A new column in which Ashley Davis takes us into the studios and minds of the world’s most exciting independent fine jewelry designers
When I began pondering my new column highlighting independent jewelry designers, it took me about a hundredth of a second to decide that my inaugural Jewel Artist would be Daniela Villegas. Villegas is an amalgamation of everything that led me to fall in love with fine jewelry. She’s wildly talented, fiercely original, passionate about her craft, and a bit under the radar. While even the least interested observer of fashion can name a few buzzy ready-to-wear or accessory brands, independent fine jewelers have been enjoying a quieter success over the past decade as they gain popularity among the Cartiers and Tiffanys of the world. Their relative anonymity to the average consumer is understandable, considering the value of the commodities they work with, but what I like best about the designers I’ve dubbed the “jewel artists,” is their willingness to subvert tradition and abandon the preciousness typically associated with fine jewelry to create designs that are thoroughly modern. Villegas looks to nature for inspiration, but not to the flowers and butterflies we’re used to. Rather, Villegas is known for her insect pieces, rendered in gold, precious and semi-precious stones, and sometimes, actual insect parts. I chatted with the L.A.-based designer about her design process, sourcing beetle wings, napping, and more.
Ashley Davis: Let’s start with your background. What led you to design?
Daniela Villegas: I’m Mexican, born and raised in Mexico City, and I moved to Los Angeles in 2008 with my now husband who was living here. All my life I’ve been in the jewelry business and always wanted to be a jewelry designer. I studied business administration but after two years, I quit because it was really not my passion. In Mexico, a woman being an artist or in a creative field [is rare], but I thought, At least I’m going to be happy. So that’s why I started studying fashion design and jewelry and working with different companies in Mexico. I started making jewelry and learning in downtown [Mexico City] and then when I moved to L.A., I opened my own company.
AD: You work with very distinctive motifs. What about insects appeals to you?
DV: All my life I’ve been fascinated by insects, by the colors. I love miniature things and it’s kind of like a mini world. They’re a symbol of rebirth, good luck, and they’re always conversation pieces. It started with beetles, then worms, centipedes, mayflies, dragonflies… They’re like fairies; they’re very dreamy and I love them so I felt a connection. It’s my most powerful collection for sure.