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Greenwich St. Jewelers

  • Designer Spotlight with Rebecca Overmann

    On any given day you can find Rebecca Overmann happily ensconced in her studio in San Francisco’s Mission District.  From initial sketch to completed jewel she and her team of jewelers execute each stage of creation and bring her organic inspired designs to life.  A trained metalsmith in her own right, Rebecca carves wax by hand revealing the design as she works.  She wears each new piece for a couple of weeks to ensure both the style and comfort meet her high standards before becoming part of her collection.  We had the opportunity to ask Rebecca some telling questions to find out what makes this talented designer tick.

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    What’s on your playlist while you’re working at the bench?

    We’re an eclectic bunch! While I’m at the bench I tend towards Matthew Dear but that’s just me. We all have input in the music and it can go from Sade to Johnny Cash to Mos Def in the span of 20 minutes.

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    The next stop on my travel list is:

    Boring I know, but Hawaii or Baja — I need a quick recharge! Southern Africa’s pretty high on the list for the next big trip.

    We’re coming over for dinner, what’s on the menu?

    You’d have to ask my husband (he’s the cook in the house)…. But if it’s Friday, definitely pizza on the grill.

    What are you most proud of?

    The studio-family we’ve built! I’m so fortunate I get to work with such incredibly talented and skilled people on a daily basis. Over the past couple of years I’ve made a big push to bring all aspects of production in-house — I’m very proud to say that everything we produce is done entirely in our San Francisco studio by some of the most skilled jewelers I’ve known.

    Tell us about an unlikely source of inspiration.

    Nothing seems that unlikely anymore! I’ve always found the most inspiration from the physical world around me — textures (whether natural or man made) often find their way into my pieces. For a time, I was using a chunk of concrete that I found on my way to the studio to texture my men’s bands.

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    Tell us about a past failure and what you learned from it.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it a failure now, but at the time it certainly felt like one. Not too long after moving to San Francisco to pursue a career in graphic design and advertising, I was laid off. The upside was that my stipend bought me enough time to try jewelry full-time — here I am 13 years later!

    What is your favorite quote or mantra that you live your life by?

    I’m not much of a mantra person — but there are certainly some ideals that are hugely important to me.

    Relationships both personally and professionally are extremely important and I absolutely love the fact that I still sell at the very first store to ever pick up my line.

    Control is a big one for me — I don’t believe that anyone can produce something truly wonderful without a tremendous amount of control — control of the process, the materials, the design and the patience to stay the course.

    Fun. It should be fun to do what you do every day (I’m still having a lot of fun)!

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    How do you stay balanced?

    I limit the time that I work on, or think about jewelry to my waking hours :)  Having two Australian Shepherds though, is a nice distraction.

    What’s your guilty pleasure?

    Chocolate… not so guilty though.

    Tell us about your most sentimental piece of jewelry and the story behind it.

    Just one? I’m a very sentimental person and I have quite a collection of pieces — from turquoise bracelets I bought as a teenager to diamond rings that I’ve made recently. These are the first earrings I ever made myself (a very long time ago) — and while they probably won’t end up in my line anytime soon, they remind me of the excitement I felt when I first started making jewelry .

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    If I weren’t designing jewelry I’d be

    That crazy lady with way too many dogs (and cats) — I think I’d definitely have to be involved in some way with animal rescue or rehabilitation.

    And lastly, here’s a speed round of one of our favorite games, THIS OR THAT:

    Five star hotel or tent under the stars?

    Five start tent under the stars.

    Hike all day or dance all night?

    Hike all day…. As long as it’s with my pups.

    Street art or museum of art?

    Street art!

    Sweet or savory?

    Both… the latter followed by the former.

    Digital or analog?

    Music: Digital (convenience wins)
    Jewelry: Definitely analog — I’m all about what someone can do with their hands, not a computer!
    Art: Analog — I loved time in the darkroom when I was studying photography.

    We’re so grateful to Rebecca for letting us get to know a bit more about her.  We have always been thrilled to represent the work of such an inspired designer.  Now we have a newfound respect and admiration for the woman herself.  We hope you will be inspired too!  Shop our Rebecca Overmann jewelry collection.

