5 Independent Jewelry Designers On What Makes Them Different

Without a doubt, there is legitimate reason for demand from all sources of jewelry in the industry, big or small.

Many larger jewelry manufacturers offer readily available pieces that fit the needs and demands of shoppers worldwide, and in many cases, they do it at affordable prices. They account for a huge amount of retail jewelers’ inventories, and they’re flexible and fast to respond to market trends that answer the immediate calls for a specific style or category of jewelry.

But as a new generation of shoppers gains spending power, we’re seeing a shift in preferences. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to want to know the makers behind their purchases, and they want to relate to those designers’ values, too.

Studies like this recent one by Snapchat reinforce the idea that younger generations—Gen Z, in particular—care a lot about brands. But a hot brand name isn’t going to cut it: That company has got to show they care, not only about their customer but also about social issues.

It also helps if a brand appears human. This is a tale as old as time—or at least as old as social media. Since brands started using Twitter, humanizing themselves on social has been key to gaining customers’ likes and their money. This has since evolved—with better behind-the-scenes peeks and extremely personal looks at public figures on platforms like Instagram—into showing interest in not just a brand, but in the face behind that brand. Which, in turn, points seamlessly to the independent designer who, while indeed a brand, is also very much a person.

But what truly sets an indie designer apart from a major brand? In many cases it’s the personalization that comes from an individual not only helming the business but also handcrafting and painstakingly designing the goods. Often, customers will pay more for a similarly categorized item from a small, independently owned brand, but they have to understand exactly why it’s worthwhile.

“I’ve been to factories overseas and I’ve seen mass production. After that moment I decided to spend my free time and some of my money, when I can, supporting small businesses—especially jewelry,” says A Thousand Facets, an advocate for independent jewelry designers who prefers to remain anonymous. “When you buy from an independent artist, you are getting a piece of their heart. These artists picked a profession that is not always easy, yet some of the artists I’ve met can’t see themselves doing anything else. So when you decide to buy from someone that is on the bench the whole day creating something, you are buying their history, their education, their hours trying to figure out how to do something different and exceptional. And you are buying something unique that in most cases is a small run, so chances are just a handful of people have it, making it a very special piece. Their pieces can be passed on through generations and you can tell their stories for years to come.”

You’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling endorsement than that. But we also went straight to the source and asked five indie jewelry designers on why customers might like to shop with them, and what sets them apart from others in the industry.

Campbell and Charlotte turquoise Hexagon stud earrings
Found hexagon stud earrings in 14k yellow gold with turquoise, 0.75 ct. t.w. pink sapphires, and 0.06 ct. t.w. diamonds, $2,580; Campbell + Charlotte

“I think all designers are really just storytellers and we use our jewelry as the medium to do so. Independent designers can help tell our clients stories through jewelry, either by helping to select just the right piece to commemorate a special event or by being open, eager, and willing to create a completely custom piece they will keep forever. I think the larger manufacturers have a harder time with making a personal connection through storytelling.”
—Jenny Crane McHugh, Campbell + Charlotte

Jen Volkodav tourmaline necklace
One-of-a-kind necklace in 14k gold with 17.22 ct. Brazilian tourmaline slice, $7,199; Jen Volkodav

“I think most indie designers put a part of their soul into everything they make—I know I do. I celebrate the nuances that come with each handmade piece and I think my customers cherish that as well. It gives our creations a life of their own that can only come from being made by two loving hands. When you’re an indie designer, you are bound to your work in a way that a big box store is not. You take your creations and reputation to heart and are willing to do anything for those that support you and your work. It’s a level of connection and service that you cannot find in a big store.”
—Jen Volkodav, Jen Volkodav Jewelry Design

Amali Mexican fire opal ring
Ring in 18k yellow gold with Mexican fire opal, $1,540; Amáli Jewelry

“In a world that is increasingly ruled by mass production, people are craving a more meaningful connection to their possessions. They want jewelry that not only sparkles but tells a story. As independent designers, we tell our stories through our art, which happens to also be jewelry.”
—Sara Freedenfeld, Amáli Jewelry

Dru Beacon Conversvatory signet ring
Beacon Conservatory signet ring in 18k rose gold with rainbow sapphires, $3,450; DRU.

“What sets us apart from larger companies is the level of personalization involved in every purchase. Most days, you can find me in Los Angeles’ Jewelry District running, oftentimes literally, from office to office to office, sourcing the stones, overseeing production, packaging and shipping the final product—my hands are involved in every step of the process. My pieces are all designed with my client in mind. I do not have anyone to answer to except the women who support and wear DRU. These women benefit from shopping with me because they quickly realize that I care about them and I care about their experience.”
—Thea Miller, DRU.

Sarah Hendler Shirley spear cocktail earrings
Shirley Spear cocktail earrings in 18k yellow gold with Pakistan peridot, emeralds, and diamonds, $8,500; Sarah Handler

“My pieces are produced and made in Los Angeles, and are given the full small-business treatment; by this I mean only a few hands work on my jewelry during the whole process from design to finished product. Consumers benefit from shopping with me because I believe in the best customer service. It is easy to do when you have a small company, and so important. Every sale counts. Every customer counts. We take a lot of time to cater to every client’s request! I respond to each and every DM [over social media] and I think that is a rare find with a lot of small businesses. Even if it feels overwhelming—we can get a ton at times—I make sure to connect with every single person and figure out how we can be of service to the clients. Also when it comes to domestic manufacturing, we have great pricing. Working domestically can cause a huge inflation in MSRP but we’ve built strong relationships with our jewelers to get the best quality and the best price!
—Sarah Hendler, Sarah Hendler

Top: Draped earrings in 18k yellow gold with pear-shape turquoise and green diamonds, $1,100; Amáli

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JCK Contributing Editor

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