The lovely little charm I inherited from my mother—the letter “J” set with natural diamonds in a gold frame—isn’t my taste, but I couldn’t give it away (I’m named after her; the guilt would have been too much.). And so it sat in jewelry limbo until a conversation with designer Lauren Harwell Godfrey opened my eyes to how natural diamond jewelry could be—should be!— redesigned so it matches the owner’s personality. Plus, upcycling diamonds that have already been cut is a lot more environmentally friendly, which is particularly important to me.
Designer Todd Pownell’s aesthetic for his TAP jewelry seemed like a great next step to explore. His designs have an elegant, edgy sophistication—the stones look a little jagged and raw; the gold is sometimes gleaming and smooth, sometimes rough and textured; the natural diamonds are clustered and scattered on pendants and bracelets and the settings literally turn a stone upside down.
TAP jewelry speaks to the part of me that thinks David Bowie’s birthday should be a national holiday, so I reached out to Todd to speak with him about what he might do with my J.
I love your designs and your point of view, especially your treatment of diamonds; it’s unique and a little iconoclastic. If I brought this piece to you, what might you do with the precious materials? Assume that I’m giving you total artistic license here!
Todd Pownell: We’re really open to custom projects. We do a lot of them, but always in our style. If someone is coming to us with a custom project, it’s usually because they like what we do, and that’s already a positive.
When people reach out to us, we always ask where they’re at, and direct them to a store—“oh, you’re in Portland, go here,” or “you’re in Boston, go there.” We always try to work through our stores as much as possible. We’ll answer questions via email or social media, but we’re designers and wholesalers. A store can be an advocate in a project like this, and that works well for the client and for us. (And as an aside, the TAP retailers I spoke with, including Love Adorned and Quadrum Gallery,were more than enthusiastic about their relationship with Todd and his studio.)
So let’s say you came to me and said, “It’s my family pendant and it’s my initial, but it’s kind of boxy, it’s masculine and that’s just not my style.” First, we’d talk about it, and find out what you want to wear, whether it’s a new pendant, a charm for a bracelet, a ring and so on. Then say you decided, “I like the idea of wearing a pendant with my initial, using these diamonds and with this material.” I’d start there, and do some sketches to design something, in our style.
If this charm is 18 karat, we could take the J off—the diamonds are small, but they’re sparkly and useful—then melt the gold and maybe hammer it into, say, an elongated oval shape. Then we could do a cut-out cursive J and add the diamonds asymmetrically around the bottom and top —maybe in the northwest and southeast corners, in little clusters. That would be more feminine and very cool. Then you’d have a pendant that was designed for you, that uses your materials, and that you’ll actually wear, in the TAP style.
I love your gold chain bracelets. How might you incorporate the J into one of those pieces?
TP: The bracelets are weightier than what you already have, so we wouldn’t be able to make one entirely out of your piece. But the gold you have could be hammered into a kind of leaf with diamonds scattered on top, like raindrops. You could use the stones you already have, and we can add more.
We have some necklace designs that are hammered-out gold shapes with diamonds clustered around the bottom. You have the materials for that. If you really wanted a bracelet, we could do a big link and put some of your diamonds in the middle, then build the bracelet links to fit your wrist. Those are the first designs that come to mind that are doable with your stones and gold, without adding too much cost.
Have you been seeing more projects like this come your way as people are inheriting jewelry or trying to wear what they already have?
TP: I think it’s always been a thing. Diamonds and gold are luxury items, of course, but they’re also very important. Jewelry is intimate; it’s worn close to the skin, it’s precious, it has meaning. And with an inherited piece, different generations have different styles, but it’s still a family heirloom. There’s a lot of attachment.
Todd’s designs were definitely hitting a different part of my psyche, and making me even more curious to see what other designers would see when they talked to me and looked at Mom’s natural diamonds. Who knew there was such creativity available, and that this humble object could inspire such great ideas? I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure which way I’d be going though. Clearly I needed another design POV to settle the question.