  • Stacks are the New Black : Curating Your Collection

     

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    A well-executed stack of rings is a true thing of beauty. Every ring is a little sculpture that’s been infused with meaning and symbolism. Begin with one to three bands, then build your collection from there. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

      • --When you travel, be on the lookout for new additions to remind you of past adventures.
      • --Engrave a band with a secret message like a song lyric, your baby's name or your own mantra.
      • --When you achieve a goal, celebrate with a new ring as a reminder of your personal success.
      • --Buy a matching band with your closest pal for an updated twist on the old best friends’ charm.

    There is no right or wrong way to build your stack. We like to play around with textures and mixed metals to stand out from the crowd. There are no rules, this is all about you!  For guidance on curating a fabulous stack we consulted the experts at Single Stone. They gave us their four simple steps:

    Step 1) START WITH SOMETHING SIMPLE

    This handmade band of the most luxurious 22k gold feels incredible on your hand, as though you've discovered a treasure from another era.

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    Step 2) ADD SOME BLING

    Take it to the next level. We went all out with this platinum eternity band of rose-cut diamonds. The milgrain detail surrounding each gem is meticulously done by hand and this will surely become a prized family heirloom.

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    Step 3)  CREATE TEXTURE

    We chose this darling hand-engraved band. The warm glow of the 18k rose gold is a universally flattering tone. We’ll inscribe ours with a secret mantra, so when we need to be strong it reminds us to stay centered.

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    Step 4)  TOP OFF WITH EXTRA SPARKLE

    No brainier. The icing on the cake is this delicate, twinkling eternity band. The detailed engraving on the edges is exquisite. It is the perfect finishing touch for our dream stack. What does yours look like?

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  • Real Proposal Story: Steve & Christina’s Brooklyn Bridge Proposal

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    Steve and Christina’s NYC love story goes like this: boy and girl run with the same music loving crowd who made the concert halls of Gotham their stomping grounds. One magical night, while listening to a band at Bowery Ballroom, Steve and Christina’s innocent encounters suddenly transformed. It became obvious to the both of them that there was something more than smoke and strobe lights in the air.

    Where else would a couple whose first spark lit at Bowery Ballroom go on their first official date but brunch and the Brooklyn Bridge? It’s the quintessential romantic NYC date! They just clicked and in no time they were madly in love. Their relationship grew under Steve’s attentive care. He nurtured the relationship with custom playlists to suit Christina’s every mood and punctuated this thoughtful practice with gifts of beautiful Greenwich St. Jewelers’ jewels on special occasions.

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    They both knew where this relationship was headed and ever the modern couple, they came into Greenwich St. Jewelers to look at engagement rings together. Christina always knew she’d want a ring with a halo and she found herself gravitating towards rose gold. Later Steve would return, armed with what he’d learned that day to create Christina’s dream ring.

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    On the fourth anniversary of their first date, Steve took Christina back to the Brooklyn Bridge. They noticed that there were padlocks hanging from the structure, put there by people who were inspired by the Ponte Des Arts Bridge in Paris. Steve said he wanted to get a photo of her in front of them so she posed as he crouched down tourist-style with his camera. The next thing she knew, he was down on one knee and reaching into his pocket. She was crying, hugging him and saying yes before he even opened the box.

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    He said, “Hey, don’t you want to see the ring?”

    Of course she did! He slipped it onto her finger a moment later -- a stunning handmade ring by Danhov in rose gold with a shimmering halo. Through her tears she noticed people smiling, clapping and taking pictures. No surprise, Steve is a man with a plan and had hired a professional to capture the big moment!  After the proposal, they did a proper Gotham City photoshoot in all their favorite spots. We adore the photos and are thrilled to be a part of their story.

    Congratulations Christina and Steve!

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    Ring by Danhov

    Photos by Paparrazzi Proposals

    In love with love?  Read more of our Real Proposal Stories.

  • Artistic Innovation: An Interview with Todd Reed

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    There’s no doubt that a piece of jewelry by Todd Reed will win a place in your heart forever. Nobody else does what he does. With an artist’s soul and a deep appreciation of natural materials, it’s easy to see why Todd’s award winning designs are held in private collections worldwide. Our owner, Jennifer, paid a visit to his studio last year and was fascinated by his workspace and design process.

