Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
For all the emphasis placed on youth — particularly in the fashion arena — being young doesn’t get you everything. Take respect, for example.
Elyssa Beth Silbert is no stranger to the shocked reactions of retail buyers struck by her endless array of necklaces, bracelets and earrings, which are made from what appears to be the entire repertoire of semiprecious and precious stones. And then they find out that she’s only 27.
“‘You’re the designer?’ I think I’ve heard that a thousand times,” recalled a still-incredulous-sounding Silbert, the designer and owner of Los Angeles-based Elyssa B. After all, in four fast years, Filbert has built a profitable jewelry business that is distributed in nearly 100 better specialty stores around the country, including, as of this February, Barneys New York.
Since 1999, the company has been headquartered in a 1,000-square-foot, 1928 Craftsman-style house on a quaint West Hollywood side street dotted by a mix of residential and commercial enterprises. The four-room studio/showroom can barely contain Silbert’s output. One by one, she hand-crafts each piece, then neatly incorporates it into a concentrated display of her wide-ranging collection, which makes use of an exhaustive medley of golden tourmalines, garnet nuggets, lavender tanzanite and London blue topaz.
A shelf dazzles with dozens of earrings made from dangling faceted garnets, with prices starting at $65. Nearby is a unique pair of South Sea pearl earrings that hit the $12,000 mark. “That’s my favorite pearl because of [its] natural beauty and color,” smiled Silbert. “I love the imperfection. Perfection is amazing, too, when you consider how long it took to get that way.”
Likely, buyers’ skepticism about Silbert being the line’s creator stems from her advanced sense of color and design, and the way she combines different stones. All speak of a confidence that belies her age. When she talks about “taking a few carnelians, some garnets and mixing in a sapphire,” it’s as though she were cooking some exotic fusion dish. Subsequently, her pieces have a peregrine, modern feel to them.
And of course, she has no shortage of ideas. “I’m a faucet,” said Silbert. “I went out one night, then left my girlfriends and came here and worked until 2:30 in the morning because I had these ideas. There’s plenty of times when I can’t get a pattern out of my head.” While she “could make a $65 necklace over and over again,” she prefers to do limited runs of her designs. And despite her interest in fashion trends, she retains a consistency from collection to collection. “I want my customers to be able to buy something and layer it with what they bought four seasons ago.”
Silbert has frequently found that certain designs don’t always catch on quickly. The Renoir choker — a lariat band of cashmere or cotton trimmed with a fringe of colorful precious stones — took three seasons to click with buyers.
For all her creative fluency, from casual wear to nontraditional bridal chokers, even Silbert hasn’t always jumped on every category. It was only after she had her ears pierced in early 1999 that earrings took on a new importance. And rings remain a sliver of Elyssa B.’s business, because, admitted Silbert, “I have such big hands.”
A California native, Silbert initially thought she might become a nutritionist, though bright-colored beads have always been “like candy” for her. So midway through her studies, the creative muse beckoned and she returned to jewelry making, inspired by the color combinations she found among flowers and landscapes.
Initially, Silbert launched the Elyssa B. label with eyewear chains made of semiprecious stones and quickly gained customers, among them Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty stores. Within that first year, Silbert added necklaces and bracelets.
She may eventually reintroduce the eyewear chains, but for now, Silbert’s sights are set on penetrating jewelry markets that appreciate her aesthetic and that can aid in developing the brand.
“I’ve been doing this since I was eight years old. I started the company in 1996. It feels like it’s been a long time. But I guess it really hasn’t,” she laughed.