"Gem Fatales, a nonet of local jewelry designers dazzle" by Lizzie Simon, Holiday 2007
With both Mike Wallace and George Stephanopoulos in the family, there are quite a few stars in Sissy Yates’ orbit, but it’s her magnificent jewelry line, Sissy Yates Designs, that’s sparking the most interest these days. “I strive for simplicity,” says Yates, who lives in DC with her husband Angus, and their three children. It allows the natural and unique beauty of the gemstones to shine.” And shine they do. One-of-a-kind necklaces, earrings and bracelets carry her signature sophistication, which Yates developed during her six years working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, worldwide adventures from the South Pacific to Marekech, and a childhood full of wistful afternoons daydreaming in the Hall of Gems at the Smithsonian. According to Yates, “Every piece is inspired by my lifelong geological passions, my love of contemporary and ancient art, and my fascination with remote cultures.” Available at Sangaree, 3288 M Street NW, 202-333-4690; Sissyyatesdesigns.com
Irene Lummertz has jewels in her genes. As a child, her gemologist father took her on countless trips into the vast interior of their native Brazil, igniting a passion and intuition for design that she uses for her fabulous cocktail pieces with precious and semiprecious stones. Fascinated by Hollywood in the forties as well as by contemporary icons, Lummertz says her artful, elegant pieces are the product of equal parts inspiration and perspiration. “I travel to Brazil often, at least three times a year, and sometimes visit the mines. But I always spend time in the shops with the craftsmen who cut, polish, and set my pieces,” she says. “I will stay in their tiny shops eight hours a day and sometimes for an entire week working with them to get each setting, prong or clasp perfect.” Lummertz is obsessed, but joyfully so, and she always has been. “I remember when I was seven years old I used to cut out pictures of jewelry from magazines and glue them on myself!” Available at Keith Lipert Gallery, 2922 M Street NW, 202-965-9736; irenelummertz.com
Patty Abramson and Michele Berman, the dynamic duo behind Facets Design, began collaborating three years ago on unique jewelry for discriminating, fashion-forward women like themselves. After taking a course together at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the two friends decided to take their shared hobby to the next level, leaving behind illustrious careers to create their dazzling designs. “It was just a light-bulb moment for both of us!” recalls Berman. “Michele and I have had successful careers,” explains Abramson, “and are at the point in our lives where the bottom line is not as important as what we do and how we feel about what we do.” Here’s something they can feel good about: The pair donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their jewelry to worthy organizations. Says Abramson, “This year our fall show was a benefit for the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, and our May show helped Children’s Hospital.”
Available at Aprés Peau, 1430 K Street NW, 202-783-0022
“The inspiration comes from the beads,” says Beth Rosenheim, the force behind Candy Beads Jewelry. While making her rounds and inspecting the finest jewels in the world, she can practically hear the most marvelous ones asking to be chosen: “I love to browse the big gem shows, and find the most unique, special beads I can.” Working from a studio in her Bethesda home, Rosenheim often incorporates peridots, tourmalines, and blue topazes into her colorful sterling silver and 18k gold necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. She listens carefully to her clients, which explains why her custom designs are so highly sought after. “I hand-make everything! Somebody will come and say, ‘I love this thing but I don’t love what it’s with,’ and they’ll want me to take apart the necklace and mix and match with some beads I have, to make it completely different.”
Availble at Keith Lipert Gallery, 2922 M Street NW, 202-965-9736; candybeadsjewelry.com
“I’ve always been in love with shiny, sparkly things,” says Alyssa Reiner of Allyre Jewelry, which explains how she eventually came to work with gems in 1999 after getting a law degree. Her pieces, she says, are inspired by architecture, “not incredibly bold, super-clean types of architecture, but classical elements, like forms, columns, and façade details.” Reiner is attracted to colored precious stones, and uses a lot of tourmalines, diamonds, and sapphires in her work. Prices range from $200 for a small piece up to $6,000 for more elaborate creations. She appreciates the unique challenges of bringing her visions to life. “As I’m working on something,” says Reiner, “I have the idea, and the challenge of getting it from my head into a finished piece of jewelry makes me very attached to it. I think it’s almost like raising a child.” Available at Mia Gemma, 2007 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia, 703-535-6605; allyrejewelry.com
“I like a touch of the unusual,” says Emma Villedrouin, whose proclivity toward the uncommon may have its roots in her past as a global nomad in a multicultural family. Raised in Haiti and New England, Villedrouin now lives with her French husband and two sons in DC, where she creates a broad range of delectable pieces- some delicate, some opulent, all bearing her singular touch. “I am attracted to oddly formed South Sea pearls rather than the perfectly round ones, says Villedrouin, who has been making jewelry since 1999 and is constantly designing new work. “I didn’t want to create a little factory job for myself where I would be pumping out the same pieces over and over. I allow myself tangents and new avenues. It keeps the work fun for me.”
Available at Austin & Elkins, 112 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 703-684-5555; emmaville.com
Trained in metal- and goldsmithing, the multitalented Julie Wolfe is a painter and an accessories designer in addition to a jewelry designer with two dazzling lines-one at Barneys and one (a limited-edition line) at Barneys Co-op. She sees clients in a historic Victorian house in Capitol Hill, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Everything goes into the mix and comes out in her designs. “As a painter,” she says, “I do a lot of writing and sketching, so it’s always like a series, and the jewelry goes with the painting.” Wolfe, a faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, is inspired by an eclectic range of sources, from grand architecture to the twigs in her yard. She favors opals, colored diamonds, religious symbols, and antique-looking pieces. “I like it to be very different,” says Wolfe, “things you have never seen before.” Pieces are priced between $300 and $3,000.
Available at Barneys and Barneys Co-op, 3040 M Street NW, 202-350-5832; juliewolfedesign.com
The much-celebrated designer Ann Hand began making jewelry as a hobby almost 20 years ago, but in 2002 she launched a small business that’s since grown into a small empire. These days, Hand works in close collaboration with a graphic artist and a model maker to create hundreds of pieces on commission for museums and organizations (for instance, she just designed the Miss America Collection, which debuts in November; 25 percent of all profits will go to the Miss America Scholarship Fund). “We’re really a people-decorator,” she says. “I don’t try to follow the trends. I try to design something that is beautiful and that will complement a woman.” Hand’s hope is that her designs will be passed on from generation to generation. “It’s a joy to work with these beautiful things,” she says.
Ann Hand, 4885 MacArthur Boulevard NW, 202-333-2979; annhand.com
Additional reporting by Leslie McKenzie.