Mandarin garnet, rubelite and the names of all kinds of semiprecious stones, roll off Mena Suvari’s tongue as easily as lines in a script. The actress, who is a self-proclaimed gem geek, has been studying rocks for ages with designer Suzanne Felsen. They met on a shoot around 1999—just before Mena’s breakthrough films American Beauty and American Pie hit theaters—and they have been bonding over jewelry, art and all things creative, ever since.
Their friendship has become so close that Mena has not only worn Suzanne’s jewelry on the red carpet, she has collaborated on jewels with the designer and even named her new cat Cairo after a trip to Egypt. I sat down with the two of them to talk about their decades long creative exchanges. Following is an excerpt of our conversation that took place in Los Angeles at Gemini G.E.L., an artist’s workshop and publisher of prints, Suzanne co-owns.
So, the two of you met on a photo shoot, right?
Mena: It was my first professional shoot. The photographer found Suzanne and she showed up with her tackle box of jewels.
Suzanne: It’s true. The photographer had actually come in to my old boutique at Bergamot Station and said, “I am going to be photographing this actress who is in these movies that are coming out soon. She is lovely. Would you loan her jewelry?” I just ended up coming with the jewelry to the shoot. Mena loved the jewelry and we had a fun time.
And the friendship started from there?
Suzanne: Mena would come over for hours and hours and look at loose stones and jewelry and try things on. Mena’s really inquisitive and just began to understand about gemstones.
Mena: I love art and every expression of it. I value those friendships. I like the personal connection that I have to the things that I wear. I have always wanted to wear things that were colorful and meaningful, not the diamond that everyone was wearing. That was so boring to me. Suzanne’s jewelry had everything I was looking for and her warm personality added even more meaning to it.
Tell me about some of the jewelry highlights you two have had over the years?
Suzanne: The Toronto Film Festival premiere of American Beauty always stands out as special, because it was the first time Mena wore the jewelry on the red carpet. There was also the 2005 SAG Awards when I designed a pendant with a 100-carat citrine surrounded by two circles of pavé-set diamonds. I made it to match Mena’s Missoni dress that was pretty amazing.
Mena: I do have a fond memory of the black spinel and diamond pendant earrings. They came together one of those times when I was with Suzanne at her desk, talking about designs and stones and asking her things like, “What about putting this with that?”
Sometimes Suzanne would have to shut me down with good reason, because a stone would be too soft, which I didn’t know. I would just be looking and thinking I like those colors together. She would educate me. So, one of those times I was playing with these strands of black spinels, she had on her desk. I wanted them all on me. I held them up in a drape and Suzanne liked the idea and made the earrings.
How often do you two get together?
Mena: A lot. There is a constant beautiful flow of energy. I love all these unique tiny little trinkets Suzanne has on her desk that hold these fantastic stories that represent a place she has been. Her inspiration to nature is so beautiful. And the stones! Can we just talk about the fact that this earth can make something like a fire opal? Maybe people don’t care, but to me that is so exquisite.
Suzanne: Mena is inquisitive and genuinely interested, so we bond on that. We share a love for the gems and the jewelry. We learn from each other about travel and nature and all of those things that are really important to both of us.
Mena: We geek out. We talk about heat treatment of stones and what colors occur in nature. I love watermelon tourmaline. It is definitely one of my favorite stones. I love fire opal. I love chrysoprase. It’s like gum drop candy. I love the way Suzanne combines the colors. Then there are the pieces like the pink opal earrings that have a carved flower that is Victorian-esque.
Suzanne: Mena knows my collection as well as anyone, probably more than my family.
I know you two go out together frequently as well as spending time at the desk looking at stones and talking jewelry. Can you tell me about any special events over the years?
Mena: Remember when we went to the Natural History Museum? That was a fun day. We geeked out in there.
Suzanne: They have a room of rough gems. They have a vault room of cut stones.
Mena: It’s beautiful that you can see how gems look in their rough state and the process of being facetted.
Suzanne: We spent hours at the museum.
Mena: We went twice.
I have to admit that was not the type of event I was expecting. I love that the two of you went to the Museum of Natural History. We have to get together again for a field trip there!
For more information on Suzanne Felsen’s jewelry visit suzannefelsen.com.