Samantha Jackson’s passion for the past creates jewelry with presence
Samantha Jackson, the designer behind Heavenly Vices, takes inspiration from the beauty and history that she saw while growing up in New Orleans. She learned early on from her surroundings that the past is always part of the present and the melding together of different cultures, time periods and customs create a fertile ground for the imagination. Since she launched her collection (2 years ago) she has evolved to include other parts of the globe where history and tradition are preserved, like they were in her hometown. She re-invents symbolic and classic motifs into pieces that are current and ultra-wearable today—from original love tokens of the Victorian era re-worked with modern charms or colored gemstones to contemporary designs based on the architecture and intricate wrought iron gates she remembers being attracted to in New Orleans.
Here I talk to Samantha to get the scoop on how Heavenly Vices was born:
How did you conceive of the name Heavenly Vices?
“The name is a play on all that’s beautiful and irresistible about jewelry. As someone who has always had obsession with this sparkly medium, from Mardi Gras beads to impeccably made antique pieces, I thought about all the women like me who give in to their temptations and will buy the jewelry they covet impulsively, so much so that they have to get really creative in paying the monthly bills. And so it’s a vice in that respect but a heavenly one in that it also brings so much joy.”
I can relate to that! Have you always had a passion for jewelry?
“ As far back as I can remember! I would accompany my dad to his jeweler to pick out gifts for my mom and it was my Disneyland; I could stay there for hours and never get bored.On my mom’s side of the family, I also was keen on the whimsy and humor of the ‘Reddy Kilowatt’ enamel pin my grandfather received for his years of service at the Gulf States Utility Company.
And then there were my paternal grandmother’s two diamond rings. Every time I visited her I would always ask her if I could wear them. They were both family heirlooms. Whenever I think of her, the first things I see in my mind are her rings on her hands. I come from a long line of storytellers and I love that jewelry is part of people’s stories, whether it’s passed down from generation to generation or something new that is just beginning its story.”
What type of jewelry were the first pieces you wore and were attracted to?
“My first piece of jewelry I can remember getting was for my eighth-grade graduation. That same year the Audubon Zoo had obtained a white tiger and a local artist commemorated the acquisition with a ceramic beaded necklace with a tiger. I am a big animal lover and have no doubt I begged my parents nonstop until they gave in and bought it for me. Little did they know they were unleashing a beast in me! As a teenager, I hung a cut out from a magazine of a photo of a Cartier Panthere watch on the door to my dad’s study as a not so subtle hint what the only acceptable high school graduation present was. I am nothing if not determined.”
What was your career before you began designing jewelry?
“After college, I moved back home for a year and then went into an MBA program. When I graduated, I started working as a management consultant for a few of the former ‘Big Five’ accounting firms and moved into IT in the late ‘90s. Four years ago, I was part of a 13,000-person layoff from IBM. I had been there for a long time; I got a very generous severance package. The saying an idle mind is the devil’s playground definitely applies to me, so I never stopped working even though I could have at least taken a break.”
How did you transition from this career into jewelry?
“I was so tempted to spend my severance on a fabulous piece of jewelry, but I decided to use it for something I probably should have spent the last 20 years doing and started my jewelry business. The internet opened up options for people like me to start out on a crazy adventure with nary a clue how to do it with the exception of knowing what I am attracted to. I have loved every minute of the last three years that I have been learning, creating, branding and honing my design sensibility.”
What was the first piece you ever designed?
“I am an antique and vintage jewelry fan and therefore very inspired by the pieces of the past. I also love architecture and my first piece was an Art Deco-inspired diamond beaded lariat.”
What came next as far as realizing what the aesthetic or sensibility of the collection would be?
“I grew up in New Orleans, where the beauty of the past and the art, architecture and legends of different cultures are so much a part of our daily lives. All of that inspiration has found its way into my collection, from the decorative and ornamental motifs like wrought ironwork to different symbolism of talisman to ward off evil and bring good fortune. Additionally, my collection is based the idea that you can rebuild, re-interpret and ultimately reinvent the past if you respect the history of what came before.”
Please describe your designs?
“Whether an antique component I have built a necklace around, or something new of my own creation, everything I make is inspired by a technique or treasure from the past. It is my hope that my jewelry’s story will evolve with its new owners – I love the idea of one of my pieces becoming part of family folklore, much like my grandparent’s treasures are part of my memories of them.”
Who is the woman who buys your collection?
“One who appreciates beauty and craft, and knows that a piece of jewelry or any type of art form is more than a sum of its parts. She is also a woman dances to the beat of her own drum. She doesn’t feel she needs to ask permission to go out and buy something; she is an independent thinker and has her own career and can explain away anything, if necessary. All kidding aside, she is part of the continually growing number of self-purchasing women and she is most attracted to jewelry with meaning, a good yarn, some sort of symbolism behind pieces that she can then make her own.”
What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection and why?
“My rebirth collection is comprised mainly of antique Love Tokens, which were popular in the late Victorian era. At a customer’s request, jewelers would repurpose coins into a sentimental token for a loved one, with engraving, enameling and applied metals capturing initials, names, dates and more rare, sayings and motifs. I am fascinated with lost arts such as hand engraving. I have some very beautiful and sentimental love tokens in my collection, which I have mixed with other modern and antique charms or allow them to stand on their own, worn on a contemporary version of a watch fob chain. The craftsmanship of these tokens is amazing and of course, I love a good story – if only my coins could talk!”
What are the materials you use?
“Sterling silver, gold, enamel and gemstones. I’m not one to embrace many colors in my wardrobe but I do love vibrant colors in my jewelry and as my collection and customer base grows, I look forward to incorporating even more exotic and unusual stones in my work.”
How would you recommend to women to wear your jewelry and jewelry in general?
“When I started my business, I told myself that the worst possible outcome would be that I would have to continue working in IT with a fabulous collection of jewelry from my venture. Therefore, I design everything in a way that would suit my life – beautiful things that are to be enjoyed but not too precious that the opportunities to wear them are scarce. I hate the idea of my jewelry sitting in a safe – I want my pieces to be part of their owners’ every day lives, to become part of the story and to give little girls like me when I was a child, the opportunity to admire other peoples beautiful things. I live by this motto in what I create as well as what I purchase.”
Where do you see yourself and the collection heading or evolving?
“One day, I envision a determined teenager tearing a picture out of a magazine and taping it to her father’s door (or whatever the technological equivalent will be) like I did. I hope a little girl remembers my rings adorning her grandmother’s hands.”