Get your shine on at unique jewelry and accessory shops like Jill Herlands, Millennium Art & Jewelry of Harlem, Delicate Gem Corp and Studio DuArte, all of which offer a thoughtfully curated selection of treasures.
Jill Herlands defines herself as a “jewelry artist,” rather than a designer. “I believe a designer creates up until production. I am an artist. I conceptualize, produce- everything else that goes along with it.” By staying true to her own, unique artistic vision, teaching herself how to create jewelry, and continuously expanding the bounds of her expertise, Jill has built up an entirely distinctive brand that has become widely celebrated and exhibited nationally.Jill had always loved to take apart jewelry and reassemble it in strange ways, but only started creating jewelry in 2014. For most of her adult life, Jill was in the music industry, but stopped her career to raise her daughter. When her daughter went off to college, Jill decided “it’s time for something for me to do that’s exciting - it’s time for me to do something for myself.” She began by buying a small torch and teaching herself how to solder. Jill’s decision to become a jewelry artist was almost instantaneous, “the minute the flame hit the metal, I thought “this is it.”” She set up a little desk in a corner of the kitchen and “just started creating.” She did not intend to start a business originally, and simply created for her own joy. Once she had amassed a large body of work and began to post on Instagram, she quickly sparked interest in the jewelry world due to her designs that were unlike anything else. She was often told she would not succeed, since her work was too atypical, but continued nonetheless. Building up a following through her unique creations and by responding to every comment and cultivating relationships, Jill realized the interest surrounding her jewelry was real, and created her business in response. And, she continues to respond to every comment on Instagram, and “has made real friendships” through social media.Jill’s jewelry style is “edgy, avant-garde, and a mixture of feminine and masculine,” and she specifically likes it to have “a worn-in look.” As an example, she stated “I will use pearls, but I will mix it with a distressed metal.” Although self-taught, Jill professed that “I can’t imagine not doing this - it’s like second nature to me.” Jill draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the “rock and roll vibe” from the talent agency where she used to work, her imagination, ruins, construction sites, and raw materials. She has never looked at a YouTube video, and describes her continuous learning process as her dedication to “risk taking.” Beginning only with the knowledge of how to make a ring band and how to solder, she experiments extensively with every material she works with in order to test how it melts, how to achieve certain effects, new ways for the metal to hold gemstones, and what specific heats are best for each material.Jill is always looking for new materials to incorporate, and is particularly known for using concrete in her designs as well as using enamel with her own, original method. She learns from trial and error, but does not strive for perfection, which she views as “a little bit boring.” She often does not plan her creation concretely before she begins, and if she makes a mistake, will try to incorporate it into her final piece. Staying true to her style, she will “create something and then melt it, or make holes in it, or make the edges sort of burnt,” morphing her work as she goes along. Even as the demand for her pieces grow, she still experiments in order to expand her options and grow as an artist. When Manhattan Sideways sat down with her in the summer of 2019, Jill told us that she was currently teaching herself how to crochet with gold.Everything is made by her hand, everything is one of a kind, and she believes that her jewelry is “an extension of the wearer.” She ascertains that “each piece that I make is guaranteed to be an heirloom that you can hand down to your children and grandchildren.” Jill has ample opportunity to craft jewelry to individually express the wearer, since almost all of her business is custom work. Whether clients ask for a piece in the style of one they were particularly drawn to on her Instagram, want her to melt down and completely recreate a piece of their old jewelry, or have any other inspiration, Jill will take as much time as needed to connect with the client and learn about them so that she may personalize the piece. Jill is especially pleased that a large percentage of her clients give her creative control, trusting her vision completely.In the future, Jill hopes to stay a niche brand with each piece being one of a kind, but to also be known globally. Although her entire workplace consists of a small room in her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and the only help she receives is administrative, Jill describes her studio as her “little place of heaven.”
