Designers / Industry

How I Got Here: Bonnie Jennifer on Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve


Every jeweler has special symbols in their collections, like a heart-shape pendant or charm, serving as an emblem of love and passion. For designer Bonnie Jennifer, the star, heart, and butterfly are her way of making her extraordinary empathy for the world and all of its challenges into wearable art.

For Jennifer, jewelry is not only self-expression. It is a way for her sensitive soul to reach out to others and find connection.

“It’s in my DNA,” says the New York–based designer behind the Bonnie Jennifer brand. “It’s the core of who I am and how my business began. This is what I felt like I was destined to do. It’s my purpose.”

Her career started in another lane: Jennifer was a social worker for many years until she started Bonnie Jennifer in 2010. Those experiences along with her sister’s influence are the reasons she says her designs offer her customers a feeling of inspiration, and, she hopes, a sense of joy.

Bonnie Jennifer jewelry
Bonnie Jennifer jewelry is known for its signature gold balls, which are seen here on some of the rings Bonnie Jennifer Proll creates for her brand.

Jennifer got a hint at her future when she started making jewelry as a teen, taking a jewelry class in high school.

“I learned how to solder and design jewelry. I grew up in an ultramodern home with lots of cubistic shapes and stone sculptures. [For my first pair of earrings,] I wanted the earrings to be geometric, fashionable at the time, and represent my mother’s personality and style,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer graduated high school and got her Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in psychology and family studies from the University of Arizona. She then went to NYU’s Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, where she received her Master of Social Work with a dual focus in social work and management science.

Jennifer admits it seems like she was destined to go into jewelry: Her mother is an artist, sculptor, and collector who filled her family’s life with creativity. Her father was an entrepreneur who taught Jennifer the basics of starting your own business.

However, it is her sister, Cindy, who is the biggest influence on Jennifer’s work. Cindy lives with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and is differently abled, Jennifer says, but she also is a wonder woman whose inspired her Sibling Support Project bracelets and necklaces, one of the fundraising partners Jennifer works with to support siblings and families with disabilities.

Bonnie Jennifer and Cindy
Bonnie Jennifer says her family, especially her sister Cindy (left) who has disabilities, is the reason she works so hard to build her company and give back to the community.

“My purpose to give back came from the bond and love I have for my sister, who lives with multiple disabilities. She is my best friend and continues to provide me with unconditional love and joy when I am feeling down,” Jennifer says.

Helping others through her social-work career was fulfilling, but also full of frustrations from time to time, she says. Feeling overworked and underpaid, Jennifer says she looked for ways to boost her creativity. That came with her first beading class in 2002 and again in 2006.

“I tried to dabble in other jobs but quickly came to the conclusion I was never going to be successful unless I worked for myself. I decided to blend my love for creativity with my passion for helping others,” Jennifer says.

Bonnie Jennifer and Cindy holding hands
Bonnie and her sister, Cindy, model some of the bracelets Jennifer created to raise funds for the Sibling Support Project, which works with and helps families with differently abled children.

“It was very important for me to combine philanthropy with creativity,” she says. “My mission for Bonnie Jennifer was always inspired by family, and giving back was the most important to me. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and so I took a leap of faith jumped in without any guidance or help. I started out with less than $300 and worked hard to keep it going.”

Her work today is easily recognizable; she earned the nickname “the queen of gold-filled balls” for the use of gold balls in her rings, bracelets, and necklaces. That former side hustle is now her day-to-day occupation, and she feels thankful for it and her family’s influence.

“It was survival mode at first,” Jennifer says. “But now, it is what lights me up.”

Top: After a life in social work, Bonnie Jennifer created her own brand, blending her mother’s artistic eye with her father’s business acumen and her own passion for jewelry (photos courtesy of Bonnie Jennifer). 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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