For many jewelry designers in New York, there is nothing like home

At Raymond’s Upper East Side Atelier, the design is as extravagant as the jeweler’s designs: custom Marine Toile curtains alongside a large window, light George III chairs upholstered in light blue leather and two rows of champagne flutes in a sterling silver tray. But between the magnificent furniture and its prestigious creations – seal rings set with diamonds and laces; Gold pendants adorned with pearls – sits something absolutely less refined: a cluster of tiny plastic bags lined with bubble wrap.

Their contents, wax specimens of medallions and rings, pieces of newly formed necklaces and other unfinished parts awaiting Raymond’s approval or repair, are produced about a mile away by artisans working on several dense blocks in a section of Midtown Manhattan known intermittently as the County of Jewelry and County. . These artisans – including so-called bench jewelers, who make items by hand, usually while sitting on a small bench – produce jewelry for many brands. The independently owned workshops are usually staffed by families, whose members use skills passed down through generations.

On a sunny afternoon a few weeks ago, Raymond stopped by the workshop where most of her works are produced, as she does quite often. (She chooses, like many of her peers, to keep his name a secret, and this discretion works both ways.) In a modest office building, in three small rooms with no curls behind a minimally marked door, a group of nine jewelry makers – three brothers and some of their older children – worked Hard. Their tasks consist, among other things, of performing CAD work, or designing with the help of a computer that helps to create multidimensional models of Raymond’s works; Bending and shaping thin pieces of gold for bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces; Inlay of diamonds and other stones into precious metal; And polishing. On one desk, an artist flattened small pieces of white gold with a manual machine reminiscent of a pasta maker, and thinned them so he could then rotate and carefully stretch them into chain pieces. “If I don’t have them and I don’t have that level of quality,” says Raymond, 40, “I have nothing.”

Several elements of Raymond’s jewelry, such as back earrings and occasional clasps, are not produced here, and the casting – the process of creating a mold from a jeweler’s design – is handled nearby. But for the most part, this is where the action takes place. Two Raymond full-time employees are stationed in a small room nearby to assist in communication between the teams. “Is this the most economical way to do things?” Asks the designer. “No. Is it the most effective? Not necessarily.” As a result, many other jewelers produce their creations in China or Thailand, a more efficient and inexpensive process. But, Raymond continues, “is that the only way I can ever do that and put my name on the piece? Yes.”

And she’s not alone. Verdora, founded by Duke Polco di Verdora in the 1930s, with a little financial help from musician Cole Porter and real estate tycoon Vincent Astor, the designer’s friends, produces most of her work in New York. Indeed, for many jewelers, the proximity to the workshops of Midtown allows them, as designer Brent Neil Winston puts it, to “really control how things look,” while instilling a strong sense of community. Use brightly colored gems, like coral and turquoise, in her designs.) “The fact that you can be so active is very appealing,” she says.

“For an independent jeweler, especially one who does not have a large staff, it’s something of convenience,” says Bella Neiman, founder of New York Jewelry Week. “If you need someone to do the CAD, if you need someone to do the casting, polishing, engraving, it’s all in one place.” Matthew Harris of Mateo, a line that includes a wide selection of parts that combine stones like malachite and turquoise with precisely set diamonds, agrees. “It’s nice to run around the borough and go to diamonds, a gem dealer, a pearl dealer and a caster,” he says. “It takes time, but it’s a beautiful process.” Although Harris now divides his time between Houston and Lisbon, he still employs the same handful of jewelry and artisan district dealers he has had since founding his company in 2009 and sees them on regular visits to the city.

Some of the bench jewelers Wing Yao founder Wingake works with are closer: she employs five of them full-time at her label headquarters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. So many of her creations, like earrings with lines of delicately stretched freshwater pearls resembling an abacus, are made entirely at home. Some of her less expensive pieces, like small stud earrings or thin gold rings, are outsourced to Manhattan, mostly out of consideration for volume. But the more intricate designs are always produced by her team in Brooklyn. “For us, it’s just not worth the risk, because I know it’s hard to make my jewelry,” she says.

FoundRae’s jewelry, which features meticulously detailed pendants and bold rings that offer a luxurious cigar band look, was similarly created by a combination of staff members – two bench jewelers, a sander and a manual engraver, who work on the lower level of the FoundRae. The brand’s TriBeCa boutique – and artisans in Midtown and Brooklyn, with parts and pieces, like clasps and necklaces, that come from further afield. A typical piece, says the label’s creative director, Beth Bugdaycay, especially one that requires demanding details like a discriminatory email, can go through six to nine artists with different types of expertise.

New York City may seem like a surprising place to make jewelry, especially given its expensive rents and creative outreach in recent years to cities like Austin, Nashville and Miami. Much less clothing is produced in the city than there once was; Same thing about bags. It also lacks the global or mainstream reputation of, say, Paris. Still, insiders know it is one of the jewelry capitals in the world, and one with a rich history of its own.

In the late 18th century, New York City diamond dealers concentrated in downtown Maiden Lane; Jewelry manufacturers soon arrived, and the industry flourished in this era, when the city was a center for business owners and their families. “It was the presence of diamonds in New York that created the presence of jewelers in New York,” explains Kim Nelson, assistant chair of jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “They have always been inextricably linked.” Like the richer families, more to the city.

Tiffany & Co., for example, was founded in 1837 on Broadway 259, where it remained for 10 years. He has had artisans on the Fifth Avenue flagship since 1940; As the store was being renovated, they temporarily left for a large facility not far from Manhattan. However, in a typical year, unique luxury items are produced there for what Tiffany calls her blue book collection, which often combines extra-large diamonds and the designs of legendary jeweler Jean Shlomberger. David Webb has been making his bold jewelry by hand in New York City since the brand was founded in 1948. It was originally based on 46 West Street, near the jewelry district, and gained popularity among trend designers, including Diana and Riland, who often wore a web bracelet. With diamonds and rubies set by hand. For about a dozen years, his workshop has been located at the top of the brand’s Madison Avenue store. Twenty-three full-time artisans, ages 30 to 77, work there today. Even Van Cliff & Arples, a brand so associated with Paris, has been making some jewelry in New York since 1939. Raymond worked as a salesman at the brand’s Fifth Avenue boutique, which first opened in 1942, for nearly a decade before it began. Own line in 2015. “Van Cliff was such a factor in teaching me about all the layers beneath the beautiful objects,” she says.

These heritage brands, then, along with the new wave of jewelry designers in New York, are helping to ensure the survival of a veteran industry. Tastes and expectations have changed – consumers are more aware of the environmental and ethical impact of their purchases, for example, but this only makes the way these jewelers create their jewelry more resonant. “I really believe in investing in local production,” says Jean Pronis, who grew up in New York, where her line, Pronis, is located. Her offerings, from gold and delicate diamond earrings to bold pendants with green tourmaline or blush, are mostly made by jewelers from Manhattan, with several nets made up in nearby Pharmos, New Jersey, and polished at home to achieve the collection’s unique patina. “The jewelry district is so historic,” she adds. “And it’s so New York.”

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