Jewelry collectors who love the look of vintage but prefer new, modern pieces can have the best of both worlds with Sylva & Cie. The Los Angeles-based line owned by husband and wife team Sylva and Raffi Yepremian has perfected the art of patina. Sylva gives us all the details on that and then some.
Your father was a master jeweler for Cartier. Tell us about his history and what he taught you.
He began his apprenticeship early on in our native Lebanon, where he learned jewelry-making techniques that date back hundreds of years. It’s rare to find craftsmen who still practice them. He taught me the balance between creativity/beauty and craft/engineering—both sides must be synchronized in perfect harmony for the piece to work.
Does he still work in the business?
Yes, even at the age of 76 he comes in every day—my family works in the same building in downtown L.A., but on separate floors so we stay sane. He’s especially helpful regarding technical aspects. I’ll come to him with a problem such a designing a hinge or creating alloys that are a major component of my work. It isn’t just about surrounded a stone with diamonds and boom!
What brought your family to L.A.? Did you experience culture shock?
It’s even more complicated. We’re Armenian and moved to Paris from Lebanon when I was little. My father decided to go on his own from Cartier and thought it would be better to start completely fresh, so we moved to L.A., where we had family. I was distraught to be uprooted at the age of 16 but ended up loving California’s climate and convenience. It was a difficult adjustment though since English was my fifth language—I always thought I’d become a UN translator!
What do you miss most about living in Paris? How often do you return?
I miss the culture and high attention to aesthetics. Everything the French do is about maximizing beauty from a fruit plate to an outfit just to run errands. You don’t see a lot of Uggs there! I visit at least once a year and have probably been to the Louvre 25 times.
Your mother’s also in the industry. What’s her niche and what did you learn from it?
My mom and aunt strung pearls, onyx and jade for a major department store. To earn extra money, I helped and learned all about beading. Their business exploded into a retail operation that has become one of the city’s premier bridal jewelry destinations to this day.
How does your exotic heritage inspire your work?
I’m drawn to old things with a patina and ornate details from being surrounded by Arabic architecture. I could never be a minimalist. It’s just not in my DNA.
How would you describe your jewelry?
Vintage influence meets rock ’n’ roll edge that appeals to a modern sensibility.
How could someone spot it?
I customize oxidized alloys for a warm, antique effect, which I also achieve with reclaimed diamonds in a range of colors from soft white to champagne. Their softer refraction is more interesting than super shiny diamonds. My imperfect cuts show the hand of the jeweler.
You’re inspired by Art Deco. Why and do any other periods appear in your work?
Because jewelry was handmade then as opposed to with mass-production molds. Each piece reflects the unique skills of its maker, and the magic comes from their inconsistencies. I’m also fond of Georgian jewelry.
Do you collect antique jewelry?
I’m a hoarder to my husband’s dismay. I shop antique shows and auctions all the time. Recently I bought a tiara, which I wear upside down on a silk ribbon as a necklace. I’m obsessed with tiaras now and designing one of diamond birds.
Your collection focuses on women’s jewelry. Do you plan to expand?
I’m launching bridal since the market is limited to traditional looks. Many women are already using my stackable rings as wedding bands, so I’m creating a capsule collection of engagement rings in vintage diamonds. It will be ready this year.
How many pieces do you produce annually?
Between 200 and 300 brand-new looks, 80 percent of which are unique. Some of my designs like stackable and cage rings and gypsy chandelier earrings have evolved into staples.
Do you make everything at your studio?
Yes, with the exception of carving that is done by a few experts at their studios. Every piece is made from scratch including chains that are wired on an antique wooden tool owned by my father. Nobody spends time making chains anymore, but I appreciate their unique beauty.
How do you spend your time off?
Run, work in my veggie garden and throw big dinner parties on Saturdays. Oh, and shopping for shoes—one can never have enough.