By Ashley Davis
Rings by Selim Mouzannar
While earlier decades of jewelry design belonged to iconic houses like Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, history will remember the 2000s for the ascendance of the independent jewelry brand.

The aforementioned jewelry giants remain household names but in the tenuous relationship between art and commerce, business always wins, often at the cost of creativity.

A true design lover is better off turning her or his attention to the vast array of artists creating for their own brands.

And the amount is vast, with designers often complaining of market saturation (as well as the ubiquity of copycats).  

With independent labels becoming the new norm, a wave of artistry thrives, with the standout brands that much more impressive for carving out a spot in a crowded marketplace.

And, it’s important to mention, the majority of today’s independent fine jewelry companies are headed by women, a significant anomaly to other industries and a major shift for fine jewelry.

National Jeweler often begins a new year with a list of relevant trends or designers to watch over the coming months, but the dawn of a new decade calls for a more elaborate approach.

With input from industry insiders, I’ve selected 20 designers I’ll be looking to over the next decade—brands I believe to have longevity, that have demonstrated they are directional, original and firm in their creative identities.

They are also designers who influence their pool of contemporaries, often, unfortunately, spawning imitators, but nevertheless forging ahead with their own ideas.  

Of course, it wasn’t easy to narrow the list to 20, but these brands fit the particular criteria of having already established their creative prowess, yet likely haven’t reached their full potential, meaning we anticipate so much more from them in the 2020s.

Below, see the first of our five-part series, which shines a light on the fine jewelry designers with an eye for color. 

The Color Kids: Brent Neale, Polly Wales, Retrouvaí, Selim Mouzannar

Brent Neale
Designer: Brent Neale Winston
Founded: 2017
Based In: New York
Key Retailers: Twist, Hirshleifers, Forty Five Ten

How could such a new brand display such an assured sense of self?

For Brent Neale’s Brent Neale Winston it meant taking the long road, studying at FIT and working for eight years under Kara Ross.

Today, many fine jewelry brands count whimsical or tongue-in-cheek motifs as their design signature, but Winston is the one who makes them elegant.

Rainbows and marijuana leaves, or sea shells, hearts and mushrooms, become evening-appropriate when interpreted through the lens of Winston’s excellent taste.

Her joie de vivre is aided by lots of color—chalcedony, carnelian and malachite, as well as every shade of sapphire. Her modern take on a “gypsy ring,” in which she combines different gemstones in chunky gold rings, are ultra-covetable.   

“In just a few years, Brent has created her own, distinct visual language,” noted jewelry editor, stylist and consultant Kareem Rashed.

“It’s bold and playful but also super-wearable — who else could have made gem-studded mushrooms a thing? She really gets how to make fine jewelry that speaks to the next generation of collectors.”

Polly Wales
Founded: 2010
Based In: Los Angeles
Key Retailers: Tomfoolery, Greenwich St Jewelers, ABC Carpet & Home, Twist 

Wunderkind Polly Wales is synonymous with her cast-not-set technique, which is exactly what it sounds like: a process the British designer has refined in which diamonds and gemstones are cast directly in gold.

The resulting effect is primordial, captivating and unusual, about as strong of a design signature as one could create; there’s simply no mistaking another designer’s work for Polly Wales.  

Despite her technique’s specificity, she continuously breathes fresh life into her eponymous line with highly technical creations, the most impressive of which are usually unveiled at the annual Couture jewelry trade show in Las Vegas.

In these she expresses her incredible color mastery, mixing complementary shades or the entire rainbow in museum-worthy pieces.

"Polly has such a special and unique point of view," said Jennifer Gach, who first encountered the brand during her long tenure as an accessories editor at ELLE Magazine, before working with the designer in her current role as IHPR jewelry director.

"She has a signature style that is all her own, and her evolution over the last few years has been so exciting to watch. I love that each piece is one-of-a-kind and made with so much love."

Designer: Kirsty Stone
Founded: 2015
Based In: Los Angeles
Key Retailers: Ylang23, ETC (Aspen and Birmingham), Browns

Retrouvaí’s Kirsty Stone is arguably the leader of the current inlay trend, employing materials like rhodochrosite, lapis lazuli and turquoise to create large, vibrant color palettes.

These opaque materials are at their most alluring when coupled with faceted gemstones, as in Stone’s “Lollipop” rings and pendants, each of which is one-of-a-kind.

The Canadian designer has found her footing in a relatively short period of time, with her highly personal collection of heirloom-esque jewels that reinterpret signet rings and vintage styles in a modern way while retaining an old-fashioned sweetness and femininity.

Dallas, and Forth Worth, Texas boutique Ylang 23’s Alysa Teichman said of the brand: “I continue to be taken by Kirsty Stone’s evolution since we first saw her work at our emerging designer’s competition TheNextNow in 2016.

“Her icons and use of color get better and better, and we can’t wait to see the direction Retrouvaí heads.”

Selim Mouzannar
Founded: 1993
Based In: Beirut, Lebanon
Key Retailers: Bergdorf Goodman, Elyse Walker, Marissa Collections, Broken English

Lebanese designer Selim Mouzannar descends from a long jewelry legacy, but puts a contemporary spin on his eponymous collection’s old-world sophistication.

The designer transforms everyday fine jewelry basics—a stud earring, a solitaire stacking ring—into conversation pieces through his intricate detailing and excellent craftsmanship, featuring clusters of diamonds and colored gemstones.

His penchant for color is exemplified by recent creations coupling colored gems with enamel.

“His use of color is some of the most impressive I’ve seen to date,” said Teichman. “The enamel shades he selects for his collection in combination with different gemstones makes for an innovative, fresh approach.”

Mouzannar’s expertise is even better showcased in larger, one-of-a-kind jewels, in which he continues to play with the many possibilities of combining color, from the reserved to the daring.

“He leverages his family’s decades of jewelry-making experience in Lebanon to introduce a new approach to color each season with second-to-none quality.”

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.