Can a donut ever be a romantic symbol? Absolutely, if it’s crafted in gold and diamonds and set on the inside of a natural diamond ring, says Jen Tran. She recently met with couple looking to immortalize their love story in a ring and this led to a discussion about their romance and rituals, including their Saturday walks to the donut shop.
Every jewel Tran creates begins with a conversation, not about gems and jewelry, but first about a client’s lifestyle, passions, and rituals. What’s meaningful to them, be it a donut, a place or the family dog. Once Tran understands a client then she considers the design, stones, and style of the jewel.
For the donut loving couple, she created a sculptural gold ring with an important old European-cut diamond center stone, surrounded by French-cut diamonds, with two gold donuts with diamonds and sprinkles concealed on the inside of the band.
Tran doesn’t follow trends or have a signature style; each design is created exclusively for the wearer. For someone who started their career in biotech (she earned an MBA and PhD in cancer research), creating jewelry was a big leap. She became interested in jewelry when she wanted a custom piece with emotional ties to her father and son. Here’s where her research background was useful: she searched for independent master artisans around the world, the best in their fields, to create her jewelry. With all this insider knowledge, she established Millie and Noah (a combination of derivatives from her father and son’s names) in 2018 to create jewelry that captures the wearer’s personal story using an international group of independent craftspeople.
Fashion executive and influencer Eva Chen, for instance, wanted a jewel that celebrated both her children and Asian heritage. The result was a jade pendant engraved with her children’s Chinese horoscopes and their names (copied from her mother’s handwriting) by master carver Michael Peuster in Odar Oberstein, Germany, and set with diamonds. “Traditionally, the shape of a jade disc represents the idea of heaven and immortality, which we felt drew a nice parallel with the passing of Chinese traditions across generations,” said Tran about the concept behind the pendant.
Peuster is part of what she calls a “cartel” of artisans that make up her team, people she uncovered who aren’t just masters in their fields but are also willing to experiment with new ideas and take risks. “Michael is a well-known independent lapidary artist and one of the few carvers who works on a miniature scale.”
Her lists of masters, many who also contribute to prestigious jewelry maisons, include French marquetry artist Rose Saneuil, who trained at École deBoulle in Paris, and London-based Renata Terjeki, one the U.K.’s last remaining expert pearl stringers.
There are two types of jewelers. the ones who want stamp it out and ones who like being challenged and experiment with new things.
Mille and Noah Jade pendant carved with a client’s zodiac constellations and diamonds
“There are two types of jewelers,” says Tran, “the ones who want stamp it out and ones who like being challenged and experiment with new things.” She searched for the later jewelers to build her team.
The average design takes up to about one year to create, and simple pieces can take three to four months. The slow process, she says, doesn’t deter clients. “They like being part of the process, we show them photos and videos of their piece as it is being made. It’s a more like a collaborative effort.” The jade pendants start at $4,000, and gold, diamond and gemstone pieces start at around $10,000.
It’s a word-of-mouth business, when one happy client shares their piece’s story with a friend, it inspires others to imagine the possibilities.. Because it’s such a high touch business, Tran wants to keep it small.
Even the solitaire engagement ring takes on a different meaning with Millie and Noah. “Clients often have something in mind, and once we talk and we collaborate, they end up with something entirely different.”
A recent art enthusiast client envisioned a contemporary diamond ring and ended up with an old European cut diamond surrounded by a cluster of diamonds in a rich green guilloche enamel design. Since it’s hard to visualize a custom piece, she has an artist paint a guoache rendering and digital artists create 3D renderings. Sometimes she sends clients prototypes of a ring or necklace so they can wear it first and make any adjustments before the final design is forged in gold and diamonds.
She only uses natural diamonds because she says, “lab grown diamonds defeats the purpose of a diamond; it is special because it is rare.”
When a client recently brought in a Paraiba tourmaline stone and wasn’t sure if she wanted it made into a ring or pendant design, Tran’s jeweler designed a piece that could be worn both ways. Another client came to Tran to commission a push present for he and his wife’s third child, and rather than ordering the jewel, he presented a series of personalized gouache jewelry drawings so she could select the final design.
lab grown diamonds defeat the purpose of a diamond; it is special because it is rare.
A favorite design are personalized pet portraits that Michael Peuster hand carves on Essex crystals and paints. A recent one featured a client’s dog on a puffy crystal heart pendant surrounded by diamonds. But not just any pave diamonds: “I’m obsessed with the details,” says Tran, “I want the diamonds in different sizes and set super close, so you don’t see any metal, and that’s really hard to do well.” She admits she will redo something multiple times to get it perfect.
The journey starts with the meaning of the jewel, but the collaborative process makes the final result even more special. “When you have a role in creating your jewelry, you are even more emotionally attached to it, and that’s our mission.”