A new wave of innovative jewelers - all women - is bringing craftsmanship to the Instagram generation. Are these the heirlooms of the future?
by: Rebecca Malinsky
Originally published: February 15, 2018 in The Wall Street Journal
Bright Young Things
We discovered New York City designer Brent Neale on Instagram, which is how many of her customers follow her work. When she’s made a new piece, she immediately posts it on the photo sharing app, often triggering a prompt sale. And although her conspicuously cheerful and colorful designs might seem strategically created to pop on your iPhone screen, they hold up in person, too. One indicator of Ms. Neale’s design sensibility: She doesn’t own a single black dress. “I love colorful things,” she said. “They’re fun and happy, and it’s important to wear things that make you feel that way.” Though she has many favorites among her collection of semiprecious rainbows, gold ladybugs with ruby spots and patches of emerald-adorned grass, she singles out a pair of turquoise double-flower drop earrings (above) for their versatility: “The length is slightly lower than your chin, so they’re flattering on peoples’ faces,” she said. “You can wear turquoise and flowers with anything.” Brent Neale Earrings, $6,800, modaoperandi.com
The first piece of jewelry Shannon Nataf designed for someone other than herself was a silver ring shaped like a cloud, with diamonds set into the edge. This gift to her mother was meant as a reminder to look for life’s silver linings. “It felt really empowering that you could put meaning into things that were beautiful and also tangible,” she said. Ms. Nataf has gone on to create a celestially themed line whose pieces look like small works of art when viewed in a case. On the body, they become extra-intriguing: A pair of “infinité” hoop earrings, for example, loops from the inside to the back of the ear, evoking Saturn’s rings. Ms. Nataf’s designs play with accepted notions of, say, what a ring should look like, or how a charm sits on a necklace. Curious why the stones in jewelry rarely come into contact with our skin, she made a ring whose pearl rests beneath its gold setting (above). For the future, this iconoclast plans to continue “mixing things around and turning them inside out.” Pearl Ring, $1,970, Diamond Ring, $2,400, natafjoaillerie.com
Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Kirsty Stone (yes, Stone) first caught our attention with her gold pinkie ring with a flying pig motif, a playful suggestion that anything is possible. The quaint reference to “when pigs fly” has a certain throwback charm, as do Ms. Stone’s classic signet rings, so redolent of your grandpa. “All of my pieces have some sort of nostalgia,” Ms. Stone said. “I get a lot of emails about my fantasy signets and the flying pig.” One female head of a Fortune 500 company wrote to reminisce that she’d printed a flying pig on her first business cards out of college. Although Ms. Stone’s designs are essentially empowerment symbols, they’re not cheesy. Take her gemmed compass pendant (above): The subtext of this midcentury style is to trust your own intuition. To Ms. Stone, a woman’s collection of jewelry is all about the stories behind the objects. “I hope my pieces stay in families for generations,” she said. We would be surprised if at least some of her clients aren’t planning to pass them along. Compass Necklace, $1,980, and Yin-Yang Necklace, $2,485, retrouvai.com
Jessica Biales was a practicing attorney before starting her jewelry business. “I was a really bad lawyer,” Ms. Biales said with a laugh. And while she played around with signet-ring designs for a few years, it was the early 2017 launch of her collection of “Breton” striped metal signets that took her brand to a “whole new level,” she said. Her decision to combine her love of the classic navy-and-white striped Breton sailor shirt with her jewelry proved fateful. The buzzy rings were picked up by Dover Street Market and Colette, two retailers known for discriminating jewelry selections. As a follow-up, she launched Collegiate by Jessica Biales, setting out to refresh the traditional class ring. The customizable, enamel-striped rings are set in silver as well as the gold she typically uses, allowing her to bring the price down to $400, a reasonable price for a graduation gift. Each ring can be designed with university colors or just the wearer’s favorite shades, if school spirit isn’t the graduate’s thing. Emerald Signet Ring, $3,000, Collegiate Signet Ring, $400, and Block Signet Ring, $840, jessicabiales.com