The Story of a Stingray

From Sea to Store

Growing up in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, designer Nicholas Varney swam with the stingrays, getting “right on top of them,” as he recalls. But the $75,000 sea-inspired brooch is no mere homage to Varney’s childhood scuba-diving days. “I didn’t care about it being a stingray at all,” he says. “In fact, I have the antithesis of the affinity for anything representational.” Quite simply, he explains, “the shape of the stingray lent itself toward the shape of the pearl.” Varney estimates that the piece, which incorporates elements from spots all around the globe (think Australia, Africa), took more than four months to complete. “You have to do it over and over and over. On organic forms, it’s all about balance—and that one, I think, has a nice balance to it.” 

Precious Gems

Varney uses a small selection of colored stones—like the five oval emeralds and blue sapphires, a scattering of small pavé tsavorite garnets, and the flush of sapphire melee—sourced from far-flung locations like Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. 

Keshi Pearls

“Keshi are well known for their luster, and that’s what’s most important to me,” says Varney. Note the Australian gems’ artfully haphazard arrangement. “I just don’t like [stones] to be organized or geometric-looking on any natural piece I do—ever.”

South Seas Pearl

“I saw it, I loved it,” Varney says of his jewel’s, er, crown jewel. “This piece was really about this pearl. Everything else came after that. I never design a piece and then find the stone. If you’re going to make a one-of-a-kind piece, you have to find that one-of-a-kind stone. And that you don’t look for. You’d be looking for 35 years.”

Golden Touch

The stingray is backed in 18k gold and armed with a super-secure “double-pin system with a French safety.” And though it’s cloaked in 13.44 cts. of gems, the pin is surprisingly light. “You wouldn’t want it hanging on silk,” says Varney, then reconsidering: “But you might be able to.”