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Jewelry Designers Find New Bases Spark Creativity

Whether it is employees’ refusal to return to lengthy commutes or desire for hybrid schedules, the world of work has been getting a shake-up. And jewelry designers are caught up in the shifting currents.

Less bound to the status quo as creative souls and enabled by technology to communicate with clients and manufacturers virtually anywhere, it has been easier than ever to change how and where they operate.

For some, that has meant leaving longtime bases for new settings that offer a wellspring of new inspiration (and maybe some sun and surf, too). As Jules Kim, founder of the jewelry brand Bijules and a recent U.S. expat, put it, “It’s really about the spirit of being creative and running after it.”

Mark Davis, whose fine jewelry brand mingles vintage Bakelite and precious gemstones, had a grievance familiar to plenty of New Yorkers. “I got tired of being in New York and not appreciating it,” said Mr. Davis, 55. “I’m so obsessive with work, I never went to the theater. I never saw exhibitions.”

A friend and fellow designer from Texas, Nak Armstrong, helped inspire Mr. Davis to make a change: “He told me: ‘When you don’t live in New York, you’ll take advantage of those things when you visit.’”

The advice motivated Mr. Davis to begin hunting for a new home base. In November 2019, he relocated to Beaufort, S.C., a coastal city of about 13,400 residents known for its antebellum architecture and three military bases.

A large part of Beaufort’s appeal, he said, was the fact it is only about a half-hour drive from the Savannah College of Art and Design, best known as SCAD. “It’s going to be the hiring resource for me,” Mr. Davis said.

The region’s mild weather did not hurt. “I was sick of winter,” he said.

The town’s inexpensive real estate helped, too. Mr. Davis had a 6,200-square-foot facility built for “under $1 million,” he said. “You couldn’t get a nice apartment in Manhattan for that price.” His business occupies half the space and he rents out the remainder.

Five people from Mr. Davis’s eight-member New York staff joined him in the summer of 2020 when the studio was almost completed, allowing him to get started with minimal disruption. “As long as I have FedEx, Brinks, the internet and my team, I can do whatever I want, wherever I want,” he said.

His significantly reduced costs have allowed him to invest more in his jewelry and explore new categories. “We’re beginning to do larger pieces with much more gold and just a little Bakelite, as an accent,” he said. “And I’ve been working on a home line in Bakelite and sterling.”

Mr. Davis said he remained “obsessed” with work but found Beaufort “way more relaxing.” And just as he had hoped, “When I go to New York, I make a point of doing all the things that I wasn’t doing before.”

As the coronavirus pandemic caused much of the world to grind to a halt in spring 2020, Mish Tworkowski and his husband and business partner, Joseph Singer, had more time to focus on their next act.

They had operated the jewelry brand Mish from a New York City studio — in two successive locations on the Upper East Side, then downtown on Bond Street — for more than three decades. But in August the lease expired, said Mr. Tworkowski, 60. “We had to decide whether we wanted to stay or do something new.”

They decided to move the jewelry salon to Palm Beach, the legendarily upscale island community in South Florida. Mr. Tworkowski said the decision was helped along by the availability of a “truly amazing space”: a pink stucco building designed by Addison Mizner, a defining architect in the region known for his Mediterranean-style design.

Katie Ridder, an interior designer based in New York, has decorated the space in a deep pastel palette that Mr. Tworkowski described as “next-generation Palm Beach” and flourishes that include a room lined by trellises that have been hung with orchids and a Biedermeier sofa upholstered in lavender suede.

The designer is encouraged by signs that his arrival will be well received. “A few clients sweet-talked the contractor into giving tours” of the space, which opened Wednesday, while still under construction.

Maybe they were after some of the new jewels he has created, tailored to the Palm Beach set. A collection of Sleeping Beauty turquoise that Mr. Tworkowski had retained for more than a decade while “waiting for the right moment” has been fashioned into a one-off rendition of his Cabana bracelet with charms in shell and starfish motifs.

Mr. Tworkowski anticipates that his new environment will continue to influence his creations. “Suddenly I’m in a really pastel world, a world of bright color, a world where sunlight makes color so much more vibrant,” he said. “This is a more intoxicating world, there’s a more intoxicating beauty and that will definitely surface in some way.”

The heady beauty of Hawaii has made an impression on the work of Joy Smith, 45, who says her Communion by Joy collection of gold, diamond and gemstone jewelry is “rooted in spirituality” and channels forgiveness, love and strength.

The California native and her family headed to the island of Oahu during summer 2020. “My senses opened up when we moved here,” she said. “The color of the sky is unlike anything I’ve seen before, the light is different, the sunsets, the green of the mountains.” And those colors have drifted into her work.

“I never used to use color in my jewelry. Maybe opals, rustic diamonds, noncolors, really,” Ms. Smith said. “Now I love tourmalines, all the colors of sapphires. I’m really into aquamarines. My world is brighter living here.”

