Jewelry can found in every human pocket of civilization on our planet. Used as decoration, spirtual enhancement, an indicator of status and, frequently romantic devotion, it comes in precious or semi-precious stones, beads, shells or anything which can be worn or attributed meaning to.
Turn on any hip-hop video and you’re bound to see some type of jewelry on your favorite rapper, iced out like there’s no tomorrow.
It was a hot and sticky day, a false start to the summer, last week when jewelry designer Jennifer Stock spoke to us about her practice and her art in the conference room of our Midtown offices. The jewelry made by Stock is very special down to the weight and materials used in their creation and is far removed from romance.
You may fall in love with Stock’s pieces, just don’t expect them to to improve your love life. Stock’s approach to her near 20 year practice is practical as well as pragmatic.
“I don’t preach anything like, ‘oh, you have to have this necklace in this color because this will make you so happy!’ It’s jewelry,” the anthropology graduate and yoga practitioner told us.
“I feel like it really should be something that you want and something that looks good on you. If you think that rings and necklaces are gonna bring you a boyfriend, if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine. It’s also great if the color looks good on you and the necklace is flattering.”
Stock, a mother of two whose studio is located in Long Island, continued, “I never pushed anyone to buy one of my more expensive [items]. I don’t push jewelry at all but I like when somebody looks good in it. I find that flattering.”
Over the course of our conversation we ended up talking about Stock’s Goddess necklaces which contained, among other things, wooden beads, silver and the OM symbol, one of the world’s most potent spiritual symbols, and their connection to the divine.
The OM symbol has resonance because it is said to be the symbolization of the first sound ever heard in the universe after its creation. This particular Goddess necklace we were interested in was made with lava wood and was a variation of GlobalGrind’s own Russell Simmons‘ Goddess necklace which is worn daily by the hip-hop mogul, vegan and yoga practitioner.
“I feel that’s why I make the jewelry,” Stock explained. “I want it to resonate with people. I feel like they connect to it.”
Here’s some of what was said about the necklace, Stock’s jewelry and yoga.
Why did you name it the Goddess necklace?
I named it about 3 years ago and it seems to be a trendier word these days. I’m always creating my designs at least 2 years ahead of the trend. I’m not trendy, I call it “lifestyle jewelry” and I find that it’s timeless. You’re not going to go in two years, ‘I could never wear that wood piece again!’ Of course you’re going to wear it. It’s not like it’s neon with pompoms and painted crystals. It has spiritual meaning.
My six year old came home from school one day talking about needs and wants and I decided that these were needs. Yeah, you want certain things, but you need beads if you practice yoga or you’re just a good person. You don’t have to practice yoga on the mat to practice yoga.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
23 years. I began right after college.
Why did you decide to do that right away?
I just always knew I wanted to, it wasn’t even a thought. I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and I was not going to stay in St. Louis. It was as hot as is it today, all the time, it’s disgusting. I actually worked at a radio station there and the radio station changed formats. It went from really great music to classical music – which is great – but everybody was let go, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll move to Manhattan.’ I always knew I was going to and I’m from New York and this was my plan to get an apartment, a job and take a yoga class. It wasn’t even a thought. I was just knew and I started at the Y at 47th Street with John (I remember his name) and he was very orange – I guess he drank a lot of carrot juice. And he was the perfect first teacher because he even said if you can’t do a pose just picture yourself doing it and I take that through everything in my life. You can’t physically do it , you can’t physically get to Barbados by yourself but you can picture yourself there, it’s just something yoga is supposed to be: something you take it everywhere and I love that he said that. It allowed me to practice the right way that yoga’s supposed to be. I recently took the hot yoga where I’m dripping sweat when I’m doing the upward dog and a downward dog and a plank non-stop but I’m able to appreciate that because I’ve had the 20 plus years of knowing what yoga is.
Above: Russell Simmons wearing a Goddness necklace while meeting with President Obama.
Are you surprised about how much yoga has infiltrated our society?
I love it because that means I can take classes all the time. My first class was literally at the Y because that’s where people took yoga class and there were no other studios and they started adding studios and now I love it! It’s like a nail salon studio, every corner in Manhattan has one.
Is that where you met Russell?
Actually [I met him at] Jivamukti Yoga.
And how did you get involved with the Diamond Empowerment Fund?
Through Russell, through him wearing my piece all the time. Then his reality show (“Running Russell Simmons”) came out and he was wearing it in his reality show. We decided we should have a piece out there and it was a perfect compliment to the bracelet and necklace, so it’s an exact version of my piece, but then Russell did the bottom with the Atman on it. It’s just amazing just being able to help children and this charity. I didn’t think from just my little whole of knotting and beading that I could give the best gift in the world. It’s flattering to be honest.
