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Current Obsessions : NYCJW Special. Beyond Aesthetics: The Jewelry Industry Michele Varian in conversation with Hayley K.S.

Hayley Schlesinger is as soft spoken and lovely as her jewelry designs. Picking up on life’s slight details – overlooked encounters with the cityscape, or obscure, precious passing instances – her designs use fine stones and metals to create visual punctuations, sophisticated surprises on the body.

Understated but profoundly elegant, Hayley K. S. Fine Jewelry resonates with consumers who are beguiled by the same attention to detail from which Hayley draws her inspiration. Here, she discusses that inspiration, along with how her business began, how it’s evolved, and the value she still holds in the experiences from its earlier stages.

Hi Hayley! Could you share a short bio, and give a quick description of our relationship?

I have always been inclined to design and physically make things with my hands. When I was young, I made beaded bracelets, hemp necklaces, notebooks, paper, pottery, and any crafty project that I could. Later, I studied photography at Savannah College of Art and Design, where I took classes in metals and jewelry. I began working at Michele Varian when I got back North, and that experience was what really cultivated my aesthetic.

How did you become a jeweler?

I started out making jewelry because I wanted to make things for myself to wear. I was always obsessed with delicate, tiny things. The smaller the better! When I was a kid I would draw tiny pictures and hide them in cracks of the floor. Somehow, I think this is related to my making jewelry. My jewelry is like a secret reminder of something special.

After a trip to Tokyo, I realized that I was not alone in this interest. There were so many micro-details in Japan and the Japanese aesthetic. I was inspired to launch my first collection of fine jewelry, and it turned out that other people liked this aesthetic, too! My pieces are meant to be worn every day, and to be comfortable. Often, they go unnoticed except to the wearer. I think the wearer finds that subtlety empowering.

What inspires your designs?

My inspiration tends to come from the subtlest instances. A glimmer of light reflected onto a dark wall, or a curve in the figure of the body. Last night, for example, I saw a little stream of spray paint marring the sidewalk in Brooklyn. It was a cool shape, really distinct, and in a cool color. Inspiration is not only visual, though; sometimes it’s a sound or mood that can inspire a design. Things like that, that subtle, are what inspires me.

Tell me about the evolution of your manufacturing processes or the ways you use materials.

I’ve always made fine jewelry, so I use 14 karat gold and precious stones. And I’ve always made what I want to wear! I’m very lucky to live in New York City, because I source all my materials from the diamond district on 47th Street. It’s old school; everything’s there. I get all sorts of stones: diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and all my metals. I work with fabricators in the district, too. Lots of characters with great experience and crazy industry stories. I’ve been lucky to find supportive folks who have the patience to teach me new things, or at least point me in the right direction. I admit I ask a lot of questions!

What was the first store that ever carried your jewelry?

I got into jewelry after becoming familiar with all the big independent brands while working at the Michele Varian shop. Michele and I would walk the trade shows together, and we trusted each others’ aesthetic, so it was really fun. She let me help select pieces for the store and it helped build my confidence and eye. I did that for years before I finally started my own brand. Naturally, Michele was my first retailer.

Can you share a personal story from an encounter within the jewelry ecosystem that has stuck with you over the years?

Since Michele’s was the first store that carried my work, I did my first real sales there. I remember selling my first gold necklace for, like, 700 dollars, and I was absolutely shocked that someone would pay that amount of money for something I made. It was a huge amount of money for me at the time! Right after the transaction was through, I ran into the closet and screamed! I was so excited.

One other great memory was when a woman once bought a locket from me. She was planning to adopt a child and she wanted to give it to the birth mother with a photo of the baby. That was really emotional! Jewelry can be very, very personal.

Hayley K.S. 
 
Michele Varian is a NYC-based designer and retailer, carrying home goods and over 70 jewelry brands in her SoHo shop (including Hayley K S!). Visit the shop on Instagram here, and her curation of fine jewelry here!

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