Behind Dana Rebecca, the big jewelry business with a small-business philosophy
Sitting in her white and pink jewel box of a showroom, high above Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Dana Rebecca Designs founder Dana Gordon recounts a what-are-the-odds story. As a child, Gordon was fascinated by her grandmother’s three gold stacking rings, each set with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires in the shape of tulips. “I was told by my mom that they would be mine one day,” she says. The rings went missing when her grandmother developed dementia, and though Gordon’s father, a manufacturer of fine diamond jewelry, suggested they replicate them, nobody could remember their exact scale.
Jennifer Yamina necklace in 14k rose gold with 0.22 ct. t.w. diamonds and 1.7 cts. t.w. amethyst; $1,100; Dana Rebecca, Chicago; 312-701-1773; danarebeccadesigns.com
Fast-forward to Gordon’s engagement party, three years ago. Her future mother-in-law happens to be wearing the very same rings—which, it turns out, were bought around the time and from the same local jeweler her grandmother patronized. “I was freaking out. My mom was hysterically crying,” recalls Gordon. When Gordon’s mother-in-law later gifted her the rings, it wasn’t merely a wedding present—but a way of connecting two families and three generations. “Strangely enough,” she says, “they fit me perfectly.”
The 30-year-old Gordon has quickly become known, by celebrities as well as savvy shoppers, for her fresh, sophisticated, accessible diamond designs. She comes by her profession naturally, having grown up in the industry, and she got an early start. At 16, with her father’s help, Gordon produced her first collection—40 to 50 pieces, largely set in sterling silver with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires—which promptly sold out at a local charity auction. Still, Gordon wasn’t so sure her fate was sealed. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” she remembers. “I wanted to be the woman in the courtroom who was screaming at the top of her lungs and then everything went silent and she won the case. I didn’t have this dream.”
Lisa Michelle ring in 14k yellow gold with 1.97 cts. t.w. round white diamonds; $6,160
What she did have was a long-standing creative streak: “I wasn’t the kid who would just go outside and play. I wanted an art project.” At the University of Texas at Austin, Gordon majored in communications (and, smartly, minored in business) while continuing to design and sell pieces to friends and family every summer. “It hit me then that maybe this was more than a hobby,” she says. After graduating college in 2006, she attended the GIA and officially introduced Dana Rebecca Designs in 2007.
During the 2010 holiday season, when Gordon was still working out of her father’s Chicago office, DRD went next-level. Oprah picked Gordon’s $1,900 Jessica Leigh diamond drop earrings as one of her “Ultimate Favorite Things,” and America Ferrera appeared in InStyle wearing a white gold Lauren Joy Mini, a small, sparkling disc of pavé diamonds on a thin chain. The line became a Hollywood favorite, and stars like Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, and Lupita Nyong’o (to name just a few) are consistently spotted in Gordon’s jewelry—whether on the red carpet or just out and about. After four years, says the designer proudly, Kunis still wears her Lauren Joy Mini and her Sylvie Rose necklace, a tiny bar of diamonds resting at the collarbone. “That a celebrity, somebody who’s given anything they want, is wearing a simple $220 or $275 necklace—that style, that price point, that delicacy was missing in the industry,” Gordon says.
Mikaela Estelle studs in 14k rose gold with 1.03 cts. t.w. round white diamonds and 0.5 ct. t.w. round pink sapphires; $4,070
Mikaela Estelle ring in 14k rose gold with 0.55 ct. t.w. white diamonds and 0.24 ct. t.w. pink sapphires; $2,090
It’s vital to Gordon that her designs are “wearable and functional,” she explains. “I have all the appreciation in the world for the intricate, ornate designers out there. But I want people to be able to wear [my jewelry] to work, to play, and to galas, cocktails, weddings.” To that practical end, she works in yellow, white, and rose gold plus edgier black rhodium; “I don’t believe that one metal suits everybody,” she says. So a design like the Sylvie Rose stacking ring, for instance, is offered in eight variations—in all four metals, with white or black diamonds.
