A lifelong collector of vintage and antique jewelry, Ariana Boussard-Reifel's journey to designing her first eponymous line started with Marteau, her collection and online gallery of rare and exotic global jewelry. This year, Boussard-Reifel launched her own minimal and refined pieces inspired by the tribal and indigenous cultures that she's so long studied through the art of their jewelry.
An artist, a jewelry designer, a collector, an antique and vintage jewelry expert, and a frequent traveler – how do you balance it all?
It is generous to think that I’m really balancing it all. I always wish that I had more time to get another stamp in my passport, tinker with a new idea or to call my mom. But at the end of the day I am lucky that everything I do, I love to do. So it is really a matter of seeing where I need to put the energy to keep the whole thing aloft. My mornings are really important to me. I usually sit for an hour or so with a cup of coffee before the world wakes up and organize my thoughts about the day ahead.
You have many different pursuits, how does it all fit together?
When I was starting my career, it seemed like I stumbled from one venture to the next without much continuity. But now, designing jewelry, all these random-seeming pieces of my past have really come together. I was a sculptor, gallerist and shop girl. Then a vintage clothing dealer and renovator on a DIY tv show. Then a tribal & antique jewelry dealer and now a jewelry designer. All this over the course of 15 years. There was no master plan, and I didn’t end up where I thought I would, but in hindsight it seems like all roads led to Rome. Designing jewelry is such a satisfying way to use my sculptural skills, but also find inspiration from the past, as an antique dealer. Plus the moxie and hustle of a gallerist helps to keep the business moving forward.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the debut collection of your namesake line – Invisible Cities.
When I began wrapping my head around a debut collection I wanted to find an overarching narrative to describe the world my work lives in. Invisible Cities, a book I’ve loved for a long time, really hit all the marks – travel, antiquity, ruin, poetry, passion. Italo Calvino’s 1972 tale places us in the midst of a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan as Polo describes the beauty and sadness of the cities he has seen. My jewelry, like the novel, merges East and West, tribalism and exploration.
“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
You have a background in sculpture – how does that affect your design process?
Seeing the world through the eyes of an art maker is really second nature to me. Both my parents are artists, and it is the only thing I know. All of my jewelry begins as a block of wax that I carve and ply into the final shape. I start with a rough sketch, but my ideas really come to life as I’m making them in 3 dimensions. It is a very intuitive process that is constantly referencing art history and the principles of design that I learned in my college studio.
Your personal collection of jewelry spans a vast array of time periods and cultures – Native American, Mexican, African, Middle Eastern, Victorian, 17th century...Tell us a bit about your favorite periods and / or styles of jewelry.
I started my vintage jewelry shop Marteau because I have such a compulsive passion for hunting unique jewelry. As my collection has matured, I’m really focusing on tribal and ethnographic designs. From Tuareg silver, to Maasai beads to Tibetan coral. I like that these pieces had more than aesthetic significance to their original owner. The jewelry itself tells a whole story about a world and a belief system. Most European jewelry, save for Victorian sentimental jewelry, doesn't really carry the same level of meaning. I fall for jewelry that feels like a cultural waypoint, a link to a perspective on life that is less and less evident as we push toward globalization.
Is there any specific symbolism found in the history of jewelry design that you continue to be drawn to?
I’m fascinated by how symbols transcend time and cultures. One of my favorites is the Mano Figa. It is a hand with the thumb stuck between the middle and pointer fingers. As a gesture it goes back literally thousands of years, I’ve had pieces that date back to the time of Ramesses II. The symbol has a certain sexual connotation and was linked to womanhood, fertility and the goddess. Examples of the Mano Figa have popped up in Victorian fine jewelry, African diaspora talismans and South American infant protection charms. The symbology morphed from feminine to obscene to good luck as it changed cultures. I collect Figas and love finding them everywhere from high-end antique shops to Moroccan souks.
Like you, we’re huge fans of second-hand jewelry – there are already so many incredible, unusual pieces in the world – was the sustainability of re-using beautiful things a factor when you began your antique and vintage jewelry business?
I try to have a very low consumptive impact. In fact just before starting my collection I was working on a project called No New Stuff. It was a documentation of my year buying nothing that was new (save food, toiletries and undies)! My home is full of antique furnishings, my closet is full of used clothes and my business is fueled by found objects. I actually struggled a bit about whether to make a line at all because I really do believe that the world is already full of every object that we could possibly need or want. I have made efforts to rectify this conflict by producing everything using recycled materials and holding firm to living-wage production.
You mentioned you grew up on a ranch – how does that time affect your life and practices now?
Being a ranch girl informs everything I do. There is a very different ethos to living in the country, a sense of self reliance. I feel that I should first try to do it myself, before looking to hire someone or ask for help. My father taught me to use every tool out there, and while I’m not skilled at most of them, I have a big material vocabulary and throw myself at a problem with a Rosie the Riveter exuberance. My process for jewelry making is quite self-taught. I’m making up how to do it, sometimes with innovative solutions and sometimes with messy failures.
Do you have a lucky talisman?
I wear a locket containing my grandmother’s ashes every day. When she was on her deathbed I was driving to see her and I had a terrible car accident. I was remarkably uninjured and I have always felt that there was a moment when our spirits tangled in some undescribable realm. I believe that she protects me and wearing this locket reminds me of that.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
This summer is really about travel, spending time with friends and family and spending time alone. The business end of thing slows down a bit this time of year, so I feel like I can take some time to go back to the drawing board with some of my designs and refine them. I also have a sculpture commission that I am overdue on. There is always work but I think it will be more introverted work and less about growing.