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Ron Anderson fell into jewelry design by accident. "I wanted to do clothing at first, but setting up a studio took up too much space," Ron explained earlier this month over morning coffees at the Ten Thousand Things studio. Jewelry was the next best thing, since it really only required a box of easily transportable materials. Then, naturally, it stuck. "I started working in jewelry stores and I’d developed a different kind of understanding, and I just fell in love with jewelry, period."
Twenty-five years later, and he and his partner David Rees are still having at it — only now, their studio resides behind their beautiful Tribeca studio, not in Ron’s studio apartment.
They first made a name for themselves in the 90s when Kate Moss wore their minimalistic earrings in an ad for Calvin Klein during a time when chunky costume jewelry was all the rage. "Ten Thousand Things was created in direct opposition to the big costume jewelry from the big houses," David said. The pair was obviously onto something: More than two decades later, they’re still a favorite among artsy sophisticates and women looking for something unique. (Their roster of celebrity clientele is pretty impressive, too.)
During a visit to the store, we talked about everything from how they first met at Linda Dresner to what it was like to work with Louis CK.
How did the concept for Ten Thousand Things first come about?
David: The business started because Ron was making jewelry and selling it on the street in Soho back in the day. This is a twenty-five year old business, and twenty-five years ago, the city was a lot different, and there were really great things being sold on the street. Then we met and he wanted to turn it into a business, so we started working together.
When Ten Thousand Things was created, it was in direct opposition to the big costume jewelry from the big houses. In the 80s, everybody was wearing that big Chanel costume jewelry, so the point was to take real materials and use them in a very delicate way with as little metal as possible so that the natural stone or pearl was the focus. It was a fresh idea at the time.
Ron: It was about creating a technique that was just about exposing the jewelry. Nothing was set or bezeled — It was just exposed stones and creating forms with them, which also required a specific way of working.
David: Minimal, minimal, minimal, stripping away, and pairing down. It was really about a new proportion.
Were you two always into designing jewelry?
David: Each one of us separately were both always creative. We were always making things.
Ron: I segued into jewelry. I was living in Detroit, and there was a lot going on there — I'd go to all of these vintage stores and collect things. I wanted to do clothing at first, actually, but setting up a studio took up too much space, so I decided to do jewelry because you can put all of your materials in a box and take it with you and have a studio anywhere. I started working in jewelry stores and so developed a different kind of understanding [of the business] ,and I just fell in love with jewelry, period.
How did you guys meet and become partners?
David: I was running Linda Dresner in New York, and Ron came in to show his jewelry, and from there we decided to start working together.
Ron: What's crazy is that Linda [Dresner] had a store in Birmingham [Michigan], which I would pop into before I moved to New York, so she really inspired me. I just thought that she had such am amazing taste, and that one day I wanted to have something in her store — and ironically enough, the first person to call me in after I moved to Manhattan was her buying agent, back when she had store on Park Avenue.
David: And here we are, 25 years later.
Do you each have specific roles in the business?
David: We do, but there's a lot of bleed-over. People used to say that I was the businessperson and Ron was the creative person, but that was true for maybe just the first year. Now, we both do certain creative things and we both do certain business things. I like Ron to be in charge of the diamond dealers and the pearl dealers, because nobody picks diamonds and pearls better than Ron. And a lot of the time, the people that we deal with are characters, and Ron's really good with those kinds of people.
We work creatively very differently — he works in metal and I work in wax — but we work together on the final pieces, so it's not as though we don't have impact on each other's creative processes as well. It's very collaborative.
It sounds like this relationship was meant to be!
Ron: David's very good at pushing me out of my comfort zone.
David: And that's what's great about having two people — you always have a second set of eyes. Often what we find is that we'll both end up drawing the same thing, but separately. It happens all the time, it's weird!
Who is the Ten Thousand Things customer?
David: It's the woman that appreciates good design and something she hasn't seen before. She's looking for something to add to her life to wear that has kind of a talisman effect on her. She's a very sophisticated, urban lady.
You know, we get movie stars and people like that because we've had a store in Manhattan for 19 years now, and you inevitably end up with a beautiful roster of customers.
"It's not for everyone — the focus was never to be trendy. It was always all about making things as beautiful as possible."
Ron: For me, what I love is that our customer will tell us that they don't like trends, and that they're really looking for good design. That's flattering because it lets you make what you want, and it shows us that they like the way we think.
David: There's a little bit of a cult feeling about our collection. It's not for everyone — the focus was never to be trendy. It was always all about making things as beautiful as possible.
Who are some of the high-profile clients that you've worked with?
