Three years ago Los Angles based jeweler Jonne Amaya launched her own brand with an ethos hyper-focused on sustainable practices.
The fine jeweler — who began her career in jewelry design in her native Mexico, learning benchwork and studying gemology — says her pieces are designed with intention; and it’s an idea she takes seriously. Rather then create collections or designing in bulk, she only creates one-of-a-kind pieces for her clients.
“If jewelry is meant to last forever, why are we continuously told to buy new pieces?” she explained. “What we should be doing is taking what we already have that we don’t use, or have grown out of, and transform it into a new design, while maintaining the sentimental value.”
Here, the emerging designer chats with WWD about what sustainability and her heritage intimately mean, to both her and the brand.
WWD: How does your Latinx heritage influence your creations?
Jonne Amaya: Mexico has art everywhere — it’s one of the cities with the most museums in the world. Mexican culture in general is extremely creative, very joyful, colorful, manual and very artistic. You’ll notice it with street vendors, who are typically selling something they made by hand. When it came to learning bench jewelry, I wanted to learn in Mexico, since typically it’s a more hands-on practice from the start. I first learned the basics from Zarina, a Mexican jeweler from Oaxaca. She taught alternative jewelry making and also taught us to shape amber (a fossilized tree resin) with water and sand paper. I then moved to a more traditional school, Academia de Orfebres, which was an incredible place to learn proper bench work. I chose to study this in Mexico rather than in the U.S. because we are given more creative freedom when learning. This is the basics of my work — nothing is set in stone, so the creative freedom restarts with each client.
WWD: The term sustainable gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes diluting the idea. What does sustainability mean to you and to your brand?
J.A.: Sustainability means making conscious decisions in the present, so that we don’t compromise the ability of future generations to do the same. Most industries, including jewelry, have their own way of setting standards within their supply chain, but, unfortunately, these standards aren’t always the most transparent. The manufacturing process of jewelry as well as other products should meet both social and environmental guidelines — and consumers should be aware of what they are supporting when they make a purchase. On our end, we do not mass produce. We have a cap of 10 custom pieces per month. It’s super important for consumers to be aware that sustainability and mass production do not go hand in hand. We also mostly focus on repurposing what clients already have and redesigning it altogether. We unmount all stones and recast client metals. By repurposing, we can help eliminate the need for new mining and we leave a really small footprint by small manufacturing caps.
WWD: Your aim is to design with intention, can you expand on that idea?
J.A.: Design with intention means that we are custom designing each item for the specific client. There is always an intention behind every aspect of the piece. Whether we are intentionally using a specific stone they inherited, or whether we are designing with a certain shape because it has meaning to the client. Nothing is pre-designed, which is important when wanting to own something special. It also refers to the fact that our company values are curated, and that we design with the intention of being sustainable.
WWD: What steps do you take to evolve in terms of sustainability?
J.A.: I think that any brand that focuses on being sustainable can always better their practices. On my end, my focus this year is with colored stones. Since some custom orders do require mining, I’d like to meet mine owners in the U.S. and visit their facilities. Small mines that are family-owned in the U.S. are typically held to higher standards than larger mines. Their method of extraction is done more thoughtfully and they also manage supply and demand better. It’s less about immediate bulk and more about having their business run a longer time (Basically they extract stones slower).
WWD: Any advice you have for other emerging brands and how they can incorporate sustainability?
J.A.: At the moment, it’s easier to be an emerging brand and start off with the right values, rather than be a big-name brand and try to change their reputation. Small brands should really dive deep into their process — research different materials that can be used, figure out a way to be impactful from the core, rather than try and make an impact vertically. For example, a lot of big companies that do not monitor their footprint often offer to donate a percentage of sales to ethical or sustainable research/ organizations. It’s counterproductive to do harm on one end, but fool your consumer by offering something good on the other end. Small companies can make big changes, and it’s small companies that hold larger companies accountable.