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Welcome to Open Studio, a Racked feature where we explore the workspaces and showrooms of some of the city's most talented designers.
On a sleepy street in northern Park Slope, the giant window in Aili Jewelry's small studio bathes the entire room in sunlight, striking each piece differently as it sets. "Since I used to do photography, I've been always inspired by light," designer Monica Ruzansky says, "and so I wanted my jewelry to embrace that element."
Since giving up her career in photography to start her own line of jewelry, the Mexico City-born Ruzansky has never totally abandoned the idea that light can change the essence of a piece of art—Aili even comes from the word for "light" in Gaelic. "A lot of our pieces, especially the opals and all of the diamond slices, a really important factor about them is the way the sun can completely change the way they look on the neck."
During a recent visit to the Aili studio, which Ruzansky shares with jeweler T. Kahres, we chatted about her fascination with gems and minerals (the space is peppered with natural pyrite and crystals), her use of recycled metals and conflict-free diamonds, and her recent interest in ceramics, which she started while pregnant: "It's like therapy!"
"I'm from Mexico City. I took a jewelry class about nine years ago and I really got involved in the craft, but I was a photographer, which I did for many years. I was wearing a ring I made in that class, and through the years I got many compliments, and so I decided I wanted to take more jewelry classes. I got such a satisfaction of working with my hands, and slowly I decided that I should start a business. So I switched careers after almost 12 years of being a photographer."
On making the move to switch careers: "I found the art world to be a little bit rough. I've always been very crafty, so I really wanted to explore more of that side. I took more classes at Liloveve Studio in Brooklyn, and eventually I joined a studio with other jewelers, like Teresa Kahres, and kept taking classes and training myself."
"My idea was to create small, delicate pieces—simple, elegant pieces that you could wear every day. You can sleep with them, shower, and feel comfortable in them. If I'm going to wear an earring, I just want to feel comfortable in them."
"Aili means light in Gaelic. Since I used to do photography, I've been always inspired by light and so I wanted my jewelry to embrace that element. I wanted the coal and the diamonds to blend in with light."
"I work with black and white diamonds, emeralds, rubies, turquoise, and opals. But I love the fact that gold doesn't tarnish. I just love that the tones are so beautiful. And above all, I love when a piece becomes so special and unique and valuable that it can become an heirloom piece that you can pass down. It gives a uniqueness to the whole design."
"These [right] are natural diamond slices, and you can see the carbon pattern that its been formed. Imagine you have a tree and you slice it, this is what the carbon in that particular stone looks like. I think it looks like an evil eye."
Creative Manager Ilana Kruger on the Aili customer: "I think that our customer is a woman that appreciates simple and quality design. We really stand behind the materials that we work with, and it's important for us to keep using recycled metals and conflict-free diamonds. I think for the woman the buys Aili, that's important to her. Aili pieces are environmental, beautiful and something that you will have forever. For me, when I go to buy jewelry, it's not something I buy all the time, because when I do buy a piece, I want it to last forever. I think that's the way our customer would value the piece as well. They want something where every time you see it, you smile."
"These rings can be engagement rings or wedding rings, or not. I like the freedom of all these pieces because you could just stack them, or you can use them by themselves."
"Last year I went to Tucson, Arizona, and they have this amazing gem fair, which is huge. I went for three days, and it was not enough, and I spent a lot of money. But it was incredible to walk all these aisles and find these crazy, beautiful minerals, stones, and diamonds. It's fascinating. It's endless! People from all over the world bring their rocks and minerals and you see these crazy beautiful, stunning things inside. I got many of the diamond slices there, and also here in New York. I have a diamond dealer who sells conflict-free diamonds, which is amazing."
"I draw into my head at night a lot, and during the day wherever I am, I can just suddenly grab a piece of napkin. Either that, or when I go to look for stones or diamonds, the design can start from there. I look at the stone, I'm like, 'Okay what can I create from this?' Then, I start to come up with ideas."
On how she got into pottery: "I just took a class at Clayworks on Columbia Street. I was pregnant back then, and so I couldn't try the wheel, and ended up doing everything by hand. And I loved it! I still have a chunk of clay at my place, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. I want to do more of those. It's like therapy."