The slice is right at Vale Jewelry, where sisters Ava and Eva Bai create super-delicate ready-to-layer gold and diamond delights
A world of tiny treasures awaits in the midtown Manhattan showroom of Vale Jewelry, where twin sisters Ava and Eva Bai create ultra-delicate 14k gold rings, bracelets, pendants, and earrings. There’s not a chunky choker in sight, but Vale’s beautifully crafted pieces make a quiet statement of their own, attracting a devoted clientele who appreciate the designers’ eye for unique stones and settings.
To understand the Vale aesthetic, it helps to meet Ava and Eva—which fans of their brand get to do at trunk shows, monthly events in their sunny showroom, and retail boutiques. Dressed in minimalist silk blouses, their dark hair long and sleek, they’re impossible to tell apart, though Ava helpfully wears navy blue, in contrast to Eva’s black. They tend to appear serious in photos but are warm and engaging in person, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing about the “lifelong trip” of being identical twins with almost identical names. (More on that later.)
A Delicate Balance
Chain-through diamond slice earrings with bezel-set raw diamond slice in 14k gold; $1,550
It takes a moment to register that Ava and Eva are fully accessorized in Vale pieces, including multiple earrings, necklaces of varied lengths, and thin rings spanning the fingers of both hands, many of them shimmering with tiny pavé diamonds. Yet the effect is the opposite of a mish-mash.
“Anyone can make small jewelry,” Eva says, “but we add details that make our pieces unique. We like to incorporate sparkle that isn’t overwhelming but still feels modern, fresh, and feminine.” Extending her hands for inspection, she points out an asymmetrical wrap ring featuring a pair of three-point diamonds set in a fine bezel, a band with diamonds spaced around it “to resemble the tiny moonlets of Saturn,” another band with pavé diamonds across the front and a thin chain in back, plus stackable skinny bands set with rose-cut natural sapphires.
Ophelia ring with 0.4 ct. t.w. center baguette and diamond clusters in 14k gold; $2,150; Vale Jewelry, NYC; 212-398-2708; shopvale.com
The workmanship is remarkable, and so is the price point: $250 for a double helix gold band; $495 for a diamond-studded corset ring, inspired by the Victorian clothing item; and $1,150 for an eternity ring dotted with brilliant-cut diamonds, available in yellow (the most popular choice), rose, and white gold.
The Bais have always been price-conscious, because they were their own first customers a decade ago. “We loved the idea of delicate, personal fine jewelry, but we couldn’t afford it until we began making our own,” Eva explains. “That’s really why we started the business, and it’s something we keep in mind every time we design something. Our goal is to create investment pieces that are affordable.”
Caillou ring with bezel-set diamond slices in 14k gold; $2,750
Vale’s extensive selection of jewel-studded bands helped spark the brand’s fastest-growing category: bridal. “Customers who started with us in their 20s are coming back for the next stage of their lives,” Ava says. Nontraditional brides look to the Bais for one-of-a-kind engagement rings featuring sliced diamonds, natural white sapphires, and other raw stones. Vale recently partnered with Manhattan’s Stone Fox Bride, which shares its vintage-meets-modern aesthetic.
“We love walking clients through the process,” Ava says of designing custom pieces. “Anything they can imagine, we can do, and take it one step further.”
From Flushing to 47th Street
Sea Urchin necklace in 14k gold; starting at $950
Ava and Eva entered the jewelry business with minimal experience and no financial cushion. They grew up in Flushing, Queens, with their mother, who worked in the restaurant industry after arriving in America from Shanghai. The only jewelry they remember seeing around the house was a 24k gold wedding band that had belonged to their grandmother. “Our parents separated early on, and our mom was too busy trying to make ends meet to think about accessories,” Eva says. “When Ava and I went to our friends’ houses, we loved to go through their mothers’ jewelry boxes. There was something magical about delving layer by layer.”
