If jewelers had nine lives, Shahla Karimi would be on to at least her fourth right now. A former product strategy and merchandising executive in New York’s fashion industry, she began making jewelry as a passion project in 2008 “after taking about a dozen jewelry classes at 3rd Ward and in the Diamond District, all while doing product and e-commerce for other brands,” Karimi tells JCK.
In 2012, she served as director of merchandising for President Obama’s reelection campaign. “It was fun to flex my creative muscles creating over 400 unique products in a year and figuring out how to produce all of those pieces in the U.S.,” she says. “It is why I vowed to produce my jewelry in the U.S. only.”
The experience provided a foundation for the debut of her eponymous brand in 2014. Best known for its Engagement collection, a modern, minimalist take on classic ring styles featuring asymmetry, clusters, and tilts, Shahla just debuted its first dedicated men’s jewelry collection, Joon, which emerged from all the custom men’s pieces Karimi had been asked to make in the past.
“Because most of our line is either genderless or more feminine, we’ve designed a lot of custom men’s jewelry over the years,” she says. “As we began creating more year-over-year, we knew a men’s line was in store.”
Below, Karimi talks to JCK about the 15-piece Joon by Shahla collection, whose diamond rings, signets, and bands with sliding wraps were all informed by the architecture of New York City. Designed in SoHo, the collection features platinum, gold, and mixed-metal rings set with lab-grown diamonds. “This is essentially the same design language as the pieces under the Shahla brand,” Karimi says, “but from a more masculine perspective.”
When and why did you decide to develop a men’s line? Is Joon expressly positioned as a men’s wedding line?
Over the last two years, more and more men have come to us for custom engagement rings and wedding bands. When we began designing our yearly engagement collection, we felt now was the perfect time to launch Joon—an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for years. Most men’s jewelry on the market is either bland or ornate. I wanted Joon to have character and architectural sensibility in a minimal form.
Engagements are societally understood as “man proposes to woman,” an artifact of gender norms (and heteronormativity) that no longer reflects most modern relationships. Today, most couples mutually decide to marry, together as equals—even if there’s a one-knee proposal moment to participate in a romanticized tradition.
Jewelry has not caught up to the realities of this modern egalitarian engagement. Wedding bands are a symbol of the marriage commitment, something that people of all genders participate in, but there is no engagement ring tradition for men. Most men don’t even realize they could do more than a basic wedding band, and those who do usually see it as self-indulgence instead of as a marker of their progressive worldview. Joon can help them see this as a celebration of their partner, not of self.
How has the collection been received? Do you think you’ll expand into other men’s styles, such as necklaces and bracelets?
Since launching Joon, couples are definitely more excited to visit us—it’s unusual for men to have as many options as women when shopping for rings! Although Joon doesn’t have as large of a selection as our engagement collection, we look forward to expanding as we hear feedback from our customers.
We have a few women proposing to men with the new pieces already! Next season, we plan to add more bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, including push presents, daddy and me rings, etc.
Have any of your female clients expressed interest in Joon? Do you consider the pieces genderless?
We considered using the terms gender-fluid and unisex but decided labeling it as men’s was the best way to differentiate it from the current line. However, I can see all genders liking many of the pieces. For example, many women have expressed interest. Most of our customers enjoy mixing both masculine and feminine elements into their style, and a piece from Joon is a great way to incorporate some more masculine pieces of jewelry into their collection.
Finally, I’d like to hear about the symbolism behind Joon. Does your Iranian heritage play a big role in your design?
Joon (literal translation: “life” or “soul) comes from a Farsi term of endearment. The name symbolizes that when choosing a partner, they are just that—your life partner, not simply a title such as husband or wife.
Being Iranian has certainly influenced my love of gold and adornment, but you won’t see many Persian motifs in my pieces; you will see them in the sentiment behind the design and in the way we interact with our customers.
We become very involved with our customers, from learning their love stories and incorporating them into custom designs to helping plan the proposal and, in three instances now, actually marrying them (I am ordained). It’s not unusual for us to be invited to the weddings!
Top: Band in 18k gold with platinum wrap and 2.53 ct. bezel-set emerald-cut lab-grown diamond, $5,220Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine