The Other Worldliness of Eli Halili in NYC

250 Mott St., New York, NY

Mott Street is the main thoroughfare in Manhattan’s bustling Chinatown, but its northern stretch retains the quiet charm it must have had when Old St. Patrick’s was completed in 1815. Across from the cathedral’s rear wall is a petite storefront filled with handmade jewelry incorporating ancient coins, tiny artifacts, and raw stones set in lustrous gold. They’re the work of Eli Halili, whose love of all things ancient began in his native Israel. “I’m inspired by everything old,” the dashing designer says, referring both to his pieces and the sophis- ticated way they’re displayed in his 9-year-old shop. “When people come in, I want them to feel they’re entering another world.”


A gifted stylist, Halili drapes his rings, pendants, brace- lets, and cufflinks atop leather books, distressed wood blocks, dress forms, bells, brushes, and vintage velvet boxes. An antique bakery case, medicine cabinet, and cast-iron heater find new life as jewelry showcases. “I’m meticulous in a crazy way,” he says of the artfully layered vignettes, created with his partner, Gary Samuelian. You’d never guess the 450-square-foot space ever looked like a “blank white box” now that one wall has a patina of verdigris-colored plaster and another is lined with soldered and painted metal panels.


The shop’s timeless look reflects Halili’s wanderlust, including a recent trip to Georgia, Armenia, Russia, and Mongolia and a forthcoming return to Ethiopia and its Sof Omar caves, a major source of inspiration. “If you put an Islamic piece next to a Greek piece next to a Byzantine piece, they live together in harmony,” he says. Crosses are a favorite motif for their shape rather than their religious significance. A Burmese sapphire ring shares space with cufflinks fashioned of Jewish widow’s mite coins, a Russian arrowhead pendant, and leather bracelets with gold buttons and crosses.


The rustic decor creates a striking backdrop for jewels bursting with color. In addition to aquamarine, opals, labradorite, tourmaline, and raw sapphires and rubies, Halili forges brushed-gold settings for diamonds in rainbow shades of green, red, brown, pink, gray, and white. “I cannot repeat myself,” he says, explaining his affinity for slicing and cutting semiprecious stones, aided by two jewelers whose basement workbenches are visible from the shop’s main level. His use of 22k and 24k gold hearkens back to his Middle Eastern background: “It’s very earthy and full of energy.”


Halili attracts and maintains an international clientele by attending to their needs personally. “If I am not traveling, I am at the shop,” he says. “We don’t do much PR or advertising, but business is great because of the relationships we develop.” Every new salesperson is personally trained by Halili for six months, becoming familiar with customers’ preferences and pieces they already own. “Our clients become our friends,” Halili says, turning to face the 200-year-old cathedral across Mott Street. “I wanted space with a certain Old World charm, where I could create things I love and share them with people. I feel very fortunate.”

Photographs by Peter Chin

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