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Ethical Jewelry
Meet the Maker: Ariana Boussard-Reifel
02-03-17 By Leora Herman
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Ariana Boussard-Reifel. Photo by Samantha Sitt. 

What happens when an artist combines her love of sculpting and vintage jewelry? A vintage-inspired line of hand-forged jewelry that is nothing short of stunning.

Ariana Boussard-Reifel turned her passion into a business last year when she launched her online store, Marteau, which sells her carefully curated collection of global antique and vintage jewelry. More recently, she introduced her own jewelry line, Ariana Boussard-Reifel, which is inspired by the artists, cultures and traditions she's observed throughout history and around the world.

The best part? Not only is her collection produced ethically and locally in New York City, but she lives a sustainable lifestyle, too. There is nothing new in her magnificent wardrobe and impeccably decorated apartment. Boussard-Reifel found everything she owns from vintage and antique shops, second-hand stores or on the street. We spoke to her about her ethical business and lifestyle to find out how she does it all. 

So you are an artist, you sell vintage jewelry and you design jewelry. How does it all fit together?
Interestingly enough, they all seem like different extensions of the same pursuit. In all these ways I’m looking to express and share a kind of beauty and humanity. My art has to do with the body and identity, which is very closely married to adornment. It might sound a little high-minded for a jewelry dealer to be expressing ‘humanity,' but I focus on finding jewelry that means something, not just to the wearer and the maker, but to the society as a whole. Tribal jewelry is unique in that it expresses a cultural mentality. It bears symbolism that can be read and interpreted by everyone of a particular group. It becomes a form of identity and so, from these ideas I am designing jewelry that is a minimalist approach to the tribal jewelry I love. It seems more appropriate for this time and age and more apt for the modern woman’s identity.

Every city in every country has its own cultural history and traditions. How do you choose which places to draw your inspiration from?
I don’t think that my inspiration is so direct or purposeful. I have a gigantic mental database of jewelry and artifacts from years of collecting, traveling and visiting museums. When I sit down in my studio to design some pastiche, all of it comes out in physical form. My design process is very organic.

Books from which Ariana draws inspiration and a few of her designs. Photo by Samantha Sitt. 

What’s one of your favorite pieces of jewelry you’ve made lately?
It’s so hard to pick favorites, but I’m almost always wearing a Despina cuff in sterling silver and I have a new cuff from my second collection that I stack with it. I also wear the Baucis earrings almost every day!

Ariana wearing the Despina cuff in sterling silver, stacked with other braceletes. Photo by Angela Griffe. 

You say you draw much of your inspiration from art history. Are there certain artists who inspire most of your work?
I often reference artists that have a strong alter-ego that they present through their art. Whether it is Frida Kahlo, who painted herself as she wanted to be, or the contemporary artist Andrea Mary Marshall, who is both chameleon and disciplined in her identity. I believe that by adorning ourselves we’re manifesting as we want the world to see us, so looking at artists who do this well helps me understand my goals.

How is your jewelry sustainable?
I’ve run a vintage shop for a long time and sustainability is, in many ways, innate to that business, so when I began designing and fabricating jewelry I had to go through a whole new vetting process for keeping my business sustainable. All of our jewelry is made by hand using ethical and sustainable practices. We work with a small team of local craftsman who are paid living wages to cast from recycled metals. Our packaging is recycled and recyclable. We participate in a carbon neutral program to offset the shipping from our online store and we donate 1% back to environmental causes each year.

Less directly, I think a lot about the longevity of my designs. I make jewelry that is not trendy or seasonally focused. I cast only in solid materials, brass and sterling silver without plating. Plating will wear off. I want my designs to sit comfortably among my 100 year old vintage jewelry, knowing that it will last as long. This feels both sustainable and like a good investment.

Do you find that working in New York City helps you maintain a sustainable lifestyle and business? How so?
The simple fact that New York is so communal certainly helps. I always travel by public transportation and live without a car. City-dwellers are by nature a little lighter in terms of carbon footprint because we share so much.

Were you always interested in a sustainable lifestyle? How did you become interested in your adult life?
I grew up on a ranch in Montana, so the impact on the earth from human action was very visible. My parents are artists and activists, so finding and buying used items seemed like a way to be creative as much as it was a way to be environmentally conscious. Because of that, I’ve never had much of an appetite for consumption by standard terms, so keeping my impact low has always come easily for me.

Ariana in her Upper West Side apartment. Photo by Samantha Sitt. 

Do you incorporate any pieces from your vintage jewelry collection into your current jewelry designs? If not, do you glean inspiration from any pieces in your vintage collection?
The majority of my designs originate with inspiration from antique tribal silver jewelry. I often look at these designs from tribal life or antiquity and I try to reimagine them to fit into the contemporary fashion world. Some pieces become fairly direct translations and others are more obtuse. I also have a large collection of antique beads that I am looking forward to incorporating into a collection, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. My vintage jewelry and my designed jewelry seem to work hand and hand. I have lots of crossover customers and I feel that both kinds of jewelry speak well to the same idea of finding beautiful, well-made, long lasting objects and making them a part of your life.

Pieces from the Ariana Boussard-Reifel Collection. Photo by Angela Griffe. 

Leora Herman is an editorial intern at Ethica. She is studying Psychology at Columbia University and Modern Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. 

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