Zales.com officially launches its “Designer Spotlight” format on Wednesday, putting a focus on four artisan jewelry brands with distinct styles and small independent businesses.

“We put the casting call out in July and went through a process of looking at the work of dozens of designers. Having a group of designers with an amazing diversity of character, personality and design is really different from what we have already,” said Jamie Singleton, president of Zales, Kay Jewelers and Peoples, which are divisions of Signet Jewelers Ltd.

“Our plan is for this to be an ongoing program, to build out a marketplace for innovative, maverick designers,” Singleton said. It will be a rotating lineup of up-and-coming jewelry designers in the U.S., she added.

The four jewelry brands are Au Xchange, based in San Francisco; LexiMazz, in New York; Elliot Young, based in Los Angeles, and the  Aspen, Colo.-based Sarah Graham Metalsmithing.
The program provides a landing page on zales.com with information on the designers, who are being supported by digital marketing, e-mail and social media, giving them significant exposure.

Au Xchange stacked bracelets. 

Zales will be seeking another round of designers in the spring to showcase next year, Singleton said. The application process includes sharing portfolios and providing a short story describing experiences. Designers are also required to validate original sources of precious metals, gemstones and diamonds and verify manufacturers or producers.

It’s possible that some of the designers in the program maintain a long-term presence on zales.com, rather than just one season. “Our customers will tell us who will stay with Zales,” Singleton said.

The designers chosen, while they already have manufacturing in place, could eventually tap into the Zales supply chain, assuming they thrive on zales.com. “That is a service we could provide for designers coming into the program in the future, to help these businesses grow,” Singleton said. “We will be really solid partners insuring they have a supply chain to scale up and meet the demand.”

“We are all unique, multifaceted individuals and jewelry is merely the spice you add to enhance and highlight who you already are and what you already have,” said Azra Mehdi, founder of Au Xchange. “As Au Xchange evolves, I plan to integrate art, architecture and language themes both from my own Indian/Middle Eastern culture and my husband’s culture,” which she said was Jamaican/Panamanian.

“She’s very focused on bringing her heritage into her work. She primarily works in gold, does beautiful stone work and brings a fresh, new to the products,” Singleton said.

LexiMazz diamond ring. 

“I want my consumers to feel like themselves, but a fabulous version of themselves,” said Alexis Mazza, founder and designer of LexiMazz.

“Alexis designs jewelry that’s made to be mixed and matched, stacked and worn together in interesting ways,” Singleton said. “She’s done some beautiful things with negative spaces almost like frames, forming larger pieces while keeping them light and airy.”

Elliot Young diamond accent arrow necklace. 

At Elliot Young, the team of Jessica Elliot and Jennifer Young offers products “to make people feel great” while giving back to organizations helping youth dealing with homelessness, education, hunger, health challenges and other issues. “One person can make a difference. One person affects the next person, and our company gives people an easy way to make that difference,” the two women said in a joint statement.

“Their product is absolutely amazing, particularly their use of color and metal treatment — everything is in gold and sterling silver,” Singleton said.

Sarah Graham incorporates innovative materials to create jewelry that is described as “organic and textural, feminine yet substantial.” Her business helps raise funds for Namaste Direct, a nonprofit organization that makes micro loans to women entrepreneurs in Central America by holding an all-day jewelry demonstration and luncheon for supporters.

Graham’s jewelry will launch on zales.com on Jan. 13. “She has a very innovative way of working with different materials,” whether casting directly from Jacaranda Pods and decayed wood or rendered in wax from a microscopic view of single cell marine organisms, Singleton said.

“These designers all have small businesses — a cottage approach,” she added. “This gives them a platform to get their beautiful product to more people.”

There’s also a mentoring side to the program. “The designers need to understand how to take their art and designs and make it salable. “It’s scale where our merchants can really work with them and help them understand how small concepts can become big ideas,” Singleton said.

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