Designer Anna Sheffield Shows Her Softer Side



The rebel rouser takes her subversive sensibility to bridal

In a short black tailored suit and a fuchsia flower lapel pin, the heavily tattooed Anna Sheffield looks every bit the muse for the jewels she designs as she walks into her showroom in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood: soft and feminine, edgy and urban, pretty yet tough. Her makeup, if she’s wearing any, is imperceptible, and she has allowed her curly dark hair to gray. Her overall look is contradictory, unpredictable, impossibly chic. The same can be said about any piece in her ­jewelry collections, now numbering three in total.

Last fall, Sheffield debuted her eponymous bridal and commitment jewelry line, a partnership with the Israeli princess-cut diamond manufacturer EFD Ltd. and licensing group EF3 Alliance. If ever there were a bridal collection for the unconventionally betrothed, this would be it.

“How can you take fine jewelry and just f–k it up?” says the designer, summing up her ethos.

Bridal is the latest addition to Sheffield’s business, now celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Her first collection, Bing Bang—an haute costume jewelry label named for the sound of a hammer hitting metal—has amassed something of a cult following among the style set, and is carried at retailers such as Barneys New York, United Arrows in Tokyo, and Le Bon Marché in Paris. In 2007, she introduced Anna Sheffield Fine Jewelry.

Emma Budded Hoops in sterling silver with inverted-set white topaz; $495; Anna Sheffield, New York City; 212-925-7010; annasheffield.com Eleonore sterling silver cocktail ring with inverted green amethyst and diamonds in the prongs and on the band; $895; annasheffield.com

It’s easy to see why her work elicits enthusiasm. Sheffield has a knack for turning a traditional idea on its head. The designer takes a precious gemstone, flips it upside down or hides it underneath a setting, leaving sterling silver or gold to act as the centerpiece. On a sterling silver cocktail ring, for example, a green amethyst is inverted and the diamonds are set on the ring band, as if an afterthought. Stud solitaire earrings feature sterling silver as the “gemstone” while tiny diamonds gleam in the prongs of a basket. Bangles in sterling silver or rose gold with small champagne diamonds are bent, twisted, and elongated to look like eggs. Each creation is like a treasure hunt.

Her inspiration, she writes on her website, is “that contrast between the rough-and-tumble tough girl, and the sweetheart or cutie-pie. All girls want to be fierce, but they also want to be kind and loving.”

The bridal line is made up of 40 styles, ranging from delicate baubles to one-of-a-kind pieces for both men and women. Using 14k yellow and rose gold and white, black, champagne, and antique diamonds as well as precious stones such as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, the collection is mostly composed of solitaire and promise rings, three-stone styles, and pavé rings. Prices range from $999 to $25,000 at retail. Stackable bands can be had for between $499 and $1,999.

Sheaves engagement ring with 0.81 ct. gray rose-cut diamond and white diamond pavé in 14k blackened yellow gold; $4,900; bridal.annasheffield.com Vintage-inspired Cushion Rosette ring with inverted 1 ct. cushion-cut diamond and 0.10 ct. t.w. white diamonds in 14k gold; $10,500; bridal.annasheffield.com

14k white gold his or hers custom-engravable Cigar Band; $1,900; bridal.annasheffield.com

Bridal jewelry has brought the designer back to her early days as an artist, specifically in the role of welder and sculptor. “I do a lot of the metalsmithing,” she says. “I like to make things. I really genuinely like to sit down and make things at the bench.”

Examining the pieces up close, you can see the artist at work: The Cushion Rosette engagement ring is encircled by tiny diamonds in a nod to convention, while the 1 ct. center diamond is flipped upside down for a contemporary look ($10,500). The Sheaves Bauble features a gray rose-cut diamond in 14k blackened yellow gold in a basket encrusted in white diamond pavé ($4,900). The Hazeline Solitaire is a solid yellow gold center “stone” with champagne diamonds tucked inside the white gold band ($1,100). Materials are mismatched: A rose gold diamond pavé crescent ring and white gold diamond pavé ring flank a white and rose gold solitaire ring with black diamonds ($11,375). Pavé bands in sterling and yellow and rose gold can be stacked and mixed ($450–$4,500).

Tommy Mendes
The designer in her downtown New York City showroom…

Sheffield’s flair for doing things off-kilter has long made her a darling among fashion designers and the fashion press. A big break came in 2005 when Marc Jacobs featured Bing Bang at his spring 2006 runway show—it was Sheffield’s first foray into fine jewelry with 18k gold and diamonds. 3.1 Phillip Lim soon followed suit; she created a small capsule collection for the label that was sold in Lim’s first-ever store in SoHo. In 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America nominated Sheffield for the Swarovski Award for Accessory Design. Two years later, Target tapped Bing Bang for a low-priced collection designed to appeal to a mass audience.

But the growth was all organic. “I started really simple. I didn’t have an idea for a line,” says Sheffield. “I never documented anything. It was all one-of-a-kind. I never measured anything. I just made stuff.” Early in her career, stores often sold out of her pieces—which turned out to be a savvy, even if unintentional, business move. “They sold out of it, and I didn’t have time to make more,” she says. “When it sold, people wanted it 10 times more.”

Tommy Mendes
…where her bridal and commitment jewelry is prominently displayed.

That experience taught Sheffield an important lesson about the consumer psyche and inspired her to read up on branding, creating a cohesive image, and managing scarcity. “I have an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says, insisting Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery with Russ Hall is a must-read.

Creating bridal jewelry is an ironic twist for a tomboy who grew up in northern New Mexico. “None of the girl stuff was for me—ever,” she says. “Nobody tells a girl she’s going to be a welder someday. Cooking is the most effeminate thing I can manage.”

The bridal line came about when customers requested something more than a white diamond set on a white diamond band. Although historically a token of love could be anything from an amethyst to a snake, the category “hasn’t changed a lot since the ’20s,” Sheffield says. As she sees it, her collection fills a gap in the market. “There shouldn’t be any rules. If you want to get a tattoo or wear a ring on a chain, you should be able to make it up. It’s your sense of devotion.”

Initial Charm Necklace in sterling silver and brass; $69; bingbangnyc.com Classic Bing Bang feather silhouette Mini Feather Studs in brass, sterling silver, and yellow gold plate; $35; bingbangnyc.com

Her free-thinking attitude can be traced to her roots in Santa Fe and its environs, a place that attracts artists, writers, spirituality seekers, and astrophysicists bound for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “There’s this cool mix of cultures—Spanish colonial, Native American, as well as people like [the late painter] Georgia O’Keeffe and [designer] Tom Ford,” she says. “People are drawn there. It’s an energy.”

Echoes of the desert permeate her work and pop up everywhere, down to the rustic furniture in her showroom. In future collections, the designer plans to add more scale, variation, color (“lots of color”), and raw and rough diamonds—all likely influenced by the red rock mesas, snowcapped mountains, rolling tumbleweeds, massive thunderstorms, big sky, and searing sun of the Southwest.

“There’s this beautiful clash of elements. I’ve watched lightning jump from cloud to cloud,” Sheffield says. “F–king rainbows. It makes me happy.”

More designer showcases on JCKonline.com:
+ Kara Ross
+ Waris Ahluwalia
+ Shaun Leane