Accessories help us stand out. So it’s especially unfortunate when we spot our favorite new necklace on a handful of others. Good news: In response to big box stores churning out the same merchandize there’s a growing number of studios creating carefully handcrafted jewelry.
These designers are focused on producing fewer, yet quality, pieces -- made domestically with full transparency.
And today’s consumer cares not only about the quality of their baubles, but if they’re ethically and sustainably sourced.
“So many of our customers come to us for an ethical diamond ring, and leave with not just that piece, but a new knowledge of the many opportunities to affect positive change,” says designer Anna Bario of sustainable jewelry line Bario Neal. For example: “We advocate for human rights through our use of humane gemstone cutting facilities -- avoiding child and slave labor -- and requiring fair wages,” explains Bario.
We chat with 10 American jewelry designers who are crafting locally made pieces and bringing awareness to sustainable practices, ethical sourcing, and charitable causes.
New York City based jewelry designer Kylie Nakao, 30, works with several local family-owned factories to create her modern take on fine jewelry. Her pieces feature gemstone accents on in a variety of metals (silver, rose white and yellow gold) adding edge to tradition styles. The small-batch production allows the designer to control quality every step of the way. A Toronto native of English, Italian, and Japanese descent, Nakao launched Tarin Thomas in 2013 after working in the fashion industry as a buyer.
The line includes gem stud earrings, delicate mid-finger rings, and bold unisex signet rings. One particularly cool feature is that the designer works closely with clients to create custom jewelry, a significant part of the business.
“It is extremely rewarding to create custom pieces that allow the individuals to tell their own story,” she says.
Seattle-based designer and author, Moorea Seal, 31, is known for her crazy pinning skills (she has nearly 1 million followers on Pinterest), inspiring others (through her 52 Lists Project) and her mental health advocacy.
“As an individual who has been touched by issues such as depression and suicide, both personally and by those closest to me, [raising awareness] is especially important,” says Seal. To that end, she gives back 7 percent of all proceeds to nonprofits.
Her funky and celestial-inspired pieces can be found in her namesake retail and online store, which also features design-centric office goods, home décor and women’s and men’s fashion. All of the jewelry is made in Seattle and gold plated in Albuquerque, NM.
It’s hard to believe that these chunky sterling silver and gold in-your-face rings are made by a young entrepreneur still in college. Agatha Waszczyk, 21, will be a senior at the Fashion Institute of Technology this fall.
Together with her father, Waldemar Waszczyk she creates rings in New York for strong women who aren’t afraid to stand out with their opinions — and their accessories.
“[Agatha Vaz] started as a family company and I want it to stay that way,” says Agatha. “No one is more brutally honest about your vision and ideas than your family.”
College friends Page Neal, 34 and Anna Bario, 36 decided to marry their two respective studies (sculpture and psychology) into their whimsical, heirloom jewelry line that prides itself on ethical practices and materials. Bario Neal, which launched in 2008, uses fair-mined gold, reclaimed metal, traceable gemstones (like Montana Sapphires or Wyoming Black Jade), and responsible labor practices. “We are proud to ensure that the precious metals we use support a circular economy, as well as companies and workers here in the U.S.,” says Neal. Two of the local companies the duo works with are the artisans on Jeweler's Row in Philadelphia, the oldest diamond district in the United States, and Catawba Paper Company in North Carolina, who are in charge of creating their sustainable packaging.
Price Range: $50 (semi-fine jewelry) to $3000+ (custom and intricate pieces made with diamonds and Platinum, etc.)
San Francisco-based jewelry designer Hikaru Furuhashi, 37, grew up in the mountains of Nagano, Japan. Her eponymous jewelry line consisting of intricately designed rings and necklaces is inspired by nature and traditional folk art.
Committed to environmentally-friendly practices, her handcrafted pieces utilize recycled metals and conflict-free gemstones. All diamonds are from sources that participate in Kimberley Process, an organization working to prevent conflict diamonds.
Buying American is also key for Furuhashi. “When my customers buy my work, they are also contributing to sustain the life of my gemstone suppliers, metal casters and the refinery I work with, all independently or family-owned,” she says.
Kim Devall,37, creates wearable art: jewelry that combines traditional materials like sterling silver or pearls with the unconventional. Think: rubber, cement, Lucite or bone (all sourced from the U.S.)
The Brooklyn, N.Y. based designer credits her creativity to her grandparents (she’s even named the brand after them). Granddad, Preston, was a woodworker, while grandma Linnie served up homemade blackberry jam and biscuits.
The DIY ethos clearly made a lasting impression as each Preston & Linnie item is handmade by Devall in her Gowanus studio. What’s even more special? All of her jewelry pieces are limited-edition meaning chances of you walking into a party wearing the same necklace as another guest are slim to none.
Vanessa Stofenmacher, 30, is the woman behind Vrai & Oro, the go-to ethical and sustainable fine jewelry line for brides-to-be. She spent two years working on a collection of diamond engagement rings after being disheartened by the lack of responsible options in the market.
“The jewelry trade is quickly dying in the U.S. as more production moves overseas,” says Stofenmacher. “What some companies fail to notice is that while they may be saving some money on lower labor costs, they also risk lower quality craftsmanship, increase in middlemen and a lack of awareness around ethical labor and sourcing practices.”
For her delicate pieces, Stofenmacher uses certified recycled gold, and diamonds made in a lab by the Diamond Foundry.
“[My customer] values quality over quantity, personalized style over fast fashion trends, and cares about where and how her products are made,” she says.
Price: $28 - $150 for sterling silver or bronze jewelry; about $160 - $2200 for 14k gold jewelry
“If you buy American, you're investing in your own community,” says Portland-based designer T Ngu. The 37-year-old should know. Her jewelry line, Upper Metal Class, supports and gives back to the local PDX community. Items like her Girls x FEM Ring -- a 10k gold ring resembling a bosom studded with a pink sapphire diamond -- raise money for FEM Project, an organization providing homeless women with menstrual supplies. Other designs feature flirtatious winks, lips, and skulls.
The ring’s popularity even spurred a spin off, a new brick-and-mortar store called Project Object, which helps women, the LGBTQ community and local artists.
“I feel grateful for being able to live my dream and create pieces that ends up being a part of a someone’s life,” says Ngu. “And to be able to make a bit of a difference through it is pretty awesome.”
Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Jess Hannah, 26, is all about classic style. After all, she discovered her love for jewelry after inheriting a few of her grandmother's vintage pieces. And clearly she isn’t the only one lusting after timeless baubles. Since launching her affordable line in 2014, Hannah’s feminine aesthetic has captured the attention of 210k+ Instagram followers and her minimal-yet-striking gold and silver pieces have become everyday essentials.
The same can be said for her manicures. Turned off by the bright pinks and fire engine reds typically found in a salon, Hannah created nail colors that fit her aesthetic. What started off as a personal want evolved into a line of neutral nail polishes for the “color-resistant.” Made in the U.S., of course. “I want to support people in my own city and be able to hire the best craftspeople and quality check every step of the way,” she says.
Sofia Ramsay worked as a designer in the costume jewelry industry in New York City for four years before launching her own namesake jewelry line. Currently featured at New York’s Canal Street Market, Ramsay, 29, sees her jewelry as “totems,” talismans or armor -- objects that carry energy and are activated once a wearer slips one on. She aims to source all her materials locally for her bright thread wrapped bangles, leather chokers, chain link necklaces and laser cut earrings and reuses any leftover metal for the next batch of jewelry.
“I work with very talented jewelers and crafters that are all a train ride away,” says Ramsay.