By Karen Dybis
One of Jenny Lauren’s earliest jewelry memories is watching her mother put on earrings for an evening out—that bit of sparkle next to her mom’s excited face made her beauty even greater, she recalls.
Lauren herself was excited when she got her ears pieced at age 13 and could start wearing jewelry like her mom. The feelings that jewelry has inspired in her and other people influences Lauren’s work as the founder and designer at Jenny Lauren Jewelry.
“I absolutely love not only wearing earrings but making them, probably the most [of any pieces],” Lauren says. “I had two favorite pairs of earrings I wore throughout high school, and I alternated between them–a pair of large gold hoops and a pair of long contemporary Navajo silver and coral thunderbird earrings I got on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I remember feeling empowered by these earrings, and that’s part of why I love jewelry: how it makes one feel.”
Her mom, Susan, and dad, Jerry, regularly wore jewelry, including matching gold chains with a Scorpio charm as well as 14k gold pinky rings with their initials. Fashion and jewelry were always part of their home and professional lives—her parents had met at work in the elevator of a textile company. Her father has been head of men’s design at Ralph Lauren; Susan, a mother of three, had an amazing eye for clothing, accessories, and jewelry, Lauren says.
Two colors play off each other in a Navy sapphire necklace with 14k gold rectangle pendant ($1,200).
When Lauren was 7, her mom began taking her to visit the fashion and bead district in New York City, where they lived. “I became obsessed instantly with the beauty of all the hanging strands of colorful beads and gemstones in the stores,” says Lauren. “I had entered a world that I would never stop exploring or learning about. I have always loved wearing jewelry as well, and noticing what other people wear.”
Lauren started making her own beaded jewelry while in high school. Her first sale was a group of bracelets to a children’s store on Lexington Avenue. She also worked at a New York clothing store called Putamayo as a high schooler and sold her jewelry on weekends at a 76th Street flea market with her brother Greg.
She graduated from Barnard College in 1995 with a degree in art history and fine arts. As a sophomore, she had spent time in Sante Fe while studying painting at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Around that time, she took a course with painter and Colombia University professor Archie Rand. It has affected how she works right up through the present.
Labradorite brings an iridescence to these tassel earrings ($750), which are in Jenny Lauren Jewelry’s 14k gold collection.
“At the end of the first class, Archie told us that our homework assignment was to create 10 paintings,” Lauren recalls. “When we returned with our 10 paintings, Archie looked over mine closely and then pointed to one and said, ‘There’s your masterpiece.’ Archie then explained to the class that the reason he had us create so many paintings was because it was a method he used, and that working a lot and being prolific would always bring out one gem or two in the bunch.
“So much I learned from my years painting I apply to my process of making jewelry, whether it is to try and create cohesive content for an exhibition or to explore a theme for a collection to its fullest, or learn the discipline to get to the studio and work through blocks,” Lauren says.
“For me, creating one piece, and an entire collection of jewelry, is not only about expressing oneself or doing it because it’s cathartic; it’s about solving a puzzle. When I create a jewelry collection, I challenge myself to the fullest to create a mood, a style, or say something as a whole.”
A series of painful events, including her mother’s death in 2008, took time to process, and creating jewelry helped her through them, Lauren says. Once she’d resumed making beaded jewelry, her first client became Urban Zen, a Donna Karan store in the Hamptons. Her first trunk show there was attended by her dad and her uncle, Ralph Lauren.
The sunny yellow of citrine makes this necklace‘s ($1,200) 14k gold round pendant seem to shine even brighter.
After her painting studio became a jewelry studio, Lauren became prolific as a jewelry designer, working with Ralph Lauren. She founded Jenny Lauren Jewelry in 2012 and continued to sell through Donna Karan and boutiques. By 2021, she had more than 30 jewelry collections, so she created a website to share her work directly with the public.
“Now I am a founder, a jewelry designer, artist, stylist, art director, and web designer. I work and collaborate with amazing photographers and people who help to bring my vision to life,” she says. “I think my favorite part of all, though, is being in my studio at night, alone, listening to Fleetwood Mac and just working. I enjoy the challenge every day to be the most creative I can be.
“I always say jewelry is like makeup—it makes you sparkle. You only need a little to uplift yourself, yet you can also go bold with it when you want to. It’s also helps with confidence,” Lauren says.
“It is absolutely a way to express oneself, and one can wear all different types for different occasions and moods,” she adds. “It’s an art form that has tons of history and ceremonial rituals connected to it, and represents various cultures in many different and significant ways. For me, creating jewelry fills me with wonder. It makes me feel whole.”
Top: Jenny Lauren founded her jewelry brand in 2012, selling at select retailers, and created a website two years ago to offer her beaded and gold jewelry to the public. (Photos courtesy of Jenny Lauren Jewelry)