By Brecken Branstrator
Melissa Spencer, the 2016 Carelle-WJA Grant winner, is putting herself on the map with a line of modern-yet-personal jewelry using proprietary Spencer Portrait gemstones, as seen in her self-portrait pendant at right.
New York-- Melissa Spencer is putting her own modern spin on the personalized jewelry craze.

The designer behind Spencer Fine Jewelry has reinvented traditional portrait miniatures by creating the Spencer Portrait gemstone, made through a proprietary process of projecting an image into natural gemstones and setting them on customizable frames of 18-karat gold or sterling silver.

Though she has collection of the jewelry with images already included, customers also can create a custom Spencer Portrait gem.

One of Spencer’s latest projects also includes a collaboration with diamond painter Angie Crabtree called the Diamond Portrait collection, with Crabtree’s intricate portraits transformed into a Spencer Portrait gemstone. The collection launched at the JA New York Summer show.

Below, the 2016 Carelle-WJA Grant winner talks about how her unique aesthetic and how Spencer Fine Jewelry came to be.

National Jeweler: What brought you to jewelry design, and what was the inspiration for your collection?

Melissa Spencer: I have been interested in design and form since I was a child. I could identify the make and model of automobiles at night by the shape and spacing of their head and taillights from the back seat of my parents’ car when we went out to dinner. Later in life, I studied photography, fashion design, architecture and many other fine arts. The summer before my senior year in college, I took a beading class with my mom and started selling my earrings and necklaces to our friends in Dallas. From that moment, I was hooked when I saw the potential of making a career out of my passion and getting to play with the most gorgeous gemstones on a daily basis.

My process is a modern interpretation of historical portraiture. I was inspired by the personalities of the hand-painted porcelain, three-dimensionality of reverse intaglio and romance of the cameo. Last year, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which houses the world’s most extensive collection of portrait jewels. I went back two days in a row to revel in each detail of those extraordinary estate designs.

NJ: Where is your jewelry made?

MS: In downtown Los Angeles.

 What should retailers focus on, or what story should they tell, when showing your line to customers? 

MS: The customizable aspect of the Spencer Portrait designs makes the jewelry deeply personal. I have been moved to tears with some of the stories clients have shared with me about a beloved grandmother, cherished children and adored pets. Whether a customer is drawn to the beauty and protection of angels, or whether they identify with a classic monogram, the Spencer Portrait jewelry will connect with the thing they are most passionate about.
NJ: How much inventory must a retailer invest in to carry your brand?

MS: A retailer may start with five, 10 or 15 Spencer Portrait designs, leading up to an entire showcase. At least one piece of jewelry must be customized for their store so that it becomes a personal item of the store owner or a top sales person. This way, the story becomes their own, and it will inspire their customers to follow suit.

NJ: What retailers currently are carrying your line?

MS: Arnold’s Jewelry in Pasadena, Calif. Due to the original concept of my jewelry, I chose to wait and build an inventory of several collections before showcasing it, so that I can be known for my innovation and to provide retailers with ample selection. Since exhibiting this year, there is excitement in the momentum of no longer being a best-kept secret!

NJ: At which trade shows do you exhibit at or are you planning to exhibit?

MS: This past year was my first time exhibiting. I was a Rising Star at JCK Tucson, an Emerging Designer at JCK Las Vegas and graduated to the row adjacent to the New Designer Gallery at JA New York. I also had a table at the Wear One showcase through Jewelers of America. I definitely plan to exhibit next year.

NJ: What are your plans for upcoming collections?

MS: I first would love to create an annual alphabet of expressive initials, and I have a few other exciting ideas up my sleeve.

NJ: Complete this sentence: “People would be surprised to learn that I …”

MS: … can trick rope while standing on a horse!

Retailers interested in contacting Spencer can do so by emailing her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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