Designer interview

Jess Hannah

Jess Hannah

Contemporary jewellery destined for a lifetime of wear, J. Hannah crafts talismans for everyday life

Based in Downtown Los Angeles, J. Hannah is a fine jewellery brand focused on craft and timelessness – it is jewellery for living in and living with. Designed by Jess Hannah, the collections contextualise the timelessly familiar with the contemporary, pairing jewellery with references from art history, colour theory, and modern culture, considering pieces of fine jewellery as talismans for carrying in everyday life.

Pieces are hand crafted by independent local manufacturers and made from 100% post-consumer recycled gold or sterling silver, and all gemstones are recycled or ethically sourced. Sustainability is prioritized in each design, creating heirloom pieces destined for a lifetime of wear.

When did you discover your love for jewellery?
A big part of why I became a jeweler was my early interest in tinkering with my grandmother's jewellery. She had accumulated a lifetime of a select few pieces that all had different significance for her. My favorite piece of hers inspired my Clara collection, it's a delicate oval bead that is suspended from a cable chain.

And what was your path into designing jewellery?
In college I studied graphic design, but I liked making things with my hands, so it was a natural progression to learn the craft, as I couldn't afford the things I was lusting after. I began learning from a retired jeweler out of her garage. Later I started making pieces independently in my bedroom, and later on briefly apprenticed with a local jeweler duo. J. Hannah started with me hand-making every piece myself and it grew organically from there!

How would you describe your design aesthetics?
I think our origins are absolutely in minimalism, but more often than not my designs are informed by the decorative, historical, and traditional. If you boiled down these opulent themes into a reduction I think you get the J. Hannah aesthetic— simplified opulence, edited maximalism. Classics like signets and hoops are a huge part of our collection because they are wearable staples, and I think that's where the recognition for our minimalism plays a role.

And your influences?
I try to look for inspiration both in and outside of the jewellery world. In my free time I relish scrolling through furniture on 1stDibs and Craigslist, this practice is a light obsession. I think the legacy of design in California, as seen through a LA/Palm Springs/Craigslist lens, influences my work. I also find that museum collections, particularly modernist and ancient sculpture and art are rich sources of inspiration. I share the very best of these influences on my Instagram so that my followers can get a sense of what I'm paying homage to, or get a glimpse at ingredients that get the J. Hannah designs cooking.

"We’re guided by a mix of interdisciplinary references: jewellery’s rich history and time-steeped symbolism; esoteric color references; where the refined meets the cultural zeitgeist."

Can you say a bit about your value pillars?  
The value pillars are a key part of our ‘sustainability’ mission, which depends on transparency and accountability and less about the word itself, which can often lead to greenwashing. We want to share why we make the choices we make, and how we think about the future. It’s an honest look into our ethos - not for making us look good and generating sales, but to inform our consumers and set an example hopefully for other brands who are striving to achieve similar standards.

And your views and practices when it comes to sustainability?
For us, sustainability requires a thoughtful and holistic approach because there are so many points of consideration. Specifically, the ethics of environmentalism, humanitarian concerns and business operations are three areas we work to address in our efforts to be “sustainable”. I often use sustainability in quotes (or air quotes when I’m talking) because it does need to be defined to hold weight. We treat it as an ongoing effort, and something we are always actively striving for –– not a definitive marker of achievement.

What are your thoughts on growth?
As a brand we embrace our own version of what success and growth look like. Rather than striving for limitless expansion, we choose to challenge capitalism’s hustle obsessed narrative and write our own rule book — one that embraces sustainable growth, quality of life, genuine relationships and creating a lil beauty and joy along the way.

What was the first piece of jewellery you made?
My first finished piece was a hand fabricated silver band ring with a hammered finish. So so simple, but chic nonetheless. I gave it to a friend, but I have fond memories of that first one. Hand fabrication (versus a method such as cad or wax carving, which both require you to cast from the wax and then hand finish the piece) can be so gratifying because you sit down to create something and by the end of it have a finished wearable piece that you made by hand.

Who do you make jewellery for?
We see a lot of language used in our industry that tells women “this product will empower you” or “you need and deserve this,” as though jewelers are providing something necessary or benevolent, which is such a fiction. Jewellery is extra, it’s fun. It’s special and rare and expensive and hopefully something the customer will deeply consider as a special purchase that will last them a lifetime. We envision our customer as someone who saves up for that perfect piece of jewellery they’ve wanted for so long, or to commemorate a major life event. Hopefully they will pass it down one day as an heirloom. This feels closer to reality, which is important when we are continually exposed to entire social media feeds that promote excess as the norm. The prevalence of fast fashion works against us in so many ways and everything comes back to sustainability. Trend based shopping is a wasteful pursuit. If the consumer started thinking about their purchases from a cost per wear perspective it could change the whole design industry.

To you, what is the role and function of jewellery today?
I think something that is nice about jewellery is that its role and function has remained so constant for thousands of years, while the world around it has changed.

What is your own favourite piece?
It would be extremely rare to spot me without at least one pinky ring on, but often it’s two. Currently I’m wearing my beloved Duet Signet and highly practical Pivot I ring. The Pivot ring is our version of a fidget spinner ring – a tiny talisman to self-soothe, but with highly discreet interactivity.

Your content is beautiful, both on Instagram and in your journal, what is your approach to it?
Thank you! We’re guided by a mix of interdisciplinary references: jewellery’s rich history and time-steeped symbolism; esoteric color references; where the refined meets the cultural zeitgeist. We find the deepest inspiration in critical thinking, from both challenging familiar paths and open-mindedly going down new ones. We believe there’s no right way to be inspired...the polished can also be irreverent, the beautiful can also be strangely unexpected, that the stripped-back can also be a blank canvas. In the stories we create and share, we strive to always offer substantiality and value to our community.

How do you feel about social media?
Oh so conflicted! But I try to approach it with dialectical thinking. Really take the good and the bad for what it is and arrive somewhere in the middle. I think more so now than ever it can lead to a lack of critical thinking

Where do you go to find peace?
Walk my dog in nature while listening to a good playlist, observe the flowers along the way.

How can we help you with your jewellery?