Designers / Gold / Industry

How I Got Here: Loren Teetelli on Why the Past Informs Her Modern Work

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Most experts agree: Lifelong learning is one important key to our happiness, and goldsmith Loren Teetelli epitomes that sentiment.

The Los Angeles–based founder of gold jewelry brand Loren Nicole started as an archaeologist, became a conservator at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then got into jewelry as her full-time occupation.

But, because she is a lifelong learner, jewelry is both profession and fascination that she says only grows with time and experience. When she discovers something new that interests her, she dives deeply into studying, experiencing, and embracing it.

Perhaps that mix of old and new—old in terms of the methods and inspirations she uses, and new in that her jewelry work feels completely innovative and modern—is what makes Loren Nicole such a complex mix of work. There are eminently wearable pieces alongside artworks that private owners frequently snap up before they hit the public.

Loren Nicole blow pipe
Loren Teetelli says she sees herself “as a custodian for ancient jewelry-making techniques. While innovation is important, it is equally important to preserve the knowledge we already have so it will not be lost to time.”

Teetelli in interviews is humble about her origins and her work, which makes her stand out. That humility is why she first reached out to old-world masters, including metalsmithing experts, to get started.

First, a primer on her own history. Teetelli grew up in New Jersey, right near the Jersey Shore’s Sandy Hook. She gravitated to art early on, loving all things tactile. She painted, experimented with materials, and built things that attracted her. Her parents took her to museums, Broadway shows, and other interesting places. It was an idyllic childhood in that way.

Teetelli attended the University of Vermont, where she studied art history and anthropology. Within anthro, she focused on archaeology. Her interest in humans more than the straight science drew her to archaeology overall.

“I have a love for history,” Teetelli says. “I grew up in Greek family that feels strongly about their history. I was able to travel a lot and experience visiting ruins and seeing artifacts. I have a touch of wanderlust [and] it was fun to be able to travel to different parts of the world with a job to do [fieldwork] and not as a tourist.”

Loren Nicole longship
The longship is one of Loren Teetelli’s signature creations. This decorative object comes apart in subtle and clever ways: The woven sail becomes a bracelet. The shields become earrings, the rock crystal oars can be worn, and a dragon stickpin is formed from the figurehead (price on request).

Spending time within a culture and meeting the community also was exciting, Teetelli says.

“I liked learning about so many different topics and then seeing how they fit into archaeology or helped me understand ancient cultures,” she notes.

This is why in part she began her deeper dives into new things she was learning— Teetelli says she wanted to be sensitive to knowing what she could and spending time studying something that was meaningful to her as part of her overall education.

“I would take ornithology and plant biology, scientific illustration, and etymology and each class offered information what I still pull from today,” Teetelli says. “I turned to jewelry because I wanted to understand metal better as a material. I was working as an ethnographic conservator at [the American Museum of Natural History] and then a textiles conservator at the Met, and there were often metal elements incorporated. I wanted to get better at handling them, but when I took class I had a facility and a passion for goldsmithing.”

This reverence also comes from a college pottery professor, who told a story about being at an anthropology conference.

Loren Nicole jewelry
Cultures such as her native Greek, Egyptian, and Persian inspire Teetelli’s jewelry, which is an homage to the past but with her modern spin.

“The anthropologists were looking at a vessel and questioning why something was attached a certain way, but the potter had an immediate understanding of the material. He understood the why because he was a maker,” Teetelli says. “It was fascinating to me, handling the materials gives you a deeper understanding, different than the perspective of an anthropologist or historian.”

If you look at Teetelli’s work, you can see this in play. When she designs, it is her own perspective but through a thoughtful lens.

For example, in looking at various ancient cultures, she paid attention to the motifs that would arise again and again. It’s these repeated motifs, along with material choices, that make a work identifiable to a certain culture. For Egyptian work, Teetelli says she recognized banding as being important and has incorporated that into her Egyptian-inspired designs.

“I am specifically drawn to ancient techniques because it is what I enjoy making. When you are passionate about learning and creating there is a lot of reward in finishing something difficult,” Teetelli says. “I often set a nearly impossible task for myself, like creating the Viking longship from 22 karat gold. I didn’t know how to do a lot of the techniques. I needed to learn the techniques in order to finish the piece. It’s fun to challenge myself to become better.”

Top: In her studio, Loren Teetelli stands next to Bobo, Athena’s owl, who has become a symbol for Loren Nicole. He represents her commitment to scholarship, historical foundation, and reverence for the wisdom of masters who have come before (photos courtesy of Loren Nicole). 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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