Jennifer Ann necklace in 14k rose gold with 0.49 ct. t.w. white diamonds and 0.25 ct. t.w. pink sapphires on 16-inch chain; $1,870
And if you’re wondering where all those names came from, it all started with a South Sea pearl and diamond cocktail ring Gordon designed seven years ago (which, incidentally, is still part of her collection). The ring reminded her of her grandmother, Nana Bernice. Another design reminded her of her mother. Thus, it became a convention to name the designs after the women in her life. The hexagon-shape Jennifer Yamina studs are named for Gordon’s sister, who she says tends to dress in neutrals; the floral earrings—made with chrysoprase, orange sapphire, rhodolite garnet, and other vividly hued gems—effortlessly add a bright, elegant accent. Her 4-year-old niece won’t be wearing any of the Art Deco–glam Mikaela Estelle styles anytime soon, but they’re as “colorful, sweet, and spunky” as the little girl who inspired them.
One-of-a-kind Courtney Lauren earrings in 14k white gold with 0.56 ct. t.w. diamonds and 42.94 cts. t.w. tourmaline; $5,500
In their simplicity, many of her necklaces, rings, and cuffs lend themselves to layering and stacking. But they’re “also suited to sit alone,” she says. Thanks to her father, Gordon has seen tastes and shopping habits change and knows that, in a time of disposable fashion, fine jewelry stands apart—not only because it’s crafted to last but also because of the emotional ties it creates. (Case in point: her grandmother’s lost rings.)
And don’t underestimate the designer’s own emotional connection to her customers. “It’s fulfilling to me to be part of some great experience in your life,” she says. “What’s great about having a collection that starts at $200 and goes all the way to $30,000 is that I’m able to grow with you—from when a $200 bracelet is everything in the world to you, to a $2,200 bracelet you’re going to wear at your wedding, to one day when you’re able to buy the $15,000 one-of-a-kind. It’s a privilege to say that I have grown with so many people in such a short period of time.”
Lisa Michelle band in 14k white gold with 0.68 ct. t.w. diamonds; $2,090
Speaking of growth: In 2013, DRD nearly doubled in size, to nine employees (she’s hoping to hire two or three more); last year also brought the opening of a New York City showroom, which her sister manages. “That’s when we opened [accounts with] Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, within 60 days of each other,” she says. Cool-girl boutiques like Otte New York and independent jewelers across the country including Atlanta’s Tassels and the Chicago-area Cy Fredrics are among her 20-plus retailers.
But she works hard to maintain her small-business identity. “We want every store we sell to, to be an extension of our brand,” she says. “If we have a terrible meeting with a store that really isn’t into the collection, if we don’t have a good feeling about it, we’re not gonna go into that store.” One of the most important lessons learned from her father—along with the basics of manufacturing, CAD, and polishing—was about growing a company. (She’s done it slowly but steadily.)
One-of-a-kind Courtney Lauren earrings in 14k white gold with 1.08 cts. t.w. of diamonds and 16.98 cts. t.w. opals; $10,560
Another thing he taught her: the importance of “staying loyal to her beliefs.” She explains: “I launched DRD during a difficult economic time. There was a lot of pressure to come out with a lower-end line. But I stuck to my dad’s advice to keep producing fine diamond jewelry that stood the test of time with the quality we believed in.”
Lately, Gordon has felt pulled toward one-of-a-kinds, as has her clientele. An Instagram of a new pair of carved pink opal or 42 ct. tourmaline earrings can lead to 10 near-immediate email requests. (It’s first come, first served.) At the same time, the popularity of the “bread-and-butter basics” requires a different kind of attention. But, she adds, these are the styles that can be “easier to grow from”: Witness the single diamond bar Sylvie Rose necklace, which has become longer and has also turned into a double bar.
One-of-a-kind Courtney Lauren cuff in 14k white gold with 0.36 ct. t.w. diamonds and 98.4 cts. t.w. aquamarine; $7,920
She’s excited, and a bit nervous, for her first jewelry market week in Las Vegas. Look for “more color” and new stones such as opals, moonstones, and tsavorite. Diamonds, of course, are still “the ultimate accent” to any of her works. “Sometimes they are subtle, and sometimes they are the star of the show,” she says, “but nothing ever seems finished without diamonds.”
And Gordon is expecting a girl, due in August. No doubt she’ll inspire a DRD collection of her own.