Like many designers, Melissa Joy Manning has been creating wares since she was a child.
She styled her Barbie dolls and made jewelry for fun growing up, but it wasn't until several failed attempts at retail sales that Manning realized her passion was jewelry design. So she took a vocational aptitude test, which helped lead her to the field.
In 1997, Manning launched a signature jewelry company with a handmade organic vibe while working out of her home in Oakland, Calif. The line, picked up by Barneys New York in 2001, features materials such as organic gold and silver — metals mined in an ecologically and socially responsible manner — with druzy agate, opal and tourmalines.
"My aesthetic is very organic," said Manning, who recently moved her headquarters to Manhattan, where she now lives. "I like to test people's perceptions...blending things that aren't normally found together."
In that vein, the designer has launched a diamond collection — but sparkly and clear they are not.
"In the past 10 years, I have become intrigued in the nonperfection of a diamonds — diamond slices, diamonds that have organic shapes, diamonds with inclusions that other people would think are junk," she said.
The diamond line, named Precious Fusion, has looks such as stacking rings with diamonds and earrings. Prices in the collection range from $200 to $5,000 at wholesale. It has been picked up by Forty Five Ten in Dallas, Twist in Seattle and Fragments and ABC Carpet & Home in New York. The designer's Organic collection wholesales from $145 to $525, while the Metal collection, which includes her signature hoop earrings in gold and silver, wholesales from $415 to $1,500.
Manning also recently launched e-commerce on her Web site, melissajoymanning.com.
"We really wanted to have a site that was all about customer service," she said.
News of the launch spread by word of mouth and Manning made 40 percent of her build-out cost within two weeks. "We never expected that," she said.
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