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Twenty years ago, drug-addled teens, starving artists and derelicts populated the Bowery. In true New York fashion, however, times have changed.

Now the avenue in lower Manhattan is the nexus of a burgeoning fine jewelry scene. To the east of the Bowery are boutiques filled with custom-made and antique baubles. To the west, emerging trendsetters have unloaded their jewels in NoLIta’s charming retail spaces.

Many of the designers who have set up shop here are attracted to the fierce independence found in this neighborhood, especially as the retailing area of the Meatpacking District increasingly becomes a circus. Here, a roundup of newcomers to the scene:

240 Mulberry Street (212-965-9699)
Jewelry designer Karen Karch has a Midas touch. Upon opening her boutique on Mulberry Street in 1996 after several years of selling at Barneys New York and Nordstrom, she augmented her collection of sterling silver pieces with styles in gold and precious metals. Both her store and the new collection took the downtown jewelry scene by storm, attracting fans with high style and celebrity status who took to Karch’s decidedly individual pieces. Her men’s jewelry line, launched in late 2004, has also earned a serious following, mostly from the artists and musicians who populate the area’s streets.

113 Crosby Street (212-324-1298)

It sounds impossible to call an enclave spacious, but that’s exactly what Jill Platner has achieved with her first retail outlet. In it, a gargantuan sculpture hangs from a sky-high ceiling, and limited-edition necklaces dangle, gallery-style, from a crocheted netting. “All my jewelry is very sculptural,” explained Platner, “so it’s a mock-up of one of my jewels.”

Platner, a native of Massachusetts who has been selling her sterling silver wares at Barneys New York since her days as a student at Parsons, opened the store in 2000. She ventured into the realm of fine jewelry in 2002 when she began fashioning pieces from 19-karat gold.

259 Elizabeth Street (212-260-6740)

In 2004, Doug Abraham opened the fine jewelry store Bess, named for his wife Elizabeth and, appropriately enough, occupying a darling space on Elizabeth Street. Clients range from locals to the couple’s children, Eli, four, and Kaia, two. They all fawn over Abraham’s geometric designs of lapis, amazonite, chalcedony and a melange of other unusual gemstones. “Because there are so many jewelry stores in the neighborhood, I’m inspired to do something different,” Abraham said. “I hope that more stores come.”

4 Prince Street (212-274-0020)

Sallee Bijou opened a giftware and jewelry shop in Brooklyn in 1964, and The Yellow Door, as she called it, soon inspired Manhattanites to venture across the East River. Luckily for them, the commute is no longer necessary. Bijou opened another outpost on Prince Street last November. After her death in January, Bijou’s daughter Luna Zemmol took over the managerial duties. Midrange designs from Alexis Bittar, Lee Angel and Ben Amun offer alternatives to a carefully edited assemblage of fine jewelry lines such as SeidenGang and Penny Preville.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

241 Elizabeth Street (917-237-9215)

Robin Renzi and Michele Quan met in the 1980s when they were waitresses at the restaurant Indochine. Nearly 20 years later, their collaborative jewelry line Me&Ro is revered for subtle, feminine pieces featuring serious gemstones such as rose-cut diamonds and Basra pearls. To augment its thriving wholesale business, Me&Ro arrived on Elizabeth Street in 1999 only to move to a larger space next door in 2003.

A floating flower pond occupies the space commonly used for a front window, a device that entices the parade of well-heeled passersby to peruse its cases.

188 Orchard Street (212-995-8497)

“I was first inspired by the work of gypsies, who do one-of-a-kind pieces in my country, Serbia,” said jewelry designer Jelena Behrend.

Her styles, which are also influenced by childhood recollections and the classicism of ancient Greece, are dreamed up and cast by the designer herself. She even casts the smallest of chain links. When it comes to her forte — custom pieces — she relinquishes aesthetic control to her client.

“I give them complete freedom,” she said. When Behrend is not jetting to Los Angeles to service her celebrity fans, her boutique on the Lower East Side, which bowed in 1998, is open by appointment only.

189 Orchard Street (212-677-9991)

Although the impeccable Pam and Elizabeth Doyle fit in perfectly with the coterie of hipsters flocking to the Lower East Side, these sisters possess an unexpected, encyclopedic knowledge of jewelry, thanks to almost a decade as students and buyers of colored stones. In 2000, the sisters invoked their knowledge to fuel their passion: collecting antique and estate jewelry.

At their boutique, Doyle & Doyle, everything from 19th-century micromosaic pendants to Art Deco engagement rings are lovingly encased in glass. Much of their extensive collection remains in the safe until a savvy buyer makes a special request. One such client is Natalie Portman, a local resident who relies on the Doyle sisters to build her own collection, as well as furnish birthday gifts for friends and family.

177 Orchard Street (212-375-1530)

In the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, partners Sloan Mandell and Michael Spirito did something unusual: They opened a business downtown. Their jewelry, which encompasses the realms of fine and costume, is characterized by a touch of the Gothic and includes spires, thorns and even the occasional skull.

Despite the stylistic simpatico between store and neighborhood, the team moved to the Lower East Side with an economic motive. “We wanted the most money for our space, and we didn’t want to jump on an already-moving bus,” Mandell said. “Now, we’re an anchor of the neighborhood.”

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