Meet the Magnificent Seven: Creating Daring New Pieces to Dazzle and Drive Sales
So what makes our picks so spectacular? They seek out rare, eye-popping stones (Jemma Wynne’s outrageous bicolor tourmalines), discover new ways to use even the most traditional gems (Nina Runsdorf’s diamond slices), and introduce adventurous new elements (Monique Péan’s fossilized woolly mammoth). They’re affordable: Boldly hued, semiprecious pieces from Trésor and Bounkit start as low as $250. And they care about their customers—which is why Mia Pezzi’s flower ring took more than six months to design, and why Ward Kelvin likes to chat with his customers at retail stores. Their lines may be less than five years old, but they’ve been preparing for this moment all their lives.
Stephanie Wynne and Jenny Klatt
We know—we’re drooling over those luscious earrings too. Pavé diamonds, 18k gold, and positively juicy pink tourmalines that make us think of watermelons and summertime: They’re the kind of candy-colored confections we’ve come to expect from Jemma Wynne. Last year, everyone was obsessed with the multicolored tourmaline-and-diamond chandelier earrings (think cotton-candy pink, lime green, tangerine…). People still can’t stop talking about the Ankara ring, a shimmery, gumball-like round of rose quartz in white and champagne pavé diamonds. Even JW’s designers use the word luscious: Stephanie Wynne—half of JW, along with Jenny Klatt—lists “diamonds, luscious tourmalines, sapphires, and semiprecious stones” as their gems of choice. So don’t blame us if you’re licking your lips in anticipation of their next line.
The pair possess eerily similar backstories. Details Jenny: “We were very artistic growing up, and in college”—Jenny at the University of Pennsylvania, Stephanie at American University—“we stumbled into jewelry-making. It started as a hobby, and as we wore our pieces, we began to develop small followings.” Their paths finally—perhaps inevitably—converged a few years ago in design at Judith Ripka. In 2008, Jenny and Stephanie joined forces, and names, to form Jemma Wynne. “We wanted a name that was creative and captures who we are,” explains Jenny. Jemma fuses Jenny’s first and middle names (Jenny and Melissa); Wynne is Stephanie’s middle name. “The first piece we ever made was a bangle with a rubellite pear shape on one side and an oval rose-cut diamond on the other,” recalls Jenny. And while many JW originals are limited-edition releases, that bejeweled bangle has since become a staple.
Limited-edition emerald-cut bicolor tourmaline earrings with colorless diamond accents and pavé set in blackened 18k yellow gold; $11,000; Jemma Wynne, NYC; 212-980-8500; jemmawynne.com
“Once a year I take an exotic trip and come back with new and interesting materials,” says Jenny. “On my last trip I found a beautiful lot of one-of-a-kind bicolor tourmalines”—the ones that went into the above drool-inducing earrings. But oftentimes, the JW girls don’t even leave NYC to score their stones. “We’re very lucky,” says Stephanie of their proximity to Manhattan’s globally stocked jewelry district. “The suppliers there acquire their materials from all over the world.” Their diamonds are sourced from Antwerp and Israel, and their stones from Brazil, Germany, and India.
They’re Every Woman
The ladies truly believe their jewelry is for all women—to that end, they use a special universally flattering gold alloy. (“It was custom-mixed to complement all skin tones,” explains Stephanie.) And if the $350–$25,000 prices sound steep, consider this: Jenny sees JW as “the cashmere hoodie” of jewelry; “rich but comfortable,” she notes. Remember—with proper care, cashmere lasts a lifetime. —Melissa Rose Bernardo
Bringing Pretty Back
A few years ago, Julie Liu was elbow-deep in the decidedly noncreative world of corporate finance. Her days were devoted to risk, leverage, volatility, and, um, all the other glamorous duties of a hedge-fund portfolio manager. So she channeled her creative energy into jewelry design. At first, it was purely for her own adornment. “I’d wear my own pieces to these conventions and galas,” she recalls, “and people started buying them off my fingers, my neck, my hands. I’m going, ‘What the heck is going on here?’?” When custom orders started rolling in, Liu began contemplating a career change. Finally, last year, she made a serious investment—in herself.
