Of Rare Origin is a family affair. And this isn’t just due to the fact that a mother-daughters team—Leslie, Octavia, and Thea—run the entire operation.
Every aspect of the company’s world—from the initial inspiration (their Armenian matriarch) to the manufacturing process (intimate Italian workshops) is suffused with familial joy and whimsy. We sat down with the spirited trio to talk a bit more about how their quickly coveted, artisanal jewelry came to life just a little over a year ago and which just recently landed at Scarpa this season.
Leslie’s history in the jewelry world laid the groundwork for Of Rare Origin.
Working as a consultant for several high-end jewelers, she traveled throughout Italy, France, and India, discovering and sourcing specialized manufacturing techniques from small, family-owned workshops. Growing up, Leslie’s daughters would often accompany her on these trips. They kept in touch with the families who operate these ateliers (many of them had children the same ages as Octavia and Thea). They maintained pen pals and more recently, they've attended each other’s weddings. Some of these peers are now the owners of their family’s businesses.
Back in the states, Octavia and Thea’s maternal grandmother (of Armenian descent, born in Geneva, raised in Brussels and moved to NYC in 1945) was a formative presence in their lives; together spending a lot of time in their Montauk home. They all lovingly recall their grandmother’s singular spirit. Thea recounts their grandmother’s favorite garment to wear to parties in her later years (she lived well into her 90s): a Jean-Paul Gaultier blouse, with a subtle, yet suggestive pair of entwined lovers embroidered on the front and on the back in bold red letters: Liberte, Egalite, Sexualite.
As the story goes, their grandmother made it a habit of daily feeding the birds her leftover crumbs after breakfast.
“Every day the cardinals would come, and we would tease her and say, ‘When you die, you’re coming back as a bird.’ She loved that idea,” Leslie recalls. When her mother passed away a few years ago, Leslie found a trinket in her belongings, which inspired Leslie to create the first pair of aviary-themed earrings.
After giving the earrings a test run, where the response was overwhelmingly positive, Leslie, enlisting both the help of her manufacturing network and Octavia's communications background, swiftly developed their first full-fledged collection. All of this happened just over a year ago, and since then, Octavia, who was working full time at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, now splits her time between the firm and the family biz. Thea joined the team just 8 months ago, and while all three wear many and interrelated hats, presently, Thea has taken on more of a creative role with her mother in the design aspects of the company, while Octavia spearheads the structuring of the business as well as relationships with retailers and press.
Reflecting on her experience so far, Octavia notes, “I didn’t realize how proud I would be to be in a woman-owned business—that’s taken on such an essence for me, [as has] the fact that we’re manufacturing something hand-crafted, something artisanal.” She acknowledges not only her mother’s remarkable network (“Lovingly, we call her the jewelry hustler.”), but also the increasingly rare talent in that network, “There are not so many people who do these techniques any more.”
How the Of Rare Origin jewelry comes together is perhaps as elaborate as the finished product itself.
It’s charmingly impossible to trace the process in any linear sense, but it involves some combination of: sourcing a wide range of stones and materials, 12-hour days visiting one of many workshops (punctuated, of course, by a quick Aperol Spritz) where Leslie, Thea and Octavia will sit with the craftsmen as they work, and in between these visits, countless shipments of prototypes back-and-forth to ensure all components are perfectly balanced and the creation is beautiful on, lightweight and comfortable. A single pair of the Aviary Classic earrings could contain up to 5 different materials, likely fashioned on different benches in different towns, and multiple moving parts (for example, not only does the cage swivel, but the bird perched inside will swing, as well), which all coalesce into the striking final result.
When we spoke with Leslie, Octavia, and Thea at their self-titled “messy office” on Madison & 66th, spread out before them were samples from a new piece in development: the same, small element carved in no less than eight different materials, each considered for its weight and durability, as well as its more formal characteristics, such as texture and color. No doubt other parts were already taking shape in any number of towns in Italy, where Leslie and Thea were headed back just several days later.
We’re thrilled to bring Of Rare Origin to our shelves, not only for its rare beauty but for our fondness for the women behind these magnificent creations, as well.