October 27, 2011
Meet globe-trotting, eco-luxe jewelry designer Monique Péan at Jeffrey boutique this Thurs. Oct. 27-Sat. Oct. 29
By Nancy Staab
Monique Péan has won a CFDA Award, been featured in glossies like Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair, and rocks conflict-free diamonds, recycled 18K gold and 100,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusk like no other with her unique line of fine, eco-conscious jewelry. Find out how this former Wall Streeter made the leap from finance to fine jewelry, and from number-crunching to the sourcing of sustainable pearls in the French Polynesia and intriguing fossils in the Arctic Circle. Oh, and Monique’s jewelry helps support indigenous art and culture, while her foundations and charities make the globe a better place!
Your jewelry plays with the raw and refined. How do you balance these two ideals: raw ivory tusks or raw stones or pearls versus the artistry of the final product and do you think part of the allure of your jewelry is the interplay of these two qualities?
I am very passionate about sustainability and sourcing unique eco-friendly and environmentally conscious materials from around the world. I have always had a love affair with what nature creates and am regularly on the hunt for unique stones and fossils. I often work with naturally formed surface pieces composed of crystal quartz, tourmaline, ferberite, tanzanite or cavansite. My signature materials are fossilized woolly mammoth ivory and fossilized walrus ivory that are between 10,000 and 150,000 years old.
Once I find a unique stone, I work to design a setting that is sculptural and graphic, yet feels personal, utilizing recycled 18-carat gold or recycled platinum. I love the tension that is created by materials in their natural form juxtaposed with a refined modern setting.
Your father was in the U.N. so you were exposed to exotic countries as a child and travel has long been a source of inspiration for your line. Can you talk about the importance of travel to your designs? Has there been a recent destination that might inspire a future collection and how so?
I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to visit over 40 countries. Because my father worked with the UN and The United States African Development Foundation while I was growing up, my family would travel all over the world with him. While he was busy working on infrastructure projects, my mother who is an artist, would take my sister and me to visit the markets to see the local crafts.
My travels spurred my interest in indigenous art and culture, which is the foundation of all my collections. I have found so much inspiration for my collection through my travels to numerous locations, including French Polynesia, Haiti, Bali, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Alaska, Egypt, China and Brazil.
I recently visited French Polynesia and fell in love with the natural beauty and artisanal crafts of the region. I went there to source eco-friendly materials and visit a sustainable pearl farm in Ahe. The pearl farm is on a beautiful coral atoll that you can only access by boat and I spent several days there learning how to harvest sustainable pearls and snorkeling. The farm produces the most beautiful, sustainably harvested pearls from a particular species of oyster that are known for their unique black lip.
French Polynesia is the only place in the world that this type of oyster can be found. I just love the wonderful range of colors that these oysters produce…black, green, purple, grey and even peacock green.
Tell me about your most recent Fall 2011 Miru (“Evening Star”) Collection:
I was equally astounded by the power and beauty of the ocean in the French Polynesia, the varied and unique marine life of the region and the naturally formed atolls. I explored a lot of oyster and wave shapes, in my current collection, that were inspired by my trip. I also really wanted to reference the experience of nightfall there. Because there is so little pollution and so few lights, the moonlight dances on the waves in the most magical way and creates endless intricate patterns. I was entranced by how quickly and dramatically these patterns would change and all the various hues revealed in the ocean during the time between sunset and dusk. During that time, there was both a sense of absolute tranquility and tension created by the mystery of what remains unseen.
How did you come upon the idea to use 100,000 year old wooly mammoth tusks for bangles and such? There must be a special charge when wearing such ancient, primitive, natural materials!
I discovered fossilized woolly mammoth ivory and fossilized walrus ivory when I traveled to the Arctic Circle with a friend. We charted a plane to Shishmaref, just south of the Circle and then traveled by sled to a local village. We really wanted to spend time with Alaska Natives and learn about environmental problems that they are facing because of the melting glaciers and erosion.
I witnessed firsthand how their villages are slowly disappearing into the water. As the glaciers melt and the water rises, many fossils are making their way to the surface or washing up on beaches. Researchers estimate that there is approximately 150,000 tons of mammoth ivory still encased in the ice. Large fossilized pieces are deemed “museum quality” but many fragments also come to the surface and the locals have long used these to create tools or jewelry.
