Today we stand in Seiwa-en, a microcosmic Japanese Garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. Seiwa-en means garden of pure, clear harmony, and peace, and its understated beauty creates a compelling serenity. Missouri is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer Carolyn Rafaelian-Ferlise.
Presently living in New York, as a child Ferlise accompanied her mother on frequent excursions to the St. Louis department store, Famous Barr.
There Ferlise would stare wide-eyed at the costume jewelry displays full of glistening stones and gold-plated metals.
Dazzled by the finery she beheld, particularly the bangle bracelets, there was no question what career path she would pursue. You could say that jewelry was in her DNA.
When her family relocated to Providence, Rhode Island, her father opened a jewelry factory. "I spent many summers helping my father and started to create my own pieces and design at a very early age," she says.
By 2001, Ferlise's love and fascination with well-crafted baubles culminated once she had children of her own. "It wasn't until my two daughters, Alex and Ani, were born when I decided I wanted to leave a legacy for them and branched off to start my own jewelry company." A company she lovingly named for her two eldest children.
The key focus behind her jewelry is awakening humanity's fundamental need to connect with others and their environment. She uses timeless symbols, such as her Om Pendant, Peace Sign Necklace, and Heart Pendant Necklace, and fashioning them with recycled 18-karat gold vermeil, and sterling silver offset with enameling details.
She chooses specific symbols for their inherent capacity to inspire, "What symbols really do--especially when you wear them--is speak to your conscious, and to your subconscious. When other people see that symbol, it resonates."
Ferlise's signature item gives a wink and a nod to her childhood fixation, bangle bracelets. She adorns them with stones, wood, feathers, and mother of pearl. She also created an innovative sliding mechanism that allows her bangles to expand for a precise fit.
Exotic plumes are integral to many of her earring designs, "Our feathers come from a local distributor and are gathered after naturally falling off birds. No birds are harmed in this process," she emphasizes.
The most important of Ferlise's collections is Charity by Design. In this collection, she designed the limited edition Charm 4 Life Bangle, the Mother Earth Collection, the Tree of Life Expandable Bangle, and the Rock Crystal Wire Bangle to benefit corresponding charities: Merck & Co., the Tonic Foundation, African Rainforest Conservancy, and Stand Up 2 Cancer. "Charity by Design is the heart and soul of Alex and Ani, and it continues to grow," she enthuses.
Alex and Ani is sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Fred Segal; and online at BlueFly.com, and ShopBop.com among others.
Magazine layouts that feature Ferlise's eco-conscious, charm jewelry include Women's Wear Daily, Cosmopolitan, Ocean Drive, and Elle. Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Cameron Diaz, Jessica Simpson, and Vanessa Hudgens wear her uplifting pieces.
For more on Ferlise's charity efforts, click here.
Photo 1 (top right): Jessica Simpson wearing Alex and Ani Bangle Bangle Bracelets
Photo 2 (bottom left): Large Phoenix Feather Earrings from the Earth Sultry Collection