Niche Designer Brands
Some jewellers are creating successful businesses by finding and filling untapped niches in the market. Olga Gonzalez FGA DGA speaks to several designers who have found ways to make their aesthetics their calling card among very specific audiences. This article was published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Gems & Jewellery Magazine.
Building a niche in the jewellery industry is an excellent branding strategy. It requires a level of discipline and business savvy that leaves only leaves the best of the best standing. Selecting a target audience, meeting an unmet or underserved need, and developing product that fulfils that need are only the first steps to building and becoming a viable jewellery business. In the field of design, a company that focuses in on one aesthetic, or market, and develops it to perfection, is a company that will be around for the long haul. These designers are breaking ground in their various niches, developing jewels with a signature look, and for a specific audience, with a gorgeous aesthetic.
Equestrian fine jeweller and gemmologist Karina Brez first combined her passion for jewellery and horses when she launched her inaugural collection, Horse LUV, at Florida’s Wellington Equestrian Center in 2013. Horse LUV combines the form of two horses into a heart, acting as a symbol for those who love the animals and an heirloom for connecting those who share this endearment. Brez says, “I grew up admiring horses, and began riding in my early twenties. My inspiration comes from these majestic animals.” Timeless and elegant, Karina Brez’s designs capture the bond between human and horse. Her pieces throughout her various signature collections, which include Huggable Hooves, Bit of LUV and the Lucky Horseshoe collection, are wearable with one’s everyday style. By being a niche designer, Brez says “it is easy to know my target audience, and when creating new collections, I stick to my horse theme.” To learn more about Brez’s work, visit karinabrez.com or follow @karinabrezjewelry on Instagram.
Steeped in tradition, Rebus (rebussignetrings.com/Instagram @rebussignetrings) has specialised in crafting hand-engraved signet rings since 1975. In their Hatton Garden workshop, a team of award-winning goldsmiths use long-established methods and tools to lovingly create exclusive, one-of-a-kind pieces that are cherished and passed down for generations. “An item of jewellery is a very personal and valued possession, which lends itself perfectly to the creation of something significant to recognise and celebrate the importance of the connection,” noted Emmet Smith, founder of Rebus. “By concentrating on a clearly defined range of products, we can be master specialists with recognised expertise, virtuosos in our chosen field.” Exploring vision and ancestry, one can choose to have a motif rendered, such as an initial, crest or coat of arms. “A signet ring has a long and classic history. I love being able to play with the form in a way that is contemporary and fashionable without losing the classic quality that can still be appreciated by future generations”, continued Smith. “Unique designs are also a great option, such as a child’s fingerprint, a pet, or memento mori symbolism. Each ring can be engraved in reverse for use as a seal, adding an elegant touch to future correspondences.”
Inspired by objet trouvés, or the ‘found object’, Francesca Villa (www.francescavilla.it or @francescavillajewellery on Instagram) designs and creates pieces strongly linked to the past. She has always been passion about Essex crystal and reverse intaglio jewellery, an art where miniatures were traditionally engraved and hand painted onto rock crystal and cabochons. After collecting many of her own examples, Villa decided to collaborate with artisans who have mastered this difficult technique, creating a collection of her own designs. To add her own twist, she adds enamelling to the traditional hand painting. Describing her work, Francesca Villa explained, “In ‘The Mermaid’, our charming siren loves cherries, leaves the ocean and takes a piece of the sea into a drawer, afraid of being homesick. In the same way, in the titanium ring ‘The Fish Out of the Sea,’ the little bird seems to scurry on a carpet of grass, embellished with peridots, tsavorites and enamels.”
Ethereal and symbolic, Cleopatra’s Bling is the creation of Olivia Cummings. The jeweller-designer moved to Turkey, finding inspiration at the Grand Bazaar and fusing Eastern enticement with Western style. “The mixing pot of cultures got me very interested in researching ancient techniques of jewellery making that came from the Far East via the Silk Roads,” Cummings related. Every Cleopatra’s Bling design is developed in wax and then handmade; each one is authentic to the designer’s vision. Regarding her personal connection to this aesthetic, Cummings said, “I love the mythology and symbolism, it makes me feel grounded and connected. I want the jewellery to create a bridge between people that elicits empathy and compassion. These values are important to me in a world that polarises and separates.” To learn more about the line, visit cleopatrasbling.com or follow @cleopatrasbling on Instagram.
