An insider’s look at a museum store which champions redefining fine jewelry

The first time I met Franci Sagar, Vice President of Retail and Brand Development at The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), was at the 2nd edition of RE:FINE (formerly known as Redefining Fine Jewelry)—the spring launch event at The Store at MAD. I was so impressed with Franci’s choice and presentation of jewelers, I wrote an article immediately after the event. I interviewed both Franci and her daughter Sophie Sagar, who is a special projects consultant for The Store at MAD.

Franci and Sophie Sagar -at the 2nd edition of RE: FINE where I first met them

In describing MAD’s approach to fine jewelry I wrote, “Although international independent designers have been blurring the lines and changing the rules of what is considered precious for some time, the idea of a highly curated and high ticket collection which features 18-24 karat gold with diamonds and natural gemstones is rare for a museum shop. They traditionally feature costume pieces or those that are tied to various exhibits. And I quoted Sophie as saying, “The Store at MAD is in a unique position to champion these designers due to the museum’s permanent collection of jewelry and dedication to connecting with the artist.”

Stack of Marian Maurer Gemstone wedding bands

For the article, Franci explained, “We choose artists who design jewelry that is responsive to our changing lifestyles. In today’s world, we are constantly seeking ways to express ourselves uniquely. The choices we make are led by the desire to highlight our nuanced individuality rather than conform to the idea of traditional ‘fine’ jewelry.”

From Left to ring, top to bottom Lene Vibes, Baltera, Moritz Glik, Marie Mas

When Franci graciously called to thank me for the article—which also mentions her visionary approach to retailing, her eclectic background and how her love for jewelry was awakened—she also suggested I co-curate with her the new designers to be introduced for the Holiday 2017 edition of RE:FINE. We have a similar view of what modern jewelry should be and the global designers that are challenging the conventional notions of what ‘fine’ means today. She especially appreciated that one of the three books I’ve written, Jewelry’s Shining Stars features 38 contemporary designers and my commitment to supporting emerging and independent talents, consulting with them and curating collections of jewelers for retail stores and trade shows. What also resonated with Franci was the many articles I wrote about these type of designers through various magazines.

I was thrilled for the opportunity and it took me a nano-second to say “Yes”. Since July we have been working together, curating the Holiday 2017 edition of RE:FINE. With this event, The Store at MAD enters its second year of presenting fine jewelry for sale.

Franci and me going over jewelry in the museum offices

For this edition, we’ve brought together 32 international artists and designers – 19 of whom are new introductions – and as Franci explains, “create jewelry that reflects the ethos of the Museum’s mission to champion work at the intersection of arts, craft, and design.”

RE:FINE Holiday 2017 will launch on Thursday, November 16, 2017, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. Most of the designers will be there that evening to meet the guests and share what inspires them to do what they do and create what they create. The participating designers’ creations will be in the store until January 2018.

My involvement in the project led me from trade shows to the museum’s offices; we sent countless emails and text messages to each other and scheduled numerous meetings to select the designers. And then the work really started. I thought it might be fun to give you a behind-the-scenes look at RE: FINE Holiday 2017.

The team led by Franci Sagar

In choosing the designers we turned to global independents who are making an indelible mark on the future of jewelry. They learned the rules in order to bend them. As a group, they have helped shaped the tastes and standards of today’s jewelry collector – women who embrace this new creativity and have enough confidence to purchase jewelry for themselves.

Franci and I started with a list of designers we both thought capture the essence of RE: FINE.

This led us to meet designers at trade shows such as the Couture Show in Las Vegas, JANY, NY NOW, Metal & Smith and the Melee Show in Manhattan. We also visited designers in their ateliers and showrooms. From Mortiz Glik’s studio in the Jewelry District to Beth Bugdaycay at Foundrae’s Tribeca haven high above the city, to Gwen Myers from Eden Presley’s Upper West Side showroom/home base (where I would like to move in) to Karen Karch’s spacious shop in Gramercy, which also acts as a showroom and studio in the back. We visited, talked, pulled and reviewed jewelry and edited collections that would be perfect for The Store at MAD. We met children, dogs, cats, husbands, sales staff and publicists along the way. We engaged in Face-Time and Skype with designers as far away as Lene Vibes in Denmark until she came to New York for meetings in the museum’s offices. And there are others from across the ocean like Serhat Geridonmez who is returning to RE:FINE for the third time from Istanbul and Marie Mas from Paris who also laid out their wares for us to choose.

