The first time I saw a Kim Dunham signet ring, I did a double-take. Freshly polished in a rectangular shape, there was something modern and crisp about it, yet the workmanship and hand engraving bespoke the beauty and art of signet rings of the past. And no wonder. Almost all of Dunham’s pieces are one-of-a-kind, and as she explains, “a collaboration between the client who wants to tell a specific intimate story and trusts me to listen, draw out different ways of translating it and choosing the right shape ring as the blank canvas.
Kim Dunham one-of-a-kind star pattern ring. Photo: Kim Dunham
Dunham creates the rings in wax and then casts them to present as options for capturing the meaningful moments of her client’s lives. She works primarily in 14K gold and sketches out all of the intricate details that will represent the references and significance of the motifs and messages. Once approved, she gives the ring and the drawings to her trusted hand engravers who capture every nuance and element that she has designed with the motif on the front and the motto, quote or words on the back of the signet or pendant.
Kim Dunham three shapes of blank signet rings. Photo: Kim Dunham
Kim Dunham floral one-of-a-kind signet ring. Photo: Kim Dunham
NYC-based Durham has clients who contact her from throughout the U.S. and around the globe. “We work over the phone or on facetime and email,” explains Durham.
“In getting to know my clients and what stories they want to tell, I learn so much about their lives, from their children to their pets to their daily routines, their travels, and anything else which will give me a true sense of their personalities and character. All that I find out allows me to connect with people on a deeper level and to pull out the ‘magic’ that lies within my clients when I am designing such specific narratives.” she continues.
“Due to the fact that each piece tells a different unique and personal story, no two pieces will ever be alike, “ says Dunham. “And, the pieces are made to evolve over time, if the client wants, they can add on engraving, making the design more complex as their story changes.” She adds.
Dunham never posts or tags her client’s identities on social media, although she has become a go-to for celebrity clientele. She leaves it to the owner of the piece or pieces if they want to give her a shout out and discuss the process they have engaged to create their jewels.
Dunham worked in the business for over 20 years as a bench jeweler, a production manager and designer for large companies before launching her namesake business in 2016.
When asked if she has favorite rings she has worked on, she explains, “That is so hard. There are so many great stories I’ve heard and translated. But I do have a strong passion for working on mourning rings for people who have lost loved ones. It’s really special and an honor to figure out the symbols, inspirational words and/or quotes to help that person continue to connect and keep the person they lost close to them and with them every day.”
Dunham also describes a truly intricate ring as another favorite in which she used every inch of the ring to tell the story. Dunham explains “I started working on this piece with a client before a trip to India. My client had requested the Ganesh as a central symbol. The other symbols he wanted to include were the Northwest mountains in particular Mt. Hood, air (he is an avid kite surfer) and his Chinese zodiac symbol “rooster”. The final design consisted of a Ganesh sitting in a classic natural setting like many of the miniature paintings in India. However, instead of an Indian setting. The Ganesh is in Oregon (image inspired from Portland seal, old coins and state flags) Mt. Hood is to his right, evergreen trees and a river surround him. The sky is a cloud pattern taken from Asian motifs. Air is represented on the band. The pattern is from the intricately carved windows of the Hawa Mahal Palace in Jaipur The honeycomb pattern allows the air to move through, but still allows privacy to the palace. The inside reads ‘Amor Fati’ which translates to ‘love your fate’.”
Kim Dunham one-of-a-kind Ganesh ring. Photo: Kim Dunham
She works with two retail companies at present, for which she designs the only ‘storied’ pieces she creates that can be reproduced which means you can get the same image and saying, yet each ring is still hand engraved.
She collaborated with Alysa Teichman from Ylang 23, who came to her with the idea of the seven female archetypes. These rings are sold solely through the Ylang 23 Dallas store and online shop.
From Kim Dunham Seven Female Archetype series for Ylang 23. Inspired by Old Heraldry. Engraved with the phrase – “No je ne regrette rien” (I regret nothing – Edith Piaf). Photo: Ylang 23
Additionally, Dunham collaborated on different series for Goop on their concept of 6 spirit animals and all of the zodiacs. These are sold directly through Goop.
