Local Legends: A Virginia Jewelry Designer On Her Celeb-Approved Baubles

Whether you’re tall or petite, skinny or curvy, there’s one thing that women of all body types can agree on: A great piece of jewelry can flatter every figure. It's true — a stunning pair of earrings or a flashy statement necklace has the one-size-fits-all power to pull an outfit together in an instant. And it was precisely this realization that helped Virginia-based jewelry maven Dina Mackney get her business off the ground 10 years ago.
Now, with a studio in Reston, a new collection at Neiman Marcus, and celeb fans donning her creations, Mackney has established herself as a pro in the big-time bauble world. Ahead, the Texas transplant and mom of two lets us in on her sources of inspiration, favorite materials, and more.

Photo: Courtesy of Clay Blackmore


Why did you decide to start your own business?

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I was painting funky children’s art for local stores, and that’s also when I began designing jewelry for myself. At the time, none of my clothes fit, and I realized that jewelry was an accessory/fashion item that I could wear without concern for how it fit! I discovered that, with great jewelry, I could transform the only two outfits that fit me and achieve a different look each time. While out shopping one day (wearing my jewelry designs), a store owner approached me and offered to buy some of my pieces — and my business was born. I made one-of-a-kind pieces for some time, and then slowly evolved into selling my collection at boutiques and department stores nationwide.”

Do you have a background in art or design? How did you first go about fashioning your own jewelry?
“For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in, and inspired by, the arts. Art and design are without question my passion. After attending school in Virginia, I studied abroad in Italy (living in Florence), which only intensified my interest in art and design. From there, I made my way to Parsons in NYC, where I studied fashion and design. And, in addition to designing jewelry, I also paint.”

What inspires your work?

“I have always been drawn to interesting stones and minerals, even as a kid, so a major inspiration for me is the stones themselves — their natural beauty. I also draw inspiration from everyday things I see — a flower arrangement, an antique vase, architecture, or a beautifully decorated room. I am open to all influences from my work. But mostly, I design for a woman with my type of lifestyle, which is to say: busy! Women today wear so many hats. For me, I am a mother, artist, entrepreneur, among others, and I need pieces that can go everywhere, that I can dress up or down, that are modern but not trendy.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dina Mackney

How would you define D.C.'s style?

“D.C. style is definitely evolving. While there are many who still like to define it as ‘conservative,’ I think it’s better defined as ‘sophisticated.’ D.C. women lead very busy lives and wear many different hats, and I feel D.C. style is a direct reflection of their lifestyle — modern but not uber-trendy, feminine but not fussy, bold but not too fashion-forward. D.C. is also a culturally diverse city, and I think that influences a more global and somewhat progressive approach to style."

Where can shoppers purchase your jewelry locally?
“Neiman Marcus Mazza Gallerie, Saks Jandel, and Keith Lipert Gallery.”

Photo: Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

What can you tell us about your fall '12 collection? What are some of this season's best accessory trends?
“Like much on the runways, our fall collection features rich colors — blues and greens, including lapis, London blue topaz, and chrome diopside. The stones I chose are deeply saturated in color, but the pieces are lightened by gold accents and bezels. I used a very unique combination of black and deep blue (another fall fashion trend) by way of onyx, blue abalone, London blue topaz and apatite. I am really excited about a naturally sparkling collection that features Peruvian pyrite and is mixed with sterling silver — perfect for the holidays!”

What are some go-to jewelry items every woman should own?

“Definitely a statement necklace that reflects her unique personality, a cuff, and a gemstone cocktail ring. I would also highly recommend a simple pair of rock crystal drop earrings bezel-set in gold or sterling (for a twist on diamond studs!).”

Photo: Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

What does it feel like to see celebrities sporting your jewelry? Who has been spotted wearing your designs?
“I am thrilled whenever I see any woman wearing my jewelry! I put a lot of effort and heart into my designs, so it means a great deal when it’s well received by women, including celebrities. Celebrities are inundated with options and can have their choice of the most exquisite jewelry from designers all over the world, so of course I feel very grateful and privileged when they choose my designs. The actress Téa Leoni has been wearing and supporting my line for quite some time. Grace Potter recently wore one of my pieces on Jimmy Kimmel Live. And the lovely and talented Norah O’Donnell, co-host of CBS This Morning, can currently be seen wearing my designs on air.”

How do you hope women will feel when they wear your jewelry?
“I hope when a woman wears my jewelry, she feels confident, strong, and special. I hope she will maximize the versatility that my jewelry allows, and create different looks for every facet of her busy life.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dina Mackney

There are countless jewelry designers out there. What makes your original creations stand out?
“As an artist and jewelry designer, I take great pride in sourcing and using the highest quality gemstones and materials available. Each of my pieces is truly unique and original, as all of my designs are handcrafted by artisans in Mexico or fabricated in our Reston studio. I think what makes my creations stand out is the unique juxtaposition of all-natural, semi-precious gemstones in bezel settings, which imparts a contemporary look and feel, yet is also classic in terms of design and wearability. In addition, all of my pendants can be worn in multiple ways. I think this type of design, coupled with versatility, is very appealing to today’s woman. I think it also stands out because it’s affordable — I’ve managed to sustain a very reasonable price point for designer jewelry that features all-natural, semi-precious stones, 18-karat gold vermeil and sterling silver, and is actually handmade.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dina Mackney

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