by Grandin Donovan
In a well-lit room beneath the Belgian block of Nolita's Crosby Street, straps of leather hang from walls amid arcane tools for crimping, clipping, punching, and cutting metal. Tables glint with works in progress. Tumblers whir and polishing wheels scree. In the middle of all, the perennial symbol of the smith sits like a king. A young woman with startling blue eyes coos over it with adoration. "My sweet anvil," says Jill Platner, a jeweler whose prize tool reminds that, even in the heart of New York, sometimes you just can't reinvent the wheel.
A Massachusetts native, Jill came to Manhattan more than a decade ago to study at Parsons, where early on she was seduced by the Vulcan muse. Metalwork excited her, and though she worked on furniture and other objects—lamps, clocks, silverware—she found she was drawn to jewelry, and that others were drawn to hers. "It seemed like a way I could touch a lot of people," she says. And soon it was. Jill received her first order from Barneys New York while she was still in school, and almost immediately had to hire help to meet a burgeoning demand.
Years later, Jill's singular style and artisanal touch have earned her a dedicated clientele, celebrity fans, and stylist raves. While most jewelry goes for flash and bling, Jill's work has a reticent yet unmistakable strength. A sculptural precedence is given to form and texture, such that it seems natural when she cites Alexander Calder as an early influence alongside Native American and African cultures. Much of her inspiration comes from nature, and the delicate hammered surfaces she turns out can evoke wood, bone, and sea glass in one stroke. Animal, mineral, and vegetable titles populate her collections, but she's hardly above playfulness: Hopscotch and Pez bracelets appear next to Whale Freckle and Sprout.
Form is nothing without function, however, and Jill says the greatest question she asks of her pieces is "How does it feel when it's on your body?" This is why the bulk of her production takes place from May to August each year, when turtlenecks and wool coats hibernate. "I need skin and body because I'm always trying stuff on when I'm making it," she says.
At the workshop beneath her store, Jill works with three dedicated young ladies to bring her originals into production. They use techniques that can date back millennia, and the basics remain unchanged: heat, work, repeat. Lost wax casting is done off site, but all forging, soldering, and finishing is done on Crosby.
Most of Jill's work is done in silver, which she prefers for its sensuousness and workability—not to mention its value and hypoallergenic properties. "Babies can chew on it," she points out. For three years, though, she has been doing pieces in gold as well. While the fundamental processes of forging and casting remain the same, gold's cost and softness entail painstaking attention to detail. "It's very precious and you have to be super meticulous when you're working with it." All shavings are kept for recasting, and the different shades have to be worked with one at a time to prevent mixing.
Jill's gold work is unique on the market because she works exclusively in 19-karat gold, which is custom-made just for her. "I wanted to make something different that isn't commercially available. All the even numbers are standard," she says. On a deeper level, however, Jill indulges in a little magical thinking. "I like odd numbers" she confesses, "they just completely make sense to me," adding that many of her pieces contain odd numbers of components. Numerological quirks aside, 19-karat, which is a 79% gold and 21% platinum alloy, offers a balance of hardness, luster, and affordability that she would not be able to get from, say, 17- or 23-karat.
Today Jill's work can still be found at her retail location and at Barneys New York, as well as at select boutiques within the States, in Europe, and in Japan. Never a slave to the whims of the fashion markets, she plans on forging ahead to wherever her own sketches take her. "We're grassroots," she says, though at Refinery29, we like to think of her as a rare vein of precious talent.
For the past five years, designer Jill Platner has watched her once desolate Crosby Street transform from a barren stretch of dumpsters to a bustling thoroughfare of boutiques. The local color may have changed, but Jill's handmade silver and gold treasures have remained the same: organically inspired, sculptural, and timeless.