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    Todd looks for inspiration everywhere. His workspace is filled with inspiring objects, sketches by his daughter Flora, and always, always a little jade figurine of Ganesh. During Todd’s visit to New York City this month he will be making a special appearance at our shop and absorbing the architecture and the creative energy of this city where art meets community in such a special way.  We had a few questions for him in preparation for his visit.

    Todd, you’ve been doing this since the nineties.  In all your time designing jewelry, do you have a favorite piece?

    Todd: Peaceful Place is a special piece to me primarily because it deals with deep emotion. It’s beautiful and intriguing and also bears the story of personal growth, wisdom and the pain of needing a peaceful place. This piece articulates the beauty around closing down/ opening up, reveling your true self or working with polished outside. Art is simply making an emotion into some kind of deliverable thing, I use my jewelry design to communicate my story.

    Todd Reed award-winning jewelry The award winning pendant, Peaceful Place, on display in Todd’s Venice, Ca showroom. This has a hidden locket that opens to a Moldavia Buddha.

    You are something of a pioneer when it comes to designing with raw diamonds and recycled metals. What inspired you to create a sustainable jewelry collection?

    Todd: I think ethical responsibility in this industry is difficult to ignore any more. When I started my company, I had certain principles that I had wanted to have at the core. It was not popular to be responsible about sourcing at the time. It was important to me though, so we did it.

    This is the type of forward-thinking that delights your fans and keeps you ahead of trend. What inspired you to work with raw diamonds?

    Todd: During geology class in high school, we studied rock crystals and I fell in love with their shapes, texture and sparkle. I liked how a diamond left just as it’s found in nature can dictate the architecture of a piece of jewelry.

    In 1994, I met one of the top collectors of raw diamonds who also loved these gems for their unique qualities over any monetary value.

    What is your favorite part about what you do?

    Todd: Connecting with people and expressing my feelings through art.

    That’s definitely something that comes through in your work! How often do you sketch or draw?

    Todd: I am constantly sketching – I have hundreds of sketches on napkins, scrap paper and in notebooks. My sketch books provide a constant reservoir of designs that I pull from.

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    How much leeway to create do you give your artisans?

    Todd: I am the only designer. However, we do create custom designs and often clients work on a piece with an account manager, but before being made, I approve the design.

    I meet regularly with the shop master to discuss and work through fabrication details.  Each jeweler will create the piece from start to finish, which is unique in the jewelry industry. Keeping each piece with one jeweler keeps the aesthetic and the energy of the piece in balance.

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    What factor about yourself, do you feel is the biggest contributor to your success?

    Todd: I constantly stay true to my vision.

    You certainly have an authentic voice – your tagline Raw Elegance really hits the nail on the head. Where do you hope to see your brand in 10 years?

    Todd: Ten years I'll still be the founder, designer and CEO of TRI, and designing the most innovative and beautiful jewelry I can.

    That sounds like a plan! We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Todd Reed and his growing empire. 

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    Art is simply making an emotion into some kind of deliverable thing,

    I use my jewelry design to communicate my story.

    -Todd Reed

  • The Art of Embracing Damage: An Interview with Jamie and Jeremy Joseph

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    Every once in awhile a designer comes along that dares to look at jewelry in a transformative way. Jamie and Jeremy Joseph have been doing this since they began creating their namesake collection over 20 years ago. Who would dare drill a gemstone and set a diamond into it? Only these two crazy kids. Their diamond studded rings immediately became highly coveted by jewelry connoisseurs. Those who were in the know immediately began building their personal collections. We have two clients who became fast friends after meeting and striking up a conversation over a rainbow moonstone Jamie Joseph ring. (Their second encounter happened here pouring over our selection, natch.) Yet another client’s collection spans 40 rings and 10 years of fandom.

    It’s tough not to be fans of the design duo. Their pieces are not only beautiful, wearable and original but they are filled with the intense good energy of artists doing what they love, creating beauty and sending it out into the world. I took a few minutes to chat with them while they were in the store today about their work and the new collection, Golden Joinery.

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    Let’s talk about Golden Joinery. This collection is very special. The concept of embracing, adorning and presenting imperfection in a beautiful way really resonates with me. Tell us how it came to be, how long have you been working on it?

