In certain parts of Brooklyn, it’s hard not to bump into independently-owned businesses whose proprietors fabricate, or concoct, or carpenter, or throw, or sew, or conceive of the products sold inside. Given this surfeit of high-quality, locally-made goods, it’s a tough scene in which to stand out and thrive.
Take jewelry. The Brooklyn market is not huge, but in the past decade it’s fallen prey to—I’m gonna call it—the Catbird Effect: A proliferation of thin, minimal, stackable, geometric, and (most often) gold rings, pendants, bracelets, and studs. Maybe they’re also hammered, or brushed, even sprinkled with Lilliputian diamonds. All of it is understated and classy—but also, very overplayed.
Amidst this glut of dainty pieces—a couple of years after Catbird opened it’s shop on Bedford Avenue in 2006—Caitlin Mociun began designing her own rings and studs with something (at that time) very different: turquoise. No one was looking much beyond diamonds, and Mociun said the blue stone was hard to source. Plus, her very first pieces were a lot larger than the small standard. At the time, Mociun was running a sustainable fashion label, but a trip to Morocco opened her eyes to a new aesthetic, and pushed her to start designing jewelry.
“I really like the Bedouin crazy-antique moon earrings,” Mociun told me, sitting on an upholstered bench near a large front window at her Williamsburg design studio. “They are massive, and stretch the hell out of your ears, they’re just not functional, normal earrings.”
That morning, Mociun was wearing a corset-like top, a pleated long metallic Gucci skirt, and fifteen—yes, ten followed by five—rings of her own design on both hands. “It’s not at all what I am doing anymore,” Mociun said. “But from Morocco, I was super inspired and brought back and simplified some of those design elements into jewelry.” Mociun studied textile design at Rhode Island School of Design, but saw that jewelry design was a more sustainable business than fashion. Plus, she felt she had more of a knack for metal and stone design, than patterns on fabric.
Sitting next to Mociun on the front bench, I asked for a rundown of her rings. Her latest collection riffs off of a multi-colored stone cluster, a prototype of which she was wearing. “So these two are one-of-a-kind pieces,” she began, pointing to two rings that held gorgeous, variously hued gems. She continued down the line: there were “shape bands,” bent into angles and chock full of diamonds, another that contained a large sapphire (“It’s not the highest quality, but it’s interesting how the mineral lines up,” Mociun observed), the next was lined with baguette diamonds, and still another thin band was accessorized with a tiny stone jutting off to the side, like a small dock extending from a lakeshore. I’d never seen anything like it. Mociun called it a reverse sapphire setting.
“And now,” Mociun continued, finally making her way to a band filled with tiny red gems, “we’re going to be switching all of our diamonds to red hill garnets—they’re actually mined by ants.”
“Excuse me?” I asked her to clarify. “Yeah. There is an ant that, wherever [the garnets] are, they throw them out when they’re digging channels.” The only work miners do is pick up what the ants have already chucked. “So they’re zero impact mining,” Mociun continued. The last show-stopper was a large turquoise piece that Mociun called the Super Nova, an oversized, bezel-set stone on a gold band. Put together, remarkably, Mociun made 15 rings of various sizes and aesthetics look elegant rather than gaudy. It’s on weeknds, she says, that she’ll do something novel and just wear one: Mociun’s aberration is everyone else’s norm—and vice versa.
Of course, given the materials she uses, her pieces don’t come cheap. But, she explains, she’d rather produce high-end and expertly-fabricated pieces that are real investments, than skimp on quality and reduce cost.
“The settings that we use can take eight to ten years of training,” Mociun said, and, for that, she works with six different fabricators in Manhattan, each with their own skill set. “That’s where I ended up going…and we want to keep going high-end.”
I asked, considering Brooklyn’s minimal, gold-based standard, did she feel she fit into any part of it?
“It’s funny, some would associate my line with Brooklyn,” says Mociun, due to the location of her studio and store in Williamsburg, “But I think of myself as a New York brand.” First, because the jewelry she sources is from around the world and fabricated in Manhattan and, second, because Brooklyn has become, for better or (probably) worse, one big, abundant, and homogeneous comodity.
“It’s always been more important to me to go against the grain,” Mociun assesses. “More than anything, I want it to last and be something that people love and think is beautiful for as long as possible.” If she sees a trend happening? “I don’t need to add to it.”
Which is a relief. There is more than enough of that to go around in these parts. And personally, I am happy to see her proclivity for abundance in the number of rings she wears, and the kind of stones she attaches to them.
Images by Jane Bruce