116th Street is filled with chains, be it Dunkin' Donuts, CVS or 7-Eleven, but quietly tucked away in a tiny space, amidst all of the other shops, I stumbled upon a colorful gallery filled with unique pieces of jewelry, art and glass. Although everything inside the space is beautiful, it was the owners of Millennium, Bertram and Judith Romeo, that drew me in and kept me there for quite some time.Bertram came to New York at the age of twelve from Jamaica while Judith arrived with her family a year later from Trinidad. They both landed in Brooklyn and met through their brothers, who had become friends. "We grew up together, and then it became more," Bertram beamed. He had gone to school to learn computer engineering, but one day, they decided that it would be fun to open a boutique and sell the pieces of jewelry that Judith had been creating. That was seventeen years ago, in 1999, and they are still enjoying every minute of being in business together.Bertram was quite proud to point out the stunning earrings and broaches that his wife had made. The "Mother Earth" collection was embellished with numerous stones - one more attractive than the next. It was Judith who chimed in at this point and said to me, "We take pride and are passionate in what we do." She then continued on telling me that "We always go the extra mile for our customers and they've been coming back for years."There is no doubt that Bertram and Judith are a fixture in the neighborhood. The door was swung open on the day that I visited in the fall of 2016, and not a person went by without calling in to say "hello." When I commented on this to Bertram, he responded, "Yes, we are always watching out for each other."The two said that they have been adding "different elements" as the years go on, changing up the inventory, but keeping true to selling jewelry, artwork and glass. In addition to Judith's artwork, the couple has a stunning selection of hand blown Venetian glass from their years of traveling to Italy. "We have loved traveling, my wife still enjoys creating, and we both adore meeting new people and spending time with those that we already know."Since they do not travel as much as they used to, they now recruit their friends to bring interesting pieces back from their trips to inspire them. They have loyal customers, but in order to keep them around, they need to "have something different to offer them."As our conversation went on, I learned that Bertram and Judith are inspired by current events. An example that they shared was when the Metropolitan Museum of New York had an exhibit on American designers influenced by Asian elements, they "played around" with Asian designs. And lately, that "something different" is pressing the essence of leaves and botanicals into silks and other materials using heat and pressure. It makes an extraordinary leaf pattern for scarves and fabrics. I marveled at the oak tree pieces with leaves from Massachusetts. Judith shared that when a couple brought back leaves from Australia, she created an Australian-themed selection.The shop represents several local artists and others throughout the States, as well as having a nice collection of art from Africa. When I inquired about their clientele, Bertram spoke warmly of the local community, but also mentioned the busses that travel to 116th Street each day taking tourists to the outdoor Malcolm Shabass Harlem Market next door, "and then they inevitably stop into our shop."When I asked Bertram if after all of these years it was still fun, he immediately replied, "I still love every aspect of the business," and then smiled and said, "We grew up together and we are always together, and we like it this way."
After almost thirty years in the Diamond District, Delicate Gem has made a name for itself among the several thousand other businesses that crowd 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. An Armenian family that had lived in Turkey and worked in the diamond industry before coming to the States, the Minnetyans have been in the gem business for generations. When Arthur Minnetyan first came to Manhattan, and founded Delicate Gem, he built up a reputation among the other hard-wheeling diamond merchants by virtue of his expertise. The whole family became involved, as was common in the Diamond District, and has remained so.One afternoon, I enjoyed sitting and chatting with the family and learning more about their passion for diamonds, as it was here that my husband bought me a cherished bracelet a number of years ago. After his father, Arthur, passed away, son Ari took over the shop and has dedicated himself to selling and crafting only the best pieces of jewelry for his clients. Though he had originally planned on becoming an accountant after graduating college, his father's death drove him to come back home and carry on the family business. Ari's dedication to Delicate Gem exemplifies how ingrained the diamond business has become in the lives of diamond dealers and manufacturers on 47th. To those who work in the Diamond District, jewelry is much more than an accessory – it is a link to one's heritage and family that is time honored.As a Gemological Institute of America certified gemologist, Ari explained to me how diamonds were rated – the 4 Cs: color, cut, clarity, carat – and how he was able to help customers both pick out their favorite stone and create the jewelry on-site. On a street where competition is tough and a buyer can be overwhelmed, Ari and his family pride themselves on their honesty in the business. They, like many of the merchants surrounding their store, seek to establish relationships with clients and to gain their trust so that they may become customers for life.
"I found it to be a little boring to just sell jewelry so I tried to mix it up by adding some other items made by friends," Christina Duarte Veronese revealed when we began our conversation. The shop has beautiful scarves, headbands, t-shirts, and, of course, an array of handmade jewelry designed by Christina herself.Arriving in New York from Rio in 1995, Christina's first job was selling leather products from Brazil. "The owner of my company was making belts for Ralph Lauren and he invited me here because I knew a lot about leather products." But as she confessed, "I fell in love with metal, and then one thing led to another."Before opening her boutique in 2011, Christina sold jewelry in flea markets and a variety of shows, but when a friend was giving up her lease on 7th Street, Christina said, on the spot, "I'll take it." She makes everything in Brooklyn to sell in her East Village shop, and nowadays she finds that there are many customers who come back to her shop every time they are visiting New York. "It is because of them that I am still here."
Whether you’re in the market for a gift (or are only at the window shopping stage!), we suggest stopping into a few of Manhattan’s most unique hidden-treasure shops for one-of-a-kind jewelry crafted by some of the city’s finest artisans. For a gritty, rock-and-roll industrial look, try artist Jill Herlands’ studio shop in Midtown, or, snag a classic stone at the Diamond District’s Delicate Gem Corp, owned and operated for generations by the Minnetyans. Take a trip to Millennium Art & Jewelry of Harlem to marvel at Bertram and Judith Romeo’s incredible selection of hand-blown Venetian glass and gemstone wares, or explore the modern mixed-metals of Studio DuArte in the East Village.