I’ve decided my favorite way to spend a cold evening is making sustainable jewelry in a basement in SoHo.

Melissa Joy Manning, the high-end, sustainable jewelry designer, has a lovely new-ish store at 12 Wooster in SoHo. It showcases her organic and refined jewelry designs in antique cases, alongside cut geodes and other graceful and natural objects. Built in the 1880s as a sewing machine needle and parts factory, the space passed into Manning’s hands filled with industrial artifacts that Manning used in the build out and design processes, including huge, old safes that are used to house the jewelry archives; the original sales desk; and worn floor boards that mark the entry into the showroom.

The magic continues downstairs, where Manning keeps her office, and much of her jewelry is made. (Some of her jewelry is made in Berkley, CA as well.) I was honored to receive an invitation from Melissa to come try my hand at making jewelry, and in doing so, was granted access to this rarified little world down below.

Vintage keys

Vintage keys and and organization board that came with the space.

 

Melissa Joy Manning vintage drawers

Vintage drawers

 

We were making Hugs, simple little earrings that are Melissa Joy Manning‘s most popular piece. “We’ve sold maybe 10,000 last year,” Manning says. They are elegant and refined–the simplest design is a tiny hoop that ends in a ball–making them pretty and universal enough that you can wear them every single day for the rest of your life. More high-end designs come with semi-precious stones like mystic topaz embedded in the end. “You can get your unique print on them–each one does vary a little bit,” Manning says of why they’re a good starter piece for uber-amateur jewelry makers. “And it actually doesn’t take that long to make.” We would be learning to make both the simple version, and a version with a stone.

Semi-precious stones.

Semi-precious stones set out on a mirror, ready to be chosen for earrings.

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Juliette of Spades+siLK and Rachel of Conscious Magazine try to decide which stones they want.

While we sipped wine and tea, Manning pulled out a few books on the meaning and uses of various gem stones to inform our decision. Still, it took us a good while to settle. There were so many choices!

Pliers lined up, ready for us to use.

Pliers lined up, ready for us to use.

Hammering jewelry

Manning demonstrates proper hammering technique.

Hammering jewelry

Juliette tries her hand at hammering.

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Rachel tries jewelry making, Melissa Joy Manning at her side.

Hanging out with Melissa is always so fun, because the more you learn about her jewelry line, the more compelling it is. I learned this time that they sweep up all the jewelry dust and bits that hit the floor so they can recycle and reuse the metals, for less waste. (Read my interview with her to find out all the other ways in which she is pioneering sustainability in the industry.)

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MJM refines Elizabeth of The Note Passer’s technique.

I particularly enjoyed this two hour class, because I rarely get such a tactile, immersive experience. She also has spotty cell phone service down there, which is a bonus. I forgot about my to-do list, and engaged with meditation of the hands, while making myself a pretty piece of jewelry I intend to keep forever.

Earring making.

Demonstrating how to bend the setting around the stone.

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Assistant Bob using a machine to round the edges on an earring. We got to sit at the machine and use it ourselves. Badass!

My two pairs of finished hugs.

My two pairs of finished Hug earrings.

Manning will be making these private jewelry-making lessons a regular thing, and is considering opening them up to the public as well. I hope she does! More people should have the opportunity for such a sweet, evening activity.