Q & A: Suzanne Ellis Wernevi – Founder of Luna and Stella
It was my first August trip to NYC for the SS17 Playtime children's wholesale trade show event. In the midst of excitement of combing through all the incredible brands and collections, lets be honest here, I had a moment of feeling a bit overwhelmed. I happened to literally stumble into Suzanne's booth to catch my breath. We were sharing a good laugh, when two, gorgeous glass display boxes caught my eye. In the boxes were lockets and chains, aged of beauty and wear, of intricacy and shine and a uniqueness of character that I hadn't seen in a long time. It's when I saw a horseshoe locket dating from the 1880's to 1930's, that I knew I wouldn't be leaving without it. My daughter, Vivienne (3.5) had began riding riding lessons recently, I knew that this found treasure had to passed on to her when the time was right.
Designer, Suzanne, shared with me her passion for collecting estate jewelry and lockets, the inspiration behind the Luna and Stella collection of new pieces, inspired by her love of jewelry, design and relationships (the personal jewelry-connection kind) and few tidbits about raising two small children with her husband in Rhode Island. I knew that I had made a fast friend that day. I'm sharing her story here today. Enjoy.
You have an incredibly unique line of modern birthstone jewelry for children, parents, siblings and special friends. What inspired you to create this collection?
I worked as a merchant in the fashion industry for 15 years, which was a wonderful experience, but the fashion cycle is exhausting – you are doing 6 – 8 collections a year, and at the end of the day most of the products you create are only relevant for a season. I loved the idea of creating something beautiful that is timeless, that can be worn now, but also passed down to future generations. I’ve always loved the symbolism found in antique Victorian jewelry. I liked the idea of creating jewelry symbolic of loved ones. Birthstones convey symbolism to the wearer, but are more subtle than initials and monogramming more commonly found in the market. Over time, we have expanded our collection to include other types of symbols, as well as antique and vintage pieces that can be layered with the new pieces.
We love the name Luna & Stella. What’s the meaning behind the name?
I wanted a name that was not my own, and one that evoked something about the relationships our jewelry represents. I lived for 3 years in Lugano, Switzerland, working for Bally, the luxury leather goods company, and learned Italian. I have had a habit of doodling moons and stars in my school notebooks since childhood, and the name just came to me in a moment of mindless doodling. The name has shaped our collections quite a bit, as there is endless inspiration to be found in the moon and star icons, as Victorian jewelers knew very well.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of connection, beyond the close personal relationships between parents and children, siblings and friends our jewelry represents - the idea that no matter where we are in the world, no matter what our background or experience, we are all looking up at the same sky. In a pretty turbulent world out there, I find hope for the future in the idea of finding common ground in shared experience.
Beautifully said. We are excited to begin carrying the birthstone collection in our online shop! Any favorite pieces?
My favorite of our bestselling stacking birthstone ring collection is the North Star Ring. I wear the 14K yellow gold version with my husband’s January garnet birthstone. He is kind of the steady True North in our family, so it feels appropriate.
On my charm necklace my husband is the birthstone moon, my son is the April (diamond/white topaz) star, and my daughter is the December (blue topaz) heart. Over the last couple of years we have been expanding our collection of solid charms to complement the birthstone charms. Of these, the Violet (my daughter’s name) and the Blixt Lightning bolt charm (my son’s middle name is Blixt, which means lightening in his father’s Swedish language), are the most meaningful to me. I wear them layered on 16” and 18” inch chains and never take them off.
Along, with your signature birthstone jewelry collection, you sell estate jewelry and antique lockets. The pieces are unique and stunning. I'm happy to share the horseshoe locket with my daughter, Vivienne, when she is a bit older. When did you begin collecting antique jewelry?
Thank you! It is a joy for me to collect these pieces and then connect them to the perfect owner. I have always loved antique jewelry. My mother had a few pieces from her grandmother that she kept hidden in a Chock Full’ O Nuts can that was hidden in her bathroom closet. As a child I would love to spill these pieces out on her bed and try them on, and then wrap them back up in their cotton balls and put them back in their secret spot. When my father’s mother passed away, I inherited a deco period ring that was made for her by her brother, a jeweler and engraver in Philadelphia in the 1930s. On my wedding day, my mother-in-law gave me a sapphire and diamond ring from a similar period that had been her mother’s. These two rings, my wedding bands, and the 3 stacking birthstone rings for my family are the rings I never take off.
I started collecting Victorian and to contemporary Estate rings to complement Luna & Stella’s stacking ring collection. I just love how the mix of modern and antique rings look together.
I have always loved lockets, and tried for years to develop them for Luna & Stella. With modern tooling and techniques, I could never match the beauty and intricacy of the antique lockets I collect. In particular, the hinges on the lockets from the late 1880s to 1930s were all handmade and almost invisible, totally contained within the same piece. With modern mass production of jewelry, the handmade hinges were replaced with the external hinges you see on most lockets today. In the end I gave up on the idea of developing my own, and instead started collecting the antiques more seriously. It has been thrilling to see the response – our customers love these small treasures just as much as I do.
Some of the lockets date back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. You keep the original photo in ech locket. Can you share the meaning behind it? .
I love finding lockets with the original photos inside It is a glimpse into another time and place. I wonder about the people in the photos – were they her parents? Her husband? Her children? Her sister or someone else important to her? Whoever they were, they meant something to the wearer and I think it is so special that those memories have been preserved in some way, over a 100 years later. Of course, the new owner will most likely put her own photos in, but that is wonderful too … the locket gets new life and new meaning to each caretaker.
We are avid flea market and estate sale seekers. Where do you find these special, treasured lockets and rings?
Wherever I can find them! I always seek out antique shops when I travel, and go to Estate sales when I can. I’ve started building relationships with certain antique dealers that I trust. I’ve made great finds online, and at flea markets and antique shows.
It seems there are so many more creative, passionate moms back in the work force (hurray!). I believe in the importance of keeping self-identity as a working mother, while still finding the balance to be present with the family. You have two young children of your own, how do you balance it all?
Oh man, that is the million dollar question! I have two, ages 4 and 21 months, and it is a daily challenge to meet their needs and the demands of my business. For me the most important thing is to be in control of my time; being an entrepreneur allows me to choose how I spend my time. I started my business 3 years before I had kids, partly because I knew that the corporate fashion world doesn’t generally support the type of flexibility I knew I wanted to have when I had a family. I just try to remind myself that for most of us, life will be long, and there are many years to accomplish our career objectives, but just a few precious years when our children are young.
As I complete writing this, sitting in a quiet coffee shop, that my wedding song comes on the radio above me. I'm wearing my antique sapphire and rose gold wedding band, just given to me by my husband this past weekend to mark the 12 year anniversary of our meeting Sept 2014. You meet certain people in your life for reasons unknown; meeting Suzanne has marked a new beginning of many things yet to unfold.
We will begin carrying Luna and Stella Jewelry on CLOTH in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. In the meantime, visit www.lunaandstella.com. @lunaandstella
About: Suzanne Ellis Wernevi built her career in merchandising and product development at J.Crew in New York and Bally in Lugano, Switzerland. After completing an MBA at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, she moved to San Francisco, CA to work for the online retailer RedEnvelope, where she became Vice President of Merchandising and Design. In 2008 she founded Luna & Stella and a consulting practice in New York, helping clients like Victoria’s Secret build a global accessories business. In 2012 she and her husband relocated Luna & Stella to Providence, Rhode Island, establishing the business for growth in the jewelry manufacturing capital of the US. She is the mama of two children, ages 4 and almost 2.