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Melissa Joy Manning is a gemologist's jeweler. It's not that she doesn't love traditional stones like diamonds (though she prefers them sliced and set in hammered gold rather than princess cut and nestled in a halo), she's just more interested in oddities like trapiche emeralds (which are shot through with stars) and dendritic agates (whose iron deposits take the shape of tiny trees).
"I'm a total rock geek and I love learning about different stones," she told us during a recent visit to her studio—a former sewing machine factory nestled underneath her Wooster Street shop. "I sort the stones by color, and then they go in boxes. When I want to combine them I lay them out and then, like a dork, I wait for the stones to tell me what they want to be and who they want to live with."
This method results in striking combinations like raw sapphires flanked by boulder opals, and delicate chains loaded with pearls and citrines. See Melissa Joy Manning's latest creations—and get a peek at her boho-industrial workspace—this way.
"I think stones are the most beautiful when they're kind of untouched," Melissa says. "I like the free-forms."
The designer poses by a wall of sliced agates in her Wooster Street shop.
"Herkimer is in upstate New York and it's the only area in the world where these crystals grow," Melissa says. "They have a double-helix interior formation that refracts light like a diamond so they're super shiny, and that's why they call them Herkimer diamonds. You don't cut them, they come in the shapes that you see them in. You just pop them out of the rocks."
"We took this space down to the studs and rebuilt it, but we used a lot of the industrial items that were still here," Melissa says of her studio.
A jeweler's bench in the designer's studio.
A remnant from the studio's former tenant—a sewing machine factory.
Melissa solders one of her designs.
Melissa Joy Manning: master of stone combos.
"Jewelry can really define and show the world your culture and creed, Melissa says. "My latest collection is cross-cultural. I have antique pieces from Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Africa. I felt like it was resonant to bring all of those pieces out and make one big collection out of them."
Vintage medallion necklace, $1500.
Melissa Joy Manning's office.
The designer's assistant.
"I've always been inspired by the idea of zero waste," Melissa says of her commitment to using recycled materials. "If you take an animal and you use all of the parts of it, you imbue the spirit of it into you and carry it forth into perpetuity."
A view of the designer's Soho store.
Getting up close and personal with some stones.
"Sandra Bullock wore these on a magazine cover in 1997, and they've been a best seller ever since," Melissa says of her signature hoops. "They're having a resurgence at retail right now."
One last look at the Wooster Street shop.