For David Rees and Ron Anderson, co-owners and designers of the TenThousandThings fine jewelry collection, celebrating 30 years in business, standing the test of time comes down to some basic principles.
“We focus on the product,” said Rees. “TenThousandThings is an intensive studio experience. We design and make every single thing ourselves. We have no design staff. It’s a real studio experience, an atelier.
“We sit at our benches and work together every day. Working together is the easiest and most fun part of the business,” he added.
TenThousandThings is having a moment. The jewelry brand has been nominated for designer of the year by the Gem Awards to be held March 17. On Tuesday, a “Thirty Years of TenThousandThings” retrospective opens at the Pratt Institute Library in Brooklyn, in conjunction with New York City Jewelry Week.
Hand-cut lapis totem earrings from TenThousandThings.
“David and Ron are both the designers and the craftsmen behind the collection, which is quite rare and extraordinary,” said Marion Fasel, an editor and jewelry historian who is curating the Pratt exhibit and has known Rees and Anderson for nearly 30 years.
“They are self-taught but really analyze jewelry history, art and shape, whether it’s Georgia O’Keeffe flowers, blackened silver necklaces from the Victorian era, or beaded necklaces that reach back to ancient Rome. They bring all that to their work. It’s layered,” Fasel said. “They are involved so deeply in the process. While people might not know every detail in the process, they sense it.
“When David and Ron launched their collection in the ’90s, they really captured the zeitgeist of the era,” Fasel recalled. “The scale of their jewelry was in perfect sync with the look of the clothes then, the very minimalist clothes, and their jewelry took off like wildfire, with multiple magazine covers and with celebrities who just fell in love with the collection. They have always been very much in tune with what was happening in fashion.”
TenThousandThings’ signature beaded pink sapphire beads on a gold chain.
Fasel, who will moderate a discussion with the designers on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Pratt Institute Library, said the retrospective showcases several jewelry categories — stone cut earrings, foxtail chains, beaded necklaces, sculptural designs in metal, gems in unique settings — as well as media moments, celebrities who became clients, magazine credits and collaborations with Sotheby’s and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The first credit ever received was on Kate Moss in a CK Calvin Klein ad, which was her first appearance in American media,” Fasel said.
“One of the benefits of being self-taught is that they have no baggage of what they should be doing,” said Fasel. “They do what they want to do and invent techniques to achieve different looks.”
The origins of the company date back to when Rees was working as the manager and buyer at the former Linda Dresner store in Manhattan, and Anderson appeared with his jewelry to show Dresner. Rees and Anderson dated for a few years, while the business partnership blossomed and endured.
“This company is based on Ron’s vision,” Rees said. “I came in and helped merchandise Ron’s ideas and turned it into a collection.…We both design, but in different ways. In jewelry design, it’s the process that informs the product. I work in wax, Ron works in metal, mostly, to create the idea, the model that becomes the jewelry.”
At their New York City atelier they handcraft modern heirlooms — sculptural forms in natural stones, silver and gold, inspired by abstract shapes found in nature, often utilizing turquoise, black opals and pearls. There is also a 500-square-foot showroom/boutique, designed by Rees and Anderson, at 237 West 13th Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The atelier is hidden from view just in the back. Among the brand’s bestsellers are the signature pearl beaded chains, handcut Labradorite “chicklet” necklaces, and different jade pieces.
Since 2017, collections centering around fine carved stones are a result of working with craftsmen in Jaipur, India, who take the duo’s models, created in either metal, wax or foam, and use traditional, decades-old techniques to transform rough stones into luminous hand-carved shapes destined to become custom composition earrings and necklaces. “Each piece takes eight people, for cutting, shaping and polishing,” said Rees.
The name TenThousandThings is taken from I Ching, the Chinese philosophy, and is interpreted as meaning from one thing begets 10,000 things. “It subtly implies evolution,” said Rees. “It’s a perfect description of our business. We keep evolving and keep pushing forward.”
A hand-cut Labradorite chiclet.