“I find gems to be really boring” is not something one expects a jewelry-designer to say, but Erica Weiner says it and means it. “It’s more interesting to talk about De Beers’ advertising campaign than to talk about how big and perfect a diamond is. I do not give a shit about how big and perfect a diamond is.”
Weiner’s an art history major turned cult-status jewelry crafter with a focus on antique-derived pieces—and she’s more interested in exploring the history of people through decorative objects than she is in carat crunching. “Sometimes I wish that I could only sell the really weird stuff,” she says. “I’d definitely be more into that. And make jewelry that was mega weird and niche—whatever perverted, obscure thing I was into. But no fucking way, right? It’s a business.”
It sure is, and an impressive one at that. Weiner is speaking from a couch in the midst of her treasure chest of a workspace, which is currently a hive of activity in preparation for her this weekend. The ten-woman strong team is currently tasked with rummaging through storage, searching for items they’re ready to part with. Weiner turns contemplative as she surveys the activity. “It’s almost like the small business I started a few years ago has turned into a few businesses,” she muses.
Certainly Erica Weiner—both the brand and the woman—have gone through several transformations to get to this stage. Weiner doesn’t have a background in jewelry or design. She started out doing theatrical costuming. “You’ve gotta run around, find stuff that you can make a period costume out of,” she says. “A combination of antique stuff, new stuff—patch it together, make it look a certain way.”
She moved from theater to fashion, but found that neither world fit quite right. “I had never been very good at working for a boss,” she admits, ruefully. “Showing up on time was not something I was good at. Nor was taking direction. I got fired from a lot of jobs.” So, in 2005, just as enthusiasm for handmade local crafts was burgeoning and Williamsburg was becoming the Williamsburg we know today, Weiner began making jewelry.
She started off with the delicate brass charms she’s still so well known for, cobbling vintage found objects into hand-crafted pieces and selling them at markets. “Somehow, I’d make enough money one weekend to buy supplies to make stuff for the next weekend,” she recalls. Within the year, she’d already got her first wholesale orders and teamed up with business partner Lindsay Salmon (unlike Weiner, a gem enthusiast). Four years ago, she established her first store in Nolita; a year and a half ago she opened another location in Boerum Hill. Last October, her studio relocated from Chrystie Street to her current nook on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border.
Weiner’s jewelry has always incorporated antique elements into original designs, and she’s still producing these idiosyncratic lower-end pieces for sale: in her stores, online, and wholesale (through outlets like Urban Outfitters). But her focus has definitely shifted, due in part to what she calls her “really short attention span.”
In 2011, Weiner got hitched—in a beautiful ceremony that happened to be featured in Martha Stewart Weddings. In preparation, she started visiting “the few cool antique jewelrs in town” (her list includes Doyle & Doyle, and Erie Basin). “And I was like, oh my god, this is so awesome I never want to touch brass jewelry again,” she remembers, laughing. They started selling a few diamond rings, with tiny stones, in store—and worked their way up from there. Now, the wedding and fine jewelry collection (including both antiques and original designs sold under the label “1909”) accounts for 50% of their business.
Which is just as well, because hunting for vintage trinkets is Weiner’s favorite task—especially when she gets her hands on peculiarly alluring pieces. One niche type of jewelry she’s always keeping an eye out for is particularly hard to find: pendants fashioned out of slices of the first (now defunct) transatlantic cable. “It has like a million beautiful spiraled colored wires that look like dots,” she says, wistfully. “I really want to find one.”
Weiner may not have a transatlantic cable necklace handy, but plenty of other gorgeous, whimsical pieces will be up for grabs at the upcoming sample sale. Swing by her studio at 50 Dobbin St this weekend (Friday, July 18, 4-8pm; Saturday, July 19, 12-7pm; Sunday, July 20, 12-4pm) for kegs of beer, and antique overload.
Click though the slideshow below to see Erica’s studio space and jewellery (many of the pieces pictured can be found at the sale).