“My first husband gave me the jewelry my mother thought I should wear. My second husband gave me the jewelry he thought I should wear. Finally, at sixty- five, I sold it all and bought jewelry I dared to wear,” my godmother once told me.
She’s in her 80s and everything about her, from blazing a career in psychotherapy later in life, to her bold red hair, to the fiery rubies that are her signature stones, is daring.
Whenever we meet for dinner, always at Sant Ambroeus in New York City, she’s wearing another fabulous jewel and I love nothing as much as listening to her stories about what inspired each bespoke ring, bracelet, brooch or necklace.
Her joy in being part of the creative process is palpable and has made me lust after indulging in a custom piece of my own. And if I were so lucky as to be able to have something made just for me, I know exactly who I’d go to, Deirdre Featherstone of Featherstone Design.
Deirdre, who has been making jewelry for 35 years in her studio in Lower Manhattan, has received ten coveted American Gem Trade Association Spectrum Awards and was named a “Master American Platinumsmith” by the Platinum Guild International. But it’s her love of opals that originally drew me to her.
Opals are my favorite stone and like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Deirdre is a colorist who truly knows how to design with the magical gem. Her pieces show her understanding of the stone and show off her wild creativity.
So, I wrote Deirdre and asked if we could pretend I was ready to have something made to order and go through the process. She immediately responded, yes. She started her career doing bespoke pieces and during the pandemic, she’s been doing more custom work than ever and told me she’s thrilled. One on one interactions energize her. She loves to meet new clients and form relationships based on a shared love of jewelry.
To begin our collaboration, Deirdre began by setting up a Zoom chat with me. Even though I was in my office looking at a computer screen, as Deirdre began showing me stones and asking me questions about my lifestyle, I had illusions of being the Duchess of Windsor meeting with Suzanne Belperron, or Coco Chanel sitting down with Verdura.
Deirdre first asked me where I work. I told her mostly at home, writing.
What do you wear?
A uniform of black tunics and leggings and black ballet slippers. A background for whatever jewelry I put on that day. Even if I’m by myself, not seeing anyone, I always apply eyeliner and mascara, spritz perfume and then put on jewelry. I wouldn’t feel like myself otherwise and more than ever during Covid I’ve found it’s really important to keep up with small pleasures.
Then Deirdre asked why I had chosen her for my bespoke treasure.
I answered with one word. Color.
The first time I saw her pieces in a display case in Bergdorf Goodman, I froze on the spot, stunned. Her palette spoke to me. I felt as if someone had read my aesthetic sense and chosen color combinations just for me. Every piece was a joyful, brazen statement.
As we continued to converse over Zoom, Deirdre showed me different pieces to see what caught my eye. I latched onto a stunning necklace with a center oval opal surrounded by Paraíba tourmalines, green tourmalines, purple, green and blue sapphires, purple spinels, amethysts and diamonds.
Meanwhile she kept asking questions.
Where would you go on vacation if you could just hop on a plane and go anywhere?
And what would you do there?
Walk, walk, walk, go to museums, sit in cafes.
How is your house decorated?
Art deco, black lacquer, celadon green.
Where do you find peace?
The woods and the water.
And then we talked about the jewelry I already owned. And since we were on Zoom I showed her.
What jewelry do you never take off?
My mother’s diamond pinky ring.
What do you wear the most?
A long white gold chain with a single onyx Alhambra pendant that my husband gave me for a big birthday.
What piece do you adore but almost never wear?
A pink tourmaline and amethyst ring circa 1930 that I’m petrified of scratching.
Finally, Deirdre asked me for my price range. Even though this was pretend I didn’t go crazy. I gave her a number in line what I could imagine spending if my next novel becomes a bestseller.
Finally, Deirdre suggested she create a bespoke pair of hoops for me. I felt a fissure of disappointment. I hadn’t been thinking earrings at all.
“I want to take opals and deconstruct them, using all their colors in the hoops. Make something you will reach for all the time because you are that connected to it. Something that when you walk in a room, will give people a reason to come up to you and ask about your earrings instead of being intimidated by you.”
At this point I figured Deirdre not only spoke my color language but could read my mind.
“How do you know that at parties and gatherings strangers never talk to me for that very reason? And that it bothers me because I’m the one who is intimidated and shy around new people. People read me all wrong but you didn’t.”
She laughed and explained this was all part of her job. In addition to creating amazing jewelry for more than three decades, she’s trained herself to read people.
“If I’m going to help someone find a piece that is right for them, I have to figure them out—and fast. I want to build jewelry for women to wear, for you to wear, so the criticism goes away and the conversation begins.”
As I listened to her explain her philosophy, Deirdre gathered the stones she’d put in my earrings. “These earring won’t take themselves too seriously in the most beautiful way,” she said as she placed a Paraiba next to a purple sapphire next to an opal.
Seeing the stunning blue green rainbow come together, I started to understand that she was building something that spoke to me in such a very personal and visceral way.
I asked about the next steps if I were so lucky as to commission the earrings. Deirdre said she’d send me a final draft of the stones and then her workshop would create my earrings for me.
At the end of our session, my make-believe earrings laid out on her work bench, Deirdre read me a section of a letter a client had recently written her.
“Your pieces bring me more lasting joy than anything I’ve ever bought – wearing them I feel a joyful defiance!”
It was an apt summation of working with Deirdre. And a well-put reminder of how my godmother spoke of commissioning pieces.
Joyful defiance, is the perfect description of a Featherstone design with its stunning colors. It’s also the perfect description for the feeling you get not waiting for a husband or lover to give you a gift, but working with a master jeweler to create a piece just for yourself.
Now, if that book just becomes a bestseller I know exactly how I’ll celebrate.
M.J. Rose is a New York Times bestselling author; her most recent novel, Cartier’s Hope, (Jan 28th, 2020) has been called “A bold, satisfying tapestry. Smart, fierce, lovely, and intricate,” Kirkus (Starred Review)