    Jamie: Well, 20 years! We’ve been throwing broken stones in this beautiful African ceremonial bowl, we call it the boneyard, forever. And when I read the Kinsugi thing it was like a lightbulb moment. I knew right then why I’d been saving the stones for all those years.

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    Note: Kintsugi is the Japanese pottery-mending technique where broken ceramics are repaired with golden seams. As a philosophy, Kintsugi can be expressed as an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.  It treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

    How did that happen?

    Jeremy: A friend of ours sent it to Jamie and was kinda like, I saw this and I thought of you. And then Jamie saw it and took it to the stones.

    Jamie: After that aha moment, I got to work and it took about a year to create the first small collection which I presented at the Couture show this past June.

    Tell us about the creation process. What were the challenges?

    Jamie: I love 22k gold, it’s so rich and ancient feeling, and I wanted the pieces to look like something buried, like an archaeologist would unearth. The fabrication process is all handmade and stones would break again or I’d have to send them to Jeremy to re-cut to fit the design I was working on. Its super-labor intensive, but I love the fact that it’s so thoughtful.

    Are you pleased with the end result?

    Jamie: Oh, I love it! I feel it’s such a great message about sustainability in gemstones and I feel the new joined stones are almost more beautiful than they were originally. For example, the green tourmaline necklace we brought in for the trunk show, that stone came back to me as a resize and during the work we broke it. When that happened, I literally cried because that stone was so amazing.

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    It sure is! We’re all obsessed with the new work. It’s such a sophisticated evolution of the collection and I love the meaning and intention behind transforming perceived damage into wearable art.

    What’s next for Jamie Joseph?

    Jamie: We’ve become kind of like a machine and with Golden Joinery my creativity really began to flow again. You’re going to see lots of changes to the line.

    How exciting! We'll be waiting with bated breath to see what that means!

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  • Real Proposal Stories: Jeffrey and Matthew's Road Trip Proposal

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    Jeffrey and Matthew met through mutual friends in August 2010 in Baton Rouge, LA where they both grew up. For their first date, Matthew invited Jeffrey over to his house for a home cooked meal. The two instantly connected and knew this was something special.
    Eleven months after their first date, the two decided to take a huge leap and moved to Austin together. It was now just them and their two dogs - Jack and Sissy. They have spent the last 4 years living in Austin and enjoying everything about the city, especially all of the outdoor spaces that central Texas has to offer.
    road trip proposal 2 Jack, the couple's adorable Daschund

    After the Supreme Court landmark decision on same-sex marriage in June, Jeffrey knew he had the best opportunity to surprise Matthew.  Until this point, Jeffrey told Matthew he had to be the one to ask and it had to be perfect.  According to Jeffrey, “We tend have slightly different taste when it comes to fashion, and a few years back we saw this Jamie Joseph ring in passing while at a jewelry store with friends. We both loved it right away. It was a great balance of simple with an element of fun and sparkle to it. Even though we were a few years away from getting engaged, I bookmarked the ring and came back to it recently to order from Greenwich St. Jewelers for the proposal. We ordered a matching set because we really loved the idea of both having the same ring.”

    Matthew and Jeffrey enjoy hiking, road trips, traveling and being lazy together.  According to Matthew, “some of the best days are spent just cuddled together on the couch with Jack watching bad TV.” The couple decided to take an eleven day road trip to visit 11 national parks. They had spent the few weeks prior to the trip planning out all the details and tried to cram it all in as best they could. On the last evening, the couple arrived at their favorite hotel in Marfa, TX for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  Unbeknownst to Matthew, Jeffrey had a surprise planned.

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    After taking a nap in some hammocks on the hotel grounds, they decided it was time to break out the champagne to celebrate their last night of the road trip and all of the things they’ve accomplished throughout their trip.  As they walked back to the hammocks, Matthew pointed out the sunset and they both let out a sigh of relief and slight sadness since this was the last sunset they would see on their trip.  Sunset and sunrise have always been their favorite times of the day. Beginning in their first apartment, Matthew and Jeffrey would often enjoy a drink on their balcony while  watching the sky change color as the sun set over the hills behind their apartment.

    sunrise at grand canyon Sunrise at the Grand Canyon during the road trip
    road trip proposal 4 Engaged!