Never Say Never
It took six months to conceptualize the gold pavé-diamond-studded two-flower Incantato ring. “Then, after the sketch, my metalsmith tells me, ‘No, that’s impossible. One flower is on top of the other; you’ll never get the diamonds inside,’?” she explains. Liu’s time-consuming, tricky solution: Make two separate blooms and solder them separately. “Then I wanted her to change it again because I wanted the petals to be different.” Or take her Ciambella earrings—clusters of briolette amethyst, dangling tantalizingly like a bunch of ripe grapes. “Everybody hangs it from a bale and a wire, but I did it in a way that you can only see gemstone,” she notes. “This isn’t manufactured. Every piece gets so much thought and care.” That’s why some items can go up to $100,000; Mia starts at $3,500. “I don’t mass-produce. If I were at, for example, a Barney’s, each Barney’s would be carrying different pieces. For the flower ring, we have 30 pieces. But a lot of the others, it’s all one-of-a-kind.”
What’s In a Name?
Roughly, “Mia Pezzi” means “my pieces” in Italian. “A lot of it is influenced by Italian jewelry and shapes,” Liu says of the 18k gold, diamond, and mostly-precious-gem-filled line. “I wanted something that was like ‘my pieces,’ but I didn’t want to say it in English, because that sounds so awful. Plus it sounds cool.” (Technically, “my pieces” would be i miei pezzi, but that sounds way less cool. So we can’t blame her for playing fast and loose with la lingua.) Her new silver line, Tzen, is taken from her middle name: “It means ‘sunrise, sunset’ in Chinese.”
Incantato rings with pavé diamonds in 18k yellow, rose, and blackened gold; $7,000 each; Mia Pezzi, Chicago; 312-788-8346; miapezzi.com
Think Pinky (Ring)
The first piece new college grad Liu made was a pinky ring bearing three asymmetrical hearts. “The Chinese believe a pinky ring wards off people who are going to harm you,” she says. “I wanted something that I could admire on my hands as I was typing on the keyboard.”
My Beautiful Pieces
“Everything out there is so chunky or masculine. Where’s the beautiful stuff? Nobody brings the pretty anymore,” bemoans Liu. “Women need a really beautiful piece that’s truly stunning, even when it’s by itself on a table. It needs to work like a piece of art.” —MRB
Sex and the City gave us nameplate necklaces, flower pins, and Jimmy Choos. Gossip Girl has shown us the importance of headbands, leggings, and chunky jewelry. And no designer adds more sparkle to “the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” than Hassan Bounkit. Don’t believe us? Just check out the CWTV online store, where you can buy handbags, shoes, and assorted accoutrements featured on shows like GG. We spotted Blair’s famous auction-episode amethyst cuff, a moonstone-and-turquoise wrap bracelet donned by hippy-dippy Vanessa, and an array of accessories worn by chic Upper East Side mom Lily, including a multi-strand emerald-and-citrine necklace with removable brooch, lemon-quartz drop earrings, a smoky-topaz-and-citrine cocktail ring…and that’s only what’s for sale on the website! We’ve actually lost count of the Bounkits we spied on the ultra-fashionable guilty-pleasure drama.
The Moroccan-born designer—who assisted Iradj Moini for five years before breaking out on his own four years ago—seems blissfully unaware of his primetime popularity. (“How did you hear about my jewelry?” he inquires.) He’s not even one to brag about his surnamed collection, a kaleidoscopic coterie of chic semi-precious cuffs, necklaces, rings, brooches, and earrings. “I use a lot of amethyst, topaz, lemon quartz, smoky quartz—depends on the season, obviously.” The stones are not, he is quick to note, “pristine or perfect. They’re mostly—what do you call them?—organic, rough stones with some inclusions. Just as nature offers them.”
Green onyx and lemon quartz, cuff, 24k gold-plated brass; $1,100; Bounkit, NYC; 888-842-4398; bounkit.com
Set for Life
Bounkit sets his stones in 24k-gold-plated brass and eschews working with environmentally unfriendly lead. “It’s soldered with sterling silver, which makes it stronger and doesn’t pollute the atmosphere,” he says. “That’s very important to me. And we support the jewelry for life; if anything is scratched or broken, we replace it for free.”
The Price Is Right
If you think eco-conscious metalwork, lifetime customer service, and handmade jewelry equals exorbitant prices, think again. Bounkit’s line starts around $200 and tops out in the $2,000 range. A woman can “make a big statement without spending a fortune.” But affordability isn’t what the designer accents. “I don’t push my jewelry so much,” he demurs. “But if I want to introduce my collection, I would emphasize the nature of the stone, the labor that goes into it, the look, and, finally, the price—in that order.” —MRB
Slave to Fashion
Some little girls play with dolls. Nina Runsdorf played with fire. We kid you not: At age 12, Runsdorf was soldering angular silver bracelets and rings at the kitchen table. Is it any wonder that after college, she and her sister started a costume-jewelry company? (Their first account, incidentally, was Bergdorf Goodman.) The siblings’ line, Nianna, has long since been dissolved; Runsdorf launched her namesake line in 2006.
