Personalities

Meet Kelly Zogheb of Soulbound and Her Geek-Chic Video Game-Inspired Jewelry

New York City. April 3, 2020. Video games have always been a part of Kelly Zogheb’s life. The creative force behind Soulbound recalls her father playing a Nintendo 64 system before she was even old enough to pick up a controller and never regretted growing up in a household that valued game time.

“I would come home from school, do my homework, and play video games every single day,” she says.

In college she studied illustration and fashion design, admiring jewelry but shunning it for the sake of practicality. “I thought it would be easier to get a job in fashion,” she says.

Even after securing a post designing clothes for J.Crew, she craned her neck at the desks of nearby jewelry workers to learn their processes and started watching YouTube videos to teach herself more techniques. Eventually, she left and secured a job as a jeweler for a costume design outfit even though she had never before sat at a bench. That ballsy move allowed her to learn production techniques more thoroughly, repurposing vintage costume numbers and learning about CAD. For fun, she started making three-dimensional video game–inspired character pendants like Great Bay Hero and Crazy Fox in brass, selling them on Etsy.com. They were a hit, pushing Zogheb to set her sights even higher, to working in fine jewelry.

Some education at GIA furthered her dream, and a later job at Satomi Kawakita in the Tribeca section of the city helped her learn in-person and online sales. Finally, in 2017, she was ready to debut her Soulbound business at a trade show in New York City. The name? Not surprisingly, a reference to gaming. Soulbound refers to rare and powerful items in games that cannot be given to other players.

Buyers, meanwhile, initially laughed at her inspiration and encouraged her to discard it for a more mainstream mindset. The resulting insecurity led to costly trial and error moves. “I started doubting myself,” she says. “At one show I showed a whole new collection of medieval-looking jewelry, but I didn’t feel a connection to it. It cost me so much money that by last day of that show I decided that if I tried to appeal to everyone, I would appeal to no one, so I was going to be true to me.”

Zogheb re-embraced her own nerdy niche and unveiled the Sailor Moon collection a few months later. “Sailor Moon” was a manga—a Japanese comic book—that Zogheb read as a kid and watched as a show on the Cartoon network in the mid-1990s. Its star was a girly heroine with friends who helped her fight villains. Zogheb’s jewelry featured inspired (not literal) motifs like winged-looking Guardian rings and simple tiara-like bands. It sold well, and Zogheb saw her Instagram followers (@soulboundnyc) grow, along with repeat customers. She even engaged in multiplayer games with fans online.

More video-game inspired collections followed. Think Hero of Time, which is based on a game from the Nintendo 64 system that came out in the late 1990s. Then came The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time collection, named for a game that many call the best one of all time. “If you were a gamer in the 1990s, it has a special place in your heart forever,” says Zogheb about the 3D game. Engagement rings in this collection are based on gemstones that play a big role in the game: Kokiri’s emerald, Goron’s ruby, Zora’s sapphire. Diamond versions are available, but colored stones are a best seller.

The Choose Your Class collection is inspired by MMORPGs or massively multiplayer online role player games like World of Warcraft—a variety she plays with her fiancé.

“I usually play a priest—I’m a healer—and he is a warrior,” she explains. “His role is to deal out damage and destroy things, and then when his life is low, I can heal him.”

Priest-inspired jewels have angel wings, while warlock-influenced ones feature creepy demonic-looking hands. Tiny swords and spiraling branches, too, along with little nuts and seeds adorn other styles—some accents only visible under a loupe.

“I try to make pieces totally unique but not obvious,” she says. “People love and strongly identify with these games, and you usually play them for years. They become a big part of who you are.”

Finally, New Horizons is based on the Animal Crossings series of games where players receive the help of a local critter (a racoon in one series) to build a community. Zogheb’s interpretation? Small houses with cosmos flowers—a nod to the original game she played as a kid. And just as new games feature seasonal elements—“Every spring new weeds grow in the game,” Zogheb notes—so, too, will her jewelry have fresh elements that reflect the games.

