Personalities

Collector Obsession: Stephanie’s Love of Belle Étoile Jewelry Gave Her Style and, Serendipitously, a Husband

Chicago. Jan. 15, 2020. It was a trip to Sanibel, Fla., with her mom during graduate school in 2012 when Stephanie, now a Chicago-based technical sales consultant for a biotech company, learned about the silver jewelry brand Belle Étoile and the family behind it—a family she would eventually marry into.

On the trip, the pair heard about Lily & Co. Jewelers, a jewelry store with two beautiful large dogs in addition to beautiful jewelry, so the animal (and jewelry) lovers went to visit.

There, Stephanie saw Belle Étoile jewelry for the first time. She loved the bright colors and fun designs, including a Toucan Collection bracelet with a black background that let a vibrantly colored bird and fauna pop with primary hues. Stephanie couldn’t afford to purchase it at the time but went home and online to make a wish list of coveted Belle Étoile jewels. For her birthday and Christmas that year (both are just days apart), her mother surprised her with the Toucan bangle and ring, a domed look with the same fun aesthetic.

From there, Stephanie graduated, started working around the U.S., and eventually moved home to Chicago in 2016, building her Belle Étoile collection in the process. She also bought Belle Étoile gifts for her mom and sister, including a Peacock set, Parrot charms, and Constellation bracelets, from Altobello Fine Jewelers in Wheaton, Ill. To date, Stephanie owns nine pieces; among them are two bracelets and two rings from the Birds of Paradise Collection, a Hummingbird bracelet, and a ring featuring a coral reef and sea turtle.

“I like that Belle Étoile is attainable,” she explains. “Some pieces are pricier, but I would think jewelry this unique would cost thousands of dollars. Somehow, Belle Étoile has taken something that is couture and made it a third of the price.”

Then a truly serendipitous happenstance occurred. Just weeks after returning home to the Windy City, a friend introduced her to now-husband Bill, who—unbeknownst to Stephanie at the time—was the brother-in-law of Carolyn Thamkul, the owner of her beloved Belle Étoile jewelry. A month into dating, Bill invited Stephanie to his house for dinner with his five-year-old daughter Scarlett, who was wearing a Belle Étoile butterfly necklace, a piece Stephanie immediately recognized. “I lost my mind—I screamed ‘Where did you get that Belle Étoile necklace’?” Stephanie recollects. That’s when Bill told her about the Belle Étoile connection, a fact that elicited yet another and louder scream from Stephanie.

“OMG—you have no idea! I love Belle Étoile!” she shrieked.

Besides sharing lots of other important commonalities, like a love of kids, the pair quickly decided to marry. In October that year, they had a small ceremony, at which Stephanie finally met Carolyn and husband—brother to her new husband—Bryce, who sang Always by Erasure during the ceremony. (Carolyn and Bryce are part of an acapella group in their home state of California.)

Scarlett was included in the wedding ceremony, wearing her own white dress and an Onda collection necklace from Belle Étoile. “We gave her a necklace with three multicolor loops—the big one is daddy, the rose one is me, and shiny one in the middle being hugged by both is Scarlett,” says Stephanie about the symbolic piece.

Not surprisingly, Carolyn is elated with her newfound family member on many levels.

“They are kindred spirits who were in the same place at the right time,” she says. “And Belle Étoile is a niche product; what are the odds of finding someone who is obsessed with collecting it?”

Stephanie and Carolyn finally meet at the wedding in October 2016.

Stephanie and Carolyn finally meet at the wedding in October 2016.

Stephanie, Bill, and Scarlett on their wedding day.

Stephanie, Scarlett, and Bill on their wedding day.

Daisy chain pendant necklace in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $175; available online at Davis Jewelers

Daisy chain pendant necklace in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $175; available online at Davis Jewelers

Jardin ring in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $210; available online at Sachs Jewelers

Jardin ring in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $210; available online at Sachs Jewelers

Love Toucan bangle in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $450; available online at August Stephenson Jewelry

Love Toucan bangle in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $450; available online at August Stephenson Jewelry

Peacock bangle in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $625; available online at Hawaiian Island Jewelry

Peacock bangle in sterling with rhodium plating, enamel, and CZ, $625; available online at Hawaiian Island Jewelry


This content is copyright protected and may not be reproduced.

