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Yael Sonia’s jewelry exhibits an understanding of proportion. Symmetrical, precise, and made with high-quality gems and metals, her pieces are clean while still offering the possibility of surprise. In her recent collections “Spinning Top” and “Perpetual Motion,” gemstones are mobile within the jewelry’s encasements. Some rings double as pendants, strung on cords and worn as necklaces. This capitalizes on the designer’s philosophy that fine jewelry can be more than just decorative; it can be playful, personal, and innovative. More minimalist than maximalist, her sophisticated collections draw on an array of inspirations, from travel to art movements and from femininity to physics.
Sonia began her journey in jewelry design at an early age. In 1997, her mother, a gemologist, opened São Paulo’s first jewelry gallery, showing jewelry alongside contemporary art. Sonia was involved in the goings-on at the showroom, getting to see the inner workings of the business.
For her high school education, Sonia and her family moved to New York. “I was actively focused on drawing jewelry,” she recalled, when we visited her at her New York studio. Soon one of her sketches was turned into reality. For her 16th birthday, her mother had one of her early designs produced—a white and yellow gold ring with a bezel set oval-cut aquamarine in the center. “I didn’t take it off for years and years,” she said.
Sonia studied French literature and translation at Barnard before attending Parsons, where she majored in product design: metal and jewelry design. “I wanted to be hands-on with the piece that goes to the customer. I took my first metals class and I was just hooked. It was great, the connection with the material, and actually making the jewelry,” she said.
After graduation, she rented a studio space in New York’s Little Brazil neighborhood on 46th Street. Between sending sketches to poten- tial employers and traveling back and forth to Brazil and New York, Sonia designed and produced a handful of pieces that were later shown at her moth- er’s gallery under her first and middle name—it was important to her that the public did not recognize their relationship. Two years later, Sonia returned to Brazil to continue building her growing clientele.
It was there that she was introduced to a goldsmith. Until then, Sonia had been crafting everything by hand herself. But in 2000 she hired her first craftsman to assist in production, and the very first “Perpetual Motion” piece was born. Now her signature architectural “Perpetual Motion” pieces are recognizable for gems that move freely within encasements.
Sonia began to introduce gemstones, sourced from surrounding Brazilian mines and locally custom-cut to reflect her designs. While her selection includes stones that can be sourced from other parts of the world, she also uses some found only in Brazil, such as the peach-tone Imperial topaz and the Paraíba tourmaline.
“For me, it’s really [about] having the complete access to somebody buying directly from the mine,” she explained. “Recently, I’ve been working a lot with dendrite, which is so beautiful, and the fact that I can work directly with someone that’s sourcing it makes it so much better. Everything is local.” In 2007 Sonia opened a 350-square-feet studio and store on Madison Avenue, which was there for five years. “My jewelry is, 90 percent of the time, a self- purchase product. It was a good place because you had the tourists and the more sophisticated, mature women who were staying in, and live in, the area. Those were my clients, so it was the right place then,” said Sonia. But with such a small store, the one-on-one interaction with her clientele grew limited, and she decided she needed a larger and more private space where she could, as she described, “really receive customers.”
So in November 2013 she moved to a showroom on Lafayette Street, where she remains today. Designed in partnership with leading architects Uli Wagner (previous creative director for Peter Marino) and Mark Martinez (president of Interior Management), the space juxtaposes organic and archi- tectural elements. Rich in texture and sleek in design, the space includes dark wooden floors, handmade furniture, precision lighting, a large marble-and- glass vestibule, a gold-leaf wall at the entranceway, and a design studio at its far end.
On a recent visit, we saw Sonia’s newest collections, “Spinning Top” and “Perpetual Motion,” which were largely inspired by kinetic toys. Nearly all pieces have some type of kinetic aspect that gives beauty to function. “I love that interaction. As soon as a toy has movement, some mobile element to it, it becomes something else,” she said. “I was always drawn to toys like that.” In these playful pieces are small, medium, and large stones rolling in an open space left between the enclosures. There are solo cube bangles, earrings, and necklaces with square boxes harnessing round stones, and a variety of pendulum pendants with multifaceted drop-down details, too.
Sonia also worked with diamonds for the first time on a larger scale for these collections, filling moving horizontal and vertical planes in pieces like the Open Plane Ring and the Plane Pendant. And brand new this year as well are custom and interchangeable gemstone pieces, such as the Kit Curve Ring, that allow for customers to create custom pieces with the gemstones of their liking.
“The piece that we just launched, the long pendant from “Spinning Top,” to me, that’s my new favorite,” Sonia said. “It’s the sculptural and the interactive—and that’s what I want to make.”