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Meet the Designer: Ariel Gordon Jewelry

Ariel Gordon Jewelry's beautifully crafted and modern jewelry is designed to speak to the most significant moments in our lives, so it's no surprise that Ariel Gordon Maffei approaches her work in an intentional way. Here's what she had to say on her career path, her favorite designer, and her feelings on thoughtful consumption.

How did you get started making jewelry?

My first job out of college was for a marketing firm founded by Caroline Graham who is a titan in the magazine world. She was the West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Talk Magazine under Tina Brown. She taught me so much about marketing, PR, event production, proper etiquette, and so much more.

After that I worked in entertainment PR for a few years before I decided to pivot towards jewelry. What began as a hobby quickly turned into a passion. I went back to school to learn jewelry fabrication, metalsmithing, and stone setting. From there, I started soldering pieces and carving waxes from my dining room table in my Santa Monica apartment. Simultaneously, I apprenticed with Maya Brenner for 6 years, where I learned the ins and outs of the business side of things.

Humble beginnings to say the least, but slow and steady, it gave me the experience I needed to match my passion for jewelry design with my need to create a profitable and sustainable business. Having a strong PR and marketing background really helped build the brand from the ground up.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?

No! I went to UCLA and was an English and Italian double major. After I graduated, I worked in PR and marketing. But something about that didn't feel right. I knew I wanted to be me own boss. I knew I wanted to make something tangible. I knew I wanted to.

I will always remember watching my beautiful late-mother Myrna accessorize. She had this super big and bright energy that lit up a room. No matter her outfit, she always wore her red lipstick with big rhinestone earrings and frilly socks. It was her signature look. I learned my motto of "more is more" from her. She wore her jewelry and accessories with such confidence and I hope to instill that same kind of energy and beauty in the pieces I design today

How long have you been in the trade?

15 years.

What does your business look like now, versus when you started?

I founded AGJ in 2009 from my dining room in my Santa Monica apartment. Pretty quickly I graduated to a studio in the downtown LA jewelry district and remained there until 2022 when my office operations relocated to the Bay Area. While the lion’s share of our production remains (and will always remain) with our team of skilled artisans in L.A., our showroom and our internal staff (customer service, e-commerce, order fulfillment, wholesale, product development, a new in-house jeweler, etc.) have joined me in Berkeley. For the first time I’m also so thrilled that I have space to have an in-house jeweler and private showroom!!

For those of you who don’t know, 6 years ago my family moved to the Bay Area for my husband’s work and to be closer to family. The AGJ team remained in L.A. and I traveled back and forth. A lot. Sometimes twice in one week / 35+ times a year / often with a baby on my hip. Then Covid hit and there were almost 2 years when I didn’t see my team at all. Slowing down during quarantine gave me a moment to pause and allowed for some clarity. Those logistics weren’t sustainable for the company or for me, and I realized I had the power to shift them. So I shifted. I found this amazing building in Berkeley and built it out to meet our needs and I zeroed in on an amazing new team. The space is an extension of me and the brand and holds so much potential for where I see it growing.

What’s the most challenging part about being a jewelry designer?

Finding enough time in the day.

What’s your favorite part about being a jewelry designer?

I want a woman to feel like the best version of herself when she’s wearing my pieces. I want her to feel both confident and comfortable, stylish but not too fancy, casual but still chic. I want her to know that her jewelry is indeed 'fine' but it isn't so precious that it can't be worn daily. I want my jewelry to grow with a woman and become her trademark look. It's such an honor.

Who is another jewelry designer that you admire/do you have a mentor in the jewelry industry?

During my PR days, I worked on an event with a jewelry designer named Page Sargisson (we’re still close friends today which is amazing...we actually just went to India together on an amazing stone sourcing adventure). Meeting Page was a revelation for me. I was so inspired by the life she had created for herself. She owned her own company. She was the one who benefited financially from all her hard work. She was doing something creative. She had time to be with her kids. I knew those were all things that I wanted in my own life. I had literally never made a piece of jewelry before I met her. She inspired me to start my own business. Having a background in PR was a huge help for me to get traction right away.

Do you have a favorite piece that you have made?

Oooph...don't make me choose. I am forever wearing my Heart Helium Hoops, my Moniker Ring, my Cuban Anklet, my Classic Link Necklace, my Pearl Orbit Bangle.

Do you have a favorite metal or stone that you prefer to work with?

14k gold and diamonds all the way. Real gold won’t tarnish. You can sleep in it, swim in it, work out in it. I feel like I would be doing you a disservice if I sold you a piece of jewelry that you couldn’t wear for the rest of your life. That seems so wasteful. Because my pieces aren’t trend driven (and so many of them are personalized), I really do want you to wear your #AGJeveryday so they become your second skin.

Do trends in the industry affect the way you design a new collection?

Not really. Whether by necessity or choice, thoughtful consumption is the new modus operandi for today’s shopper. Basic wardrobe staples are in. Making mindful indulgences is a part of the new consumer calculus. There is a new more mindful shopper who places a premium on products that offer craftsmanship, usefulness and versatility. To justify spending her own money on personal indulgences, consumers place a premium on products that offer a timeless aesthetic, conscientious production, and thoughtful design.

Women no longer want to wait for gifts or grand gestures from others to build a jewelry collection — they can do it themselves. This customer often buys herself jewelry as a tangible symbol of those she holds dear to her heart, or a happy occasion in her life. Since so many Ariel Gordon Jewelry pieces can be personalized or customized with hand engraving or birthstones, I sell a lot to these ladies.

What’s your favorite piece of jewelry from your own personal collection?

At any given time, I’ve got a LOT of jewelry on. Here’s what’s in my current rotation:

2 necklaces: An Imperial Disc Necklace that’s engraved with my kids’ names (layered with an Enamel Fridge Magnet Charm and an Opal Strawberry) with Diamond Twine Pendant.

4 rings: a single Paper Thin Ring on my thumb, Moniker Ring on my pinkie (with my married initials), and my engagement ring (AGJ designs naturally) stacked with a 22k Victorian wedding band I sourced for my Heritage Collection.

5 bracelets: Diamond Hex Tennis Bracelet, Grande Link Bracelet, Twine Bangle, Endless Bangle, and Pearl Orbit Bangle. A stack that is chunky and major in all the best ways.

6 earrings: Heart Helium Hoops all day every day stacked side by side with my Skinny Tire huggies (with a few Twisted Petite Hoops and Junior Pave Hoops in my cartilage).

2 anklets: A Cuban Layering Anklet. One for each foot.

1 toe ring: Skinny Tire Ring.

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