Eternal Style

Kimberly Nicoletti
Hinged 14k gold collar by Dan Telleen at Karats Vail.
Brent Bingham/Brent Bingham Photography
Dan Telleen stands outside his store, Karats, in Vail Village.
Dominique Taylor/Dominique Taylor Photography

Since 1970, Dan Telleen has created one-of-a-kind jewelry in Vail.  

His bold, fluid and organic designs stand the test of time. He doesn’t ascribe to fads. Rather, he collaborates with clients’ dreams and visions to design artistic, innovative jewelry. 

“I don’t design fashion. I design style tailored to the customer. Style lasts,” he says. “It’s timeless jewelry that touches your heart and spirit.” 

He deeply values connection with his clients, many of whom have continued to come back for over half a century. He even has multi-generational clients; for example, he designed wedding rings for a grandmother, mother and granddaughter in the same family. He listens to people’s stories, then interprets their ideas into pendants, earrings, rings and other sculptural, wearable pieces. 

High-karat golden cuffs by Dan Telleen.
Dominique Taylor Photography/

“I like people to have something that’s comfortable to wear and ergonomically correct, something that suits them. Sometimes people tell me it’s the only thing they wear, that they never take it off,” he says. 

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Telleen’s jewelry is not only distinctive; it tells stories throughout time. His unique, fluid pieces may incorporate fossils, collectible coins, meteorites or ancestral gems. For example, he integrated a client’s grandmother’s diamonds into a gold ring depicting Mount of the Holy Cross, since the mountain was special to her. He has fashioned a pendant from an arrowhead found in Eagle County by a client along with a quarter that the man’s sharpshooting grandfather had shot a hole through. 


A shot-through quarter from a sharpshooting grandfather linked to an arrowhead found by his grandson, all set in sterling silver by Dan Telleen from Karats 970.476.4760
Native American stone arrowhead hanging from a US $1 gold piece set with a single diamond.
Dominique Taylor/Dominique Taylor Photography
Bark texture band in 18k yellow gold set with a row of paraíba tourmaline.
Dominique Taylor/Dominique Taylor Photography

He links people with history and their common humanity by incorporating rarities like ancient coins, fossils or even lightning-struck sand into his rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. As a result, Telleen’s elegant jewelry not only holds the intrinsic value of gold and precious stones, but also includes a fascinating charm. 

“They’re conversation starters,” he says. “You get to talk about how much you love Vail or Mount of the Holy Cross. It’s jewelry that people identify with special memories.” 

His summer-themed columbines, leaves, aspen twigs and other nature-inspired pieces began 52 years ago when a woman asked for something revolving around leaves.  

“It was something I ended up committing to. Sometimes people want something made that I wouldn’t have made if they hadn’t talked me into it,” he says, commenting on how leaves, twigs and vines “like to become jewelry. They move and shape in aesthetic ways around diamonds and colored stones and become ergonomically correct jewelry … it’s natural, not contrived.” 

He also uses birds, reptiles and animals as inspiration. For example, he has generated bracelets and necklaces combining snake vertebrae and gold; pendants and bracelets from eagle talons; and a crinoid fossil surrounded in a  
golden heart. 

“They need to flow and seem natural, especially when you’re working with nature objects,” he says.  

He likes designing versatile jewelry, such as a pearl necklace that has two clasps so it can transform into two bracelets. Still, he never sacrifices design for versatility. He simply continues to work with textures and curves and straight, jagged and dotted shapes until the piece seems “obviously intuitive” to him. Inspiration for jewelry sprouts with each completed work and with each client’s vision. 

“I’m a product of collaboration with my patrons. I wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for the influence of people who are in love with the Vail Valley,” he says. 

As an artist who doesn’t follow design trends, he paves the way for the one-of-a-kind, memorable jewelry you can only find at Karats in Vail. 

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