Attention, jewelry lovers: the Here We Are collective, a partnership between 1stDibs and New York City Jewelry Week (NYCJW), will open for business on November 14. Now in its fourth year, the marketplace, which will be shoppable through February 2023, showcases 30 participating designers from across the U.S. All bring an array of cultural influences to their work, not to mention exceptional training at university and at the bench.
The marketplace is an important arm of NYCJW’s Here We Are initiative, which offers professional development, mentorship and year-round programming to a diverse group of U.S. jewelers. The goal is to introduce their work to a larger audience while addressing the endemic inequality and lack of representation in the jewelry industry at large.
It “remains a platform for discovery,” says Elliot Carlyle, NYCJW’s director of cultural diversity and inclusion. “So many of our designers have gone on to be part of wonderful, forward-moving initiatives in the industry. We are proud to see their growth in business and as people.”
This year’s cohort presents a unique opportunity for collectors to seek out what’s new, now and next when it comes to the jewelry industry’s unsung but steadily emerging talents.
“The Here We Are marketplace is special because of the stories, the equity, the inclusivity and the values that are tied to making a purchase with this initiative,” Carlyle says. “This collaboration wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t an opportunity to create change.”
Below, get to know the work of 10 standout designers from the marketplace. If you like what you see, don’t hesitate — these stars are on the rise, and you’d be among the first to discover their rare gifts.
As a child, designer Alexia Connellan spent her summers visiting her grandmother in Jamaica, where she was inspired by the elegance of Jamaican Georgian architecture and the beauty of tropical flowers and birds. Today, her fine-jewelry line emphasizes hard-to-find colored stones and colored diamonds that are artisanal and small-scale mined (by individuals or groups with minimal or no mechanization). Recognizing that many mining communities are BIPOC — just like her — Connellan is committed to ethics and sustainability in both sourcing and design.
These Nigerian-spessartite and diamond earrings “incorporate several of my signature design elements,” says Connellan, “such as exquisite ethical gemstones, high-quality diamonds, handmade New York City craftmanship, historical inspiration, botanical references and multiple ways to wear a piece.” She engineered the earrings to be worn as studs, as studs with dangle fringe and with any other stud earrings in the collection, using the fringe as an interchangeable earring jacket. “The dangle part of the earring is inspired by the traditional Chinese headdress known as the fengguan, or ‘phoenix crown,’ which was worn by Ming dynasty empresses over 400 years ago,” she adds. “I love its sensual sway and mysterious drape: It’s sexy and powerful all at once.”
Chee Lee New York
Cheena Mitchell is a self-taught New York–based designer whose work is influenced by her artist parents and North African tribal cultures. Clean lines, geometry and spirituality characterize the pieces in her line, Chee Lee New York, including the Crescent Crown band, which fuses a row of crescent-shaped talismans in a regal ring meant to attract good luck and prosperity. An empowering female symbol, the crescent “is the hallmark and signature of the Chee Lee brand,” says Mitchell. “This talisman appears throughout the collection, as a solitaire, accent and insignia to all pieces. This band is also a modern take on the classic wedding band, with the added value of its talismanic power.”
“The Luar hoops are a take on the classic huggie but with more depth,” says Brooklyn, New York, designer Danyell Rascoe, who became fascinated with gems as a young child collecting rocks and stones from the Smithsonian Institution gift shop in Washington, D.C.
Representing an evolution in her signature Lua series, which is inspired by the moon, the Luar earrings “start as a flat crescent shape but become circular full moons when worn,” says Rascoe. “The setting of the stones is delicate next to a slightly jagged engraving, which adds dimension to the metal — it quietly glows when light hits its curve.” In general, she is inspired by “softened geometric forms” that allow her to “merge classic, modern and ancient design elements.”
Madre Hija Design
Gaia’s Gold Path is a beautiful example of the handwoven beadwork that distinguishes the work of Caro Toro, of Madre Hija Design. A Caribbean native, Toro holds degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she fell in love with the intricacies of artisanal weaving.
The necklace, which takes eight weeks to create, is “the largest and most significant piece in our catalogue,” says the designer. “In Greek mythology, Gaia is the mother of all life and the personification of the earth. We all have our unique imprint on this earth, and this unique handmade statement necklace honors that path.”
Based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Cindy Liebel conceives and fabricates everyday fine jewelry inspired by Scandinavian design aesthetics and Art Deco and contemporary architecture. Crafted to outlast trends, her collection playfully remixes the classics with clean, geometric lines, soft angles and refined textures.
