These Fine Jewelers Are Real Venice Gems
Venice is known for many things. Turn it in the light and a facet sparkles -- there’s the glittering ocean lapping at the sand -- turn it again and you might see a colorful boardwalk, quirky restaurants, working art studios. The deeper you look, the more complex the city becomes -- much like love … and gemstones, both of which find a meeting at several Westside jewelry shops with deeply local ties.
Take Todd Reed, the namesake designer opened an impressive 6,000-square-foot jewelry retail and production facility on Abbot Kinney in 2014 after making Venice his second home (his other shop is in Boulder). His time here spurred him to create an entire line called Westside. In it, he uses black and gold elements, with some added sparkle, to reflect the mashup of city and sunset over the water so familiar to Westsiders.
Reed’s collections are all about “raw elegance,” and they often incorporate rough-cut gemstones (a technique he’s used since starting his own shop in 1992), and even when he uses more fancy-cut stones, there are quirky touches like differently sized diamonds surrounding a fancy-cut grey one, or wrist cuffs that have a cascade of different colored stones rippling across.
“I liked how a diamond left just as it’s found in nature can dictate the architecture of a piece of jewelry,” Reed says. “The thing that attracts me to raw diamonds is their unique character. I love cut diamonds for another reason; they all look the same. That is perfect for some things. For other things, though, and the freedom to be completely unique and challenge the social perception, and open up the realm of possibility in design, there is raw, natural and beautiful diamonds."
The men’s line -- which is handcrafted in Venice by three goldsmiths -- feels a bit rough, with pieces sporting a weathered patina you might more expect on an old, artfully aged chest of drawers. They’re statement pieces because their look is understatedly unexpected, and they carry the heft that comes from using fine metals.
Reed’s designs aren’t cheap (think many thousands of dollars, even for smaller pieces), but they’re works of art as much as they are jewelry, and he uses ethically sourced diamonds and recycled metals. They’re gifts you give yourself or someone you love when you’ve made it.
Todd Reed // 1511 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice 90291
But what if you want fine jewelry at prices that won’t break the bank? The 3-D jewelry printing site Iconery, based in Venice’s Amplify startup accelerator, might be your answer. The online marketplace -- started by Santa Monica resident and former eBay marketing executive Ivka Adam and the founding creative director of Lucky Magazine Andrea Linett -- uses technology to make designer’s on-trend jewelry lines quickly available and affordable.
The site features a smart roster of makers, many of whom hail from LA. People like Ella Poe of Venice, who designed a zodiac-themed constellation series; Elisabeth Bell, who lives on the Westside and casts her designs from natural materials; Melissa Coker of Wren whose looks skew more classic; and Mara Carrizo Scalise, whose pieces speak to the boho chic side of Venice.
“When it came time to start iconery,” says Adam, "It was important for me to be in LA, just because all of the jewelry designers that were in LA and the proximity to the Jewelry District.”
Many of the pieces on the site are less than $500 and most can be customized based on type of metal and gemstone: Do you want vermeil or rose gold? White sapphires or diamonds? The use of technology to produce customized pieces quickly, on demand, allows customers to get the piece they want at the price they want. This kind of customization is possible thanks to the production process, according to Adam.
How does it work? Each piece on the site is created from a 3-D wax cast that’s used when an order is placed and filled with the requested metal. Jewelers then set the gems and finish the pieces. Orders generally take two to three weeks from placement to delivery, although some of the most popular items are kept in stock.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options on Iconery, Adam suggests you start with a customer favorite, a gold opal ring from Wren, available for $125 or $225 depending on the choice of metal. And if you’re shopping for Valentine’s Day this weekend (hint, hint) type in the code VALENTINE15 for 15 percent off the site’s Valentine’s Day picks.
It’s safe to say that there’s not another jeweler in the city, or state, whose work is more purely California than Todd Bracken. The accomplished jeweler and gemologist (he’s certified by and worked at the GIA) works out of his Venice studio by appointment only, mines gold himself in the state (yes, really), and all the work on his pieces is done in California. Everything he does is by hand, and he’ll often incorporate found gold nuggets as-is into his pieces.
“A lot of what I do is in a very raw elemental, rough ancient style -- kind of raw and hammered,” he says. “I do a lot with this dull hammered surface. It makes things look like they’re ancient pieces dug out of the ground, but then I also do extremely delicate filigree work in platinum. I kind of take pride in being able to do, literally, the full gamut at the highest level.”
His unusual jewelry has many admirers of varied tastes: Bracken says he has recently finished pieces for Michelle Obama, Tiffany’s, and “I just worked on a ring for Lady Gaga last week.”
He’s a bit of a jack of all trades in the jewelry world -- performing extremely sensitive and detailed restorations on high-end estate jewelry; buying, restoring and selling top-of-the-line watches like Rolexes and Patek Philippe; helping individuals with custom pieces; and, of course, crafting his own line made from California gold.
He started in the family business at age 8 in Illinois, studied and worked at the Gemological Institute of America, and owned Bracken Jewelers in Santa Monica on the Promenade for 25 years before relocating to Lincoln Boulevard in 2006.
Ethical sourcing is important to Bracken and his customers, and it’s one of the reasons he owns his own gold mine in northern California that’s fully permitted. “It’s pretty neat to make jewelry for people and be able to represent to them and have them know where the actual molecules of gold that’s going into their piece of jewelry came from, and that there were no Third World enslaved families producing it, or political duress used in smuggling it, or the proceeds being used to terrorize indigenous people,” he says. “From the time it’s mined and I make it, it’s a 100 percent California, American product.”
And all of his mined pieces carry a touch of California. A grizzly bear is stamped into them as a symbol of the state. His work tends to be priced at his level of expertise (which is high), but you can pick up a grizzly keychain medallion that starts at $195 and is appropriate for both men and women.
Todd Bracken // Private studio on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice; Call for appointment 310-821-6006
Sofia Kaman Fine Jewels
Where others lean on modern design and the natural beauty of raw materials, Sofia Kaman is the choice for more traditional tastes. The Abbot Kinney boutique, which opened in 2008, includes a wide selection of Kaman's signature line as well as an impressive assortment of vintage pieces.
It's especially popular for engagement ring hunting too -- from Victorian to art nouveau, to custom pieces reminiscent of the eras.
Kaman also finds much of her inspiration from Venice. On her site she explains that it was the best location for her flagship boutique because the neighborhood was "creative, quirky, ever-changing and soulful." And, that she says is what her jewelry is all about. The store also provided Kaman with the ultimate testing ground for launching new designs.
Other items in the shop include decoupage jewelry trays by Ben’s Garden and perfumes by Penhaligon’s of London.
Sofia Kaman Fine Jewels // 1350 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Suite 102, Venice 90291
Unless noted, all photos are courtesy of the designers.