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.
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
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
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