Liebel gave her Koda hoops a punctuated dual crescent D form to “highlight the brilliance of movement and hints of bling,” she says. She cites artist Bridget Riley’s 1963 Interrupted Circle as an inspiration, explaining that “there’s a curiosity with her painting that draws my attention to the simplistic details in formation. The lovely part about these earrings is that they’re a great conversation starter, a play on classic geometric shapes, linear curves and angles, that explores the balance of asymmetry, lightness and minimalist details.”
Shape + Form
With her line Shape + Form, Austin, Texas–based Myranda Escamilla seeks to elevate the use of polymer clay — and continually explore its potential — in contemporary jewelry. Like most of her designs, her Spectrum collection of simple stud earrings features striking colorways, minimalist designs and interesting textures.
“I like being captivated by simple ideas,” says the self-described “curious maker.” The Painterly Simple round studs were inspired by the “simple concept of movement within color,” she notes, and feature a “clean white background and a playful rainbow smear seemingly traveling upwards or downwards.”
“I am interested in value systems,” says Ataumbi Metals founder Keri Ataumbi. Raised on the Wind River Reservation, in Wyoming, Ataumbi attended Rhode Island School of Design before moving to Santa Fe to pursue further studies in the arts. Now based in nearby Cerrillos Hills, the indigenous designer says she wants her work to “transmute the philosophical and ceremonial continuums that are the backbone of our identities as Native Americans” while exploring the values that different cultures place on materials and objects.
Both ideas are represented in this necklace, which features a three-inch-long dentalium shell. “Dentalium is an important shell among many Native American people across Turtle Island,” explains Ataumbi. (Turtle Island is a name for North America, or sometimes the earth, originating in an indigenous creation story.) “The shells have been traded and valued in our adornment from the Arctic to California to the Great Plains since pre-contact. Large ones like the one in this necklace are extremely difficult to find now because of the condition of the ocean. The ones I use are antiques or vintage.”
A participant in the 2021 Here We Are initiative, designer Sumer Sayan continues to expand his imaginative breadth as he develops his line, Harlin Jones. He also continues to earn acclaim: During the 2021 NYC Jewelry Week, he received the Emerging Entrepreneur Award, and his work has been featured in Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair.
Sayan’s work is distinguished by a rock ’n roll vibe, which is on display in these earrings. “I wanted to take the pearl earring and design it in a typical Harlin Jones fashion,” he says. “Usually the pearl is the center of attention, but I give it some edginess and a punch of color.” He achieves this by hanging the pearls from spiky stars set with orange baguette and lavender round sapphires. “I love how the keshi pearls complement the top spike section rather than overpowering it.”
Dominique Renée’s namesake line “is an authentic extension of who I am — a dynamic, emotional, sassy independent woman who can find humor in almost anything and has always marched to the beat of her own drum,” says the Connecticut-born, Los Angeles–based designer, who received a Here We Are Funding Award in 2020. Having begun her career with funky nail-art sets, she brings that same esprit to her 3D-printed jewelry designs, which have become celebrity and magazine-editor favorites.
“My Indecisive charm bracelet is from my most recent collection, Love Jones Part II: Still Jonesing. It encapsulates my essence as a designer — it takes you on an emotional journey,” explains Renée. “I design from a very personal place, not only because it keeps me sane but because it’s relatable and encourages others to embrace their own experiences. Its bright and colorful nature serves as a reminder to never take life too seriously!”
Brooklyn-based Chilean-American designer and goldsmith Brigid McNellis returns to the Here We Are collective with her brand, Mon Pilar. Her latest collection, Love You More, she says, is “meant to be a celebration of love, a reminder to love ourselves a little more and an opportunity to cherish — and wear — our loved ones close.”
This pendant is the centerpiece of the series, whose name, McNellis explains, comes from a “sweet phrase my late mother used to say whenever we said goodbye to each other: ‘I love you more.’ My mom was always looking for a way to give more in this world — a good principle to live by and the essence of my brand.” McNellis originally created the heart-shape design as a custom piece, to comfort her grandmother as she grieved over the death of her daughter, McNellis’s mother. “I couldn’t help but be drawn to the form of a heart — at first, I repressed the idea as it felt overly clichéed,” she says.
But she found a way to make it her own. “I had my mother’s cremation ashes saved and decided I would fill and seal the heart with them inside,” McNellis explains. “Before being cast in metal, each heart is carved by hand in wax with a hollow interior for the option of encapsulating cremation ashes, a lock of hair or other small treasure. I leave it up to each client to decide whether they want to use it as an ‘urn pendant’ or not. The design feels weighty and modern. I also love that it has allowed me to experience firsthand the symbolic and magical power that jewelry has embodied since the beginning of time.”