NATIONAL JEWELER 51 C hances are, if you hear about an up-and-coming fine jewelry brand worth watching today, it’s based in Los Angeles. Global design capitals like New York, London and Paris have long had the infrastructure necessary to support and attract jewelry talent, who flock to these cities’ respective jewelry districts to work with industry suppliers, dealers and craftspeople. In the United States, the same goes for Los Angeles, which has its own jewelry district downtown. But the City of Angels has tradi- tionally played second fiddle to New York, both in terms of industry scope and design credibility. That’s all changed. “When I started my collection, New York was still the center of the industry. I feel like it’s flipped now. There are so many designers based in L.A.,” says Ariel Gordon of Ariel Gordon Jewelry, who has been producing entirely in the latter city since she launched her brand of wearable, personalized fine jewelry in 2009. In terms of fashion, Los Angeles is saddled with the reputation of a beach city, more concerned with showing skin than innovating or pushing aesthetic boundaries, a responsibility that traditionally has been left to New York. This still holds true for clothing, but jewelry is transcending the stereotype, expanding from baubles that are merely beachy to some of the most interesting designs found stateside. “From a marketing perspective, there was a feeling for years that Los Angeles wasn’t a high culture place capable of putting out pieces of the same level as Paris or New York,” says Vram Minassian, the designer of Los Angeles-based Vram Jewelry, known for its abstract and inventive pieces. “But that has changed gradually over the last 20 years, and now it’s understood that L.A. is a market that has incredi- ble relevance and creativity on par with the older, denser cities. It takes some time for people to notice, for the attitudes to shift.” Gemstone dealer David Bindra joined his family’s gemstone wholesale company, B & B Fine Gems, nine years ago, and in that time has witnessed the rise in prominence of the city’s designers. “It’s amazing to see the diversity in talent that we have in L.A.,” Bindra says. “We have several of our industry’s powerhouses here in town, from important wholesale brands like Simon G. and Tacori to high fashion jewelers such as Irene Neuwirth, Victor Velyan and Arunashi. It’s a great place to be, creatively.” Jewelry editor and author Marion Fasel, whose books include “Hollywood Jewels: Movies, Jewelry, Stars” and who recently launched online jewelry magazineTheAdven- turine, notes that jewelry has had a special relationship with Los Angeles ever since the inception of Hollywood. The NewY ork-based Fasel spends January and February in L.A. to cov- er the jewelry featured on the award show red carpets and says that be- sides the usual red carpet heavyweights, she’s noticed a rise in the number of independent jewelry designers in LosAngeles over the last five years. “LosAngeles is the hub of innovative and emerging jewelry design today,” she asserts. “I feel like there are many more new names in Los Angeles than in NewY ork. It seems every young designer tells me a story about how they started learning about jewelry design in the manu- facturing district of downtown LosAngeles.” THE JEWELRY DISTRICT Proximity to production is the most obvious factor in the current prevalence of the L.A. jewelry design scene. Azlee, the Los Angeles-based fine jewelry brand designed by Baylee Zwart, has made waves among editors and stylists for its structural boldness and chic simplicity, which would seem more at home in Paris than southern California. Zwart learned metalsmithing in Guatemala and originally crafted her pieces herself before realizing she “wasn’t going to be able to scale the business if I didn’t partner with a manufacturer.” She explains: “I tried to start the company in San Francisco after I was living in Guatemala, but there just wasn’t the infrastructure up there. A big reason I ended up in L.A. was because of the jewelry district. I wanted all of our manufacturing to be local as well as all of our vendors, which is possible in L.A. Since I am no longer making the jewelry myself, I love that I still get to be so hands-on. I get to see and touch every single piece that is made … I love the collaboration and intimacy of producing locally.” Designer Zoe Chicco is also able to make the San Francisco/Los Angeles comparison. Chicco’s namesake brand, which specializes in essential, everyday fine jewelry meant for mixing and matching, was founded in the former city in 2000, as a new wave of independent fine jewelry designers began to blossom. “From what I can remember of San Francisco, Los Angeles has a much larger jewelry district,” she says. “As a result, there are a lot more options available. Very rarely is there something I need that I cannot find readily available the same day, whether it is tools, materials, or a service.” Today, Chicco’s designs are manufactured in-house, affording her the utmost creative and quality con- trol, but she still relies on the jewelry district for keeping her business streamlined and efficient. “In the past year, there have been times that we have had to outsource some of our pieces when we’ve been too busy or short-staffed and we have more work than our team can handle,” she explains. “In those cases, we have turned to some local manufacturers to help us with our workload. It is unusual, but it is definitely great to have other resources available if it is necessary.” LA VS. NYC Though Los Angeles’s jewelry district might be better developed than San Francisco’s, it’s not as large as its New York City counterpart, and access to supplies and manufactur- ing doesn’t fully explain why L.A. has begun to exert such a domi- nance in design. There are other factors at play, and the first is lifestyle. Designer Polly Wales, known for her “cast, not set” technique, moved to Los Angeles from London a year and a half ago, along with her entire production. “For me, the light and the space in L.A. have been such game changers,” she says. “We have more space than I could have ever dreamed of here, and to have such openness and light where we work has changed the way we make jewelry. We have grown into the light.” Vram Jewelry’s 18-karat yellow gold ring with brown diamonds