Caitlin Mociun has quickly become bourgeois Brooklyn’s engagement ring designer of choice. With a flair for contrarian humor, controlled aesthetic “chaos” and an aspirational price point, she is aiming right at the hearts of an affluent new generation of jewelry collectors who are deterred by stuffiness and old-school pretension. New school snob, though, is fine.
Those grown-up hipsters — now a decade or more past their grimy indie music adventures — are proud to flash their disposable income and head to Mociun’s store to choose an engagement ring from boxes that look like leather portfolios.
Mociun’s 1,000-square-foot store, at 683 Driggs Avenue, is the only place to purchase her designs — aside from online, where customers can direct order a $94,000, 3.16-carat emerald-cut diamond ring. But engagement rings are not her sole currency. The designer’s other collections revolve around obsessive projects — like her fine foods series in which ordinary farmer’s market staples like a breakfast radish are shrunken to a fingernail size and set with hundreds of pavé stones, priced at $4,900. There’s also an ordinary red radish for $7,000 and a white radish — which sold out — that was $6,900.
But Mociun, unlike many brands today, has found success by being nearly anonymous — so much so that it’s an insider-y mark to even know how to pronounce it (for the record, its like motion). While her Williamsburg store has become an aspirational place for shoppers to saunter by — many of them hoping that one day they’ll cross its threshold looking for a ring to mark a life partnership — few people know what the brand is, who’s behind it or what it even stands for.
“You have to do so much work to photograph yourself and do posts about your life; I don’t have the energy to put that into this. There are things that I think are more important to a brand, like designing and working with my team and creating interesting work. I can’t do them both — it’s not my personality,” Mociun said one recent afternoon in her shop, which also houses the brand’s operations behind a glass cube partition in the back.
Her jewelry is merchandised in half-moon shapes within recessed wall displays and circular case lines. They’re bracketed by a selection of giftable housewares that Mociun is equally known for — porcelain dachshund ring holders, serrated bread knives from Santa Fe and four-figure Technicolor crystal goblets from Denmark.
If there’s one thing that sets Mociun apart from traditional jewelers, it’s a general sense of randomness. Mociun said this is a direct reflection of her innermost mind.
“Routine gives most people comfort and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I never thought about this element of chaos and randomness in my brand before. But I thrive in and I’m most comfortable in chaos and change,” she said. “It’s not bad chaos, I don’t thrive from drama. It’s more like spontaneity.”
Mociun is resolute in her success and ambitions, but also seems unsure what to make of it. The designer, like many Brooklyn creatives, splits her time between the city and upstate New York. But she declined to say where upstate on the record because she, a new mother, is terrified of being caught up in a jewelry heist — another reason she does not parade her identity around as the face of her own brand.
The brand actually started as a clothing label in 2006 after Mociun graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in textiles. After six years as part of a wave of Brooklyn-based bright young thing designers selling woodland fairy-type dresses fabricated in scatterbrained prints, Mociun had a realization. “I didn’t think I was good enough of a clothing designer to need to have a clothing brand. I wasn’t putting something out there in the world that was special. But in jewelry, I thought I had a perspective that was not in the market at the time,” she said.
She had no formal jewelry training, and until that point had “only made friendship bracelets I sold as very textile-based jewelry. I collected mussels from the beach and handmade beads and used pompoms from Morocco.” She sought out fine jewelry artisans who could realize designs on her behalf.
Mociun, to this day, has not worked at a jewelry bench. And yet she designs every single piece of jewelry — including what seems like a revolving door of one-of-a-kind items, most of which disappear quickly after they’re posted to Instagram. The designer even names all of the pieces herself, though she has weaned off that practice during her maternity leave and is now attempting to delegate more of the creative work to her staff of about 20 people.
“I went on maternity leave and am just stepping back into the business. I do think like a different person and think about how to figure out being a good mom and business owner and boss to my team,” she said.
Part of that has been getting her business in order. Mociun said the brand is profitable and focuses on engagement rings because “they make money. That is the nice part of the business and why I make engagement jewelry, it’s a relatively safe category.”
It helps that Mociun is housed within one of the neighborhood’s new construction buildings, one with floor-to-ceiling windows and climate control — speaking to the moneyed residents of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, many of whom choose to live in similar buildings.
“There are other stores [in Williamsburg] that sell engagement rings, but as far as a proper, you-know-what-you’re-going-to-get, quality and knowledge level to buy an expensive engagement ring in the neighborhood, we’re it,” Mociun said.
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes a Mociun engagement ring, aside from its proportions, which are always slightly askew, an uncommon choice of stone cut and color, and the larger sense that — in place of a high clarity and color diamond — a customer could easily slot in a different stone to make a luxury mood ring. She’s sold about 1,000 such designs over the last two years, and says her one-of-a-kind engagement ring business has increased by 80 percent in the last year.
“I’m very materials driven and a lot of times the stones are what dictate the design. I almost had to create a business model around these stones that I like. With a bicolor sapphire, no two stones are alike. I like unusual color ways or shapes. I leaned into it more and more and that’s why I started making one-of-a-kind,” she said. It’s one of the reasons the brand can’t wholesale to larger retailers.
But Mociun has in recent years streamlined the process around her initial engagement ring designs — a series of cluster rings. It’s a clever idea that has since been widely copied, in which multiple stones are arranged in an asymmetrical constellation — giving the impression of a much larger and costlier single stone, while also offering the right dose of “alternative bride,” that is standard issue in gentrified portions of Brooklyn.
But while Mociun sells her rings in the most casual of ways — on the internet — their contents are no laughing matter. While her average rings hover between $15,000 and $20,000, they can often cross into the high jewelry threshold — between $70,000 and $100,000. She said her most expensive engagement ring to date was $132,000.
And that’s all amid cases that are dripping with food facsimiles, like resin melted ice cream, to lend a casual sense of humor. “I want people to be comfortable in here,” she said of the random ephemera.
Her emotional focus, though, goes into annual collections like Fine Foods and last year’s “Balance” collection, which explored the zodiac through symbolism like spirals and infinity symbols. The collection led Mociun down a research rabbit hole into ancient talismans, which is a constant source of inspiration.
“I always make sure to make stuff that’s not about selling. It might take two years to sell and that’s ok. I want to be financially successful to be able to pay my employees well and live my life in the way, but I want to maintain creative integrity,” she said.
“I work with our sales team so I know what our clients want, but wouldn’t ever have that change my direction completely. There is no point in making a bunch of things nobody wants, but I want what fulfills me creatively while also fulfilling my clients’ needs.”
The aforementioned bejeweled radishes are part of a previous collection from Mociun’s Fine Foods series — that one released in 2019, called Fine Foods: Small Bites. It was inspired by party finger foods and also had charms in the miniature form of shrimp cocktail, clams on the half shell and tacos.
Her most recent Fine Foods collection is inspired by the mini-market — the local bodega — and to drive the point home, employees used tweezers to arrange mini fruit stands within store cases. There’s a tiny bejeweled eggplant, a peach, a tea bag, pizza and so on.
For Mociun, though, this is all part of the fun. “If I ever got to the point where I ran out of ideas, I’d feel like it’s time to stop and do something else. I always hold myself to that standard. I’m honored and lucky people want me to make beautiful mementos to wear on their body.”