Runsdorf had a Lana-Turner-at-Schwab’s moment early in her career while browsing blazers at the Ralph Lauren flagship store on Madison Avenue. A salesman approached her about a job because of her outfit: blue blazer, Levis, cowboy boots, a Ralph Lauren knapsack, and big silver bracelets of her own design. She was hired to sell women’s Roughwear—until she met Ralph himself. Once he learned that she’d grown up on a farm in upstate New York and that her mother collected Americana furniture, he enlisted Runsdorf to buy furniture for his new Polo Country Store. She later wound up at Banana Republic in a similarly fortuitous way: One of her bracelets had been gifted to a bigwig at Banana, who loved it and named her director of accessories. Of course she’d been making jewelry—mainly beaded silver-on-suede numbers—all along the way.
A natural-colored diamond bracelet in 18k blackened gold; $64,000; Nina Runsdorf, NYC; 212-382-1243; Laura@nsrjewelry.com
Diamonds Are a Girl’s, You Know…
The signature style of her line is diamond slices. Runsdorf fell in love with them on an inspiration trip to Mumbai, buying her first pair in shades of gray, brown, and light pink. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with them,” she admits. “But I loved their understated elegance, the natural colors, and their organic look.” Retail prices for her jewelry in 18k gold start at $3,200.
Runsdorf may not be a household name yet, but she’s certainly carving out quite a corner of the fine-jewelry market: “Our business this year at Neiman Marcus is up 225 percent,” she says.
Last fall, Runsdorf launched a color line—inspired by another trip to India—featuring sliced star sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and tourmalines; it starts at $6,000 retail. And she just debuted a silver line—featuring a retro-style, chunky beaded suede bracelet—with a $300 entry point. Just as she did all those years ago, explains Runsdorf, “I design my collections for what I wear.” —Jennifer Heebner
How do you know a designer has moved from up-and-coming to in-the-moment? Perhaps an endorsement from first lady/fashionista-in-chief Michelle Obama. On April 19, Mrs. O was photographed in Mexico City, and wrapped around her famously well-toned arms were two massive woolly-mammoth bracelets by Monique Péan. Adorning her ears: a pair of Péan bone, diamond, and gold drops. “It was very exciting,” says Péan. “And it’s wonderful that she’s so supportive of young designers.”
One of the perks of your dad working for the U.N.: “At the Washington International School, I was constantly exposed to many different cultures,” Péan explains. “I visited over 35 countries as a child,” she says, “places like Haiti, Bali, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Alaska, Russia, Egypt, China, Brazil, and Greece.” It’s no wonder, then, that the first piece Péan designed was inspired by an incredibly exotic—and incredibly distant—locale: her gold-and-diamond Iceberg Ring, which she conceived after traveling to the Arctic Circle. She was struck by “the natural beauty of the Arctic Ocean—particularly the caves and glaciers,” but, perhaps more important, she was captivated by “the icebergs that are melting due to climate change.”
Fossilized woolly mammoth and 18k recycled rose gold bead necklace; $11,530; Monique Péan, NYC; 866-301-MUSE; museimports.com
Her line is made entirely of “eco-friendly, sustainable, and conflict-free materials,” she says. “Recycled gold, conflict- and devastation-free stones and diamonds.… I also combine fossilized walrus, caribou, and woolly-mammoth ivory. And I recently began working with artisans in Colombia to use naturally shed buffalo horn.” And it’s not just the product Péan cares about; it’s the people as well. “My collection promotes fair, ethical trade and raises awareness of indigenous people and environmental concerns. What makes fair-trade stones covet-worthy is they are closely tracked from the mines to the market to ensure that every stone has been handled according to strict protocols.” Oh, one more thing: It’s pretty. Péan knows even the most socially conscious consumers aren’t going to pay $300–$150,000 for anything that’s less than luxurious, beautiful, and wearable.