    As they approached the hammocks, Jeffrey asked Matthew to sit for a second so they could face each other. Matthew was a bit confused but reluctantly did what he was asked and Jeffrey began by saying “The past ten days have been incredible and I could not imagine doing this trip with anyone else.  I’m so happy at what we’ve accomplished and seen on this trip and even more so because we were able to do it together. You make me so happy and I want to spend the rest of my life with you and have many more trips like this in the future. Will you marry me?”

    Matthew said yes as the sun was setting and the sky was lighting up with the purples and pinks that make a beautiful sunset. Neither of them could have imagined a more perfect and serene moment.

  • Arik Kastan: The Story Behind the Jewelry

    One of our most popular designer lines and loved by the jewelry and fashion insiders, Arik Kastan in the United States wouldn’t be possible without one fierce entrepreneur: Tamar Kelman.

    “I immediately fell in love with Arik Kastan’s work and knew I had to find him,” Kelman says, of the first time she saw his jewelry in 2009.  Previously, she worked with a variety of Israeli-based jewelry designers, helping them launch their lines in the United States.  Arik Kastan’s diamond and gemstone jewelry, handcrafted with vintage-inspired rose and yellow gold, stood out to Kelman as something new and refreshing.  She liked that it still featured an old world jewelry technique and look.

    arik kastan citrine ringarik kastan opal earrings

    Over the past six years, Kastan and Kelman’s business relationship has flourished, due to the success of the line in the United States.  While Kastan stays true to his original gold mixtures and handcrafted details, Kelman takes the pulse of fashion trends and helps to infuse the designs with a modern touch.

    Speaking on their collaborative process, Kelman says, “It varies a lot.  Sometimes we discuss specific elements and sketch designs, other times I give Arik a general theme or idea I want to introduce and he just innately knows what I mean.”

    Kelman and Kastan speak regularly about what’s currently happening in their lives and what inspires them.  For Kelman, her environment and lifestyle in LA is an important factor.  “Life can get hectic, and taking time to enjoy natural beauty is something that’s important to me.  Los Angeles is a huge city but has a laid-back vibe with great beaches, hiking spots and lush tree-lined canyon roads where I live.  I thought a lot about incorporating floral elements and eclectic color combinations into the collection, paying homage to these traditional motifs of Victorian jewelry.  At the same time, Arik was experimenting with an organic look in the form of raw, imperfect gemstones.  So we blended our concepts together to create floral designs with gems featuring bright, bohemian color combinations,” she said.

    turquoise earrings, arik kastan earrings, arik kastan jewelry

    Kelman took note of the appeal of stacking rings, and started styling looks on the line’s Instagram account.  An LA native, she began by layering the textural rose gold jewels in a way that worked with her own sense of style, mixing luxury with leather jackets, tees and jeans.  The end result was pretty with an edge, a look that captured the attention of jewelry blogger Gem Gossip, known for her “Show Me Your Rings” hashtag.

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    While Arik Kastan’s styles change based on current inspirations, remarkable gemstones have permanent residency in his jewels.  Kelman and Kastan hand-choose the gems together, focusing primarily on those that were prevalent in the Victorian era, staying true to the vintage aesthetic.  Rustic diamonds and rose-cut rubies sparkle in the rose gold, while turquoise and sapphires add potent contrast.  The iridescent gems:  labradorite, moonstone, and opal, are evaluated by a different criteria when chosen for the jewelry.  “They have to be magical,” says Kelman.

    moonstone earrings, arik kastan earrings, rose gold earringslabradorite ring, arik kastan ring, triple gem ring

     To add more layering possibilities to the mix, this year, Arik Kastan introduced yellow gold in the United States.  It’s a custom blend, and Kelman says “similar to the type of gold you would see in Italian jewelry.  It complements green, blue and black stones really well.”   Kelman advises collectors to wear the two metals together, rather than exclusively.  “Stacking mixed metals always looks great,” she said.

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    For a woman eager to add Arik Kastan to her own collection, where’s the best place to start?  Kelman says “Our labradorite and moonstone 3-stone rings are definitely a ‘must-have.’  I also personally love larger statement rings like the Queen’s Scepter ring in labradorite with sapphires and the Marquise shield ring in turquoise with diamonds.  I never leave the house without my watch chain necklace with a large heart padlock.  These are my basics.  Oh!  And the blossom stud earrings.  Also necessary.”

