Emily P. Wheeler decided that after a universally difficult year, it was time to take off our sweatpants and get dressed! Thus, the latest launch of her eponymous line of jewelry, “Dress Up”, is daring, young and prompts us to dress for fun. In this interview, she talks about how she got started in the jewelry industry, her everyday personal jewelry and the inspiration behind the Dress Up collection.
What made you want to create jewelry? Have you always had a creative mind?
I started making jewelry when I was little. I collected stones on road trips across the United States with my dad and used simple stringing techniques with jump rings and other materials. I have developed these skills over time in more intricate beadwork like silk knotting, tassels, etc. People who saw them wanted to buy them, so in my twenties, I started a side business selling my designs. (I was working full-time doing public relations for cleantech startups at the time.) This company has grown organically over time to become what it is today.
How did you launch your jewelry line and what were the challenges that accompanied it?
I made jewelry my full-time goal in 2016 and then set out to create my first full collection. The hardest challenge has been finding the right partners to be successful as there is a lot of trial and error before you find your match. My pieces are complicated and require a lot of different skills to create. I am also very quality oriented and needed to work with people who appreciate that.
Have you ever seen yourself following another career path?
I had a different career in my twenties. I think, in a way, school distracted me from my organic passions in life. I still made jewelry and that should have been my goal in school, but I went to liberal arts college and it wasn’t an option. I started to take paths that I thought I had to take. I learned a lot on the business and marketing side so I figured it wasn’t a huge waste of time! I was never great in school though. I’ve always learned better by doing, that’s how I got to where I am.
How would you describe the aesthetics of your design?
My designs are colorful, bold and unique, with an emphasis on the quality of construction and materials.
What is your signature piece?
I think it varies over time but currently I would say the Chubby Rings. I like to mix matte and faceted materials and play with color. The Chubby Rings allow me to do both with the endless possibilities of color combinations. These are all unique statements that many of my clients wear every day.
What was the inspiration behind your new collection, Dress Up?
Dress Up is a celebration of getting dressed. I thought about the high version of what we might put on to play dress like a kid. I wanted it to be fun and a little kitsch. Pink hearts and white enamel bring a playful and youthful touch, but everything is enhanced with luxurious materials.
What is your favorite piece of jewelry from the collection and why?
The Balance Ring, available from Elyse Walker, is one of my favorite pieces. It’s a you and me ring, but very modern and colorful, with large and beautiful tourmalines and enamel chips in the claws. It reminds me of something you would pull out of a box of crackerjack but very ambitious.
What’s your everyday jewelry look?
That is changing, but right now my everyday jewelry look includes the heart enamel studs, a few layered necklaces with the Wrap pearl 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 a few pearl pieces that I made when I was younger. I often rack up some everyday, but when I get dressed I can pick out a few trendy pieces instead and let them shine on their own. In fact, I’m getting more into matching sets, which you’ll see more of me this year.
What’s your favorite jewelry trend right now?
Honestly, I don’t really follow jewelry trends. Of course, I pay attention to what my peers create, but often to make sure I’m 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 integrate it into your collection?
I love 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 brought up the youthful vibes that I was looking for. It brought back memories of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers. You can see this palette in the Unicorn earrings.
What makes Emily P. Wheeler different and unique from other jewelry lines? Does he have a specific message that you want to share with the world?
I am known to those in my life as an open book. I will answer any questions I get asked, and I don’t easily get embarrassed. I could be considered an “excessive 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 that my supply chain is clean and traceable so that my customers can wear my jewelry with a conscience. I am now a certified member of the Responsible Jewelry Council and work regularly with sustainability consultants.
As a member of the Responsible Jewelry Council, sustainability should be important to your brand. What production processes do you implement to ensure that each of your designs is designed with respect for the environment?
I am a certified member of the Responsible Jewelry Council which is different from a regular member. To be certified, you must go through a thorough audit with a third-party company. I prepared for this audit for about six months, which consisted of researching all of my suppliers and manufacturers to make sure their values were in line with mine and making changes if necessary. I have a supplier code of conduct to which I make sure all my partners adhere.
I try to avoid using the word “sustainable” to avoid green-washing. Jewelry is never going to be truly durable because it is made from materials that will not grow back in a reasonable amount of time. That being said, I use recycled and reused 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 is also important to pay attention to what is going on in the world and to avoid financially supporting people who I do not support politically.
What has been your pinch moment since starting out in the jewelry industry?
My launches with Net-A-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman were both particularly exciting. I never imagined that I would be selling with such important and amazing business partners. When I first launched in 2016, I was focusing on walking into a store in San Francisco where I was living at the time. I told myself that I would be happy if I succeeded. The brand has grown so much since then – and so have my goals – but I try to set short-term, realistic goals for myself as opposed to big, lofty, long-term ones.