Inspired by the native crafts there, I now work with the local community to source these small pieces of fossilized ivory and have them cut into bangle, earring or pendant shapes. I have worked with the artisans there to scrimshaw our pieces with either native patterns or my own designs inspired by my travels. I then work with the finished pieces and set them in 100% recycled gold and conflict and devastation free diamonds. I think of my jewelry as wearable art. And these pieces are more than just chic…they represent history, nature and native cultures as well. Through my collection, I have been able to continue to employ local indigenous artists and raise awareness of their culture.
Working with fossils has certainly made me consider how short my time on the planet is in contrast to the history of the universe! I think that one of the coolest things about using these materials is the reaction I often get from people when they learn about their history and the fact that the pieces we work with are anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 years old.
How did you go from a degree in philosophy, political science and economics from University of Pennsylvania and working on Wall Street to jewelry design?
Jewelry design was a hobby for me from the time I was a little girl, but I began designing professionally about five years ago. When I was working for Goldman Sachs in finance, I would often be stopped by buyers who were interested in what I was wearing…which were pieces I had made. It was around that same time that my little sister Vanessa unexpectedly passed away at the age of sixteen. That was truly the catalyst for me to leave my career in finance behind and pursue my love of jewelry design. I have always been passionate about all mediums of art and my fine jewelry business allows me to combine my love for art, business and philanthropy.
Can you tell me about the importance of your various foundations and charities—the Vanessa Pean Foundation, the clean water movement, etc.?
Before her passing, my sister was planning to create a foundation in Haiti, where our father is from, that would provide educational opportunities for young people. In 2005, I founded the Vanessa Péan Foundation (www.vanessapeanfoundation.org) in her memory. We work to provide scholarships and medical aid to students and disadvantaged communities in Haiti.
There is a unique opportunity that exists right now to enable consumers to effect social and environmental change through their purchases. My collection is socially responsible and eco-friendly; it strives to embody luxury and beauty. MONIQUE PÉAN FINE JEWELRY promotes fair and ethical trade and raises awareness of indigenous people and environmental concerns.
Through my collaboration with charity: water (www.charitywater.org), we have been able to provide clean drinking water to over 5,000 people for 20 years through jewelry sales. We are involved in many other initiatives and strive to partner with different charities that can positively impact our world!
I believe that MONIQUE PÉAN has given sophisticated fine jewelry buyers the first sustainable and eco-friendly fine jewelry option in the market.
Who are some of your favorite style icons past or present?
Jackie Onassis would be at the top of my list. She always looked so effortlessly chic and knew just how to accessorize an outfit. Natalie Portman has incredible style and grace and I also greatly admire First Lady Michelle Obama. She is an iconic American woman who has set a tone in American fashion over the last few years. She is an inspiring and I admire her strength and character.
Do you have a favorite go-to piece of jewelry? Or what do you prize most in your own jewelry box?
I could not chose just one! I have at least 50 favorites, ranging from vintage and antique pieces to some that I created for my wedding last year. The most sentimental is an Art Deco platinum bracelet that was a gift from my grandmother. She took the diamond from her engagement ring and set it in the bracelet. I wore it on my wedding day as my something old.
One of my other prized pieces is a vintage gold and diamond Hermés watch from the 1920s. It is truly stunning. And, of course, I feel the most connected to my engagement ring. My husband Steve was clever enough not to propose with a ring when he asked me to marry him. Instead we embarked on a journey to find a ring together. But after an exhaustive search, we found a beautiful antique oval rose cut diamond instead and I set about designing a modern yet elegant setting for the stone using recycled platinum stretched as thin as possible.
From my own collection, I have several pieces I love and never take off. I found an amazing piece of grey fossilized walrus ivory on my very first trip to Arctic Circle and I created a ring out of it. The grey tones are extremely rare to find and have been created by the minerals from the earth where the ivory rested. The minerals would have taken about 25,000 years to transform the ivory. I also always come back to the first piece that I designed for my collection. I call it the iceberg ring. The design was inspired by the ice caps that I saw in the Arctic Circle, which are melting due to climate change.
Meet CFDA Award-winning designer Monique Péan in person and view her eco-luxe pieces at Jeffrey boutique, Phipps Plaza, Thursday Oct. 27 3-5PM, Friday Oct. 28 11AM-4PM and Saturday Oct. 29 11AM-4PM, www.jeffreynewyork.com and Moniquepean.com.