, she said “everyone just went crazy” for Jakum’s.
“Across the board, everyone’s like, ‘Those are so amazing, they’re so beautiful, they’re understated but really just gorgeous,’ ” Bahmet said.
They “hit every note” and “covered every angle,” she added.
“I feel very humbled and honored, let me tell ya — very,” Jakum said.
Jakum worked “around the clock” two days straight to make three identical pairs for the show.
“It’s just really nice to be able to have a resource like (Jakum), who’s really fast and really on top of it and super organized,” said Bahmet, who grew up visiting her grandparents in Wisconsin. “She’s pretty darn great.”
The series — which has a room dedicated to jewelry — usually gets two to three of the same earrings or “delicate” jewelry pieces, Bahmet said. This was especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, she noted, since actors and actresses were wearing masks “right up until they’re going to shoot their scene” and sometimes jewelry would fly off and get lost.
The earrings made not one, not two, but three appearances: In a flashback when they were given to Simons, on Simons’ wedding day, and in a (shocking) flash-forward to the second wedding of Kate, Pearson’s twin sister.
Bahmet credited the earrings for being a “catalyst” for Simons to think about her parents’ relationship and how it affected her life, which ultimately led her to talk to her fiancé about whether or not he is really in love with her.
“I’m really delighted the special earrings did get some quality time on air because they really are special and I feel like they just help us tell the story,” Bahmet said. “The whole thing with costumes, jewelry, adornment and all of it, it’s all about telling the story.”
What sets Jakum apart
Before creating jewelry for a particular program, Jakum heavily researches and watches it to get its “feel.”
That, in addition to Jakum’s “really high quality” craftsmanship, sets her apart, according to Bahmet.
“The reason we end up using so much of Kim’s stuff is because she’s sending a very edited — thoughtfully edited — array of options that, because of her homework, she knows that they will work,” Bahmet said.
“When I design something, I really do design for specific characters,” Jakum said. “I think that that’s why I’ve been really successful.”
Instead of drawing out a design like many artists, Jakum said she pictures it in her head, then gets right into creating it.
“I’ll jot down little notes or whatever, but it’s not like I can draw stuff out,” she laughed. “Seriously, I can’t even draw a stick person.”
Her pieces typically range from about $20 to $300 online. How she’s paid for her TV jewelry varies on a case-by-case basis.
‘That gives me joy’
One of Jakum’s “favorite” pieces she’s made is a necklace that appeared on “SEAL Team.”
Jakum watches that show “religiously” since her 23-year-old son is in the U.S. Navy.
The necklace features an anchor on one side and says “Please keep him safe” on the other. Character Emma Hayes (played by Kerri Medders) wore the necklace all of season two, Jakum noted.
“That meant a lot to me,” she said.
Jakum, a mom of three and grandmother of three, also “really, really” enjoys making custom pieces for people, including kids artwork jewelry and memorial jewelry, as well as Navy mom jewelry.
“I like making people feel beautiful and happy,” she said. “Knowing that I can do that gives me joy, too.”