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    Desiring a jewel in this post, but not on our site?  Email support@greenwichstjewelers.com and we'll order it for you.

  • Real Proposal Stories: Mike & Erica’s Prospect Park Proposal

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    From their first date to their proposal, Mike and Erica’s relationship has been full of surprises.

    The couple first met online, and after exchanging a few messages, planned to meet.  Mike had set up drinks at a bar before their date at a comedy club, but to his surprise, Erica accidentally fell asleep and made it just in time for the show.  “There was never any doubt that I would wait,” said Mike.  “I knew she was a special girl worth any wait.”

    The couple instantly hit it off and got closer over the next couple of months, enjoying the honeymoon period.  Just two months into dating, Mike received an unpleasant surprise.  “I started seeing doctors for some abnormalities in tests from my last check-up.  No big deal, I felt fine.  Then my doctor called me at work on a perfect sunny Friday afternoon to tell me I had an aggressive form of leukemia.  The only thing I could think was, ‘I’m not ready to say goodbye to Erica,’” he explained.

    Mike returned to his hometown out of state for treatment, and the couple kept their relationship going despite the distance and the circumstances.  It served as a good time for Erica to visit Mike’s home and meet his family.  Mike says, “She was my motivation for getting better.  She was the one that kept me positive.  When you’re battling something like cancer, you need something to hope for, to look forward to, to give you a reason to fight to live.  I fought for Erica.”

    It was then that Mike knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Erica, and so began the search for the perfect ring.

    Lucky for Mike, Erica gave him a head start.  She had an inspiration image that she loved from Pinterest.  “I wanted a ring that would be timeless, so I looked for rings with both vintage and modern elements.  I am naturally drawn to gold and found an antique rose gold ring that I found irresistibly romantic,” Erica said.  Unlucky for Mike, the picture that Erica found lead to a dead end on the Internet, leaving him to start from scratch.

    Mike was determined to get Erica her perfect ring, and so he set out on creating his own version of it.  “She is a one-of-a-kind girl and deserves a ring to match,” he told us.  He arrived at our store with his inspiration image to begin designing a custom engagement ring.  Mike consulted with our jewelry specialist Lee Terranova, and we put the dream ring into production with the assistance of our Master Jeweler.  “After a couple of weeks, I saw the computer images of the ring, but I knew I couldn’t be sure until I finally got the chance to see it in person,” Mike said.  “When the chance finally came… wow.  I really never knew it would sparkle THAT much.”  Mike left our store, ring in pocket, feeling “impressed, happy, excited and terrified,” he said.

    prospect park proposal engagement ring

    Mike’s nervousness continued the day of the proposal.  “My antiperspirant decided to take the day off,” he said.  He planned to propose near the Vale of Cashmere, the couple’s favorite section of Prospect Park, and had hired a photographer to capture Erica’s reaction.  The moment Mike dropped to one knee and told Erica there was no one else he’d rather spend his life with, she began crying tears of joy.  “After I pulled it together, I cried out ‘yes!’” she said.  “It was exactly what I would have hoped for – just me, him, someone to capture the moment, and a story to tell for years to come about my favorite surprise.”

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  • The Story of Talisman Jewels: L'Ecole Van Cleef and Arpels

    On a grey afternoon in late June I arrived at the Cooper Hewitt museum in the hopes of being dazzled and enlightened by the NYC pop-up of L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels. I’d first read about the Paris-based school in a jewelry trade publication a few years back, when it opened in 2012.

    The school promised to “welcome the public into the world of high jewelry and watchmaking,” offering classes in production, art history, diamonds and gemstones. All of this in the City of Lights! How I longed to go. It struck me as a brilliant concept, too, that a brand with the reputation and status of Van Cleef & Arpels would create a space to engage with and educate passionate enthusiasts about the art, form and function of jewelry.

    Alas, a trip to Paris wasn’t in the cards. So imagine my elation when I heard L’Ecole would bring a traveling campus to NYC in the Spring of 2015. I signed up immediately. Out of the 12 classes they offered, I had to pick just one. So I quickly jumped into the class that seemed perfectly aligned with my personal beliefs about jewelry: ‘The Story of Talisman Jewels’, a course offering insight into the symbolic meaning of fine and ornamental jewels.