Personalities

Meet Wendy Stauffer of Fuss Jewelry and Her Flirty Fringe Aesthetic

New York City. Jan. 10, 2020. It was 2007 when Sausalito, Calif.-based Wendy Stauffer of Fuss Jewelry unveiled her first attempts at jewelry design, on Etsy.com. The pieces were wire-wrapped flowers with briolettes, pretty enough to start garnering a fan base.

By 2010, Stauffer was watching YouTube videos and hitting up professionals on Facebook jewelry groups about metalsmithing to start incorporating fabricated styles into her mix. Now the onetime biology major, self-taught graphic designer, and longtime lover of crafts was ready to devote all her time to an elevated jewelry look that combined wire wrapping with metalsmithing.

“My style slowly evolved—It took five years for me to get there,” she explains. “It’s amazing how much people online will share to help you.”

Through the process of developing her look, fringed beads with two-tone metals became an obvious choice. Botanical motifs like leaves, a holdover from her early science education, also take shape among her largely freeform and organic creations.

“I like a bezel-set stone with romantic frilly edges of gemstones,” she adds. “I love 22k gold for bezels with wire-wrapped silver around it.”

New designs are always inspired by the gems. These include humble ones like dendritic agates, Montana moss agates, and boulder opal—“They provide such a spectrum of color!” Stauffer exclaims—in addition to vibrantly colored tourmaline or rutilated gems and more.

Sketching, too, facilitates ideas, as does exercise.

“I often get good ideas for designs when I’m running,” she says. “I try not to forget them by the time I get home!”

Meanwhile, components like large chains and clasps are made by Stauffer, while finer chains are purchased from manufacturing outlets with efficient skills to produce tiny links. All pieces are hand-fabricated, though wax carvings may be in her future.

“Casting interests me because the botanical designs I do would adapt well to carving in wax,” she says.

Her favorite metal is, for sure, Argentium silver. “It fuses without soldering in the initial steps,” she says. Accents in 18k gold are another common feature in her jewelry, as are sturdy 14k head pins for beaded accents.

Retail prices start at $500.

Find Stauffer’s work on her website fussjewelry.com as well as at select retailers like J. Mcveigh Jewelry in Stonington, Maine, and the retail component of the American Craft Council show in Baltimore.

Limited edition Kyanite Dangle earrings in Argentium silver with 22k and 14k gold with pearls and lapis are one inch long and a half an inch wide, $690; available online at Fuss Jewelry

Limited edition Kyanite Dangle earrings in Argentium silver with 22k and 14k gold with pearls and lapis are one inch long and a half an inch wide, $690; available online at Fuss Jewelry

Ring in oxidized silver and 22k gold with Aqua Wood Fossil Boulder opal with mixed gemstones, $855; available online at Fuss Jewelry

Ring in oxidized silver and 22k gold with Aqua Wood Fossil Boulder opal with mixed gemstones, $855; available online at Fuss Jewelry

Flowers on a Trellis necklace in oxidized silver with 14k and 18k yellow gold with Boulder opal, pink sapphires and tourmalines, Spessartite garnet, amethyst, and tanzanite, $1,800; available online at Fuss Jewelry

Flowers on a Trellis necklace in oxidized silver with 14k and 18k yellow gold with Boulder opal, pink sapphires and tourmalines, Spessartite garnet, amethyst, and tanzanite, $1,800; available online at Fuss Jewelry


This content is copyright protected and may not be reproduced.

Personalities

Q&A With Kyle Roderick About the Book, “Bejeweled: The World of Ethical Jewelry”

New York City. Jan. 7, 2020. Kyle Roderick, a fellow journalist and a familiar, fashionably spectacled face on the high-end jewelry trade-show circuit, has combined her passions for couture designers and ethical jewelry into a newly released coffee table book. In “Bejeweled: The World of Ethical Jewelry” (Rizzoli New York, 2019), the Forbes.com contributor, founder of BijouxReview.com, and personality behind @bijouxreview with nearly 84,000 fans offers a thoughtful look at 15 jewelry designers whose works celebrate ethical practices.

