A jeweler infuses some alchemy in her modern-day bling. By Valery Joseph
Herkimer County, New York—population 64,000—seems an unlikely place for a young jeweler to draw inspiration. Randi Mates, however, has always been interested in the arcane. Her line, Aesa, (the name means 'personification of destiny' in Ancient Greek) often draws from antiquated traditions. And so when confronted with the curious tale of the upstate New York county's most famous turn-of-the-century export, Herkimer Diamonds, she was smitten.
"Herkimer Diamonds are not diamonds at all," she says, "but rather quartz with two terminations at each end. They were first discovered by colonists in the late 18th century, and many stories suggest they were sold to unwitting consumers as real diamonds. As a historian, I love the lore, but more importantly, as a designer, the forms were completely inspiring."
One notable result is her stunning Diamond Tower Necklace, a sculptural piece fashioned from oxidized sterling silver that pays tribute to its forbear with an earthy, just-plucked-from-the-ground vibe. But the piece is not only beautiful, Mates points out. It also has its do-gooder side. "Creating pieces that are riffs on forms gave me an opportunity to play with the idea of 'diamonds' without using real diamonds," she says. "It feels important and necessary to address the environmental and ethical use of materials in whatever way you can when you can, while still trying to create something both amazing and meaningful."
Mates' fascination with classical forms also informed her Almost Alchemy line, a collection of pendants in both gold and silver based on Medieval Alchemy and Palmistry. "There are all of these amazing late medieval texts, and the images depicted what the wearer sought to achieve, purity most of all." Whether or not the modern-day wearer of her work is bent on achieving the same transformations, Mates isn't sure. But she does see meaning in the growing fascination with talismans.
"I think this impulse speaks to the idea that we are seeking more meaning and connection," she says. "I think that desire definitely motivated me in the making of both of these collections."
Aesa Diamond Tower Necklace, $320, is available at Honey in the Rough, 161 Rivington Street; 212-228-6415. Almost Alchemy collection, from $189 each, is available at Oak, 208 North 8th Street, Brooklyn; 718-782-0521. For more information, go to www.aesajewelry.com.
A jeweler infuses some alchemy in her modern-day bling.