Above all, a designer’s private atelier is meant to inspire. Here, four L.A. fine jewelers open up the back of the house.
Jewelry is not just Jennifer Meyer’s business, it’s a family affair. This morning, the CFDA-nominated (twice!) designer’s 7-year-old daughter Ruby (with husband, actor Tobey Maguire) is at home sick. “Before I left, she said, ‘Can you leave a little piece of you?’ I’m like, ‘What does that mean?’ But I knew what it meant—the turquoise necklace I made yesterday,” recounts Meyer, touching her Ruby “heart” Otis nameplate and turquoise bezel necklaces. “How could I say no?”
Rewind to 2005, when she started feeling antsy while working in public relations at Ralph Lauren. “[Tobey] kept asking, ‘What is it you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m sort of embarrassed to say…I want to try to design jewelry.’ There was a Star Wars quote he used: ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’” What happened next is something of a fairy tale: Meyer showed her very first samples of a leaf pendant necklace, leaf earrings and a cigar band to stylists pulling at Ralph Lauren for a Jennifer Aniston movie. They took them to the actress. And in 2006, The Break-Up was her big break.
Since then, the leaf has been a constant, but Meyer, 37, has also become known for simple yet elegant 18-karat-gold layering pieces meant to be worn from morning to night which “become a part of you,” she says. Her nameplate and word necklaces, wishbone charm and diamond pavé initial pendants are fan favorites, as are her cuffs featuring lapis, opal or turquoise inlay, and frequently diamonds. Since Meyer doesn’t design for seasons, her process is fluid—pieces can take three months to a year from conception to production, which is all done by hand in L.A.
Several years ago she graduated from working on her living-room floor to a modern, airy studio nestled on a tree-lined West L.A. street where “there are weeks where there’s nothing and then all of a sudden I’ll go on a design tangent, like, ‘I need everything lapis!’” Every morning after dropping Ruby and Otis, 5, off at school, Meyer heads to the townhouse office where she’ll conceptualize designs and take meetings with stylists, buyers and clients.
The daughter of NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer’s bejeweled journey traces back to when she was a little girl in her grandmother’s kitchen surrounded by colored powders and a kiln, learning how to make enamel jewelry. “[My grandma] was the real artist in our family and that’s where I caught the bug,” she says.
The L.A. native has had plenty of “oh my god” moments as a young designer, from Jennifer Lawrence wearing pieces to the SAG Awards to Aniston’s frequent support and street-style stars sporting her work. But her biggest fan might be the person she thinks of when we step out of her studio for a coffee and she spots a bear in the foam. “This will cheer up my daughter,” she says, snapping a photo. jennifermeyer.com. —Kathryn Romeyn.
“I wake up excited,” says jewelry designer Robert Keith, as he arranges a selection of 18-karat yellow, rose and white gold clasps inspired by vintage locks on a table in his Santa Monica atelier. “Every day I think, what’s going to happen?” It’s a valid question: The origin story behind Keith’s cult line, Hoorsenbuhs, is filled with left-field occurrences, from meeting his longtime friend, now brand ambassador, Kether Parker at a photo shoot at Topanga Beach in the late ’80s, to landing a collaboration with artist Damien Hirst last year after the British icon popped into Keith’s showroom and studio one afternoon. Keith returned from lunch to find Hirst ordering an assortment of open-link chain necklaces. He said, “What’s up! Fuck the po’lice! Look what I got!” he remembers. “It was an instant love affair,” adds Parker.
The Hoorsenbuhs atelier sits on Main Street, an elevated, bunker-shaped dark wood bungalow marked with a gold plaque that stands in direct contrast to its environs: the beachy bohemian sprawl where modern skateboarding was born. The juxtaposition sums up the ethos of the brand—named for a 16th-century Dutch merchant ship sailed by some of Keith’s ancestors—a fine-jewelry label founded in 2005 by a former fashion photographer whose counterculture loyalties run deep. From Keith’s debut design, a ring modeled on the stud links of a nautical chain (a motif he unearthed in an archival family photograph, and one that echoes in every piece), the simple-with-an-edge aesthetic resonated, yielding a celebrity following that includes Mary-Kate Olsen, Rihanna, Kristen Stewart and Kanye West. Keith has since collaborated with the everyone from Jay-Z to De Beers’ responsibly sourced diamond brand, Forevermark; he’s currently eyeing a stand-alone boutique in Tokyo, and a capsule collection with Hirst is ongoing—a brooch modeled on the 2008 skeletal sculpture Cupid’s Lie and a Swiss-movement watch are in the works.