Subjects include Pippa Small, an early adopter of Fairmined gold and employer of jewelry artisans in far-flung places like Burma and Afghanistan, and Native American Hopi artist Dewey Nelson, who casts his own sterling ingots from scrap silver in fine Tufa rock from the high desert of northeastern Arizona. All artists featured in the book are vital to Roderick’s raison d’etre: casting a spotlight on an international cadre of jewelry designers who apply environmentally and humanely responsible practices to the business of making bling.

Earrings in ethical gold, enamel, and emeralds from Alice Cicolini

Earrings in ethical gold, enamel, and emeralds from Alice Cicolini

While many of us may have noticed how designers large and small are adopting more transparent and accountable business practices, Roderick chronicles some of the most significant moves taken in the independent jewelry design community. Her agent summarizes the tome in media outreach: “‘Bejeweled’ celebrates how jewelry, long associated with indulgence and wealth, is morphing into an environmentally responsible luxury business and sustainable applied art form powered by social enterprise business models and philanthropic values.”

A foreword is written by Hutton Wilkinson, the longtime business partner of designer Tony Duquette, whose estate and jewelry collection he manages and about whom he has authored books.

Below, Roderick talks to Jennifer Heebner about writing the book, subjects and sources, and how much work is still left to do in the arena of sustainability in jewelry.

Ring in ethically sourced gold with ancient Roman glass and gemstones by Coomi

Ring in ethically sourced gold with ancient Roman glass and gemstones by Coomi

Jennifer Heebner: Ethically sourced and sustainably mined jewelry has been a category growing in importance to both industry and consumers. Why did you decide it was time to tackle a book on the topic?

Kyle Roderick: I’ve spent the last six years writing about luxurious and sustainable jewelry brands and the people who design for them for Forbes.com, plus luxury publications like “DESTINATION HYATT,” “Waldorf Astoria” magazine, and my own website, bijoureview.com, as well as for my Instagram gallery @bijouxreview. In 2015, it dawned on me that I was covering so many ethical jewelry designers in such detail that I might as well write a book, as I found their beautiful designs historically and environmentally important. Thus, I conceived, wrote, and photo edited “Bejeweled: The World of Ethical Jewelry,” which was published by Rizzoli in the U.S. and U.K. in autumn 2019.

JH: How did you decide which artists to profile?

KR: I approached 24 jewelry designers to work with me on this project. English jewelers and activists such as Greg Valerio, formerly of CRED, and London-based Pippa Small and Stephen Webster have all been using Fairmined gold since around 2011. (Pippa Small’s jewels adorn the cover of “Bejeweled,” and her creations and pioneering adventures in sustainable jewelry comprise the first chapter.) While Webster and privately owned Chopard have been using Fairmined gold in some of their collections for several years, they both declined to participate in my book.

Necklace in ethically sourced gold and gemstones by Loren Nicole

Necklace in ethically sourced gold and gemstones by Loren Nicole

JH: Why did you decide to group the designers by the categories Traditional, Classic, Natural, and Conceptual? Tell me a little bit about each of those sections?

KR: Because ethical jewelry also has to do with preserving artisanal jewelry traditions in a world of mass produced, cheap metal jewelry, I wanted to organize the book into thematic groups that would highlight what tendencies and interests these various designers have in common.

For example, in the first section, which is the Traditional section, I wanted to include only designers who are rooted in artisanal jewelry traditions and who work with master artisans or are master artisans themselves, such as the Hopi fine artist Dewey Nelson. Likewise, jewelry has long been an applied art for artisans and jewelry lovers who are deeply exploring and representing the natural world through the designs they make or wear. So there’s a Natural section. The Classic section suits designers like Loren Nicole, Coomi, Ana Katarina, and Stella Flame, who variously make and design jewels that are rooted in ancient empires and their classical jewelry making techniques. 

The Conceptual section is for those designers like Sandy Leong, who makes the most sculpturally alluring jewels out of recycled gold and sustainably sourced diamonds. Her company is virtually carbon-neutral as well. I am indeed fortunate that pathfinding designers and makers like Pippa Small, Alice Cicolini, Dewey Nelson, Coomi, Anabela Chan, K. Brunini, Stella Flame, Sandy Leong, Loren Nicole, Ana Katarina, Joan Hornig, and Karma El Khalil, Samira 13, and stôn all agreed to get on board.

Cuff in ethical metals from Stella Flame

Cuff in ethical metals from Stella Flame

JH: Tell me about some of the companies that are sourcing ethical metals.