“In the game the weeds are beautiful, so every season I will show a new ring inspired by them. I feel pressure now to make pieces based on what happens in the game.”

Soulbound jewelry is made in recycled 14k gold and platinum on request, with colored stone and diamond accents. Morganites and lab-grown alexandrites are among client faves. Retail prices start at $210 for a single earring.

Find Soulbound jewelry for sale online and at Audrey Rose in Santa Monica, Calif., and The Glass Hall in Salt Lake City.

Fairy Companion stud earrings from the Hero of Time collection in 14k recycled gold with blue topaz is inspired by Navi, a helpful fairy companion in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time game, $715; available online at Soulboundnyc.com.

Fairy Companion stud earrings from the Hero of Time collection in 14k recycled gold with blue topaz is inspired by Navi, a helpful fairy companion in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time game, $715; available online at Soulboundnyc.com

Warlock ring from the Choose Your Class collection in 14k recycled gold with an amethyst is inspired by warlocks from MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like World of Warcraft, $1,100; available online at Soulboundnyc.com.

Warlock ring from the Choose Your Class collection in 14k recycled gold with an amethyst is inspired by warlocks from MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like World of Warcraft, $1,100; available online at Soulboundnyc.com

Uchi ring from the New Horizons collection in 14k recycled gold with diamonds is inspired by the original house in the designer’s Nintendo: Animal Crossing for GameCube game she played as a kid, $1,210; available online at Soulboundnyc.com.

Uchi ring from the New Horizons collection in 14k recycled gold with diamonds is inspired by the original house in the designer’s Nintendo: Animal Crossing for GameCube game she played as a kid, $1,210; available online at Soulboundnyc.com

Drop earrings in 14k yellow gold with purple garnets and diamonds, $1,300 at K.Jon’s

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Personalities

Memes from Alex Sepkus’ Jeff Feero Are Giving Industry Life During the Coronavirus Pandemic

New York City. March 26, 2020. Since jewelry isn’t exactly a priority for most during this current worldwide health crisis, many jewelers have resorted to other activities in their newly acquired free time. Consider Jeff Feero, one of the principals in the esteemed brand Alex Sepkus, known for its masterful miniature wearable gold sculptures with a mosaic-like signature style. Feero commutes between Manhattan and a home on an organic farm in upstate New York, and it is from this country residence, with now ample time on his hands, that Feero is contributing some of his most valuable industry savvy yet: comedy. To see it, queue up his personal Instagram handle at @jeffreyfeero. (To see Alex Sepkus jewelry, visit the handle @alexsepkus.)

Jewelry from the Alex Sepkus brand

Jewelry from Alex Sepkus

A post on March 13 shows a collage of photos of Tom Hanks in various movie roles with a headline “Never Travel With Tom Hanks.” The first photo shows Hanks as the ship captain in “Captain Phillips” with the caption “His ship got hijacked,” and the second photo shows Hanks as “Sully” with the line “His plane crashed.” A third shot shows Hanks asleep in the airport as Viktor Navorski from “The Terminal” with the subtitle “He got stuck at an airport,” and the final photo shows Hanks as the Fed Ex staffer stranded on a deserted island in “Castaway” with a caption pointing out that fact. The punchline? “And now Tom Hanks has COVID 19,” which reflects the news report that Hanks and his wife, while traveling in Australia, contracted the virus.

Meme from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

Good, right? Well, there’s more—a lot more.

A post on March 12 shows a small blue bathroom with walls covered in rolls of toilet paper and the caption “I’ve finally finished my panic room.”

Meme from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

On March 22, Feero posted a picture of hot pepper plants with the text “Will train you to stop touching your face … and other places.” On March 23, he showed a comic strip featuring a man asking his dog to shake hands—above a newspaper with a Coronavirus headline—with this sentiment from the dog in a hovering thought balloon: “No effing way.” And on March 24, Feero posted one to which many of us—and our dogs—can likely relate. A photo a of a passed-out pooch with surrounding copy “That’s the sixth walk today, WTF is a Corona?”