Kim Dunham Eagle Spirit Animal 14K gold insignia for Goop. Photo: Goop
Recently she has begun working on five different hand-engraved shanks, two of which are already designed and cast. One ring with a feather shank and the other a diamond-patterned shank .”I thought this concept would be a wonderful alternative to the complete one-of-a-kind pieces.” Dunham continues, “with these rings, people could identify with the shank and then personal the center of the signet on the front and back. These styles will offer a more accessible price point and will streamline production for clients who want a quicker turnover but something that still relates to their lives, such as initials on the top and a quote on the back as one example.”
Kim Dunham Feather shank ring with blank front and back for engraving initials, dates or phrases. Photo: Kim Dunham
Kim Dunham diamond-patterned shank shown with initials on the front.
“We will continue to create rings and pendant that resonate deeply for our clients—whether it has secret meaning that only they will know, a design that allows them to express themselves to the world and/or a keepsake that will always reflect a part of their journey in life.”
Kim Dunham one-of-a-kind sweet pea pendant. Photo: Kim Dunham
Camille Parruitte/ Nouvel Heritage
It’s not surprising that Camille Parruitte, CEO and Creative Director of Nouvel Heritage has developed a strong passion and even stronger design and merchandising skills when it comes to fine jewelry. It’s in her DNA. Born and raised in Paris, her grandmother was an avid jewelry collector and her mother was the general director for Cartier throughout the ‘90s. She then did a stint as a dealer in fine diamonds, and bought a workshop on Rue de La Paix, approximately 10 years ago and hired some of the most talented and proficient jewelers to take on contract work for large renowned companies.
Parruitte explains, “Every summer after my mother bought the workshop, she assigned me to make a piece of jewelry and engage in the entire process from start to finish. This hands-on education along with the jewelry my grandmother wore-such as a stack of bangles and rings, each one special to her because of the story behind them, led me to believe that jewelry is such a strong form of self-expression. Pieces are personal, conjure up emotional ties, romance, vivid memories and precious moments.” She continues, “ While working in the factory, I also learned and began to really appreciate that significance and beauty are all important, but jewelry also must be functional and wearable for real women who have full lives and desire jewelry for every day.”
Nouvel Heritage 18K gold Rainbow medallion. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Nouvel Heritage My BF’S wedding ring. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Founded in 2015, Nouvel Heritage is a culmination Parruitte’s background, beliefs, aesthetic and heritage. All pieces are made in her mother’s factory by the same talented jewelers that work on the renowned brands. Crafted in 18K gold and with ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones, the collection balances old world craftmanship with modernity, cutting edge design with a nod to the past. “There isn’t anything that hasn’t been designed before or that we won’t see again; however I try to ensure that all of our pieces are created with our own details, techniques and twists, which a woman can wear effortlessly and with confidence that she has created her own way of wearing the pieces. Comfort, an unstudied chic and a feeling of subdued luxury are also part of our ethos.” Says Parruitte.
Nouvel Heritage cuff earrings and Vendome Lace hoop earrings. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Nouvel Heritage Lace Vendome pink sapphire earrings. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Parruitte lives and directs the team in the factory from New York for her collection, but travels back twice a year. She considers herself the creative director with two junior designers, a team of bench jewelers, cad designs and stone setters, all figuring out what will be the most creative and most functional closures and mechanisms for the designs. Core collections are built upon, such as the “Mood Bangles” which have been a hit ever since the collection launched. “Women collect, add on and wear them in different combinations. They are one of our best sellers.” They also work with other styles of bangles and bracelets in the collection.” Nouvel Heritage’s take on signet rings are fun and almost have a futuristic feel—they aren’t anything like the others we are seeing in the market which has stirred excitement around them on the part of retailers.
