Words by Sassy Ross
The first time that Bianca Bartley walked into Bergdorf Goodman, the luxury goods department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, she had a vision: one day Bergdorf’s would carry her jewelry line. The owner and designer of Peace-is of Bianca, a bespoke jewelry and lifestyle goods brand, Bianca says that the primary difference between her jewelry and that sold at Bergdorf’s is the price. While theirs sell for thousands of US dollars, she sells hers for a fraction of the cost. In fact Bianca began designing jewelry because she had expensive taste and was unable to afford the kind of jewelry that she wanted to wear – handcrafted, high-end pieces that make big statements.
“I was going to a party and I needed a statement piece,” she explains, “so I just made myself a pair of earrings, and that was it!” She launched Peace-is of Bianca shortly thereafter.
For her debut collection she utilized whatever materials were available to her, including silk flowers, buttons, trimmings, copper wire and scrap metals, all fastened together with a glue gun. She admits that it was a very unsophisticated process, but it worked! Bianca’s first “peace-is” were bold, fabulous, and far ahead of the fashion curve. They immediately caught the public’s attention.
Bianca has stepped up her design skills many notches since that first collection. “Awakening,” her most recent, includes gold, silver, fine gems and timepieces, and can be found in Swiss Stores, a long-standing fine jewelry retailer in Jamaica. She is thrilled to have her jewelry associated with such an established brand, yet what gives her the most satisfaction is making her customers happy. Clients trust her taste and judgment, and often request custom orders without providing any specifications.
In her workshop she pulls out a box of one hundred semi-precious stones given to her by a client who did not specify whether she wanted a necklace or earrings, bracelet or brooch. Bianca enjoys the creative freedom but notes that having such a wide range adds many hours to an already lengthy design process.
For Bianca the process of transforming gems and stones into something unique is part inspirational, part psychological and part intuitive. She learns as much as she can about her clients, their likes and tastes, their favorite colors, and even their astrological signs. She also reads their vibes, a skill that like soldering, she has fine-tuned over the years.
When it comes to designing her collections, Bianca draws on her personal life. “Journey Into the Sun,” one of her biggest and most extensive collections to date, told the story of her breakup from a longtime boyfriend.
“It was the story of my journey from feelings of loss and depression. I immersed myself in all of these emotions of darkness. All the while I was thinking about the people that go through this and can’t come out. I think that I was put on this earth and I was given this gift and this talent to help others,” she said. “There were people who saw the jewelry and listened to the Nina Simone CD that came with each purchase, and they understood that this was heartbreak. At the end of the whole journey I was in the sun. I was a new person.”
With “Beaten,” hammered brass and sterling silver told of a violation of her privacy. In 2012 a man hacked into Bianca’s email accounts and tried to blackmail the designer. Failing to do so, he created a blog on which he released her private photographs as well as those of other Jamaican women. In titling the collection “Beaten,” Bianca declared that the perpetrator “wasn’t going to beat me. I was going to beat him.” The collection’s theme was that love’s beauty resides in hardships.
From design to production to advertising, Bianca does it all herself. Every social media post, every design sheet, every invoice has her handwriting on it. Needless to say, she’s a very busy woman, but that doesn’t stop her from giving of her time and giving back to her community.
She recently taught her first of a weekly jewelry making class to 20 female inmates at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre as part of the Stand Up Jamaica project. The innovative program, which is funded in part by the European Union, transforms prisoners into skilled workers. Bianca sees in the program an opportunity to fill the deficit of good goldsmiths in Jamaica as well as to develop a recognizable brand that can provide the women with employment. She contends that though the work of the inmates is ‘Made in JA…il,’ it is crafted in freedom.
From a crayon-loving little girl drawing pictures on empty cardboard boxes to a visionary designer with a heart of gold, Bianca Bartley redefines what a jeweler can do. In her hands a welding torch can mend a sterling clasp and rehabilitate a convict, and a pendant can not only commemorate a life, but also, change one.
“Peace is love, that’s what peace is to me, loving everything that you’re doing. You have to do everything in love. When you’re cooking, you have to cook with love. When I’m making a piece, I have to make it with love,” says Bianca with conviction. “The peace is spiritual. My jewelry is for the kind of person who can appreciate things like that.”
Just you wait, Bergdorf Goodman. Just you wait.
Check out the latest Peace-is-of Bianca collection, “Awakening,” in Swiss Stores, Ltd as well as online by clicking here.
For custom orders and other inquiries send an email to: email@example.com.