What’s old is new again for New York-based jewelry designer Courtney Hartwell who takes that idea to heart with her new costume jewelry line, Valen + Jette. The designer repurposes and recycles materials she discovers at trade shows and flea markets to create her own collection of earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
The name Valen + Jette come from the Latin derivations of names meaning “strong” and “black” respectively, with the designer explaining it also “all ties back to gathering ‘things’ from women and collectors.”
Hartwell‘s collections begin with a “materials first” ethos; she then uses her educational background, she studied Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, which adds to her process by bringing the knowledge of reimagining pre-existing structures on a larger scale.
She began her career working for New York jeweler Gerard Yosca, followed by 12 years designing private-label costume jewelry for a company that made collections for mass market channels like Forever 21 and HSN. “It was great experience getting to travel and using that inspiration to design things, but with working with mass, the amount of that product that comes out on a daily basis is a little disgusting. With my collection, we have a zero-waste approach and seek to minimize waste in all our processes.”
“I collect when I like,” she says simply of her creative magpie style of sourcing parts at locales like London’s Portobello Road Market and Massachusetts’ Brimfield. “For my line, I’m able to explore with my emotions and feelings,” she continued, often times listening to jazz and Nineties hip-hop while creating at her design studio in Harlem. Emotion is only part of the equation, as form and function are also part of her recipe. “I play with the pieces until it is visually something I connect with, but I am also looking to create something a woman can actually wear.”
Her first collection has three distinct chapters, a section of bold and colorful mixed material chandelier earrings, some simple chains with vintage nostalgic charms, and finally a mix of gold and silver modern sculptural pieces. Prices begin at $98, and top out at $398 at retail, with her debut range being stocked on her web site valenjette.com, as well at Harvey Nichols, Hong Kong; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; United Arrows, Japan; and Ships, Japan.
For the bespoke designer, the sustainable nature of upcycling — repurposing already existing pieces into new pieces, therefore not creating more waste in the world — and vintage go hand and hand. “Genuinely creating a sustainable and ethical business model through sourcing, design practices and packaging is important to my brand because I feel we need to develop a level of responsibility and minimize the negative impact on the environment,” she said.
The designer feels that working with vintage materials is sustainable because it is both purposeful and thoughtful. “We are able to reuse with low-waste production and recycling and with each collection we upcycle our vintage and deadstock components to create new designs. It makes each piece special, knowing that the story of the creation goes beyond the maker and wearer; there becomes a positive dialogue that ties back to the source of materials.”
As for future plans, Hartwell says for fall 2019 she will continue to ramp up her range using bold saturated colorful pieces, with plans to embark on another first, a bridal collection.