Bangle with bezel-set rose-cut teardrop black diamond in 14k gold; $850
From childhood, the girls’ alliterative names attracted attention. When their mother became pregnant with twins, she picked traditional boys’ names, David and Michael, but for a daughter, she looked to her favorite star, Ava Gardner. When the babies turned out to be identical girls, she made a hasty naming decision that still causes new acquaintances “to do a double take,” Eva admits with a laugh. Fortunately, the sisters have always been close; in fact, they live together in Queens, sharing a home near their mom.
On vacations at their aunt’s home in southern New Jersey, young Ava and Eva passed time making beaded jewelry and braiding lanyards. They pursued practical majors at Carnegie Mellon University—Eva studied business and psychology; Ava chose political science and information systems—but within a year of graduation, they abandoned office jobs and set up shop with other fashion artisans on the Lower East Side. It soon became clear that they had arrived ahead of the retail curve in that emerging area, but the Bais bonded with their young customers and vowed to keep going.
Large open bangle with bezel-set diamond slices in 14k gold; $1,250
“We didn’t realize that a lot of people in the jewelry industry have generations of experience in the stone trade or the metal trade,” Eva says now. They studied gemology and metallurgy at FIT and began handcrafting the super-fine pieces Vale is now known for, ignoring naysayers along the way.
“When we went to stone purchasers with our castings, many of them said, ‘You can’t design jewelry like that. It’s too small; no one will wear it,’?” Ava recalls. “Our designs are labor-intensive—when you’re working with small diamonds, the metals have to be fine as well. We had to learn to say, ‘This is what we want to do, and if you don’t want to work with us, we will find another way.’?”
Moonlet Crawler earrings with 0.2 ct. t.w. graduated bezel-set diamonds; $1,150
In 2005, the Bais formed the company that would become Vale, combining the suffix of their first names with the prefix of their maternal grandfather, Lee. They run the business with just four full-time employees—one in the showroom to help with wholesaling and social media, plus a setter and two bench artisans. “Everything is made in the two square blocks between 47th and 48th streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues,” Eva says. “Clients can see the whole process, from where we source our pieces to where we cast our metals.”
Design for Selling
Web-based sales, which now account for about 30 percent of Vale’s volume, have doubled each year. The line is also sold at Rebecca Taylor shops nationwide, select boutiques, and by appointment at the showroom.
Moonlet ring with 0.3 ct. t.w. bezel-set diamonds in 14k gold; $1,350
Potential retailers are carefully screened: “When a store approaches us, we look at the rest of the merchandise to see how Vale might fit in,” Ava explains. “In a ‘gifty’ store with multi-brand jewelry collections, our delicate pieces could get lost. It’s important that they have space dedicated to fine jewelry, because it’s very different from selling costume.”
Although the brand has attracted its share of celebrities, including Kelly Ripa and Sarah Jessica Parker, the Bais don’t pursue red-carpet fame; after all, small-scale jewelry can be difficult to photograph. Social media, on the other hand, is ideal, and more than 19,000 Instagram followers watch for the latest Vale designs and styling ideas in posts laced with hashtags and emojis. “Product photography helps people see how the pieces look on a hand or wrist,” Ava notes. Many of the touches that make Vale jewelry special—tapered bezels, fine cable, tiny rows of pavé diamonds, sliced stones that look like pebbles—can best be appreciated in Instagram shots or photos on ShopVale.com.
Corset ring with 0.07 ct. t.w. white diamonds in 14k gold; $595
Looking to the future, the Bais hope to add an international sales rep (though not in China, which they say is fixated on big brands), even as they continue to handle public relations and merchandising themselves. In the meantime, they dream up new designs while commuting from Queens on the No. 7 train.
“It’s a lot of togetherness,” Eva admits with a laugh, “but Ava and I are good about shutting down when we leave the office,” finding inspiration from travel and from the enthusiasm of their customers. “We’ve always had a passion for designing beautiful things,” Ava says, “and we never take success for granted. Even after 10 years, we learn something new every day.”