Jewelry can make or break an outfit, elevating any ensemble from causal to extra with just a hint of sparkle. It can be a closet stalwart, a glimmering comfort blanket that makes us feel like us. In the ever-expanding world of fine jewelry, it can seem daunting to find one’s designer match, so to speak. With that, I present five designers who have caught my eye, offering a range of styles from quirky and glamorous, to understated and deeply personal.
After a 15-year tenure designing costume jewelry for Lanvin, Elie Top departed to create his own, exceedingly singular brand of fine jewelry. Although Top draws from myriad inspirations for his collections—from the orbits of the planets to King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake—Top’s work feels cohesive as each piece implies the possibility of transformation. Long pendant necklaces mutate, via brilliantly fashioned clasps, into double stranded wonders. Rings and earrings are equipped with clever dome covers that slide over the most precious of gems, to both conceal and create an entirely different piece when activated. Who doesn’t love a two-for-one? As January marks the brand’s 5th anniversary, Top says “that there’s lots of territory to explore,” including a foray into figurative pieces, so stay tuned, as the budding designer has much more to reveal.
Fine jewelry seems to have been pre-destined for Jesse Marlo Lazowski, who sold her first collection to a local boutique when she was only 13. Her line Marlo Laz, established in 2014, is geared towards the “free spirited and curiously minded” customer. Many pieces incorporate imagery associated with luck and protection, such as with her “Eyecon” rings, which reimagine the evil-eye charm in sumptuous, chunky Brazilian jade, or her “Je Porte Bonheur” coins, set with precious gems that bear the collection’s eponymous phrase, which roughly translates to “lucky charm.” Having just opened her first brick and mortar location, a storefront ornamented with dusty pink walls and elegantly scalloped archways at 373 Bleecker Street in Manhattan’s West Village, shoppers can now enter the designer’s extraordinary world. You may even have the good fortune to meet the Laz herself.
If, upon first glance, one were to confuse Brent Neale Winston’s brightly colored, whimsical baubles for bakery confections, you may just be forgiven. The designer remarks that her inspiration for starting her collection was that she just “wanted to see something fun.” And she certainly delivers. Mixing precious stones with clever themes, her collections range from “Down the Rabbit Hole,” a sly reference to the classic book and it’s psychedelic undertones (or perhaps overtones), to “Potted,” which draws influence from Dutch Master paintings, subtly sneaking a psychoactive five-leafed herb into the mix. It’s evident that humor plays a big role in Winston’s world, which is unpretentious, despite the preciousness of the materials. Her newest collection, “Splash,” is anchored by her take on the shell necklace, featuring carved lapis and chalcedony, as well as yellow-gold oysters that hide some sneaky pearls.
Kim Dunham’s line of ultra-personal signet rings brings a taste of the old-school to jewelry fanatics on the hunt for something new. All of Dunham’s work is bespoke, beginning with an extensive Proust-like questionnaire that she provides her clients, which ignites a collaborative process that involves her hand-drawn custom sketches. Made entirely in New York using artisanal methods, she sees her gold rings as a form of “personal branding.” With styles ranging from a singular symbol like a serpent or arrows, to ornate monograms and full crests reminiscent of English nobility, each ring is an individual output, typically taking 8-12 weeks to complete. Since these rings are all done by hand, Dunham says, “there’s a lot of imperfection and there’s a lot of mystery, which we don’t see often.”
At 27 years old, jewelry designer Emmanuel Tarpin may seem young, but there’s a maturity and a presence to his work that transcends his age. His entry into the world of fine jewelry started early when, as a child, he began collecting semi-precious stones from a dealer near his home town in the French alps. This led to a three-year stint at Van Cleef and Arpels, and eventually the launch of his own line just over two years ago. The designer only produces around 20 unique pieces per year, and it’s easy to see why, as his background as a sculptor is evident in the labor intensive, three-dimensional manner in which each piece is crafted. Often, they appear more as fine art than wearable design. Tarpin, who tends to “think in volumes,” has a distinctive approach, using unusual materials like colored aluminum as the base for his creations. Take, for example, his Globeflower ring, the base of which is rendered in patinaed bronze which leads to striking yellow gold petals that fold outward, revealing sapphires and diamonds the center.