Elemental Jewelry

By Celia Shatzman / December 7, 2018

Jewelry lines with pieces made from wood, metal and stones bring more than beauty to their wearers

Sometimes a necklace isn’t just a necklace. Depending on its materials, a piece of jewelry can be a symbol of hope, power or protection. Working with elemental materials can give jewelry an entirely new meaning, as these three jewelry designers know. They share the stories behind their lines and what it means to them.

Kuullas by Ruthie Murray

Ruthie Murray has been making jewelry for the last 20 years, mostly under her name, but last spring she decided to launch Kuullas as a way to give back. When her daughter was five years old, she was diagnosed with profound hearing loss. She struggled in school, until they were able to get her the surgeries she needed. After three surgeries in two years, her hearing was restored. “She got a lot of support and now she’s a college senior who is happy and healthy,” says Murray, who is based in Vermont. “I find myself thinking how lucky we were to get her what she needed to get her where she is right now. Kuullas is my attempt to take something that I enjoy doing and blend it with something that I care about.”

To symbolize hearing loss, the line focuses on the ear and only consists of earrings. Murray teamed up with World Wide Hearing, a nonprofit that provides hearing screenings to children in need. Every pair of earrings sold provides one checkup for a child. World Wide Hearing also goes to the communities where they are providing service, trains local people to become professional audiologists and pays a living wage. “They can screen children in that area for decades, so it’s an efficient and sustainable model,” Murray says. “It also keeps that revenue in the community. I really like the way they do things, so it’s been exciting to partner with them.”

Kuullas features reclaimed gold and silver, along with wood pieces. “I wanted there to be something innovative about it, but I also wanted it to be an affordable material, something lots of people can buy and get involved with,” Murray explains. The name of the line is the Finnish word for “to hear.” “I wanted a name that had a percussive sound to it,” Murray says. “Plus, when the earrings close they make a little click. It keeps my mission and message as clear as possible.” kuullas.com

Katima by Pamela Rihani

When Pamela Rihani visited the Middle East 20 years ago, she began collecting tribal jewelry. “I was traveling through Jordan and started buying Bedouin tribal necklaces,” she recalls. “They were very over the top, almost museum-quality pieces, and that sparked my interest and love of anything dramatic. Every time I would wear one it had its own energy. I could be wearing a pair of old jeans and a white men’s T-shirt and throw on one of those pieces and they just made such a statement.”

That sparked Rihani to start making jewelry for herself. Soon her friends were asking for her pieces, too, and when strangers started requested them, she officially launched Katima. Based in Boston, she works with dealers to source her stones internationally, primarily from Africa and Asia. Rihani works with top-quality tourmaline, quartz and amethyst, to name a few, as well as antique Tibetan keys. “All of these stones have their own inherent energy in them,” she says. “I can be having the most stressful day in the world, but the minute I start working with the stones I feel very relaxed. My clients have said they feel a certain way when they’re wearing them. Between the energy from the stones and the fact that they’re just such statement-making pieces, they make you walk a little taller and feel more confident.”

Rihani works with certain stones specifically because of their properties. For example, she frequently uses black tourmaline because it is known for bringing clarity, whether it’s breaking through a barrier at work or overcoming something personal. If someone is struggling with a health issue, she will recommend stones that aid in healing. That’s why Katima is about much more than just creating pretty jewelry. “I was so possessed by the stones, beads and antique artifacts that Katima organically came together,” Rihani says. “There wasn’t anything methodical about it. I go with my gut and what feels right to me—I don’t work with a formula. The pieces are all one-of-a-kind. It is a super organic process.” katimajewelry.com

Bittersweet Designs by Laurie Lenfestey

When Laurie Lenfestey moved to Santa Fe from the East Coast, it opened her creative floodgates. She began working with photography and making collages, which eventually led to jewelry making. She launched Bittersweet Designs 12 years ago, focusing on working with meaningful stones and pieces. “When women are buying my necklaces, they are really moved by the meaning of the stones,” Lenfestey says. “They’ll say, ‘I need this in my life right now.’ Stones are energy. It’s a lot about your inner work and inner emotional world.”

Lenfestey chooses her stones carefully, and considers their properties. “Labradorite is all about intuition and that inner journey,” she explains. “It’s healing and all about clearing bad energy and making good things happen in the world. It’s all about manifesting. I happen to like how it looks, too. I like that it’s transformative. It can go dark, it can go light. It really responds to the light. A lot of people say it awakens one’s inner spirit and intuition, so it’s one of the most powerful protecting stones,” she continues. “I also use a lot of pearls and they’re very calming; I’m an ocean lover living in the desert and pearls are about self-care.” She also works with coins, vintage glass and the third eye. “I really love the third eye because it’s about intuition and really trusting one’s own force in the world,” Lenfestey says. “I love that message. I like the idea of women empowering women. One of the best ways we can do that is to learn to trust ourselves.”

Inspiration for Bittersweet Designs comes from incorporating everything in Lenfestey’s life, particularly nature, travel, religion and culture. “I take bits and pieces as I go and incorporate them in my work,” she says. “There is a Chinese proverb that says he who has not tasted bitter cannot taste sweet. Nothing is perfect. Sadness is the other side of the shadow of joy. Stones are beautiful because of their imperfections. I like that message in my work.” bittersweetdesigns.com

Celia Shatzman

Celia Shatzman

Celia Shatzman is a Brooklyn-based writer who has penned stories on topics ranging from fashion to travel to celebrities, entertainment, beauty, finance, health, food, and fitness. A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, her work has appeared in New York, Teen Vogue, NYLON, New York Post, Latina, Marie Claire, Self, ELLE.com, Time Out New York, CondeNastTraveler.com, and USA TODAY, among others. When she’s not writing, Celia enjoys traveling, learning to play tennis, and playing with her rescue dog, Olive.
Celia Shatzman

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