America’s new school of jewelry designers combine classic craftsmanship with modern sensibilities to make trinkets that truly sparkle.
Adam Foster fell in love with jewelry design as a young boy, during family trips to Italy. He was fascinated by ornaments sparkling in store windows, by the goldsmiths hammering away on cluttered workbenches in the back. It was no surprise, then, that when Foster, 38, decided to launch his own jewelry line, he drew inspiration from the artistic traditions of Italy. A sapphire- and moonstone-studded gold cuff evokes the lapis lazuli detailing of Tuscan churches; a diamond-encrusted domed ring suggests the constellations on St. Mark’s clock tower in Venice. Even his brush finishes are Florentine in style.
At his St. Louis atelier, Foster—who honed his metalsmithing chops at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—and two bench jewelers handcraft all the pieces for his collections, Constellation and Plume (the former inspired by the ceilings of Italian churches, the latter by feather motifs). The trio engages in an integrated process—from design, manufacture, and engraving all the way to gem-setting—that is uncommon but befits Foster’s penchant for old-world craftsmanship. This juxtaposition of the tried-and-true with the new gives Foster’s jewels both the satisfying heft of the Baroque and the delight of the unexpected. “You could have inherited a Buccellati bracelet from your great-grandmother, and the pendant that you had designed and made [by us] two months ago still works with it,” Foster says. “They’re like modern heirlooms.”
Luz Ortiz never expected to work in jewelry, but while she was studying fashion design at the New York Institute of Art and Design, a job working with CFDA award winner Robert Lee Morris inspired her to take weekend classes in jewelry making. She never looked back.
Since she launched her eponymous brand in 2014, Ortiz’s minimalist pieces have been lauded by fashion editors and worn by the likes of Kristen Stewart. “I want [each piece] to be a modern classic,” the designer says. Modernist artists like Alberto Giacometti and midcentury architects—Ortiz speaks in rapturous tones about a recent visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “surreal” Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania—are evident influences in the strong, sleek lines of her sterling silver pieces. Ortiz, who moved to Brooklyn from the Dominican Republic when she was 9, also takes visual cues from her homeland’s glorious landscapes: Her rings are studded with thick-cut semiprecious stones like lapis lazuli and white onyx, and her bracelets seem to undulate like waves.
Ortiz handcrafts the molds for each piece at her Midtown Manhattan studio, and then the collection is constructed by hand in the Diamond District. “My favorite thing is seeing the piece come to life,” Ortiz says. “It’s just a beautiful process.”
Both of Sarah Hendler’s grandmothers had an eye for jewelry. Shirley admired fine jewelry and recognized good craftsmanship; Ethel loved big cocktail rings and costume baubles. By the time the Los Angeles–based Hendler launched her eponymous jewelry line in 2016, her grandmothers’ styles had seeped into her designs. Pieces like 18-karat gold and hot-pink enamel drop earrings affixed to sky-blue topaz studs exude the celebratory spirit that Ethel loved and are crafted with a precision that Shirley would have appreciated. Hendler describes her aesthetic as modern vintage: “It’s taking the love of how jewelry was made in the past and making it more for the modern
Hendler, 41, took a circuitous route to jewelry design. A former film producer, she was helping her husband build his restaurant business (which includes LA’s hip Animal and Son of a Gun) when she started visiting a manufacturer to rework her old trinkets. The result was playful jewelry that popped with multihued gems and candy-colored enamel. Friends clamored for similar pieces, and a brand was born. Her ultra-glamorous, fit-for-the-red-carpet bijoux—all handmade in LA—soon captured the attention of such stars as Kristen Bell and Kate Upton.
What’s next for Hendler? Pearls are a big focus (“They’re something that has withstood everything”), and she’s also partial to the glittering effects of emerald pavé, because “people love green.” She stops and adds, with a laugh: “People love emeralds is what I should really say.”