A stack of Nouvel Heritage’s mood bracelets. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Nouvel Heritage diamond and white gold Tuxedo Mood bracelet. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
Nouvel Heritage Lace Vendome sapphire bangle. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
When I interviewed Parruitte, I noticed that she wears a minimal amount of jewelry. “It’s part of my upbringing to choose sparingly the jewelry I wear and to be able to wear it all of the time. I try and inject this feeling into the collection for my customers who like a more streamlined approach than piling it on. The pieces Parruitte wears is one of Nouvel Heritage’s signets which looks fabulous on her pinky, one of her ear cuff designs, a pair of the new gemstone studded hoops in the collection and a Van Cleef & Arpels heart that her grandfather gifted her for a special occasion eight years ago.
Nouvel Heritage 18K Rose gold Love multi sapphire signet ring. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
“It’s also important to me to know that my jewelry can mingle well with other designers and vintage pieces. That’s what keeps timeless pieces fresh and current.” She concludes.
Nouvel Heritage Mystic Star Ring. Photo: Nouvel Heritage
I was mesmerized while looking at Kathleen Sleigh’s collection, Darśana, launched in 2017. At first, I didn’t know what the ornate, yet subtle glimmer of the yellow gold with small diamonds was highlighting or wrapped around. Was it a stone? A patinaed metal? Then upon closer look, I was delightfully and unexpectedly surprised. Sleigh ingeniously places pieces of silvered glass where you would traditionally find a gem-set or different colored metal. I was privy to the debut collection and I was drawn to the antique-inspired shapes: crowned hearts, lockets with ornamental fronts, and then more pared-down circles, ovals and linear earrings, all with the subdued brushed texture that gave the gold its old-world feeling.
Darśana layered silvered mirror and gold pendants. Photo: Darśana
Darśana crowned heart ring with baguette tops and heart-shaped silvered mirror
Darśana 14K gold locket with silvered mirror. Photo: Darśana
“The design concept symbolizes the beauty we have within our souls and how we reflect it back out into the world. Sometimes imperfect, sometimes slightly flawed, these mirrors reveal depth and character—the way in which women do.” Says Sleigh “Every piece in my mirror collection features an engraved ‘watchful eye’ burnished with a diamond and hidden on the back to represent protection, acceptance and love.”
Darśana slivered mirror heart-shaped lariat. Photo: Darśana
Self-taught, Sleigh explains,, “I have always trusted my instincts. After a decade of working in interior design on Chicago’s North Shore, I was hankering to channel my creative energies into designing fine jewelry and my as my ideas flowed, I realized they stemmed from my desire to transcend beyond jewelry as mere adornment, but also as a way to express a soulful state of beauty and being, inspired by my three daughters. Lucy, Sophie and Vivienne.”
What began as a more spiritual collection evolved into one that represents a sophisticated design sense and a more subtle message. Sleigh explains,” I first designed the pieces for my girls and seeing them wear their very own ‘meaningful medallions eventually led me to finally launch an empowering collection for women to feel strength and contentment, finding the best and all forms of love in oneself and others.” She continues, “Beauty is different for everyone. At Darśana’s core is an expression that everyone who wears the pieces makes a statement with the mirrors of the good we bring to the world, the things we create, the people we care for, the wounds we heal and the sacrifices we make.”
Darśana 14K gold and diamond-accented silvered mirror ring. Photo: Darśana
As the designs began to take shape the collection grew to include motifs from antiquity and architecture which add a whole new dimension to the pieces.
Darśana diamond, 14K gold and silvered mirror linear earrings
For her newest collections, which will debut this Fall 2019, Sleigh continues to look towards elements with a reflective quality, evolving the collection into pieces that give a nod to nature. ‘Icicles’ of diamonds sparkle against brushed gold; while ‘Raindrops’ (of pear-shaped diamonds) seem to drip from an open circle—representing a window that you could see yourself in. There is the ‘Frost’ collection in which diamonds and or rainbow moonstone baguettes are set around a frosted or opaque stone.
“As women, we are constantly changing, which includes how we see ourselves and others in the world. I hope to project that in my designs while still allowing them to speak for themselves as pieces that are elegant, with an heirloom quality that a woman would want to wear, cherish and collect and see their own daughters wearing one day.”