Designers / Diamonds / Industry

Bernard James Gives His Jewelry Power by Exploring Life’s Contradictions


Jewelry designer Bernard James is like that person at the museum who lingers at every painting while the rest of the crowd streams past.

James is the one standing quietly, observing. He’s taking in each detail. He’s wondering about the artist, the mood, the inspiration. He’s thinking about the materials used and not used.

This curiosity, as well as the ability to see beauty and value in the world at large, is what makes James’ jewelry stand out. It is not only memorable for its design but so intricate and meticulous that you, too, as the viewer must stop and thoughtfully examine it.

James is the member of the third cohort of the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, a group of artists whose mission from the Natural Diamond Council and Lorraine Schwartz (who cosponsor the program) is to explore this hero stone in special capsule collections and marketing opportunities.

Bernard James Omen
Bernard James’ Omen ring ($7,490) features five graduating white gold bands and 120 black diamonds, totaling 4.34 carats, that are set by hand.

James’ EDDI jewelry will be available in June, but you can look at his current work with diamonds to get a hint of what’s to come. From a kid whose family nicknamed him “Can I go?” for his love of adventure to the young Ferragamo wholesale intern to today, James has built a career where he never stops exploring what it means to be an artist.

James already has an established brand—he has hosted pop-up shops and creates his own zines to document his work over time—yet he says he joins the EDDI group with humility.

“I’m excited about the EDDI cohort to simply talk shop. It’s so exciting and refreshing to connect with other professionals in the space,” James says. “Having only recently left my last position at a large luxury brand, this initiative feels like the perfect transition point in my career. I want to take this opportunity to look at how we’ve grown as a brand and specifically how I’ve grown as a designer in the past few years.”

James was raised by two supportive parents. His father was a real estate entrepreneur who sold antiques as a passion project. His mother was the ultimate teacher—smart and resourceful, James says. “She always knew how to simply figure things out,” he says.

Bernard James Spina
The satin finish on James’ stackable 14k gold Spina rings ($1,150 each) is juxtaposed against the high shine of the protrusions, which resemble thorns on a stem.

His earliest experience with jewelry was receiving an ornate gold signet ring as a gift from his aunt when he was a baby. Later, his sister bought him a curb chain at the mall that had a gold basketball pendant, which he replaced with the ring from his aunt—and it became a staple piece in his jewelry wardrobe. That ring has come back around as the Cole signet ring in his current collection.

James’ first job was with his dad at the antique store. “It taught me both how to connect with people and also how to find the value in things others might not see right away,” James says.

After attending Collegiate for high school, James studied business at Carnegie Mellon. He transferred to New York University so he could work as an intern while in college: Business courses taught James how a business is run, and he learned the details through hands-on experience, he says.

At Ferragamo, James worked in several departments where he could analyze how a luxury brand operates.

Bernard James mushroom
The Conica diamond ring ($9,900), an 18k white gold pavé ring with more than 400 white diamonds, is in James’ Fungi collection, a complement to his Flora line that he says shows the contrast of life that comes with the fungi-flora relationship.

“The one department I really wanted to work in was design, but it was all based in Italy so I didn’t have that opportunity in New York. However, it did force me to dive deeper and figure out how to create and develop my own design language—how to communicate concepts through form and function,” he says.

His career pivoted to jewelry as part of a long-term mentorship with a family friend that started when he was in college. That mentor’s traditional craftsmanship blended with James’ modern point of view, and Bernard James as a brand was born. He has a studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that offers private appointments but dreams of someday opening a retail location for people to discover his work.

Just like his Flora and Fungi collections highlight contrasts in life, James appreciates the balance his life holds between running his business and being a creative jewelry designer. His work with EDDI is part of that now.

“I am extremely excited for this capsule collection. It is very conceptual and will introduce ideas that will be further explored and developed,” James says. “I’ve always used natural diamonds in our pieces, but they have been more so an accent in our extremely intricate, metal-forward designs. For this capsule, it’s been interesting to approach the design process with the stone in mind first.”

Top: Bernard James is in the latest cohort of the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, sponsored by the Natural Diamond Council and jewelry maker Lorraine Schwartz. (Photos courtesy of the Natural Diamond Council)

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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