It’s not easy to be a minimalist jewelry designer. “There is no place to hide,” is how John Loring, the design director emeritus of Tiffany & Co., once described the challenges of making beautiful work like Elsa Peretti. In other words, everything has to be perfect.
Emerging jewelry design talent, Ashley Thorne of A.M. Thorne makes her minimalist pieces shine by carefully considering the details from the goldwork to the purposefully chosen gems. She also infuses the jewels with historical elements she reimagines in a contemporary mode.
“Jewelry is my way of expressing myself,” explains the Washington, D.C. based 33-year-old designer. “It is my inner spirit and my space to feel good. It’s an outlet and my way of telling my story.”
Ashley’s jewelry journey began shortly after she graduated in 2009 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she studied communications and graphic design. Dissatisfied with the lack of creativity in the corporate environment on the job in her chosen field, Ashley started making jewelry with silk cord as a hobby. Pretty quickly she got serious about the subject and attended the esteemed Jewelry Arts Institute, that teaches basic benchwork as well as ancient gold techniques.
“I remember one day when I cut my finger with a saw and the teacher said you are officially a jeweler now,” remembers Ashley. “It was a moment, because I hadn’t thought of myself in that way yet since I set out to be a graphic designer.”
Before launching her own collection, Ashley wanted to learn more about the business side of jewelry and became a production manager for a company in New York’s jewelry district. In the notoriously challenging environment, Ashley held her own and learned about manufacturing and various resources while remaining focused on her goals and saving her money to launch her self-financed collection in 2014.
Ashley shared the story of her creative process and the elements of her design in a phone interview. Read on for a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Your jewels are delicate with stunning details. One of my favorites are the Lightbeam studs. What inspired them?
I look at ancient and Greek and Roman design for inspiration, but I like to make the silhouettes modern. The Lightbeam earrings really embody that idea. You can see the historical elements with the ends that appear like granulation.
Your collection has such a soothing palette with the moonstones. What is it that you like about the gem?
Moonstones speak to me. They make you feel good. The palette of colors they come in are shades I enjoy. The cabochon shapes are a nice feminine form. They also reflect my love of nature. And I do pay attention to the cycles of the moon.
You also have a nice array of salt and pepper diamonds. Could you explain what they are and why you like them?
A lot of people want a diamond because it has high value. They want that flawless white diamond. I like paying attention to the discarded part of the diamond, called the salt and pepper diamonds, that are cut out of a gem to make it flawless. The salt and pepper diamonds have visible marks on the inside that add character to the piece.
One of your specialties is custom engagement rings. Could you walk me through a few of the designs that are featured on your website? The Carleen is sensational.
The Carleen evolved out of a three-stack gold band I have in the collection. My friend, who the piece is named after, loved that ring and wanted something similar for her engagement ring. She had her grandmother’s European-cut pear diamond for the center stone. I used the height of the stone and added more bands to the stack. It’s a bold and strong piece.
It’s not easy to make imaginative engagement rings, but you have done so repeatedly. Tell me about the Diamond Cross ring.
A woman who is a teacher came to me with some family stones and I sourced the rose cut that is the center gem. She wanted to do something that was different that was kind of like a cluster ring, but she wanted it to be more symmetrical. The Diamond Cross ring evolved from the gems and those ideas.
The Molly Cluster is another great spin on a traditional diamond engagement ring. How did you come up with it?
A man came to me for that ring. He had a bunch of loose stones in different sizes and clarities. I enjoy doing collage and put things together based on forms and shapes. For this ring we tested a few different variations before landing on the final Molly Cluster.
Beyond the work of the ancients are there any contemporary designers who inspire you?
I remember in the early 2000s being really drawn to Elsa Peretti. I would look at her work in the Tiffany catalogues that came in the mail. I loved the simplicity of her Diamonds by the Yard necklace. My Twin Diamond Necklace is a tribute to that. The creative evolution for me has been how to take simplicity and make it my own. I also make the design in birthstones. The two gems together have significance for people. It is often purchased as a push present representing mother and child.