Melissa Joy Manning is one of those lucky people who always knew what she wanted to do. According to her website, her jewelry making began at age four and she has never strayed from that path. Melissa studied art history, jewelry design, sculpture, silversmithing, and design principles before launching her company in 1997. Her love of learning and natural curiosity are apparent when you meet her — qualities that also shine through her jewelry.
I highly recommend going by the NYC flagship store in SoHo. It's full of history and reclaimed pieces found in the space when Melissa took it over. It's most fitting that someone so dedicated to sustainability would see the potential in odd materials like doors and machinery. The physical history of the space (once a sewing needle factory) remains as a backdrop to Melissa's beautiful creations.
A little over a month ago, I was given the opportunity to explore the space, meet Melissa, and learn some jewelry making techniques from her. I was invited to the SoHo store, along with Alden, Juliette, and Rachael, to create one of Melissa's signature pieces called hugs. Born out of a friend's desire for a wrap-around earring, it's now one of the most popular styles.
Like all of Melissa Joy Manning's jewelry, the hugs are sustainably made. All of the sterling silver is recycled and gold is sourced from a Green Certified refinery with the highest environmental standards. Stones are upcycled whenever possible and more than fifty percent of the stones and raw materials come from domestic sources. Diamonds are certified conflict free through the Kimberley process. You can learn more about Melissa's ethos here.
The basement houses a studio and offices. In both the Berkley and NYC studios, skilled artisans make each piece by hand using classical metal smithing techniques. This means heavy chemical waste and pollution are eliminated, artisans are paid living wages, and carbon usage is minimized. Carbon from shipping is offset through the UPS Carbon Neutral program.
The process for making the hugs was simple, but required skill and attention. I have great appreciation for the craftspeople who work so meticulously on these pieces! We began with a pre-cut piece of silver with a ball on the end and bent it into a hoop, as Alden is doing below. Melissa then taught us how to hammer the middle section flat. Finally, Melissa's assistant Bob taught us to use the cup bur to file down the end. We then repeated the process, but this time the end was a tiny gem held in by prongs. I chose pyrite based on its neutral color and my Zodiac correspondence in The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals.
The finished products are beautiful and I will cherish them always. And I will always remember the experience of creating them under the tutelage of Melissa Joy Manning, a sustainability pioneer, a successful businesswoman, and a warm and funny human being.
The SoHo store has plans to offer jewelry making classes and parties to the public in the future; I highly recommend taking advantage of the experience.
Visiting NYC? Find Melissa Joy Manning & Other Sustainable Makers on this Map.
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