Emily P. Wheeler decided that after a universally difficult year, it’s time to get out of our sweatpants and dress up again! Thus, the newest launch of her namesake jewelry line, ‘Dress Up,’ is bold, youthful, and inspires us to dress up for the fun of it. In this interview, she talks about how she got her start in the jewelry industry, her personal everyday jewelry, and the inspiration behind the Dress Up collection.
What made you want to design jewelry? Have you always had a creative mind?
I began making jewelry as a little kid. I collected rocks on road trips throughout the US with my dad and used simple stringing techniques with jump rings and other materials. I developed those skills over time into more intricate beadwork, like silk knotting, tassels, and more. People who saw them wanted to buy them, so in my twenties, I started a business on the side selling my creations. (I was working full time doing PR for clean-tech start-ups at the time.) That business grew organically over time into what it is today.
How did you launch your jewelry line and what were some of the challenges that came with it?
I made jewelry my full-time focus in 2016 and sought to create my first full fine collection then. The most difficult challenge has been finding the right partners to make it because there’s a lot of trial and error before you find your match. My pieces are complicated and require a lot of different skill-sets to create. I’m also very focused on quality and needed to work with people that appreciate that.
Did you ever see yourself going down another career path?
I was going down a different career path in my 20s. I think, in a way, school distracted me from my organic passions in life. I was always making jewelry and that should have been my focus in school, but I went to a liberal arts business college and that wasn’t an option. I started going down paths I thought I was supposed to go on. I did learn a lot about the business and marketing side, so I supposed it wasn’t a huge waste of time! I was never great at school though. I always learned best by doing, which is how I got to where I am.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
My creations are colorful, bold, and unique, with a focus on the quality of construction and materials.
What is your signature piece?
I think this varies over time but currently, I would say the Chubby Rings. I love mixing matte and faceted materials and playing with color. The Chubby Rings let me do both with the endless possibilities of color combinations. They are all one-of-a-kind statements that a lot of my clients wear every day.
What was the inspiration behind your new collection, Dress Up?
Dress Up is a celebration of getting dressed up again. I thought about the elevated version of what we might put on to play dress up as a child. I wanted it to be fun and a little kitschy. Pink hearts and white enamel bring a playful, youthful edge, but everything is elevated with luxurious materials.
What is your favorite piece of jewelry from the collection and why?
The Balance Ring, available at Elyse Walker, is one of my favorite pieces. It is a toi et moi ring, but very modern and colorful, with big, beautiful tourmalines and pops of enamel in the prongs. It makes me think of something you would pull out of a crackerjack box but very aspirational.
What is your go-to everyday jewelry look?
It changes, but right now my everyday jewelry look includes the Heart Enamel Studs, a few necklaces layered with the Wrap Bead Necklace, my Custom Signet Ring, and a mix of rings including an Ombre Ring or two. Then I usually add my yellow gold Rolex Daytona, and a few bracelets from the current collection, mixed with some beaded pieces I made when I was younger. I often pile on for every day, but when I dress up, I might pick a few statement pieces instead and let them shine on their own. I am actually getting more into matched sets, which you will see more of from me this year.
What is your favorite jewelry trend at the moment?
I honestly don’t really follow jewelry trends. Of course, I pay attention to what my peers create, but often to ensure I am on a unique path. I don’t really want my jewelry to be trendy — I want it to be timeless.
What is your favorite gemstone? How do you incorporate it into your collection?
I’m loving spinel right now. I used a spinel color palette that we call “unicorn” for Dress Up, and it was just perfect. I love the look of similar shades used in juxtaposition and think they are just stunning, and they also evoked the youthful vibes I was reaching for. It conjured up memories of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers for me. You can see this palette in the Unicorn Earrings.
What makes Emily P. Wheeler different and unique from other jewelry lines? Does it have a specific message you want to share with the world?
I’m known to those in my life as an open book. I will answer any question that’s asked of me, and I don’t embarrass easily. I might be considered an “over-sharer.” I want my brand to echo that part of my personality, and I want to bring transparency to a heavily veiled industry. It will be an ongoing effort, but I am working to ensure my supply chain is clean and traceable so my clients can wear my jewelry with a clean conscience. I’m now a certified member of the Responsible Jewelry Council and work with sustainability consultants regularly.
As a member of the Responsible Jewelry Council, sustainability must be important to your brand. What production processes do you implement to ensure that each of your designs is made with the environment in mind?
I am a certified member of the Responsible Jewelry Council which is different from being a regular member. To be certified, you must go through an extensive audit with a third-party company. I prepared for that audit for about six months, which involved researching all of my suppliers and manufacturers to ensure that their values are in line with mine, and making changes when necessary. I have a supplier code of conduct that I make sure all of my partners adhere to.
I try to avoid using the word “sustainable” to avoid green-washing. Jewelry is never going to be truly sustainable, as it’s made from materials that do not grow back in a reasonable amount of time. That being said, I use recycled and repurposed materials like gold, antique diamonds, and ebony. When sourcing materials, I aim to be responsible in my choices of who to work with. For example, I try to work directly with mines that I know and trust like Prosperity Earth. It’s also important to pay attention to what is going on in the world and avoid financial support for people who I don’t politically support.
What has been your pinch-me moment since your start in the jewelry industry?
My launches with Net-A-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman were both especially exciting. I never imagined that I would be selling with such big, amazing retail partners. When I first launched in 2016, I was focused on getting into one store in San Francisco where I lived at the time. I told myself I’d be happy if I succeeded at that. The brand has grown so much since then – and so have my goals – but I try to make short-term, realistic goals as opposed to big, lofty, long-term ones.