Bernard James (@bernardjames) is a Brooklyn-based jewelry designer who’s looking to “redefine luxury” with his elegant pieces that seamlessly blend artistic innovation with high-quality workmanship. In this episode of In The Know Style: Changemakers, James shares how his NYC upbringing helped inspire his creative process, as well as how he leads with an attention to detail and an intention to inspire.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York James is constantly drawing inspiration from his upbringing. “Growing up in Crown Heights, but also going to school in the city, I saw a lot of different worlds,” James tells In The Know. “It’s really interesting to explore the differences between things, objects, people, personalities.”
The diversity and multilayered nature of New York City is clearly presented in James’ jewelry, whose designs are packed with deeper meanings way beyond the surface. “I would describe my work as objects of art, more than just jewelry,” he says. “I always want to create beautiful pieces focusing on quality and focusing on items and artifacts that can last a lifetime,” James says. “It’s really redefining what luxury is for a new generation.”
James got his start in the fashion industry, working in a community of designers in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. “We all came from different boroughs of the city, but all sort of met and just gathered at this one place,” James explains to In The Know. “And that was a really special thing for me because clothes and accessories became more than just their physical form, but also a symbol of what unifies different people.”
To James, jewelry is an opportunity for people to express themselves, telling stories inspired by their past. “I think jewelry is such a personal accessory, it’s such a personal thing that we wear,” he explains. For example, James’ recent Flora Collection is inspired by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a spot that James frequented both as a kid and as a young adult.
James always appreciated the stark difference between the garden and the city that surrounded it. “You have all this lush greenery, these beautiful blooms that are a sharp contrast to the almost brutalist concrete building that I grew up in,” James tells In The Know.
James’ other designs each have similar levels of intention, and by making the jewelry by hand, James can ensure that the meanings behind the designs are well presented. “I feel like it’s such a special thing to have craftsmen’s hands on the product,” says the designer. “So you know it’s made with intention, it’s made with detail.”
A perfect example of James’ attention to detail is the Vitae Ring, which is inspired by the cyclical nature of life. The ring is made from a singular piece of metal, to symbolize life, but there’s an abrupt, hard edge, which is meant to represent death.
“The idea is that when people wear that ring, you feel that hard edge, and you feel the sensation of that,” James explains. “And you are reminded while you wear it that you should live life to the fullest.”
James’ designs are definitely stylish, but it’s the meaningful story-packed details combined with the quality of work that are helping James expand the creative potential for fine jewelry.
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