Erica Courtney: From Lafayette Roots to Celebrity Fame

Famed, high-end jeweler Erica Courtney’s award-winning designs have adorned celebrities at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, fashion magazines, including Vogue featuring Madonna on the cover, America’s Got Talent, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and a multitude of other TV shows. But her path to celebrity was anything but glamorous.

Facing a traumatic custody battle, the Lafayette, La., native resorted to kidnapping her son, fleeing the state, and spending eight and a half years hiding from local police and the FBI. That was in 1984. While dodging authorities, she lived in New York, Florida and Dallas. Yet, under such duress, she had the wherewithal to launch a jewelry business. “Who in the world would ever think that I could start a business while I kidnapped my son, stay undercover, not get arrested and be all over the red carpet?” she said. “I didn’t know they were going to photograph me and put me in magazines, and I still never got caught during that time.” While in hiding, she changed her birth name from Tasha Ingram to Erica Courtney, but life life on the run ended while attending a jewelry show in New York in 1992, where she was arrested after a disgruntled former employee turned her in. Courtney returned to Lafayette to face charges and received three and a half years’ probation.

While living in Dallas, Courtney began embellishing sunglasses and watches, then later moved on to designing silver jewelry — but it was her fine jewelry designs that catapulted her to fame. The move from Dallas to Los Angeles changed her life. “Stylists were using me in movies, television, and commercials for so long that when their actresses were getting dressed, all of a sudden, they started showing up at my place. And you know, I had cultivated those relationships.

The next thing you know, I’m dressing movie stars, and about three years into it, they’re saying my name on the red carpet.” Courtney always had a knack for working with jewels and repurposing accessories, a talent her mother recognized and encouraged her to pursue. “I had a broken Swarovski crystal necklace and a pair of sunglasses, and I had put the crystals on the sunglasses — just for fun. I wore them outside and somebody said, ‘I love your sunglasses,’ and my mom said, ‘Oh, well, my daughter is a jewelry designer. You should buy them from her.’” Courtney questioned  whether she could do it. Courtney recalled her mom telling her, ‘Well, you need a job, my darling. This is what you’re going to do.’” She indeed did and hasn’t looked back.

Courtney’s artisan jewelry is known for pushing boundaries — her Drop Dead Gorgeous collection is distinctive, her jewels are brilliant and vibrant, and her designs are whimsical with intricate details. Her engagement rings and wedding bands are stunning, as are her creations for customers who commission her to repurpose their existing pieces. “It might not be that beautiful to begin with, but the challenge is to make it gorgeous. When I take those gems and I start polishing them and fixing them up, even I don’t recognize them in the end. I’ll make them gorgeous.”

Courtney sources her own gems, traveling to mining locations across the globe with her friend, famous field gemologist Vincent Pardieu. She’s been to Tanzania, Kenya, Vietnam, Burma, and many other remote locations to learn the mining process and source gems herself. “I’m spoiled,” she said. “I get to go buy all the most beautiful gemstones and design any kind of jewelry I want around them.”

Courtney closed her boutique in L.A. shortly before the Great Recession, but her jewelry can be found on her website, Lafayette boutique, Kiki, and she offers private showings. “My next collection is going to be absolutely stunning, with a lot of icy jade and bright colors” she said.