NEW YORK — Rebecca Straus takes on the role of a storyteller when she speaks about her family history.
Her great-great-grandparents were Isador and Ida Straus, the couple who owned Macy’s and died on the Titanic after Ida refused to board a lifeboat without her husband.
“It’s so long ago in our family’s past that it’s not something I think about every day,” she said. “But I used to play store and call it Isadora’s.”
These days, the fine jewelry designer doesn’t have much of a need to imagine being an entrepreneur. Her handcrafted pieces, featuring a undulating labyrinth of 18-karat gold, white gold or rose gold metal, and sometimes precious and semiprecious stones, have come together into a full collection that Straus said marks the debut of her company, Becca Straus Jewelry.
Straus began working on the collection when she lost her job at a nonprofit arts organization after the 9/11 attacks. She realized she had the time to make Christmas presents for her family and friends.
After giving the gifts away, orders from family friends and friends of friends began trickling in. Eventually, a few boutiques took notice and began carrying her cuffs, rings, earrings and necklaces.
“I never thought I could actually become a jeweler,” Straus said. “But I started realizing I had enough work coming in. I went from working over my kitchen in my apartment to having a studio with a small staff.”
Straus began studying jewelry-making in fourth grade when she took a metal workshop at her arts-specialized elementary school in Cambridge, Mass.
“It was as far back as then that I learned to go with my gut instinct and let my creativity flow,” she said. “My mom still wears the first pin I made.”
Making jewelry with metal became such an interest that when she took a year off in between high school and Skidmore College, she uprooted to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico to take advantage of the town’s legacy in silversmithing.
“I worked for four months with this amazing teacher,” she said. “There was a language barrier, but he taught me a lot about fabrication.”
Straus combines her knowledge of fabrication with the lost-wax casting method.
“I work on each piece by hand,” Straus said. “I make a unique model for each piece. I turned to wax because I realized the metal was confining me. The wax allows me more freedom.”
For inspiration, Straus roams between nature, architecture and the work of modern artists, such as abstract expressionist Ibram Lassaw.
“I’m interested in the exacting techniques of architecture versus the irregularities in nature — the structural versus the organic,” she said.
Standout looks in her 50-piece collection include the Emma Link Bracelet with seven rectangles of double-layered twisting metal that are interconnected with hinges and closed by a screw; the Rodin earring that features a column wrought from a latticework of metal and accented with a colorful stone dangling from the tip; the Eva pendant that includes an upside-down cone that spills forth multistrands of dainty garnets, and the stackable “o” rings that are thin bands in either yellow gold, rose gold or white gold. There are also more casual items such as labyrinthine beads that slide onto a leather cord or dainty domed earrings.
“I always see myself keeping the company small,” Straus said. “I want each piece to be unique and special to the person wearing it. It’s exciting when you can see a piece through to its reality and then it goes on to take on a life of its own.”
Becca Straus Jewelry sells in Dane 115 in New York and Gallery of Jewels in San Francisco. Wholesale prices start at $400 and climb to $3,600.