Taking inspiration from unique, gold vintage finds, Loren Stewart debuted in the jewellery scene back in 2009. Beginning as an up-cycled jewellery collection, today each modern heirloom piece is handcrafted exclusively in LA by local artisans, incorporating 10 Kt & 14Kt gold, sterling silver, precious and semi-precious gems. Built as a "love letter to the idiosyncrasies and diversity that define Los Angeles", it's clear that Loren Stewart's affinity with the City of Angels runs deep. We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Rachel Loren, one of the original founders of the label and discussed the processes she uses in her craft, what sustainable practices they're implementing with the label and all things Loren Stewart.
Let’s start with the origins of Loren Stewart. How did the three of you decide to work together?
Before I turned 30, this was sort of my coming of age -- I knew I loved real gold, but my appetite for fine jewelry exceeded my ability to buy it. I wasn’t finding things that I liked and could afford, so I melted down some of my old jewelry and made my first signet ring. I loved the process of having a conceptual idea and making it into something tangible. I partnered with Satya and Annah Stewart who are sisters, and we are all old friends. At that time the category of “demi-fine” or accessible fine jewelry was pretty much non-existent, so we felt like we were on to something.
What are your differing roles within the business?
When we launched Loren Stewart in 2009, the three of us collaborated to get the line off the ground, designing over long dinners, all while simultaneously running business side of things. Now I’m managing partner and designer, my partners are not involved in the day to day, but we are all collectively grateful that our mutual passion project continues to evolve and has become a sustainable business.
How would you best describe Loren Stewart’s aesthetic?
What’s the most difficult thing about being in the jewellery industry?
The jewelry industry has become a very saturated market, there are so many options out there now, which in some ways is great for customers, but it can also be overwhelming. It is difficult from a marketing perspective, how to differentiate yourself from the endless sea of options. Also, the rise of gold prices makes it increasingly challenging to design fine jewelry that is accessible.
For Loren Stewart, the bedrock of our efforts to be sustainable is in keeping the majority of our production local, as well as to minimize waste produced by our company. Sustainability for us is about committing to educate ourselves and our supply chain, working closely with manufacturers who we have long standing relationships with, in Los Angeles and in Italy.
How is the brands’ success measured?
I measure our success as a company on many levels; being able to keep my team together in this economic climate, our sustainability efforts, working to be more inclusive and accountable in the civil justice movement. Even though we are just a small jewelry company, these issues are critical to me as a business owner. Also part of how I measure our success is that we continue to evolve our jewelry, and that it continues to resonate. I am grateful to be working in the medium of fine jewelry -- 14kt gold just makes you feel good, it effects your mood, it boosts your emotional well being and is a de-stressor. Wearing jewelry is good for you, and it’s a good investment, so it makes me happy that we can make a product that brings value and joy to people who wear it.
Can you explain the techniques that the brand uses when making jewellery?
We design, fabricate and manufacture our products in tight collaboration with the artisans involved in every step -- wax molds, casting, stone setting, stone cutting, chain making. We are vintage machine enthusiasts; the chain machines, inertia punch presses, and rolling machines are part of our process, and we are proud to honor these age old jewelry making traditions and support the artisans who make our designs possible.
How about the design -- what is the process like?
Designs start with visualization and ideas, then basic sketchs, and we work with a CAD designer to create a digital rendering, then a model is printed in wax, then cast in metal. I often look at the materials themselves, the chains and gemstone -- since these are really the heart of our product, and these within themselves are inspiring. I may use one element as the starting point and then design around it. Like a particular chain, or a specific gemstone. I ask myself and my team, “what jewelry piece are we craving?”. We also look at analytics, what styles are currently resonating for customers and why? Then we design from that starting place. We also work from Moodboards, each season we dive into a story and create a world through jewelry as our means of expression.
How do you go about sourcing the stones you use?
We work with vetted suppliers, and only very few. We ask for documentation so that we can be assured, to the best of our knowledge, we are using materials that comply with trade industry standards and our code of practices, that the stones come from lapidaries where there are good working conditions and employees are fairly compensated.
I think of our jewelry as a love letter to the idiosyncrasies and diversity that define Los Angeles. People flock to LA to chase their dreams, to become someone else, to work in the industry, to find a better life.
What are the measures the brand takes to reduce its carbon footprint and implement sustainable practices?
For Loren Stewart, the bedrock of our efforts to be sustainable is in keeping the majority of our production local, as well as to minimize waste produced by our company. Sustainability for us is about committing to educate ourselves and our supply chain, working closely with manufacturers who we have long standing relationships with, in Los Angeles and in Italy. We require that they are also aware and follow ethical and sustainability standards set by trade organizations that we are members of like the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC). It’s about documentation and communication within our supply chain, so that we have transparency about our product. Loren Stewart was founded on principles of recycling, that’s how I started making jewelry in the first place, and we continue to use recycled fine materials in all our products as much as possible.
What was the very first run of Loren Stewart jewellery?
The first run of Loren Stewart jewelry were the rod earrings. The small rod earrings in 14kt yellow gold are the perfect everyday studs, and we started getting orders from local boutiques, and then Barneys, which was a lot of units for us at the time A simple but elegant rod shape hand crafted from 14kt yellow gold, and then we added 1 burnished diamond, 2 diamonds, or full diamonds across. Our 14kt gold safety pins were also a big marker for us as a brand. I have always craved smaller scale and stud earrings, at that time i couldn’t find 14kt gold small studs anywhere, so the rod earrings and safety pins really put the brand on the map.
Image: Loren Stewart
Where does inspiration come from for the designs? How does being in LA influence this?
I think of our jewelry as a love letter to the idiosyncrasies and diversity that define Los Angeles. People flock to LA to chase their dreams, to become someone else, to work in the industry, to find a better life. But none of that is easy, it takes guts. LA has dichotomous sides, as a city it is complex and multi layered, it’s landscape vast -- shifting from sandy beaches, to concrete grids, to tranquil hikes. I’m attracted to dichotomies -- masculine & feminine, high polished & matte, vibrant & muted. These dichotomies are in LA, inside of ourselves, and they are represented in the jewelry. Our jewelry was born out of a drive and curiosity to explore and learn. I was determined to figure out how to make jewelry from just a concept in my imagination, into tactile objects to be experienced. I dove into the labyrinthine jewelry district in DTLA, it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods of Los Angeles so it’s inspiring to work in these ornate buildings among some of the most talented jewelers on earth. Jewelry needs novelty and reinvention, and this can’t happen without inspiration. Sometimes when inspiration is hard to find, I look at the small mundane things, like knick knacks in my tool shed, admiring graffiti around the city, art books, draping and experimenting with materials, seeing how stones or chains work with the contours of my own body.
What is one thing that you’re excited about for the brand this year?
I’m really excited about our upcoming collaborations -- we are about to launch one with Bianca Valle, purposeful pendants with inspiring messages, and we have some other collaborations percolating. I love collaborating through jewelry design with artists that have something meaningful to say.