David: We've made incredible things for Susan Sarandon for years. She's been a great friend and client of ours since the very beginning. One of the things we did for her was make a bracelet out of her kid's teeth, and they look like pearls. It's beautiful, and she wears it a lot.
Ron: We put rubies and opals with it. It was a fun project.
David: And we make things for Julianne Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Louis CK...
Louis CK? What an interesting client!
Rob: It was such a surprise.
David: He's very visual and very specific about everything. We had fun making things for him.
Ron: That was interesting, because you know when some people see everything, but they seem like they're in left field? He was right about everything.
David: He's pretty special. Jake is also very specific, very meaningful, very figured out.
Well, they are artists.
David: Absolutely, and that's our client.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
David: It's always the materials. It's when you find that amazing opal, for instance, and Ron is such a great picker.
Ron: And when it's about the materials, sometimes you just have to find a match.
David: A lot of times, it's also a certain way of working. We never want to plunk something down on a chain; it has to have a relation to the chain.
What are you favorite stones to work with?
David: Lightening rich black opal is my favorite.
Ron: I am obsessed with pearls. I love opals, and I do like unusual diamonds, like colored diamonds, which we were able to afford in the beginning of our business.
David: Special, unusual things have always been our focus.
What are your favorite collections?
David: We try really hard to always make different things. Each collection is related — but it's not the same as the previous collection — and we tend to push ourselves creatively. But usually, the newest thing that we made is always my favorite, in a weird way.
Rob: We did these sculptural rings about 18 years ago, and they've just stuck with me.
How have the women in your life inspired your designs?
David: Linda Dresner's been a huge muse from the beginning, because that's where we met. She's still one our best friends, and her taste level is something that you're always trying to understand and achieve and work up to as a level of standard. Also, our friends: The way they look at the collection, what they choose to wear, the things we see that they don't take off for 20 years.
Sometimes you have longstanding customers, and they teach you about your collection. Sometimes you'll see something that you made 20 years ago and you'll think, "Why don't we make that again? She still wears it, and it's still great." It's more than being inspired by how someone puts herself together — it's the choices they make and what they mean to them. That's inspirational to me.
Why did you choose Tribeca for the new shop?
David: Because the space was so beautiful, and it's a really great neighborhood. It's refined, and it's a different part of New York. It's quiet in a residential way, but we've had more foot traffic here than we've ever had in any store.
Has the surrounding community been welcoming?
David: This is a part of New York where there really is a sense of community. The people down here are very supportive. They look in the window and they're so curious, and it was like that for the first couple of months because our space is a little bit unusual. They really care about the neighborhood.
Ron: A lot of New York has become about building gigantic condos and putting corporate stores all over, and the community was really concerned. So it made us feel really good that they were like, "Okay, this is a mom-and-pop, and they have their own vision, and we like it." It's not so easy to do a mom-and-pop anymore, so that has been amazing.
What's different about this store from past stores?
David: It's a more curated store that doesn't just have jewelry. We have Strange Invisible perfumes, and we're working on a signature fragrance with them. We carry Rodin because we love what she does. We've reached out to some of our friends to make one-of-a-kind objects. We also use this store as opportunity to work sculpturally: Ron makes bronzes that just fly out of here — they're really special. We have two right now, and they're an important new addition to the store.
Tell us how you came up with the name.
David: Ron came up with the name before we even met. It's a line out of the I-Ching: "From one thing, begets the ten thousand things." It's the idea of a constant evolution of your process — it starts in the beginning and it just keeps going.
Do you think you'll expand?
David: I think we want to expand digitally. I don't know that we want to expand physically.
What's changed since you first launched Ten Thousand Things all those years ago?
David: I don't feel like anything's really changed [laughs]. 18 years ago, we had our first store in the Meatpacking District, and now we're here. We used to make everything in Ron's apartment and only sell wholesale accounts. Having a store is a really big change, but the way we work is exactly the same.
Ron: And I think that now there's a lot more focus on business, too, and being more digital.
"'From one thing, begets the ten thousand things.' It's the idea of a constant evolution of your process — it starts in the beginning and it just keeps going."
David: You have to have an Instagram and have a website because that's how people expect to find you. And another big change is that almost nobody comes in that hasn't already checked you out online. They research you before they come in to see you.
Ron: But it also means that they've made a conscious choice, because you see everything online, but they narrow it down to you.
Let's do a lightning round: Diamonds or pearls?
Mojitos or margaritas?
Bus or train?
Gold or silver?
Coffee or tea?
Whole milk or almond milk?
David: Whole milk.
Ron: Almond milk.
Twelve noon or twelve midnight?
Cats or dogs?
Europe or Asia?
Turtlenecks or v-necks?