Earlier you were talking about knotting and how important it is. Can you expand on that? Can you talk about the process of knotting and why you wouldn’t have your stuff made in China?
Well, I try to keep everything as local as I can. I buy beads and wood and metals from all over the world because my jewelry is, I call it lifestyle jewelry, cultural jewelry, it’s a combination. I have a degree in Anthropology so I find it very interesting and it’s just the appropriate way to make jewelry. If somebody were to pull on a pearl necklace and it fell to the ground only one pearl should fall as opposed to all of them and then they would be lost. So, when you have something from ancient times and something as precious as a pearl, you really want to keep it the best way. I’ve been knotting for about 10 years and I’m one of the few original people to knot wood. I mean nobody ever wanted to take the time. I use very high quality wood; it just really nice and feels good. That’s what it’s supposed to do: you can even meditate on it. Russell actually meditates on my mala at the beginning of his show.
Above: Sterling Silver Om ring by Jennifer Stock.
It’s called a mala?
A mala ― it’s 108 beads or 54, any version of 108 and people meditate on it.
We’ve seen komboloi, have you ever seen them? They’re like worry beads.
Oh well, that’s what it’s all based on ― I’ve never heard that word, worry beads, mala, rosary beads ― it’s all the same principle. At least 6,000 to 10,000 years old ― we think we’re so original! I definitely like how I put it together; it’s something different but I didn’t invent it.
What’s you favorite material?
The wood that I use. I love sleeping beauty turquoise and I love a stone called amethyst sage.
Just when you look at, it’s like gray and purple and every one is different. It’s just really rare. And with the turquoise, the sleeping beauty, which is what they call the robin eggs blue and the wood, I just find them my favorite. Then I have these African beads that I’ve been using for a couple years which are starting to become like a little trend. I love them because each one is like a world. They’re all hand made, they’re gorgeous!
Did you ever think that you’d be using your Anthropology degree to make jewelry?
No, I went to engineering school originally and it went over my head fast. I was in one of the top engineering schools in the country and I was clueless right away. Then I realized that that wasn’t going to work for me. They had a program to spend your junior year in London if you were an Anthropology major and so, of course, I switched to Anthropology and I spent my whole year there. It was heaven! I just found it very interesting and that’s why my major was in Indian culture, because I did my work in London.
How many times have you been to India?
I’ve never been to India.
Yeah, crazy right? If I could squeeze it in I would love to go for the yoga, for everything. I never felt like I had to go. I traveled the whole country, I traveled all through Europe; India just never really came up. It’s probably nicer for me to go now than 20 years ago.
Above: Wooden Om bracelets by Jennifer Stock.
India is very modernized now, there’s a huge middle class, not like 10 years ago. But it’s such a crazy experience. One of my favorite things to came out of India is sandalwood, I use it a lot, do you ever use sandalwood?
I like the boxwood because it’s sturdier for my jewelry. I use rosewood. If I want a smaller size wood like a 4 mm or 5 mm box wood, I use the 6 to 10 but the sandalwood for what I do isn’t sturdy enough. It’s gorgeous and I’ve been commissioned to do pieces for people using either wood that they’ve had in their family, or something they picked up on vacation. I’ll rework things all the time for people; I love doing that.
Your stuff is in Macy’s, it’s in Henri Bendels, JC Penny, Bloomingdales, it’s everywhere.
Well the piece that I did with Russell at Macy’s downtown is done. And then my jewelry I work with Bloomingdales at 59th street; but I’m mostly in yoga studios throughout the country. That’s really who has come to me. It’s just me running my business. So between my 6 and 8 year old daughters and having my husband and parents helping, and me wearing my mommy hat, wearing all the hats I wear, when I squeeze in my jewelry business, this is what I’m able to squeeze in doing on my own. All my PR for all the magazines I’ve been in, I’ve done on my own.
I absolutely hands down love it! There’s nothing about it that I don’t love. I mean, I have to pay my taxes but I love it. Partly because I do it on my own terms, in my own time. And I love to see people in it and I feel so flattered when someone comes up when I’m in Bloomingdales doing a trunk show and they buy some pieces. I’m still in awe and I’ve been doing this a long time.
Above: Jennifer Stock practicing yoga with one of her daughters.
You mentioned earlier that you own the rights to a dye?
Yes, I own the rights to the dye to this bracelet and as I said, I’m trademarking my piece.
Does that occur a lot, people biting your style?
I am being so copied, but I feel like it’s hard to copyright your design.
The CFDA is trying to change all of that now. Diane von Furstenberg is trying to get a bill passed so artists and their designs can protected.
Well, I can write a book and call it the scarlet letter! I mean, I have ethics in what I do as far as even the materials I use. I don’t go to the trade shows to see other jewelers designs. If I do go to the shows at the Piers it’s to see the girls that are doing jewelry that I know for the last 15 years from L.A. and are in New York and I get to see them all at the same time. I love jewelry but I try not to pay attention too much because I want it to be organic.
