by Federico de Vera

My mother is passionate about jewelry. When we were young, she was never without her jewelry, and she avidly collected it, trading old pieces for new ones. Of all her ten children, I was the one who most shared this passion. I loved the forms and colors, and the way they sparkled. A gem was always so mysterious, and its preciousness fascinated me. From that grew a desire to design and collect jewelry.

The first pieces of jewelry I designed were mostly made of seeds. They were bohemian and funky, but composed in a refined way. I made them in the early 1990s, before I opened my store in San Francisco. I had seen an illustration in a book of a beautiful Greek gold necklace from the third century BC and was inspired to create a similar necklace made from mother-of-pearl beads and seed pearls. At this time I realized that jewelry didn’t have to be made out of traditional and valuable materials. I still work in this way. I use precious materials in unexpected ways, or I use odd materials in very refined forms.

In designing, I often start with an idea, maybe a story I want to tell. An ivory hand holds a tiny diamond that looks like a drop of water. A little diamond briolette hanging from an oval-shaped piece of coral with a pearl in the middle evokes a tear falling from an eye. I like to think of myself as a storyteller, building tales out of the things I find, looking for new relationships between them. What used to be a ring can now be a pendant. What used to be a shoe buckle can now be a bracelet. They were made to be one thing, but now they’re something else.

It’s no wonder jewelry is often given as a gift. Jewelry can express what might be difficult to say, and it endures far beyond the occasion when it is given. That’s why a wedding ring is so significant. It captures all the feeling of that special moment in a beautiful way. It’s a constant reminder.

I still remember the times my mother would ask me to pick the jewelry she would wear for special occasions. I loved laying out all the jewels on the bed, picking up and admiring each piece. I guess she trusted my instincts even at that young age. She gave me confidence and authority, and I would feel so proud when I saw her attire realized. To this day, whenever I open a jewel box, I still feel enchanted with fond memories of those times.

Federico de Vera is the proprietor of de Vera, a gallery of jewelry, art, and objects in New York City.

Image: Photography by Anita Calero, courtesy de Vera.