Charity Begins at Home
When her sister passed away at age 16, the designer created the Vanessa Péan Foundation, which benefits Haitian education (a cause near her sister’s heart). She created a line for Charity: Water; each piece sold gives 10 people in underdeveloped communities 20 years’ worth of clean drinking water. “So far, we have provided clean water to over 3,400 people for 20 years,” she notes. “I am continuously looking to partner with different charities that can positively impact our global environment.” —MRB
How do you go from a plastic Daffy Duck toy to a $12,000 rubellite-and-diamond ring? For Ward Kelvin, the progression went something like this: ad agency (where Kelvin designed Happy Meal collectibles); Tiffany & Co. (sports trophies, silver gifts, jewelry, leather goods, tabletop); Ralph Lauren (more leather goods); Estée Lauder (the famed “golden compacts”); back to Tiffany (silver, fine jewelry, tabletop); David Yurman (product design and development); back to Ralph Lauren (china, crystal, flatware); and, finally, to East Hampton. There, on a weekend trip, all his encounters with art, aesthetics, and design—including his dad’s furniture, which features Asian touches like lattice—crystallized. His first collection, “American Chinoise,” debuted in November 2009.
Accolades and Adoration
Kelvin’s collection is so new that he hasn’t had much time to accumulate praise. (Although we think it’s only a matter of time!) Yet two years ago, at a dinner with friends on the Upper East Side, Kelvin’s tablemate spotted a yellow-gold and amethyst pendant necklace that he pulled out of his pocket. “You’re the next David Webb!” she announced to the entire room. It was the fourth piece he’d ever done. The compliment still makes him proud.
Lattice has become Kelvin’s hallmark as well. Another ubiquitous theme in his 18k gold line: bamboo. The cheery hues of peridot and tourmaline—with just a sprinkling of diamonds—signal a casual sensibility. Economics may factor into his decision to avoid the Big Three, but for Kelvin, it’s largely a matter of taste. “Semiprecious stones appeal to me,” he explains. Intentional imperfections like randomly spaced notches and grooves give texture and depth. Retail prices start at $2,000.
Bamboo Nest ring with rubellite cabochon and diamonds in 18k yellow gold; $12,350; Ward Kelvin, NYC; 917-593-5738; wardkelvin.com
Come On, Get Happy
Pressed to select a favorite set of collectibles from his Happy Meal oeuvre, the designer singles out a car series for Looney Tunes: “I did the Daffy Duck dragster, the Tasmanian Devil taxi, and the Sylvester the Cat Cadillac.”
The Personal Touch
Kelvin can often be found right alongside his earrings and bracelets at Bergdorf’s, chatting up his clients. Apparently, one customer grew up near Kelvin’s childhood home in Great Neck, N.Y. Another has family in Florida (as does Kelvin). And they all want to hear about his experiences with his iconic former employers. But the designer likes making conversation as much as he likes making a sale: “The banter is part of it.” —JH
You could say that gems are in Puja Bordia’s blood. The owner and designer of Trésor—who was born and raised in Jaipur, India—comes from a long line (19 generations!) of gem dealers. Her father, Pushpendra Mookim, owns the jewelry manufacturer/semiprecious exporter Gemcrafts. At age 11, she was making beaded rings and taking stone-buying trips to Brazil and South Africa with dear old Dad. But it wasn’t until 2009—and only after some severe pestering from her pals—that she launched her own line.
Mix and Match
From moonstones to quartz to aquamarine, Trésor celebrates variety. Name a gemstone, and Bordia has likely put it in a bracelet or pendant. That periwinkle sweater you adore but never know how to accessorize? Bordia offers a head-spinning number of options (though we’re partial to the 18k chalcedony and tsavorite earrings). “I have a passion for colored jewels,” she says, offering a no-nonsense summary of her collection. And her passion for color extends beyond gems: “I’m also working in rose, green, and black gold.”
Bracelet with tourmalines, tsavorite and mandarin garnets, tanzanite, and diamonds in 18k yellow gold; $15,000; Trésor, Cliffside Park, N.J.; 201-606-2612; tresorcollection.com
Take a Chance on Her
Though Trésor debuted just a year ago, Bordia reports she’s already sold to several dozen retailers. Stores will like its low buy-in (there is no minimum right now), co-op advertising support, and ample marketing materials, like catalogs and in-store posters. Plus, there’s a wide range of price points—one New York City retailer even told Bordia her prices were too low. Retail prices start at $250 in silver and $900 in 18k gold. “We buy the rough, cut the stones, and make all the jewelry in-house, so we are able to control prices,” she explains.
She designed her own wedding gown, which featured more than 500 cts. t.w. of aquamarine, lemon quartz, and smoky quartz. “The dress was so heavy!” she says. And in keeping with the family tradition, Bordia’s 3-year-old son is starting to learn the trade. Notes the proud mom: “He learns his colors from the stones.” —JH