Other than material, how do you arrive at your design art practice? How does that process work?
I think of jewelry 100% of the time. If [my daughters and I are] doing math homework and I’m like ‘ohhh.’ I live it, eat it dream it, think about it in yoga. I know you’re not supposed to think of anything while in yoga, but I just love it ― it’s the best way I can express myself.
And you’ve had this passion for jewelry since you were a child?
Since I was a little girl. I use to paint in my basement and I used to string things. I actually go to every Girl Scout meeting or to each class that my daughters are in every year and I make jewelry with the whole class. I just did the first grade this week and I just love it. I just put out the beads and they wire them, finish them and I ask my girls, ‘Did any of the kids wear it to school the next day?’ I love that ― it’s good coordination for them to learn how to do it and I love things that are creative.
Above: Goddess necklaces by Jennifer Stock.
What about rings?
I do one ring which is the OM ring ― the OM that I use in the Goddess. I just did it so that it’s really comfortable.
Is that aluminum?
No, it’s sterling silver. I only use sterling silver and then I use what your piece is, it’s something called tie gold which I can only get from one (caster) in Manhattan. It’s actually brass but it doesn’t oxidize and you can see now that I stamped the back on this side that’s how you know. There is, as you know, no front or back but where the stamp is … sterling, brass, I do use 24 carat for me, like this little piece here is for me. It’s not necessary for me to make stuff with solid gold ― you don’t need it.
And you said this was lava wood?
Yes, that’s my last green one though.
What’s lava wood?
It’s wood from Brazil from what I understand. It came from my source. Last time the holes were not even and I wasn’t happy with them.
Do you do your casting and the stuff for the rings at home?
Yes, I have a studio that I rent out on Long Island if I need to make the first piece and then I have a model made of it. I try to do everything either in Manhattan or Long Island. Besides being convenient, I don’t like sending anything outside. Even my knotter is driving distance from me.
How many knotters do you have working for you?
I keep one fully busy and then I have three that I can use and they’re busy.
Above: Sterling Silver Om rings by Jennifer Stock.
How do you find a knotter? Do you just put an ad out for a knotter?
No, I got really lucky! There was a well established jewelry store in our neighborhood that was around forever and it closed ― family retired ― and somebody knew one of the knotters and just by chance she was at my house shopping and said ‘just in case you need a knotter’ and I was like ‘oh my god’ that was just perfect. I was going into the city to use my knotter at 47nd street. But she couldn’t be lovelier and I keep her very, very busy.
Let’s go back to you getting out of school and getting into jewelry. Do you remember the very first piece that you made after realizing that you could do this?
Well when I did my open (sea) at Henri Bendels, I actually used all gold and rubies and turquoise and then when I started doing my trunk shows. My first trunk show was September 12, 2001 so, needless to say, it really wasn’t my first trunk show that was scheduled but the world was closed. When I went back the next week I sold every charm bracelet I had made. Coincidentally, pre-September 11th, I had made “I Love New York” charm bracelets; and all sold out. They just had little charms that I had bought that I had attached to a little chain. I wire wrapped everything on a chain, put the clasp … fairly easy and just hit right note with people. My first signature piece was my leather cuff with sterling silver wire and semi-precious stones wrapped around it and I was copied all over on that. Somebody opened a whole business on that and just sold the leather. I guess it just has to be flattering.
Then my next signature piece was called the Good Health necklace which was a chain with a pendant which was the translation of good health in Sanskrit. I had three little beads to the side because there’s always a little signature thing that I do and that was on my website. I took those down to do the Hoddess, which is my third signature. My stuff has staying power ― I still get orders for the Good Health necklace and I still get orders for my leather cuffs.
Above: African Bead Earrings With Wood by Jennifer Stock.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by some of your orders?
Oh, I don’t get that many orders! I have a yoga studio waiting for 8 Goddesses and I have a trunk show tomorrow, local, at a jewelry store that does nicely. Next week I go to another studio called Om Sweet Om and then kids get out of school. Summer changes a little but then I get to sit in the natural light on the beach and make jewelry. People walk by ― we have a cabana ― I sit in the cabana in the sun and I make my jewelry in natural light. When people walk by they’re like, ‘oh let me see’ and sometimes I sell things, which is fun.
I mean what’s better than somebody going, ‘I love it’? I like when things have a home. I don’t like when they’re in my bag. I want them to be enjoyed by other people. That’s my favorite thing, when someone enjoys it. I love when somebody texts me and everybody compliments me when I’m wearing it.
This is the first piece of jewelry that we bought!
I’m so flattered, thank you! This is cool.
Above: Russell Simmons, Jennifer Stock and Shannon Gannon, founder of Jivamukti Yoga.