By Michelle Graff
For her line, Darsana, Kathleen Sleigh comes up with a name for each individual piece and includes an insert card letting the buyer know the inspiration behind it. This piece is called “Hesed,” which is an ancient word that means loving kindness (14-karat yellow gold with diamonds and a slice of antique reproduction mirror, retail $1,575).
New York—A passage in a book and a piece of jewelry made for a milestone birthday served as the inspirations for the winner of this year’s Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award.

Named in honor of Abelson, the former show director who came up with the idea for having an area for emerging designers, the award is presented annually at the JA New York show to a designer who’s exhibiting at her or his first jewelry trade show.

This year’s winner was Kathleen Sleigh, the woman behind Darsana. The Chicago-area resident beat out the nine other designers exhibiting at the summer show edition of the New Designer Gallery, which is curated by show consultant Liz Kantner, to win the award.

Sleigh officially launched her line in 2014 but the concept behind it had its genesis in 2012 when her eldest daughter, Lucy, was turning 18.

At the time, Sleigh was reading “The Naked Now” by Richard Rohr and was struck by his description of a walking meditation using a mirror medallion as a way of both receiving and reflecting God’s love and beauty.

“I just thought that was such a beautiful concept,” she said an interview at her booth Monday at the jewelry trade show.

The passage gave Sleigh an idea for a special gift she could give to Lucy.

As a longtime interior designer, she had many pieces of antique mirror lying around her Chicago-area home. She took one piece to her local jeweler and had him make a circular pendant stamped with an eye on one side and set with the antique mirror on the other; it was symbolic of both seeing and reflecting love.

And that was that for two years, until she had an idea that the pendant she had made for Lucy could be a larger business, which is how Darsana—a spiritual term that means “the essence of being beheld in love while beholding with love”—came to be.

Sleigh found a goldsmith and, via her interior design connections, a custom-maker of antique reproduction mirrors in Chicago (using actual antique mirrors was out of the question for a number of reasons, including supply availability, their thickness and the fact that many contain mercury).

She started having pendants made according to her specifications, later adding rings and pieces set with thicker chunks of faceted mirror, specially cut by a gentleman in North Carolina.

Price points for her 14-karat gold, diamond and mirror-set pieces, which she commissions through a factory in New York City but are made overseas, range from $675 to just under $3,000 retail.

She sells her jewelry both online and via a few retail stores but is looking to add more, which is why she is exhibiting at her first jewelry trade show this summer in New York.

20180717 new designer groupThe exhibitors of the 2018 JA New York Summer show’s New Designer Gallery pose together after the presentation of the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award Monday afternoon. Winner Kathleen Sleigh is in the front row, at center; to her right is Liz Kanter, the consultant who curates the gallery for the show.
Accepting the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award Monday afternoon, Sleigh said it was “completely unexpected” and complimented the nine other designers exhibiting alongside her in the New Designer Gallery.

“I am blown away by the talent,” she said, adding that her fellow exhibitors were “lovely women” who had “beautiful designs.”

The Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award is presented annually at the JA New York Summer show. The award is now in its 41st year.

Past winners include Lori Ann Friedman and Alexis Kletjian, who recently opened her own store in Pennsylvania.

The JA New York Summer show wraps up Tuesday at the Javits Center in New York.

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