The winner of the coveted “Designer of the Year” title at JQ’s 2008 Retailers’ Choice Designer Awards, Mark Schneider, checks in to talk about where he’s been and what’s in stop for the year ahead.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about the past year without referencing the economy. Luckily, Mark Schneider (pictured, left) knows a thing or two about weathering tough times. After spending more than 25 years in a business originally started by his grandfather, Schneider remains optimistic. “I’ve been through a couple recessions,” he admits. “We’ve always came out stronger in the end.” According to the designer, the formula for perseverance is simple. “You focus to become more creative and have a better-run business.”

What the business was run by this father, it operated as a traditional wholesale manufacturer. After the patriarch passed away in 1981, however, the younger Schneider decided to go into designer jewelry. Mark Schneider Design really took off in 1984, a time when “it became very popular for independent jewelers to put unique designers in their store,” he says.

The current situation is a bit tougher. “With this tight economy, jeweler can’t afford to take risks with smaller designers.” Schneider believes that designer jewelry today is altogether different business. “Now, it’s all about price points, very large brands.” Not only do boutique designers lack huge marketing budgets, Schneider explains, but they have a tough time competing with the low-cost wares made overseas. “It is difficult for designers to create in the country,” he laments.

So how does a designer with a long-standing business and award-winning designs react in such an economy? Apparently, quite calm. “I’m looking forward to becoming stronger and more prominent in my field,” declares Schneider. Ultimately, he believes that creativity will save the day. In his opinion, since customers are “looking for something special,” the survivors will be the well-run businesses with inspired designs. “You have to tell a story behind a piece so it’s not just a commodity.”

For the Long Beach, California based jeweler, that means bringing a fresh perspective to his signature style. Schneider’s work has always bad a sculptural influence; the architecture great Frank Gehry is his current muse. Even so, he reveals that he is “toning down” his designs in order to be “more simple and contemporary” in anticipation of 2009’s fashion trends. “I think, in the coming year, large, flamboyant jewelry will not be in vogue,” he says.

To that end, in his new designs, he notes, “The colors are somewhat subdued.” Schneider plans to use a lot of tourmalines and garnets, as well as natural colored diamonds, “I buy beautifully cut stones and materials. That’s where I’m putting my emphasis.” In addition, he plans to make more platinum pieces. “You can work differently with platinum than with gold. It gives me a chance to be more creative,” he enthuses.

If creativity is, indeed, the secret to long-term success, it seems that Mark Schneider Design will once again “come out stronger in the end.”