Her clients seems to have responded favorably to her new work, too. “My business has grown so much,” she said. “I made a lot of engagement rings, spiritual medallions and things like that. People feel like they need something to pull through this time.”

From her home office outside Lisbon, Bibi van der Velden has a view of the treetops in the surrounding nature reserve and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The urge for a water-adjacent “green cocoon” led the jewelry designer and her family — her husband Thomas de Haas and their daughter Charlie and son Balthazar — to trade their life in central Amsterdam in late 2019 for their new home.

Despite facing a few hazards rarely found in Amsterdam, including hurricanes, bush fires and snakes, Ms. van der Velden, 41, stresses that the family’s quality of life has improved in Portugal. “We have a healthier lifestyle being outdoors and being connected to the earth,” she said. “And I appreciate the distance from the logistics and nitty-gritty of running a company. To be able to step out and focus on the strategic perspective has been very good.”

While she maintains a jewelry bench in Portugal and develops new collections there, the headquarters of her businesses, including the e-commerce venture Auverture, remained in the Netherlands. Twenty employees work in the showroom, gallery and office, and she and her husband, who is chief executive of both the jewelry brand and Auverture, return for a week each month “to keep the team motivated and inspired,” she said. But her peripatetic travel habits of pre-Covid days have become a thing of the past.

Her recent introductions track closely with her personal experiences. Memento Mori, an ode to Dutch still-life painting, includes a lush 18-karat gold tulip necklace scattered with jeweled insects and gold and sapphire eternity bands shaped like millipedes. “It was a farewell to Holland,” she said.

The just-released jewels of Smoke, her interpretation of the sculptural shapes left in the wake of an extinguished flame, echoes the mutable experience of life, especially during the pandemic. “It is something that you can’t capture,” she said. “The moment you think you understand it, it evaporates and changes.”

And now, she said, she is focused on the shapes of waves: “I’m always in the water; it will be very connected to being here in Portugal.”

It is difficult to pigeonhole Bijules jewelry. The offerings from its founder, Jules Kim, 42, veer from earring-style accessories that attach to AirPods to edgy interpretations of the engagement ring. Her latest move makes her harder to pin down geographically, too.

During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, after 20 years in New York, Ms. Kim and her Italian-born husband, the photographer Alessandro Simonetti, made plans to decamp for Europe.

Their possessions had started the journey to Berlin, the couple’s intended destination, but the German capital went into lockdown before they could enter. The same thing happened when they targeted Milan, near Mr. Simonetti’s family.

So they ended up visiting friends on Fuerteventura, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. “We decided to surf,” Ms. Kim said. “What else could we do?”

Charmed by both its beauty and connections to the rest of Europe, the couple now plan to stay on. “In Fuerteventura, you are totally encompassed by nature,” Ms. Kim said, noting it also has potential as a launchpad to different locales. “In New York, I’m working with my manufacturers and artisans,” she said. “Tomorrow, I’ll move on to Milan to discuss a pop-up there, and the next leg of my trip is to Zurich because I’m starting a lab-grown diamond brand.”

All the while, she has been designing new jewelry, including a piece she considers “maybe the most beautiful that I’ve ever made”: the Compass ring, which features vivid gemstone combinations like pink opal and rhodolite garnet and can be worn oriented north-south or east-west. “It’s a story that is all about travel,” she said.

Ms. Kim ensured that all the design’s production, from stone cutting to casting, was done by women. “For me,” she said, “it shows the power of females to lead the way.”

When the East London building that had housed a live-work space for Melanie Eddy and her partner Andrew Kuchanny, a director of photography, was sold, the couple investigated alternatives, eventually landing in the Hertfordshire village of Much Hadham.

While the move in March 2020 may have only been about 60 miles, it was a significant change of scene for the Bermuda native. “We’re really in the countryside, with fields of wheat and hay and lots of sheep,” said Ms. Eddy, 42.

She maintains a design studio in her new home but regularly visits London, where she shares a workshop with another jeweler. There, she can meet with clients and focus on the hands-on work of goldsmithing, wax carving and polishing the jewelry that she makes — highly sculptural, faceted silhouettes in precious metal, often with diamonds or colored gemstones.

Ms. Eddy said that pandemic lockdown restrictions actually eased her adjustment to the new location. “Everyone was suddenly working remotely,” she said. “Before the pandemic, clients would come to my London studio for two or three meetings. Now a lot are done completely remotely, by speaking on Zoom.”

The shift has been beneficial for her design practice. “I’ve reclaimed some of the time to have space to think about ideas I want to develop, where I want to push myself,” Ms. Eddy said, including producing “bigger statement pieces.” Some of that work, such as an eight-carat free-form pentagon beryl ring, was recently on view in “Force of Nature,” a recent selling exhibition featuring the creations of 18 contemporary jewelers at the Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery in London.

Any initial trepidation about moving out of the capital is gone. “It’s really fed my creativity. I have a better work/life balance. I get out into nature,” Ms. Eddy said. “I realized I didn’t need to rely on being in a big cosmopolitan place. It’s about me, not a place.”