Meme from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

Feero maintains he can’t take credit for the creation of the memes—they come from friends all over the world—but he willingly circulates them to share the relief they offer. “People say there are three cures to anxiety—alcohol, sex, and humor,” he says. “Well, I can’t provide the other two, so I’m going to go with the third for as long as I can.”

His favorite meme to date? The twins from “The Shining” standing at the end of supermarket aisle with bare shelves.

Meme from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

Memes aren’t the only satire evident on his social media. Feero also makes how-to videos that combine farm life with survivalist-infused guidance. Among them: how to make your own toilet paper, which has been in short supply because of hoarders and panic shoppers. Feero’s suggestion, which he illustrates in his home workshop? Use a hack saw to slice one roll of paper towels into three TP-size ones.

Yesterday’s video tip was entitled “Bee Safe” and showed Feero in a beekeeper’s suit lined with a heating system filter. “This serves three purposes,” he explained. “Clean air, keeps you from touching your face—your eyes and your mouth—and when you go to the grocery store and walk down the aisle, it’s amazing how the aisle clears out.”

Ring in gold with watermelon tourmaline from Alex Sepkus

Ring in gold with watermelon tourmaline from Alex Sepkus

Finally, a few simple photos with clever punchlines round out the laughs. A photo of Feero in an industrial gas mask has the caption “Happy Wednesday! Time to go into town for a few supplies. On the upside didn’t have to shave or comb my hair.”

Photo from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

Another image shows Feero in a clear face shield holding a giant bottle of hand sanitizer that he’s about to pump into his mouth. Line? “A quick snack before getting the 5:50 train out of Grand Central. #purellbuzz.”

Photo from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

About that Purell? Feero’s wife bought a bunch of it upstate before mass panic set in. “I handed them out around the shop, and it was as if we were handing out Christmas bonuses,” he says.

While more funnies are in the works, Feero says he doesn’t intend to force them. Fortunately, life has been delivering nonstop ironies and easy jokes. Consider the photo of beachgoers in Miami, which Feero captioned, “The 2020 Darwin Award Winner is: Springbreakers! #thintheherd.”

Photo from @jeffreyfeero on Instagram

The silver lining and unifier in all of Feero’s efforts is togetherness. “We are all in this at the same level,” he explains. “We are all equally broke or challenged right now, and we will climb out of this by doing things jointly. I had an old boss in the 1980s who sold expensive jewelry during the Depression. So, I know that if he could do it during the Depression, we can carry on when this is all over.”

Editor’s Note: I conducted a live Instagram interview with Jeff Feero yesterday, and this article is a summary of our chat. Follow me at @jenniferheebner to see more live talks with jewelry insiders.

Drop earrings in 14k yellow gold with purple garnets and diamonds, $1,300 at K.Jon’s

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Personalities

Alison Nagasue’s Early Rockhounding Ways Paved a Path for Gem-Intense One-of-a-Kinds

New York City. March 23, 2020. As a child, Alison Nagasue’s prospecting ways around her northern New Jersey neighborhood were a harbinger of her future career. The budding artist scavenged for pretty little rocks on the streets of a growing community that doubled as an ongoing construction site. Her finds—little quartzes, among other stones—fueled a passion that has continued to the present day. Now, as a jewelry designer, uncommon gems always find a home in the eponymous maker’s collections.

“Once I get a stone, that’s the beginning of a design for me,” she explains of her process. “I love natural characteristics and using unusual stones.”

Today, Nagasue sources gems the world over, ultimately earmarking the most unique ones for one-off creations. Think indicolite tourmalines from dealer Robert Bentley (who sources many rocks from Brazil); custom, ginkgo-leaf-shape opals sculpted by a female lapidary out of Canada; and cool quartzes with pockets of air and visible water droplets. All are set in oxidized silver or 18k gold with her signature 18k green gold accents and ginkgo-leaf-silhouette motifs.