In September, Keith introduced a new accessories and men’s apparel lifestyle collection called Leisure and Luxury, which is steered by Director of Product Development Karl Lindner and Director of Brand Management Gentry Dayton, and features high-end casual basics (think: tailored sweatshirts finished with gold zippers), Italian-manufactured leather backpacks and sneakers produced with Jon Buscemi. Keith has long-term ambitions for a women’s line, but in a needs-must move, editors from Elle and Vogue have been snapping up the separates in XS sizes, including the waffle-knit black-and-white long johns, which are lined so that they can be worn on their own. As with everything Keith touches, they’re a study in classy-meets-punk: “I love the idea of taking something that is made to be worn discreetly and putting it out front,” he says. hoorsenbuhs.com. — Melissa Goldstein.
Fun isn’t a typical word used in association with fine jewelry. On the list of common adjectives to describe an $8,000 tanzanite bracelet, special, graceful, even regal are predictable choices. But it would be impossible to write about Venice-based jeweler Irene Neuwirth and her unusual work without using it, or one of its semantic cousins like joyful, unpretentious and even delightful. “I like things to feel spontaneous,” laughs Neuwirth. “I decorated my house in 24 hours. I just threw things into place and I looked around and thought, ‘This looks alright.’ It just kind of stuck.”
On a recent morning in her multilevel studio on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Neuwirth wears a pair of black platform oxfords, a black full skirt, a gray sweatshirt and a striking rose pendant made of carved opal surrounded by tiny diamonds. Her personal style is as free-spirited, unexpected and spot-on-trend as her work.
For more than a decade, Neuwirth has designed striking pieces, like flame-orange carnelian drop earrings and bold green chrysoprase necklaces with stones so large it’s hard to remember they’re real. Actress Busy Phillips and alt-rock harpist Joanna Newsom are some of Neuwirth’s closest friends and biggest supporters, and a loyal cadre of fans understands that just because something is precious doesn’t mean it must be serious, too.
Since she launched her brand in 2003, she’s had much success at Barneys New York. This month, she unveils her new 1,800-square-foot Melrose Place store—designed by Pamela Shamshiri of Commune, with a dose of Neuwirth-approved quirky chic. Some of the more unexpected touches include a diorama created by multimedia artists Clare Crespo and Marine Panossian that features colorful birds made with materials including cashmere and snakeskin, and a long dining table for Neuwirth to host her famous dinner parties for loyal clients and friends. “We drink wine and talk about jewelry, and that way people feel more of a connection with the pieces they buy. I like to make it more personal,” she says, “and never too precious.” ireneneuwirth.com. —Christine Lennon.
“All of a sudden I started drawing jewels, and they looked like nothing anybody was making—they looked medieval, with turrets and lace, like really refined, beautiful buried treasure,” says Cathy Waterman from the pink dragon-covered couch in her hidden-away studio on Los Angeles’ Westside of how she began designing jewelry some 25 years ago.
Inspiration has never been a problem for the L.A. native, who feels compelled to make beautiful things not in the name of building a brand but for a personal connection: “It’s like this well that goes down to the bottom of the earth.” Her creations are influenced by everything from stories of the Byzantine era (she studied history before getting her law degree) to the ferocity of nature to the depths of her imagination. “I see jewels in my dreams—things that actually don’t exist. And then I make them appear,” says the fine jeweler, who works at a large hand-hammered iron desk surrounded by collections of curiosities that hold special meaning to her: carved wood, tramp art, Austrian art-nouveau pieces and photographs.
The first thing Waterman ever made was a pair of 22-karat-gold tassel earrings with diamonds and tiny Japanese cultured pearls. “As a girl I rode horses and I always wore a cowboy jacket with fringe,” says the CFDA member, whose talismanic jewels are worn by First Lady Michelle Obama and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on “Veep.” Tassels and fringe became common themes, alongside signatures including thorns, lace and leaves. Her diamond-encrusted Love ring is iconic, and her engagement and wedding rings are imbued with much love as well.
The self-described hippie has always used recycled metals and ethically sourced stones, but she’s just as likely to incorporate elements like fossilized pinecones, sand dollars or something she happens upon while walking in the forest. And though Waterman is constantly imagining and making jewelry, she wears little herself. Meaningful charms—a locket, a child engraved with her kids’ names and a juggler—hang around her neck on leather.
The designer’s intricate, whimsical jewelry is clearly labeled at Barneys New York (its Manhattan store was the first to buy her entire collection in 1990), but it’s not necessary. Everything she creates is instantly identifiable thanks to her distinctive aesthetic, from the fourth-century sword–inspired flatware, handmade sterling-silver candle holders and yellow porcelain dinnerware in her home collection to the beautiful burl-wood salad bowls and wooden tables she recently started making. “I don’t have a lot of interest in repetition,” says Waterman. “But I like that [my work] is recognizable to people who don’t even know me. It’s about that gasp—it makes me really happy to take their breath away.” cathywaterman.com. —Kathryn Romeyn.
Photographed by Jessica Sample.