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Anna Sheffield often gets billed as the go-to wedding jewelry designer for brides who want to look beyond Tiffany's—possibly because she took the traditional diamond solitaire and literally flipped it on its head. "One of the first things I ever did was to make a bunch of really simple pieces but with the gemstones set upside down," she says. "They're kind of like punk studs, but they're still very precious and pretty."
Drawing from Dada and her grandmother's jewelry box, Sheffield—who also heads up costume jewelry line Bing Bang—has filled her namesake shop with signature "sweet and salty" designs in unusual combos like ruby and rose gold. "I feel like most women have that in their nature—a sweetness and a fierce side. Where it comes out and how they highlight those attributes is up to them."
We stopped by the jeweler's Orchard Street space to talk crazy custom pieces, juggling two businesses, and why moonstones are the new diamonds.
Tell us about your background! Did you always know you wanted to make jewelry?
I studied sculpture and metalsmithing, so my background is actually in fine arts. That was the entry into jewelry. I had an interest in making things out of metal, but I was doing mostly sculptural objects. I was living in San Francisco at the time—that's where I went to school—and I started playing with shapes, like two-finger bar rings. It was a way for me to play in the studio, to take a break from writing a grant or building a big sculpture.
Were your sculptures metal? Did the jewelry come out of the scraps?
Sometimes I would use leftover pieces of steel and set them with gemstones. I used a hammer and anvil and did a lot of forged metals—in large sculptures and in smaller ones—so when I sat down to make jewelry I used the same tools and techniques, but on a miniature scale. I think aesthetically speaking, there are a lot of references in the collection that go back to an interest in fine art, or an interest in things like Dada.
What's a piece in your jewelry collection that's very Dada to you?
I really wanted to go and analyze what makes a piece of fine jewelry, and then pick it apart and flip things around and make it my own. So one of the first things I ever did was to make a bunch of really simple pieces but with the gemstones set upside down. I love the way that they look from the bottom. They're kind of like punk studs, but they're still very precious and pretty. I love mixing odd colorways, like smoky quartz and rose gold—I think that's beautiful together.
I love the pieces with cast metal stones, to me that was really surreal and a kind of tongue in cheek way of making a solitaire.
Were cast metal stones one of your first signatures?
It's based on a ring that my grandmother left me. I wanted it to be a shoutout to her and it's amazing that it's become such a cornerstone of our collection. I make rings and necklaces and earrings based off of this silhouette. The ring is called the 'Hazeline,' that was my grandmother's name.
You also have a costume jewelry line, Bing Bang! When did that start to take off? When did jewelry become more than a hobby?
Bing Bang's first moments of glory were in 2005 and 2006 when I started selling at Barneys. I did a collaboration with Marc Jacobs, for one of his runway shows, and I had a lot of amazing things going on for somebody who had only studied art. It was a really wonderful, bright, shiny moment in the fashion industry to be able to do that—this was before social media.
The fine jewelry was a labor of love and I was very precious about it. I didn't want to do anything that didn't feel like me. Bing Bang is more playful territory.
How did you decide that the time was right to open a fine jewelry store?
I had been avoiding it for a long time. I don't want to do anything unless I can do it perfectly and I wanted to wait until I felt that I could give it the attention it needed. I started looking for retail spaces two years ago, and this one felt right.
Do you have an all-time best-seller?
By category, rings get a lot of love. So do earrings. In terms of silhouettes, I do well with the 'Bea,' and I do a lot of variations on it—arrow sides, trillion sides. There's a girl that really loves this silhouette. It's more about color combinations and materials, that's what really sets the line apart I think.
Do you think people have gotten more playful with jewelry in the past few years? You see a lot more hand chains and septum rings and ear cuffs these days.
I do a little diamond hand chain. In Bing Bang I'm more playful, it's different with costume—you don't want to spend the money on fine jewelry that you might not want to wear in a few years. I'm playful with materials—combining rose gold and ruby and playing with tones. With fine jewelry, you look for things that are now, but also things that are going to endure. You walk the line between those two categories.
What's your most popular bridal style?
The two most-loved silhouettes are still the 'Hazeline' and the 'Bea.' They can be anything from an anniversary present to an engagement ring. There's a full range of how they can be realized and manifested.
Who is your typical customer? Who is the Anna Sheffield woman?
It's very broad. I try to design for these different archetypes and muses and I feel like there's a values system that out customers have. They want something unique, but enduring and classic. They want something that's made by a person and not a massive corporation. They value that we use refined metals and antique diamonds. I try to source things ethically.
Our customer is willing to take little chances and she wants something that shows she's a unique individual and not cookie cutter. Every girl that comes in here is that girl within her group. I have other tattooed ladies like me who come in here, and they'll gravitate towards something pristine and delicate and they I have girls who come in and they look very delicate and they're like, "I want that black diamond. I am all about it." It's a total mix. I try to play with sweet and salty, and I feel like most women have that in their nature—a sweetness and a fierce side. Where it comes out and how they highlight those attributes is up to them.
What's your typical day like?
I'm a chronic over-achiever and a multi-tasker, and thank goodness for that. I start my day with emails, because it's easier for me to drink my coffee and have that quiet time. That's when I do the things that require the most writing, when my brain is clear. Then I come in and sometimes we'll do diamond pulls, or I'll merchandise the store, or redesign the window. It varies, sometimes I'll be in the jewelry district or in Soho at the Bing Bang office or meeting someone for lunch.
Do you have any favorite custom pieces? Anything really crazy or extravagant?
A client just brought in a necklace that her husband had bought her—it had this giant rutilated quartz, and she didn't ever wear it. So we cut the quartz into two gemstones, and we did a cocktail ring with gold and diamonds and a matching cuff where the quartz is inverted.
I work with a lot of clients on custom pieces without ever meeting them in person.
How does that work? Really long email chains?
Emails, and phone calls and Skype. I made a custom Bea for one client, and we had so many beautiful conversations—just him describing his love and how he wanted this ring to exemplify that, and how he perceives her. It was like hearing a love story and making a ring based on it.
You have a huge Instagram following! Do a lot of people find the store that way?
Instagram and Pinterest are our biggest drivers for finding new clients. I do all the Instagram posts, and a couple of girls on my team help me with aggregating things across different channels. I write all of the blog posts. It's kind of blissful because I like aesthetic storytelling.
What materials have you been into lately?
We've been doing so much with labradorite and gray diamonds and gray and peach moonstones. I'm really obsessed with ethereal, milky stones. I think moonstones are really spectacular to look at, and people don't always use them in an elevated way.
Time for the lightning round!
8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Cats or dogs?
Bagels or croissants?
Beach or mountains?
Favorite vacation destination?
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
Favorite neighborhood happy hour spot?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones—give me some Khaleesi.
· Anna Sheffield [Official Site]
· Better Know a Store Owner [Racked NY]