Reut Ringel launched her jewelry brand, Reut, just as COVID-19 took hold. But her digital storefront, hosted on Squarespace, enabled her to showcase her artful, unconventional work, marked by outsize, irregular Baroque pearls. Each orb is enhanced with black gold, made using a patent-pending process the 27-year-old developed by evolving techniques used in aerospace and automobile manufacturing. Surface caught up with the New York designer to discuss the challenge of developing her signature material, the potential for innovation in fine jewelry, and the importance of having a digital presence as a small, emerging brand.
You were born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and enrolled in the Strategic Design and Management at New York’s Parsons School of Design in 2012. At what point did you become interested in jewelry?
I’ve always been fascinated by jewelry, and fine jewelry in particular, because it utilizes natural, renewable resources. At Parsons, I studied system-thinking, product life-cycles, business ethics—the program honed in on sustainability. Every semester I had an internship in fashion, often with stylists. I started noticing that, in clothing, women have many options. But in fine jewelry, our options are limited to white, rose, and yellow gold. Being in New York, I was into black—a color that was so obviously missing from the fine jewelry repertoire.
You wanted to create black gold.
Yes. I don’t know if a true black gold exists, but based on my research, the actual pigmentation up until now was more of a gray, not a deep shade of black. There’s black rhodium, but it is basically a plating that wears off fairly quickly as it is worn. I realized that I wasn’t going to produce anything unique or different that aligned with the values of my education with any of the methods out there, so I decided to develop my own.
I started researching manufacturing techniques that existed outside of fashion—methods from aerospace, automobile, and medical manufacturers—and evolved them for jewelry application. After months of looking, I found a small group of engineers who agreed to make me some samples. That process took three years of R&D to achieve the proprietary process we use today.
Together, you created a process for making black gold that now holds a provisional patent. How is this process different from others out there?
The process we developed doesn’t use a traditional plating method. Rather, it changes the chemical composition of the surface of the gold so that you get a much higher quality color, and that affects the longevity of the piece. Our process also doesn’t create any chemical or liquid waste.
How did you develop this process with the engineers?
I told them what I wanted the end-product to be: It had to be super shiny, because people expect to see that—otherwise it won’t be recognized emotionally as gold. It needed to be long-lasting, sustainably produced, and have a super-deep pigmentation. Every process I looked at was designed for industrial metals, not the malleable materials used in fine jewelry. So the challenge was to create a new way to apply these processes to softer materials. And black is only the beginning of where this process can go—there are going to be many more colors.
You launched Reut in the spring, right as the pandemic began in the U.S. And now we’re in the midst of another crisis, in the wake of protests calling for racial equality and other reforms following the death of George Floyd. How has the current economic and political climate affected your business?
Our studios were closed due to government regulations on non-essential businesses in New York, so we switched to a pre-order model. Now that the city has reopened, we decided to maintain this business model since I believe it is more sustainable.
As a young founder, I’m dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to making sure I can support it and diversity both on the client-facing side—through the models, photographers, and other collaborators I hire—and on the back-end, through my team and the manufacturers I work with. There’s always more to be done, but as the brand evolves, I want to keep pushing to do better.
Reut is currently sold exclusively via your website. What emotions and ideas did you want to convey through your digital presence?
I didn’t want it to feel super sales-y. It needed to feel like a lifestyle brand and dreamy, like a mood board. I wanted to show the product, and show it on a diverse range of models so people understand it is a New York brand.
How did you decide on the platform to host your website?
There was no doubt that I would build my site on Squarespace. Its UX is the most user-friendly, and its sites run smoothly and glitch-free and don’t feel gimmicky. Squarespace is more of an art- and design-focused platform. My website is less about commerce and more about artistry—it’s like a digital magazine. To accomplish this, I used a template and made a lot of changes on the back-end. I don’t know how to code, but the interface made it easy to create what I wanted.
What’s an example of that?
My favorite part of my website is the little spinning Reut logo at the top center of the page. It’s not part of the template, but it’s something that Squarespace enabled me to create. I love delightful things like that.
As the owner of a small, emerging company, how has Reut’s online presence has helped enhance the brand?
There’s a level of professionalism that comes with having a website that I can refer people to. People think about fine jewelry as such a traditional art form, and I think a lot of those brands have an old-school mentality about e-commerce. So when you’re a small brand that’s just starting out, like me, it’s a big deal to have a digital presence that provides people with an experience that transcends the shopping aspect and offers visual engagement that only a well-designed website can provide. It creates an emotional experience. I didn’t have the means to hire an agency to create a website for me, but Squarespace gave me the tools to design something that fits my budget and accomplishes exactly what I wanted.
Your studio is located in New York’s Diamond District. Tell me about your process for creating a piece of jewelry.
I am inspired by balance, and by the contrast of the hard metal with the soft pearl. They’re mostly sourced from Japan, the all-natural Baroque pearls I use. Each one is big, irregular, and completely different from the next. I source gold from New York’s Diamond District; it’s all recycled. The material discovery is what drove the look and feel of the collection.
I wanted everything to have a sculptural quality, so I do everything using a lost-wax casting method. I begin by sitting and molding a shape in wax by hand. Then I’ll cast it in metal, and the best ones proceed to be polished and become part of the collection.
Why is jewelry the best medium for you to express your ideas?
Jewelry is like a second skin. And fine jewelry is synonymous with longevity and timelessness. It’s inspiring to design something with the idea that it will be passed down for generations. To do that, I have to approach each piece by honoring the material, making sure that it will aesthetically stand the test of time. I’m making new classics.
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