Franci in Moritz Glik’s studio/showroom

Selecting the merchandise and the designers was often difficult— but even harder was saving some designers and their work for the next edition.

Franci and I choosing pieces from Ruta Reifen in the museum offices

RE:FINE Holiday 2017 launches a bridal section comprised of jewelers whose work is in keeping with the philosophy behind The Store at MAD’s fine collections. Franci and I both noticed that over the past five to ten years, more and more women are looking for engagement rings and wedding bands that are timeless, yet break with tradition. There is an anything-goes mentality when choosing bridal jewelry today. The contemporary woman has learned that bigger is not always better with diamond engagement rings and has found that choosing less conventional jewelry with unusual gemstones and mixed metals for her wedding day is much more meaningful.

In effect, the term “alternative bridal” is the new norm for brides-to-be. They desire styles that evoke emotions and sentiments that go along with marriage and enduring love, whether it be in the symbolism of a gemstone or an engraved inscription on either the inside or outside of a band. This applies to all the jewelry they will wear on the big day.

Erica Molinari Rings

The customer base of The Store at MAD is a diverse range demographic—from the twenty to thirty-something’s who have grown up embracing individuality and originality and prefer to stand out rather than blend in, and the women who are getting married for the second time or later in life and are looking for something untraditional to commemorate this romantic moment in their lives.

We sought out designers such as Megan Thorne, Ruth Tomlinson, Baltera, Marian Maurer, Karen Karch, Erica Molinari and Ruta Reifen and GiGi Ferranti who incorporate the highest-quality metals and vibrantly colored non-traditional gemstones, or antique cut white diamonds, rough-hewn opaque colors of grey and champagne diamonds and highly textured and tactile shanks and wedding bands.

Megan Thorne Rings


Ruta Reifen Rings

Karen Karch rings

Collections from Margery Hirschey, Mimi Favre, Loriann Jewelry, Alberian & Aulde and Lika Behar bring a creative, often irreverent use of color and mixed metals to the group.


From the conference rooms upstairs in the museum, to the store’s offices on the museum’s theater level, we crossed off to-do lists (Franci creates many) and decided where the jewelry would fit best.

As we began merchandising the jewelry in the store’s display cases, I got side-tracked, seeing how the different designers’ pieces could layer, stack and mix well together. It is the artful eye of women who can choose the designers they connect with and works best for their lifestyles as they build their own jewelry collections. But it is also just as personal and meaningful to combine pieces from the different artists’ work and how to wear them. That’ s how we approach fine jewelry.

Neck layering from top to bottom: Alberian & Aulde, Lene Vibes, Moritz Glik, Julie Lamb, Foundrae

Franci sums it up:

“When we talk about statement jewelry, we usually associate it with pieces that are big and bold, but if you really think about it, it’s not about wearing pieces that stand out on their own. It’s about what we bring to them. What we personally say and project with our jewelry is the statement we make about ourselves!”

On RE:FINE’s opening night, guests will enjoy a 20% savings on all their store purchases and going forward, if you become a member of the museum the same 20% savings will be extended to you on your first purchases.

The list of 32 jewelers include:

New designers to the store: Baltera, Karen Karch, Megan Thorne, Ruth Tomlinson, Eden Presley, Ruta Reifen, Alberian & Aulde, Chasseur FineJewelry, Mimi Favre, GiGi Ferranti, Foundrae, Loriann Jewelry, Moritz Glik, Lene Vibe, Marie Mas, Erica Molinari, Nancy Newberg and Julie Lamb.

They will be joining returning jewelers, Stephanie Albertson, Lika Behar, Denise Betesh, Hannah Blount, Stella Flame, Serhat Geridonmez, Joan Hornig, Tony Malmed, Maureen Mauer, Todd Pownell and 925.Suneera, Elizabeth Garvin and Agas & Tamar.

From left to right, top to bottom: Tap by Todd Pownell necklace, 925.Suneera bracelet, Lika Behar ring, Stephanie Albertson earrings , Tony Malmed ring,  Denise Betesh bracelet.

To see the full lookbook, please click here 

“No one shakes like Moritz Glik” particular when he creates a piece specifically for the MAD opening night event