Designers / Gold / Industry

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


Most experts agree: Lifelong learning is important to our happiness. Goldsmith Loren Teetelli epitomizes that credo.

When Teetelli discovers something new that interests her, she dives deep into studying, experiencing, and embracing it. The Los Angeles–based founder of gold jewelry brand Loren Nicole used to be an archaeologist and worked as a conservator at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But because she is a lifelong learner, her fascination with jewelry grew over time, and eventually became her full-time occupation.

A mix of old and new—old in terms of Teetelli’s methods and inspirations, new in that her jewelry work feels innovative and modern—makes Loren Nicole a complex product line. There are eminently wearable pieces alongside works of art 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.”

In interviews, Teetelli’s humility stands out. And she humbly reached out to old-school masters, including metalsmithing experts, when she was getting started in jewelry.

Teetelli grew up in New Jersey, near the shore. 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.

At the University of Vermont, she studied art history and anthropology, focusing on archaeology because she was more interested in humans than the straight science.

“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 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.

Spending time within a community and meeting the people 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 says.

Her education extended to other areas, as she enjoyed spending time studying things that were meaningful to her and wanted to know as much as she could.

“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.”

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.

She always  recalls a story a college pottery professor told about attending an anthropology conference. “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,” she says. “It was fascinating to me: Handling the materials gives you a deeper understanding, different than the perspective of an anthropologist or historian.”

In Teetelli’s work, you can see the perspective of somebody who has thought about jewelry design and heritage. When exploring a culture, she has paid attention to the repeated motifs, along with material choices, that make an object identifiable to that culture. In Egyptian work, she recognized banding as important, so she 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 the owl, which has become a symbol for her Loren Nicole brand, representing Teetelli’s 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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