On a 2002 trip to Ecuador, David Alvarado, the designer behind Irthly Jewelled Adornments, saw vegetable ivory—a solid, creamy-white substance found inside tagua nuts throughout the Amazon—for the first time. Alvarado, the son of a bench jeweler, was earning his master’s degree in Chinese and European comparative philosophy at San Diego State University, but the sight of the tagua seeds’ elephant ivory-like material, made into craft jewelry at Ecuadorian markets, stayed with him.
While working on his thesis, Alvarado and his wife were expecting their first child. The time seemed right to pursue the simmering idea of jewelry design as a profession. A teaching from a favorite Chinese philosopher, Laozi, cinched the deal, Alvarado says: “In order to be wise, you have to return to the foundation or seed of things.”
Irthly Jewelled Adornments Fontaine pendant in recycled 18k rose gold with 1.39 cts. t.w. blue sapphire briolettes and 0.05 ct. t.w. diamonds in organic vegetable ivory; $3,000
After earning his graduate degree in 2005, Alvarado shelved his teaching career and started working on his line with the help of his father. He obtained his business license in October 2012 and set up headquarters in Los Angeles.
Today, Alvarado, one of the 2014 JCK Las Vegas show’s Rising Stars, has 10 retail accounts, including Goldworks in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and The Mexican Shack in Somers, N.Y.
Suggested retail prices for his Art Deco–inspired jewels start at $1,800 for recycled 18k gold with conflict-free diamonds, fair trade gems, and fair trade vegetable ivory. Next year he’ll debut an organic material from the honey bee’s ecosystem, a nod to the value of interconnectivity. “My brand is not just focused on the seed,” he says. “The point is to elevate other elements of our world that are just as precious as fine jewelry.”