How Melissa Joy Manning's Sustainable Jewelry Preserves Animal Spirits

Web1Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Joy Manning.
I've never been the type of girl to get decked out in jewelry, but I know a good piece when I see it — especially when it comes to designers with a commitment to sustainability. Such is the case with local designer Melissa Joy Manning who's been creating some of the most covetable jewelry in the Bay Area and beyond. She invited me to her Berkeley studio for a behind-the-scenes look at how a piece of jewelry goes from conception to creation.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the story behind Melissa Joy Manning?
"For as long as I can remember, I’ve always created jewelry. My mom has the first necklace I made in Montessori school. After pursuing an education in sculpture and jewelry design, I started my business — self-funded with $1,000 — by going to stores I liked and asking them to carry my work. After 15 years, I’m happy to say that I still love making jewelry and am especially excited about our expansion into retail."
Web2Photo: Courtesy of Erin Hagstrom.
How do you source the materials used in your designs?
"Our raw metal is sourced from a certified green refiner who uses 100% recycled gold and silver. Wherever possible, my stones are sourced from partners who share our commitment to environmental and social sustainability. We then transform our materials into jewelry in our own certified green studio."
What does the design process look like?
"Messy! I buy most of my stones in Tucson, which is an insane place filled with crazy vendors from all over the world. I’m looking for new and interesting materials that I haven’t seen who also have small carbon footprints. After purchasing a large amount of stones, I carry them back to our N.Y. development studio where they're placed in plastic bins according to colors.
"As I’m designing, and feeling certain colors due to some design whim (usually my photos from travelling), I pull hues and textures from the boxes. The little guys then get strewn about until they tell me who they want to be. From there, it’s just a matter of drawing the design and working with my fabricator to articulate the final product."
Web3Photo: Courtesy of Erin Hagstrom.
I love the collection of found objects that you use to mold your jewelry. Can you tell us more about that?
"I love the idea of non-western adornment. Some people believe that when you take an animal, you honor it by using all its parts — not just the meat, but its claws and everything else. When doing so you carry the spirit of the animal into yourself and keep it alive. It’s also said that the animal properties become one with your spirit.
"For this particular collection, I took vintage teeth and bones and cast them into metal. We then used the casts as architectural components within the design process — as prongs and as pieces within construction. I liked the idea of using the bones for their original purpose — as structure rather than end design."
Web5Photo: Courtesy of Erin Hagstrom.
What is your own personal philosophy when it comes to picking out jewelry?
"Follow your gut and buy what you like. Jewelry is the ultimate personal expression and should be a reflection of the wearer. It’s how you can express yourself while rocking a simple white shirt and jeans."
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