Recent finds include quartz crystals with funky inclusions, raw-looking uncut gems like emerald, and dumortierite with fireworks-inspired fingerprints. “I love movement and surprises,” she notes about her selections. “No two gems are ever alike.”

Find her most recent pieces on Instagram at @alisonnagasue.

Pendant necklace in oxidized sterling silver with a 50 ct. colorless but included quartz, $1,050; email alisonknagasue@gmail.com for purchase

Pendant necklace in oxidized sterling silver with a 50 ct. colorless but included quartz, $1,050; email alisonknagasue@gmail.com for purchase

Rings in 18k yellow gold with a 5 ct. enhydro (water filled) quartz and an oversize Brazilian-origin dumortierite cabochon, $2,275–$3,520; email alisonknagasue@gmail.com for purchase

Rings in 18k yellow gold with a 5 ct. enhydro (water filled) quartz and an oversize Brazilian-origin dumortierite cabochon, $2,275–$3,520; email alisonknagasue@gmail.com for purchase

Drop earrings in 14k yellow gold with purple garnets and diamonds, $1,300 at K.Jon’s

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Personalities

Meet Laurie Kaiser and Her Rustic Romantic Feminine Style

New York City. Jan. 30, 2020. Designer Laurie Kaiser has been turning out gorgeously executed gold designs with noticeable stylized nature motifs—think lemongrass leaves and bark-like surfaces—for the past 14 years. Previously, the Nashville, Tenn.–based artist headed up her own advertising agency, but when a jewelry-making class taken with a friend opened her eyes to a different type of creativity, she shifted gears to jewelry design.

Nature plays the biggest role in her work, with flora and fauna dominating themes and finishes. Expressive gemstones like agate, jasper, and azure-malachite, with their gloriously eart-tone veins and impressionistic portraits of color, blend with aquamarine, topaz, diamonds, uniquely shaped pearls, and dreamy rainbow moonstones, among other gems.

“I love the unusual gems that are fine but casual in appearance and can’t be reproduced. “You’ll see leaves and vines in my work—sophisticated, precious versions of nature.”

And while Kaiser loves to sketch out designs, goldsmiths bring her largely fabricated or hand-crafted and hand-engraved works to life. Pieces are made in Jaipur in 18k gold and sterling silver.

Merchant Mary Leppert, co-owner of Metalmark Fine Jewelry, with stores in Carmel, Ind., and Denver, says she and her staffers fell for Kaiser’s styles at a trade-only Melee jewelry show in New York City last year.

“The jewelry is so well made and beautiful,” she says. “We love that it is designed for women by a woman, and how she frames the stones with leaf work or branches. We even just had someone buy one of the crisscross rings as a wedding band.”

Another purveyor of Kaiser’s work also has high praise: Sundance recently put a pair of her earrings on a catalog cover.

Retail prices start at $500.

Lemongrass Bar necklace in 18k yellow gold and blackened sterling silver with 26.50 cts. t.w. azurite malachite cabochons and 0.10 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $1,900; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase.

Lemongrass Bar necklace in 18k yellow gold and blackened sterling silver with 26.50 cts. t.w. azurite malachite cabochons and 0.10 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $1,900; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase

Lemongrass ring in 18k yellow gold with a 0.61 ct. rose-cut diamond center and 0.04 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $2,370; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase.

Lemongrass ring in 18k yellow gold with a 0.61 ct. rose-cut diamond center and 0.04 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $2,370; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase

Fresco Stripe earrings in 18k yellow gold and blackened sterling silver with 75 cts. t.w. petrified wood cabochons and 0.25 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $3,840; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase.

Fresco Stripe earrings in 18k yellow gold and blackened sterling silver with 75 cts. t.w. petrified wood cabochons and 0.25 ct. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $3,840; email Laurie@lauriekaiser.com for purchase.

Drop earrings in 14k yellow gold with purple garnets and diamonds, $1,300 at K.Jon’s

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