Founder and designer of fine jewelry brand Heart The Stones, Halle Millen was born with an eye for aesthetics and a knack for creative thinking. That creative eye, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit she’s fostered since childhood, ultimately lead her to her her calling and brought her to where she is today, though not without walking down some interesting paths. Millen was a biologist before turning to fashion, though it’s clear being a designer was her calling, as evidenced by The Carelle grant Millen won from the Women in Jewelry Association. We sat down with Millen to discuss where she gets her inspiration for her jewelry, her career path, and more in an exclusive Q&A below.
Only Natural Diamonds: Where do you look for inspiration for your designs?
Halle Millen: I am inspired by artifacts and art found throughout the African diaspora. My parents traveled extensively before I was born and filled our home with mementos from their travels throughout Africa. I am excited to bring some of those beautiful designs to life in fine jewelry using natural diamonds that come from one of the original sources of diamonds.
OND: How do you feel when working with diamonds? Do the diamonds inspire the pieces or do you come up with the design and then figure out where the diamonds fit in?
HM: I named my company Heart the Stones because I have always loved precious stones. I have a great appreciation for diamonds and how the Natural Diamond Council has supported sustainable careers throughout the world. Knowing that the diamonds are sustainably sourced and the supply chain supports living wages for all those involved really means a great deal to me and to my clients. I usually have a piece of art or an artifact that I am inspired by and then I look to make it even more special with diamonds. Everything is better with diamonds!
OND: How/why did you decide to make such a major career change from biologist to fashion?
HM: I have always been creative and entrepreneurial. From the time I was five or six, my parents encouraged me to create and work for myself. My first entrepreneurial venture was with my sister selling handmade t-shirts and socks at a Kwanzaa bazaar. My intellectual curiosity has always served me well and when a coworker showed me how she made her own necklace, I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole of jewelry design and never looked back. The amazing thing about design is that it employs disciplines held in high regard throughout academia and scientific research. You have a theory on what you would like to design, you test it out, you examine the results and then you iterate from there. Sometimes you are forced to pivot completely and sometimes you take your learnings and develop a stronger design and plan from your trial and error. I am so lucky to do this every single day.
OND: What’s something you learned while at FIT that continues to inspire you today?
HM: Your first idea is very rarely your best idea. I gained a great appreciation for the power of revision. I think being able to step away from an idea or early blueprint that you are passionate about but hasn’t quite developed into what you imagined, is absolutely essential for any good designer.
OND: How did you decide to create your own jewelry line after working for major brands like Fossil and Liz Claiborne?
HM: I have always wanted to design jewelry that spoke to my personal experience and that felt more unique. Fossil and Liz Claiborne are legacy brands that execute amazing work, with a recognizable signature that is all their own. The opportunity to work with the Natural Diamond Council provided me with the support I needed to make the jump into designing my first line of fine jewelry that could demonstrate my singular aesthetic.
OND: How has the EDDI program helped connect you to the jewelry industry?
HM: The EDDI program has connected me with mentors, other designers, stylists, boutique owners and more. It has been transformative. Having designed for other companies, I know how many people it takes to get a brand to become a household name. It is not easy and I have been so fortunate to have the support and guidance to launch my own fine jewelry business with the advocacy of Lorraine Schwartz and the NDC. I have developed relationships that will last my entire career and I hope to continue to lift as I climb by bringing other underrepresented designers along on this journey