Q&A with Brooklyn Bijou Designer, Britt Bolton
Britt Bolton is Brooklyn’s autodidact jewelry designer cultivating a mesmerizing aesthetic of chunky accessories. Despite inspirations from celestial and religious entities, Britt’s only association with the subjects come from her childhood in Sun Valley, Idaho. Her adolescent bond with nature and precious stones have continuously shaped her as an artist. The ex-stylist lived in Miami, LA, and New York, where she gradually built up a collection of works. With her foot in the industry door, Bolton quickly developed an editorial fanbase, attributing to her success and brand recognition. Currently, she co-owns a workspace/ store, 242 Grand Jewelry, with a fellow bijou designer, Perry Gargano. In the heart of Williamsburg, 242 Grand St is adorned with baroque-style vintage mirrors, scuffed mahogany floors, and crystals, curating a seamless backdrop for their work. In her workspace studio, we sat down with the self-taught designer and discussed her evolution, precious stones, Michèle Lamy, and the Juul generation:
Tell us about yourself.
I'm from Sun Valley, Idaho. Growing up, I was always outside surrounded by nature, and in those mountains, you could find all different kinds of crystals; I think a lot of my inspiration comes from those stones. I was always inspired by vintage jewelry as well; I was always collecting it and taking them apart, and re-working them to be something else, a different accessory. I started doing that more when I was styling in Miami, and I realized I didn't even like styling at all. The only reason I was doing it was to get my jewelry into the photos. Then I moved to New York, and I realized there was this whole diamond district- you can get anything! I don't tell people that I used to model, but I did, and that helped me gain a lot of press and editorial work in my early stages because I was meeting so many people and I had access to the industry. I was always bringing my jewelry on set with me, and stylists were either using it on that job or were calling me to use it on another. Getting into fashion editorials was a huge chain reaction; stylists look at that to find designers, and it just keeps going. From the beginning, I was lucky to get a lot of editorial press; I feel like that's how everything started.
When did you begin your brand?
It was a slow process because at first, I was just making it for me. I never imagined selling it or anything like that. It was such a far-off concept, and eventually, I had a vast collection and a house full of jewelry hanging everywhere. At that point, I had to start selling them, so I did at little markets here and there until I met Perry [Gargano]. He was looking for a partner in what is now our shop [242 Grand Jewelry], and he has all the tools, tools that I had never had access to. In this space, I was able to learn how to actually make my own jewelry from scratch, not just put things together. It was all self-taught- I never went to school for this, but it has been a long time in the works, and I'm still learning every day.
Explain your conceptual process when designing new works.
That’s the hardest thing; I don't sit down and design new pieces. I don't say, “oh, I need to sit down and design today,” because It never works. When an idea comes to mind, it's usually random when I'm in the middle of doing something completely different. Not even in the shop, and sometimes not even jewelry related, but I’ll think of something and write it down in my phone if I can't sketch it out. With those lists, I sit down and create an entirely new piece. Now that I'm running a full-on business it's much more difficult to sit down and make new stuff. I used to make things all day long. I was making, making, making and doing nothing else. That was amazing because I didn't have to worry about business aspects. Now, it's much more difficult to find that time, but when I do, I'm usually inspired the most by materials. I go to the gem show every year in Tucson, which is the biggest annual gem show in the world. I like to design around the stones that I buy, whereas most people create the opposite way; they design and then buy the stones that they need. When I get time, I work on samples, and when they're complete, I go into production with them. I haven't launched a collection in years because I always found them hard and a waste of time, especially when I already know what sells. I'm coming out with six new men's rings and three new necklaces this month, but I wouldn't call it a collection. I found that straggler pieces fill spaces only to make it a full collection; it’s a waste of time for me.
What are your favorite stones to work with?
I love Herkimer diamonds; I buy a ton, and I have a ton, but I don't use them as much as I would like because they're all natural shapes. That makes every single item one-of-a-kind, which gets tricky in production. I also love stones with rich and dark tones: Sapphires, Emeralds, Rubies, Black diamonds, etc.
What specific project or jewelry item has been the most influential to you?
The crucifix dagger was a real game changer for my company. I've always loved religious jewelry and always been inspired by it even though I'm not religious at all. I love the architecture of churches- the stained glass windows and statues. The crucifix daggers would probably offend some people because they're upside down. I didn't even realize that when I was making them, so now I do a miniature version of them, and they're upright. These were a game changer, I didn't have a logo for years, plus I didn't know what to call my company. Finally, I just decided to use my name and put the dagger in my logo.
Celestial themes are common throughout your line, what’s your connection to astronomical subjects?
I don't have the strongest connection to the subjects themselves. I love the astrological art and geometric forms- that inspires me, but I don't know enough about it. I also don't know a lot about signs, but I was raised in Sun Valley where the sky is incredibly clear. You can see hundreds of thousands of stars in the sky every single night. You can see every constellation, and that's why I was inspired to do stars and moons.
While you’ve cultivated a stunning list of celebs and influencers from Caroline Vreeland to Lady Gaga, who do you hope to one day accessorize in Britt Bolton?
I would go with Michèle Lamy. Her true self-form is art; that’s why her husband [Rick Owens] is so inspired by her, she’s his muse. Usually, I try to think of other people doing something at the moment, like Childish Gambino. I was talking about this to a friend; I loved what he did with This Is America. I don't even know if he wears jewelry, but I appreciate his message, and would love to accessorize him. In contrast to that, I would never say Kanye, especially not now.
How do you envision your empire five years from now?
Five years from now, I would love to own a house and a jewelry factory on the beach, preferably somewhere in Mexico. And by a factory, I mean five to ten people, making my jewelry. Anywhere I can escape New York in the winter and still have production going all year round would be ideal. I thought about this a few months ago, and I never even had a life goal before. It's hard to imagine because it's so far away. I hope to be in stores all over the world. Currently, I’m in a handful of amazing stores, and I can manage on my own. If I were in hundreds of stores, I wouldn't even know what to do with myself, but I hope to get to that point.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I have Juul cases coming! At first, I was hesitant to support that. It could cause this horrible disease in 25 years; we don't know. Nobody knows. It’s like the adult pacifier, and you’re immediately addicted. I can't smoke it because I actually had an allergic reaction to it, but I’m excited about this project because I've surprisingly had a lot of people interested in it. It came to be in a meeting with Opening Ceremony; They were looking at my new pieces, like the lighter case, and my sales rep asked about making a Juul case. The buyer at Opening Ceremony had a Juul and loved the idea. I'm also excited about my new rings coming in; I’m doing a lot more with 14-karat and 18-karat gold. I'm doing a lot more with diamonds of all different colors and shapes. Lately, I’ve focused on fine jewelry: sterling silver rings, men's rings, 18-karat gold detailing on coins, and pendants with diamonds. It’s progressively getting better, and I want to completely phase out of brass and focus on silver and gold indefinitely. I'm always open for custom orders, but bigger and chunkier designs often excite me the most.
Photography by: Phoenix Johnson