WASHINGTON — The status jewelry this inaugural season isn’t Harry Winston diamonds, vintage platinum or signature Chanel. Instead, it’s the pearl-studded eagles, armed forces pendants and insignia-laden cuff links and brooches that can be found at Ann Hand’s eponymous jewelry boutique here.
Tucked at one end of a neighborhood strip mall just down the street from the Palisades home of White House consigliore and client Karl Rove, the 2,400-square-foot shop capitalizes on two qualities Washington veterans admire most: an intimate understanding of protocol, rank and VIP access, and a whole heap of grit.
“We did QVC for Clinton’s second inaugural,’’ said Hand, who this time around already is selling out of her extensive collection of pins and pendants commissioned by all the branches of the armed forces. “This whole inaugural is built around honoring the armed forces.”
The Texas Buttons and Boots Ball on Wednesday night will carry Ann Hand’s jewelry, including her Bush 2000 eagle pin. Over at the capital’s two Ritz Carlton Hotels, inaugural guests will be able to buy Stetson hats decorated with the Ann Hand pins that entitle them to a free martini or glass of Dom Perignon champagne.
In business for more than 15 years, Hand has carved out a niche in the costume and custom jewelry business by providing reasonably priced jewelry with a flare for patriotism to a host of star-studded clients on both sides of the political aisle.
With her sales numbers in the “seven-figure range,’’ Hand has been operating in the black for the last decade. Her designs epitomize Washington’s unique concept of branding. Celebrating the city’s top trademarks, she merchandises symbols of power in ways that give political wives a chance to show off their own team spirit. She also offers price ranges to suit all government pay grades — starting at around $100 for her popular pearl-studded eagle to $250 for 14-karat gold on silver pendants with Swarovski crystals to $6,000 for custom pieces made from 18-karat gold using crystals and precious stones.
“It all started in 1991 when Colleen Nunn, wife of the former Georgia senator, asked me if I could make a pin to celebrate the return of the Statue of Freedom, which was being put back on top of the dome of the U.S. Capitol after a year of restoration,’’ said Hand, who began building a local clientele stringing pearl necklaces in her kitchen.
This story first appeared in the January 18, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Since then, she has been called on to design several lines of exclusive jewelry that serve as ex officio, decorative medals and decorations, some of which only can be purchased by Congressional wives, ambassadors’ spouses and the wives of presidential appointees.
“I’ve seen Senate wives wearing their pins on their suits. It really makes them seem official,’’ said Darby Rove, wife of Karl Rove, who remembers when she received her first Ann Hand design. “Someone gave me the brooch with the eagle and the pearl. I felt that was sort of an initiation to receive one of those.’’
This year, her husband, roundly credited with helping to orchestrate Bush’s reelection victory, gave Hand’s collection of commemorative White House boxes (using hardware made in England by the company that does Halcyon Day boxes and designed after an 1880 drawing) as Christmas presents to his White House staff.
Outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell also relies on Hand when it comes to finding presents for visiting dignitaries, female members of his staff and for his wife, Alma.
“I introduced them at a party and said, ‘If you ever need a gift for me, this is the lady,’” recalled Alma Powell, who asked Hand to design her jewelry for her daughter’s wedding and also for the 25th Kennedy Center Anniversary Ball, which she chaired. “I go back to the days when she was stringing beads herself, and we’d all come over to her cottage for coffee.’’
That was before Hand got her retail space in 2001, and before her husband, Lloyd, a top Washington lawyer who came to Washington as Lyndon Johnson’s chief of protocol, settled into the idea of being married to a successful professional.
What Washington women admire most about Hand is her ability to carve out a career while still maintaining her girl-next-door, perky political wife persona.
“Lloyd was away on a business trip for a week,” Hand said, recalling when she decided to expand into “the cottage.’’ Hand ordered a ready-built, customized garden shed, which was delivered by truck and unloaded on the couple’s not-very-large backyard. “When he got home, I told him I had a surprise to show him. It was a pretty day in May, and I wanted to take him out into the garden. He said he’d look at it in the morning. When he saw it, he was furious. We didn’t speak for several days. But then he thought it was great. I just couldn’t keep cleaning up at the end of each day and be ready for dinner guests when he came home.’’
Hand is committed to manufacturing her line in the U.S., a position she took after an initial experience importing from China. “They sent me 1,000 eagles, and each one had a crack in the wing. We had to throw them all out,’’ said Hand, who worries about her dwindling choice of Providence, R.I., suppliers, hard hit by foreign competition in the jewelry business.
Filling orders for her burgeoning Internet sales, which doubled in the last year and now account for 25 percent of her business, she also is growing her wholesale trade along with her specialized roster of museum stores, which includes the Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Mount Vernon Museum and the Clinton and Nixon Libraries.
But her first commitment always will be to her loyal clients on the home front. They include Senate wife Cindy McCain, who wore Hand’s eagle pin when her husband, John, challenged George W. Bush in the Republican primary, and Madeleine Albright, who wore Hand’s jewelry when she was sworn into office as the first female Secretary of State.
And even former first ladies remain fond of Hand’s designs.
“Last month, Sen. Hillary Clinton dropped by with her mother to buy our pearl necklaces,’’ said Hand.