With engagement season fast upon us, we could not think of anyone better to feature in our Industry Influencer series than Michael and Hiroyo Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Jewelry. Michael and Hiroyo began working as a jewelry design and fabrication team in 2001 when they opened a small studio and workshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They are also husband and wife, so it makes perfect sense that they specialize in engagement rings and wedding bands.
Finding the dream engagement ring is an exciting, yet stressful endeavor. Whether you are shopping together as a couple or planning to surprise your partner, there are many factors to consider such as budget, style, metal, gemstone, cut, carat, and setting. Above all you, want something that is unique and speaks to your love and commitment to each other.
Fitzgerald Jewelry has carved its own singular niche in New York City’s wedding jewelry scene. The gallery space is inviting and laid out with display cases containing a vast, but not overwhelming selection of stunning rings and jewelry items. There’s something to suit every style from classic, vintage, and romantic to contemporary, minimalist, and edgy. Already have a dream ring in your mind, but haven’t been able to find anything comparable? Michael and Hiroyo work in collaboration with clients, transforming their ideas into a custom-made, one-of-a-kind piece. Couples even have the option of taking a workshop where they make their own wedding bands! In an age where experiences are valued for being immediate, detached, and technology based, Fitzgerald Jewelry’s personal and hands on approach to not only their craft, but also building meaningful relationships with their clients, is extremely refreshing. We had the pleasure to talk with Michael and Hiroyo and ask them about their approach to designing wedding jewelry, creative inspirations, and which neighborhood restaurants they send couples to celebrate after finding that perfect ring.
Can you tell us a little about your background story? What made you want to open a gallery and studio in Williamsburg?
Our original studio was located in an old button factory on North 11th street, which we shared it with a friend who had a metal fabrication workshop. His business started to grow, so we took over the downstairs space for our first workshop gallery in 2009. Originally, we moved to Williamsburg lured by reasonable studio space. And before long, we had really become part of the neighborhood. One evening sitting outside a restaurant, we noticed that the people at the next table were all wearing rings made by us. It was really nice to see. In 2015, we moved to a larger space on Grand Street where we are now.
You are known for your beautiful, handmade engagement rings and wedding bands. What inspired you to specialize in wedding jewelry?
We have always made rings and thought that focusing on engagement rings and wedding bands would be a great way to experiment with materials and design. We loved the idea of playing with the tradition of the wedding and engagement ring by making it unique and individual while maintaining the essence of what the ring symbolizes. One of our most successful designs is our pebble band for both men and women. When you casually look at the ring, it looks like a standard wedding band. But on closer inspection, you see that it has planes and turns that travel around the band.
How does it feel knowing that your rings represent one of most important moments in a couple’s life together?
It is a huge source of pleasure for both of us knowing that people come to Fitzgerald Jewelry to get the most significant piece or pieces of jewelry they will ever own. These rings bear such great symbolic importance for the couple. We are honored that they have chosen to celebrate and signify their union with bands and engagement rings designed by us. And it is truly inspiring to work in collaboration with a couple to transform their vision into a beautiful and personal piece of jewelry.
Can you tell us about your collection of engagement and wedding rings? There seems to be something for every style and budget.
We are not just looking for a particular clientele. We want to work with everyone and help them find their ideal ring. We work from both our own ideas and clients’ suggestions and just run with them. We feel that as designers who specialize in custom-designed fine jewelry, it is essential to listen to the people who actually wear our pieces. Sometimes we like a particular idea so much we will expand it into an entire collection. Keeping this in mind, we design with a broad price range. Our melee collection includes rings in 14k gold with a small diamond for as little as $400. While other rings from the collection can sell for over $3000. But we always design with an idea of simplicity and elegance. And also a little fun.
You also do custom-designed pieces. What should a couple have ready when they first meet with you about designing a ring? What is the design process like from start to finish?
We take a very personal approach to working with people to design their wedding and engagement rings. The process starts by making an appointment where we sit down to discuss stones and materials. And if we have an idea of what someone is looking for beforehand, we will source specific stones from a broad range of suppliers within the jewelry industry. Stones range from traditional diamonds to ethically sourced, unusual salt and pepper and champagne colored diamonds as well as an array of precious and semi-precious gemstones. After the stone is chosen, we discuss materials – we work with a variety of metals including exotic ones such as gray gold and champagne gold. Once the design direction is established, we then make a decision about the actual design process and fabrication with two main approaches. Our rings are made entirely by hand using traditional wax carving or working directly with metal. Another option is to make the ring using a computer aided design program called Rhino, which gives the client a lot of control over the design process because they can see what the ring will actually look like on screen.
Fitzgerald Jewelry offers private workshops for couples where they can come into the studio and actually make their own wedding bands! What will the couples be doing during those 3 to 5 hours they are working with you?
The amazing thing that people experience when they come to take our workshop is that they get to make an incredibly important piece of jewelry with their own hands! It means so much more to the couple when they are involved in the fabrication process. Couples make their wedding bands using either the wax carving technique or working directly with the metal – it really depends on the type of ring they wish to make. And rings can be made in all colors and karats of gold, Palladium or Platinum.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone in the process of picking out a surprise engagement ring?
Put the time and energy into finding the ring you really want. This is a very special piece of jewelry that you are going to want your partner to love twenty or thirty years from now or longer.
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Hiroyo: I have a broad range of interests, but draw inspiration from the natural world and nature in particular. When traveling, I document everything that catches my attention from strange insects to unusual plants. For this reason, I love visiting and exploring new places – a trip to the botanic gardens in Barbados was particularly rewarding for me.
Michael: I am a voracious reader of everything from biographies to history, but have a special weakness for graphic art and comic books. I am drawn to using archetypal images in my work, and especially like to infuse a graphic sensibility in my wedding and engagement ring designs. Hiroyo works very intuitively while I am more architectural in my approach. While both of our styles are different, they feed in to and compliment the other’s work process.
Every couple is unique and you must get so many different requests when it comes to style, aesthetic and material. Was there a particular ring collaboration that you found especially challenging or exciting?
We tend to design separately, but have been collaborating for so long that some of the lines have become blurred. As our styles have evolved over the last seventeen years or so, we have faced so many unique design problems and challenges. One of our favorites was a ring that Hiroyo carved with very fine minimalist lines, but the setting was just not quite right or balanced for the stone we were using, which was a princess cut diamond. It is one of the few occasions where Hiroyo put down the job and I picked it up, saw the setting through, and finished the piece. While the ring is an older style of work, we still have the piece today and it was a forerunner for our split setting – this design has continued to morph and change as the tastes and demands of our clients have changed over the years.
A couple just picked out their wedding bands at Fitzgerald Jewelry. They are excited, want to celebrate and ask for restaurant recommendations in the neighborhood. What are some of your favorite restaurants that you would suggest to them?
Where to even begin?! We always recommend Walter Foods right next door to us – they do fantastic American fare. Birds of a Feather and Salt + Charcoal are great if you are in the mood for Asian food. Tabare is a very romantic local spot, and St. Anselm and Rye are perfect for a steak celebration. The Bedford Cheese Shop if you are famished and just want a good sandwich. And if any of these recommendations are failing, we can always direct you to our Studio Manager, Ms. Sunim Choi who is a walking Zagat Guide to the neighborhood. Oh, and did we mention One or Eight whose food is great and the dining room is terrifically designed …… Now we’re hungry.
Visit www.fitzgeraldjewelry.com to see more breathtaking engagement ring ideas and a full list of workshops offered at the Fitzgerald Jewelry School.
Follow on instagram @fitzgeraldjewelry