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    I arrived at the home of Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design at around 1:30 pm. With a magnificent Art Nouveau canopy and iron doors at the entryway, the stately Carnegie Mansion provided an ideal backdrop to the New York version of L'Ecole’s elegant offerings. The class gathered for refreshments in a chic sitting room and library created for the L’Ecole experience. The décor was refined yet modern with cozy areas of white leather seating, orange pillows and brightly hued flower arrangements decorating the glass tables.  Sketches of historic pieces decorated the room. I took in the impressive collection of jewelry books on every facet of the industry—from design to famous collectors. Since I was a little early I had time to settle into one of the cozy nooks with a cappuccino and flip through one of the many books on Van Cleef & Arpels.van cleef blog 2 van cleef blog 3

    I was joined by 11 other students, who appeared to hail from all over. I struck up conversations with a man who was in the early stages of making a career shift to jewelry designer, a trade publisher whose family had been in the watch business for generations, and an estate jeweler who’d flown out all the way from California to attend this class. One of the attendees was so decked out in Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, I was sure she must be their most dedicated client.

    Our instructors for the afternoon were Inezita Gay, a Princeton educated art historian with experience at the great American jewelry houses, and Gislain Aucremanne, who got his master’s degree in art history at L’Ecole du Louvre. Yes, THAT Louvre. As far as experts go, they were not too shabby!

    We were whisked behind the scenes of the museum, through a non-descript black door that led down back-of-house hallways to a stairway. This certainly added to the excitement and intrigue of what we were about to experience. After all, we were about to learn the secret powers of talismanic jewels, n’est pas? The route was decorated with photography of the entire jewelry making process and when we reached the top of the stairs we found ourselves at L’ecole Van Cleef & Arpels. The rooms that had been designated for the school are not open to the public which explained our unconventional travel route.

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    After a quick stop to visit the light-filled jewelry workshop that had been set up for a different class, we arrived at the Carnegie library, our studio. The wood paneled walls had tasteful flourishes; the fireplace was marble and gilt, and from floor to ceiling the built in shelves were lined with leather bound books. Of course there was a grand crystal chandelier hanging like the crown jewel of a bygone era. It was hard not to feel as if you’d been transported to the early 20th century, when the house was one of a few on “Millionaire’s Row” boasting Central Park as their front yard.   van cleef blog 6

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    The next four hours of the course itself packed so much in; it could have very well stretched into a semester on the subject. Since the dawn of humanity people have been using objects as talismanic ornaments. Today, we view jewelry as adornment or accessory, but in ancient times the most common reason to wear a talisman was as protection. In fact, the majority were created to protect children, who in those days were susceptible to sickness and death at young ages.van cleef blog 8

    In the Renaissance period talismans were used mainly for prosperity. That evolved into talismans to influence happiness in the early 20th century while in the late 20th century the purpose of a talisman was most popularly love. And what better example of a gift of passion than the Cartier-designed Taj Mahal diamond, which Richard Burton gifted to Elizabeth Taylor on her 40th birthday. In presenting it to her in 1972, Burtn famously quipped: “I would have liked to buy her the Taj Majal but it would cost too much to transport.” From Gay and Aucremanne, we learned that the 17th century diamond was originally a gift of Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, Mumtaz and when she died he built the Taj Mahal in her honor. It’s important to note that the diamond itself is a glyptic--a term which refers to the ancient art of carving and engraving stones for specific meaning (linguistically similar to “hieroglyphics”). Carving natures hardest mineral specimen is a feat of craftsmanship that bears highlighting.

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    We discussed how every  culture -- from Middle Eastern countries to the Americas has historic symbols represented by jewelry. In ancient Greece, for instance, the snake was a powerful symbol of good fortune, fertility and eternity. Bulgari, the jewelry house that features slithery watches and jewels has its roots in Greece. The Bulgari family members were originally goldsmiths who later became jewelers in Italy. The snake watches are highly symbolic, forever linking the serpent figure with the element of time. The allure and longevity of this talisman is undeniable, as the Bulgari Serpenti collection has remained one of the most highly sought after status symbols in the world.