Each in a category unto their own, these niche designers embrace an aesthetic that is unmistakably linked to their brand identity.
Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Maria Blondet creates sculptural sheet metal jewellery with both polished and textured finishes that can be rearranged to create a variety of positive and negative spaces, alongside juxtaposing light and dark metals. Her pieces are wearable sculptures, where the sheets can be moved to give a necklace or a pair of earrings half-a-dozen looks. Blondet stated “I am a niche of a niche of a niche, and I love it. It differentiates me from the crowd. I do not like to be conventional, nor one of the crowd. Being in a niche allows me to create my art regardless of commercial trends. I offer exclusivity, uniqueness and empowerment to the wearer through my work. I celebrate each person’s individuality and want them to be able to feel like, love and celebrate themselves.” For her, the principal elements of design are balance, colour, texture, shape, weight and the actual wearer. Each piece is made with individuality in mind, which is completed once it reaches its final destination, by being worn. To learn more, visit mariablondet.com or follow @mariablondetjewelry on Instagram.
Brooklyn-based Carbon 6 (carbon6rings. com/ IG: @carbon_6_rings) has developed a niche market of customers via their high-quality carbon fibre and Damascus steel rings. Their forged Carbon Fiber is created by fusing together two elements – carbon fibre and resin – that together create something stronger and more resilient than either material could be on its own. The material itself symbolises the strength and beauty a relationship can hold, and it has become a popular choice for alternative wedding bands. Carbon 6’s Damascus steel is inspired by the metal of choice used for swords and intricate patternmaking in the Near East. It is reminiscent of the beauty in the decoration of forged blades. Offering a comfortable fit with a sleek, modern aesthetic, Carbon 6’s rings are natural conversation starters. “What makes forged carbon so striking, compared to other carbon-fibre rings, is the depth of layers that are reminiscent of marble,” stated Claire Easley, the company’s CEO.
Former human rights attorney-turned- goldsmith Christina Malle was drawn in by the words of Colombian miner Robert Alvarez. Speaking on the topic of Fairmined gold, Alvarez related how his local community was helped when a mine he worked at received Fairmined certification, a powerful message Malle took to heart. Believing that ‘when it comes to gold, if one is not part of the solution, one is part of the problem’, Malle herself became Fairmined certified. Working to further draw attention to the topics related to the issue, she created the Flora Collection. This new concept is inspired by the flowers, plants and trees in and around the Fairmined mining regions of Colombia and Peru. The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), which manages Fairmined gold, agreed to Malle’s request for images of what the mines looked like, including the plants growing there, to develop this collection. As a niche designer, Malle indicated that “I feel free to express my own aesthetic vision — and feel free to share my observations on the inequities in the jewellery supply chain.” Christina Malle is also on the board of directors for Ethical Metalsmiths, and is slated to become president of the organisation in 2023 (to learn more about Ethical Metalsmiths, see Summer 2022 G&J, pp. 10-13). To learn more about her jewellery, visit christinamalle.com or follow @christinamallenyc on Instagram.
Mythology has influenced the art of centuries, especially in ancient Greece and Rome. Animals and symbols have been used to create powerful messages in fine art and sculpture, as well as within wearable works, such as jewellery. Konstantinos I. Leoussis, founder of K.I.L. NYC, has reintroduced ancient creatures into modern forms. Mr Leoussis said, “My family is Greek, and using many photos I took whilst in Greece as a child, I began practicing my own style of jewellery based on creatures from Greek mythology. I created Teras to bring those imaginary creatures into our world.” With designs displaying a passion for history and tradition, his Teras Collection plays on a love of myths and monsters. “Each scale is lovingly hand carved, and precious stones are meticulously selected to bring the Minotaur, the Chimera, and the Argus from the pages of old times and into the world of modern jewellery. Our pieces are designed for world explorers, history lovers, and those who would like to add a bit of eccentricity to their jewellery box.” Visit kil-nyc.com or follow @kil_nyc on Instagram for more information on the Teras Collection.
While the inspirations for their pieces may differ, there is a striking similarity among the abovementioned jewellers. Each in a category unto their own, these niche designers embrace an aesthetic that is unmistakably linked to their brand identity. Whether the customer is an equestrian, art or mythology buff, environmentally conscious or looking for a unique men’s ring, each company meets the desire with luxurious product, setting the bar high for other designers looking to specialise and carve out their own space in the trade.