When Ariana Boussard-Reifel saw a very pregnant Beyoncé on the 2017 Grammys stage wearing a pair of her signature Despina cuffs as part of her gilded homage to the Yoruban goddess Oshun, “I nearly fell over,” recalls the Brooklyn-based jewelry designer. Boussard-Reifel makes jewelry under her own name and also maintains a cult-favorite online shop, Marteau, that specializes in tribal-centric jewelry.
Not long after, she nearly swooned again seeing Beyoncé’s sister Solange rock the same cuff during her acceptance speech at the BET Awards.
But Boussard-Reifel is just as proud of being included in a tightly curated selection of pieces at the Brooklyn Museum Shop that recently imagined what Georgia O’Keefe might wear if she were living in modern times. “O’Keefe has always been an inspiration for me,” says the designer, “and it was humbling to be contextualized that way.”
We asked Boussard-Reifel, whose short jewelry career has been peppered by such professional highs, to submit to our Five Questions:
JCK: How did you get started as a designer?
Ariana Boussard-Reifel: My path to launching my own jewelry line was circuitous. Both of my parents are artists. My mother does large installation pieces and my father is a furniture designer. I grew up on a ranch in Montana, so I was making things from an early age. As a child and teenager, I was always hobbling together jewelry, mostly wire work, glass blowing, and beading. My degree is in fine arts with a focus on sculpture. After moving to NYC and beginning my studio practice, I realized that it was beyond challenging to survive on the minimal sales of my sculpture, so I started selling vintage clothing.
About five years in, I pivoted to a vintage tribal jewelry shop called Marteau. It has since grown to be one of the preeminent shops for tribal and ethnographic silver. It took me a surprisingly long time to merge my passions of jewelry collecting and sculpting, but once I did, the design process became very intuitive. And I launched a collection under my own name in early 2016. I’ve been hustling ever since.
Ariana Boussard-Reifel’s Despina cuff in brass, $550
JCK: What inspires you as a designer?
Boussard-Reifel: I am lucky to spend all day surrounded by interesting jewelry from different times in history because of my vintage and antique business.
Consequently, my creative process often starts with forms that I have seen in older tribal jewelry. I look for shapes that will either echo or contradict the body when worn. I take a very sculptural approach. Jewelry really is just small, wearable sculpture, so I look at the negative space of a piece, the way that it feels on the body and the emotional qualities it possesses. I let all these shapes percolate and try to translate them through a sense of modernism.
Zobeide earrings in polished silver, $495
JCK: How do you think your pieces fit into the lives of the people who wear them?
Boussard-Reifel: Comfortably, I hope! The aim is that my jewelry will help women (and a few men) feel like their most empowered selves. My designs are big and strong, and they get noticed. When women wear them they tend to feel strong and confident.
We sell to many editors and stylists, and in turn, we are worn by some of the more fashion-forward celebs. We also are really ingrained in the museum and artistic communities. I love seeing my jewelry on artists and designers. That is to me the biggest honor. Overall I find our jewelry is more often than not a self-purchase, which I love!
JCK: What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve ever made—and why?
Boussard-Reifel: Oh wow, that’s hard. It’s like picking between my children! The Isidora ring and the Despina cuff have a very special place in my heart because they were the first pieces I designed and were really what gave birth to the whole line. Every day I wear a sterling Despina or two and rotate between my more statement earrings. Currently, the Long Artemisia danglers are getting a lot of face time!
Namib earrings, $175
JCK: What jewelry designers do you admire—and why?
Boussard-Reifel: Obviously, I have a lot of admiration for the unnamed craftsman that keep traditional ethnographic design alive. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I’m inspired by Robert Lee Morris’ work, his scale, and sultry shapes as well as his business acumen. And I adore Alexander Calder’s jewelry, more than his sculptures actually. I love how his clean forms take on a ritual quality. And I find it so charming that they were usually made for people he loved.
(Top: Designer Boussard-Reifel; All images courtesy of Ariana Boussard-Reifel)