    Adding an element of fun, we were given an activity of matching talismans with origins and orientations.

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    At the end of the class, we turned our attention to the great design houses including Chanel, Cartier, Dior and Van Cleef & Arpels’ use of talismanic iconography in their designs. I loved learning about the personal meaning behind some of the symbols’ use in widely recognized jewels.

    Coco Chanel, for instance, was a great believer in luck and astrology, which led her to create  jewels that depicted five-pointed stars and her sun sign Leo, the lion. Louis Cartier moved his workshop into number 13 and that became the house’s lucky number. And the lucky it was, attracting clients like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who marked every occasion with a Cartier-designed cross.

    My favorite story was about the aviator Jackie Chochran, who commissioned a charm necklace by Cartier filled with symbols that most considered unlucky--number 13, upside down horseshoes, a witch riding a broom--under the rationale that she of all people should appreciate the ability to make her own luck. After all, she was born impoverished and went from being a beautician to a world-class, decorated aviator (a woman in a male-dominated field, no less) and successful entrepreneur. Now there’s a woman after my own heart.

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    Last but certainly not least are the collections of Van Cleef & Arpels. References to the belief in symbolism are rife in the brand’s history. The Alhambra collection incorporates many of the talismanic elements we unpacked in class: the four-leaf clover, gemstones’ spiritual and healing properties, and color symbolism. The designers have incorporated wood, an element of nature, into collections throughout its history. One of the earlier examples was from the 1920s when Jacques Arpels designed “Touch Wood” lucky jewels, rings carved and set with gemstones. It’s no secret that the superstition of “touching” or “knocking on” wood for luck is a universal superstition. However, perhaps Jacques Arpels put it best when he said, “To be lucky you must believe in luck.”

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    I have always believed in the potential of jewelry and the power of objects and intention. This class further ignited my passion to learn more about iconography, symbolism and talismans. Filled with wonderful visuals, activities and facts ‘The Story of Talisman Jewels’ surpassed my expectations. As a woman who believes that nothing has the capacity to communicate fondness, friendship or love like a gift of jewelry I wholly agree with something Ms. Gay said at the close of class. “If you buy something, for yourself or someone else with positive intention, you infuse it with the power to create a talisman for any true cause, be it protection, guidance, love, happiness or any other quality of life.”

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    I hope you have the opportunity to join in a class at the L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels, ideally in Paris and with me at your side!

    For further reference, you might like to watch L'Ecole's videos on Jackie Cochran's Talismans or the Touch Wood Jewels.

  • Real Proposal Stories: Matt and Emily's Bridgehampton Beach Engagement

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    “Not many New Yorkers can say ‘Thank Goodness for Hurricane Sandy’” besides Matt and me, explained Emily when telling us how she and her new fiancée met.   “After Matt evacuated his apartment in the Financial District, he was living with his close friends on the Upper East Side.  Coincidentally, these were my friends too!  When our mutual friends were having a house warming party, Matt was still crashing there.  We met that night and hit it off,” Emily says.

    A few weeks later, Matt asked Emily on their first date while they were watching a Giants game.  “He’s a huge Patriots fan from Massachusetts.  I can’t believe he asked me out while I was wearing an Eli Manning jersey!” Emily said.

    When it was time to choose the ring, Matt and Emily shopped together.  Emily had explored Pinterest and found pictures and ideas of rings she loved.  They came into Greenwich St. Jewelers to choose a setting while enjoying complimentary champagne, celebrating this important event in their lives.  Emily knew she wanted an elegant, yet delicate setting and a cushion-cut diamond.  After the initial meeting, Matt came back by himself and chose the perfect diamond with a setting from Danhov.

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    When summertime came around, Matt and Emily took a trip to the beach in Bridgehampton, where Emily’s family frequently vacations.  One cloudy day, Matt asked Emily to take a walk with him on the beach.  As this was one of their favorite activities, Emily did not think much of it.  About half a mile down the beach, Matt got down on one knee.  Emily was in such shock, she says “he said such nice things that I wish I could remember!”  She said yes, and they spent some time on the beach alone together.  When they walked back to where they were staying, Matt had planned a surprise barbeque with their family members and closest friends.  “It was the best weekend,” says Emily.

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