KR: Among the many certificates and standards claiming to certify responsibly mined gold, two labels are discussed in the book’s introduction, “Fairmined” gold (a label certified by a Colombian NGO) and the equally famous “Fairtrade,” a label launched by the Swiss foundation Max Havelaar. Both certification standards support artisanal mines aiming to preserve the environment in terms of extraction and the recycling of mining chemicals and water, along with decent working conditions and fair wages for the miners that are higher than the industry standard. Ethical gold production is limited to just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output, as it happens, adds up to around 3,300 tons.
Environmentally conscious jewelry designers buy these types of gold in bulk so as to document the source of their supply to an ethical and sustainable production cycle. They also buy recycled gold from companies certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), which has developed norms for the entire supply chain. RJC members must adhere to rigorous standards governing ethical, human rights, social, and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury goods holding company Kering Group, which claims to have purchased more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Gucci, Boucheron, Pomellato, and Dodo brands, has committed to 100 percent use of ethical gold by 2020.

Find “Bejeweled: The World of Ethical Jewelry” by Kyle Roderick, Rizzoli New York 2019, on Amazon.com.

Editor’s note: In the U.S., artists can contact Hoover & Strong for recycled metal and its Fairtrade and Fairmined metals.


This content is copyright protected and may not be reproduced.

Personalities

A Silver Jewelry Designer Returns to Her Songstress Roots and Releases an Album

New York City. Jan. 3, 2019. A lifetime ago, silver jewelry designer Saundra Messinger, known for her organic-looking sterling styles sometimes set with burnished diamonds, sang jingles for a living.

As a child, she appeared as a guest on the Ted Mack program, and in adulthood, she was the onetime voice of Windjammer Cruises. (Click here to listen to Messinger’s dramatic, 80s-intense melody written by Jeremy Goldsmith that captures the early part of the era’s syrupy serenade-like productions.) She even sang about “hating roaches” for a pesticide company! And when she needed someone to help her record a demo tape, she met husband Chuck Irwin, a recording engineer and record producer.

To advertise, contact Nicole@thejewelrybook.com.

But after years of fun musical and acting projects, her interests shifted and Messinger took a position with clothing brand Eileen Fisher. Messinger’s interest in fashion landed her a job as a jewelry buyer, and it was during this time, as she requested specific pieces for manufacturing, that a lightbulb moment occurred: she was a designer herself, a point noted by one of the designers on her team and a direction that the artist encouraged Messinger to pursue.

Messinger started organizing her thoughts and ideas for a collection, and her friend and mentor introduced her to casters and wax carvers on 47th Street. By the fall of 1999, Messinger had a sample line comprising geometric forms in silver with her signature uneven surfaces (“They are not hammered, they are carved in wax,” she maintains) and matte finishes. By May 2000, she participated in her first Accessories Circuit show. She was also one of the first artists to set diamonds into sterling jewelry.

Her design prowess escalated quickly, and singing became a memory, though one last project lingered in the recesses of her mind. She and Chuck had recorded an album rich in pop-like vocals with old standards and original tunes written by songwriters and musicians who were friends of Messinger’s husband. “When we recorded this, he was the famous one and I was the unknown singer,” she recollects.

By the time they finished recording, resources were depleted. As it was expensive and time-consuming to release an album, they shelved it. “We simply ran out of money,” says Messinger.  

Now, 30 years later, the time is right to release it. “We are finally ready to just close this loop and get this album out there,” she says. “Chuck never let it go—he wanted to finish what we started.”

To advertise, contact Nicole@thejewelrybook.com.

The name of the body of work? Smile. Her jewelry is incorporated into the album’s design, created by Robert Genovesi of GenovesiWeb.com, by way of the uneven curve from one of Messinger’s bangles on the cover. A Smile necklace with diamonds dotting the base will debut in the first weekend of February (trade buyers can see it at the upcoming Melee show), when collectors will be able purchase it online. The Smile necklace looks just like the name suggests—like a smile. Find the album on Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes. Find Messinger’s jewelry online.

The Smile necklace in sterling silver with diamonds will debut in early February on Saundra Messinger’s website.
The cover of Saundra Messinger’s album called Smile.

This content is copyright protected and may not be reproduced.