"Start wearing your vegetables and fruits. They are icons of sophistication.” says Janet Mavec, designer of Orchard Jewelry.
Elle magazine once called Janet Mavec “the archaeologist of style” for her uncanny ability to dig up quirky, story-telling jewelry from the 19th and early 20th centuries and making it fashionable again. A-listers shopped her Madison Avenue boutique to see the next thing, whether it be whimsical vintage stick pins, some of them skeleton-shaped; or signs of faith, like Victorian-era enameled crosses.
Mavec is now involved with something even older: nature. She primarily designs pendants from what grows, flies, or swims within it. “The objects of nature,” she says, “are shapely, beautiful, humorously haute couture at times.” To share her point of view, she founded Orchard Jewelry. It is one of the only lines dedicated 100 percent to nature. Once you see and hold Mavec’s acorns, haricot verts, peapods, and lotuses, you will look at nature in a new way. Or laugh at it.
While the antique jewels Mavec once sold were often steeply expensive because of rarity and made of precious materials, Orchard is very different. It’s affordable and well-made in America. From decades spent studying jewelry craftsmanship, Mavec knows a few secrets. She brings these lost techniques to Orchard, using less expensive metals. “It should be the artistry of a piece that makes it last not what it’s made of.” Evidence is in Orchard Jewelry. It’s the design details—the cross hatches on acorns, the vine curls on beans, the quivers of a sage—that make each piece linger in your mind.
Women still have to battle to make headway in male-dominated fields. Imagine then how rocky the trail was 35 years ago when a talkative art-history major with a shock of Pre-Raphaelite red hair came on the scene, hawking such things like 17th-century Venetian Jewish communal marriage rings, a pearl birth-to-circumcision amulet, and a 19th century silver-and-paste rosary blessed by Pope Pius IX himself, and declaring them chic. Mon dieu. Eyes rolled. Even in Manhattan. That embodies Janet Mavec, a declarer of trend and often right on the money.
The native Ohioan’s talent for digging up whimsical and witty antique jewelry that struck a chord grew her fame. She moved from selling out of her apartment to, eventually, her own storefront, J. Mavec & Company on Madison Avenue, in 1983. She continued to deal in wearable antique curios but also began designing her own pendants, including apples, strawberries, asparagus and eventually peace doves carried in Bergdorf’s, Shreve, Crump & Low and independent retailers like The Tiny Jewel Box.
Buoyed by the positive feedback, along with her own desire to spend more time outdoors in the garden at her New Jersey farm, Mavec decided to start fresh. She opened OrchardJewelry.com in 2011. The line is serene, fem, and earthly. Today, she works on the acres of the farm, growing vegetables, fruit, and flowers—and also sketching them to eventually be cast and made into wearable pieces to last for seasons to come. She’s also received high-profile commissions, like the pearl necklace in conjunction with Frick Collection’s Vermeer exhibit, as well as The Horticulture Society of New York, Madoo Conservancy, and The Battery Conservancy.
When did the company start?
2011, although Janet designed the peace dove in 2001, a decade earlier. It was sold in her store J. Mavec & Company, Bergdorf’s, and independent retailers s like The Tiny Jewel Box.
Why did you start the company?
I was selling estate and antique jewelry for 20 years on Madison Avenue. Fashion changed in the 2000s. Fabrics became lighter, women’s collars mostly disappeared, and athleisure was starting. Antique jewelry didn’t hang to the lighter fabric; it looked heavy; and without collars, it’s hard to sell brooches and stickpins. I sold all my inventory in 2007 and retreated to my garden to figure out my next move. My garden gave me the answer.
How would you describe the style of the pieces?
Realism is the guiding ethos. The pieces reflect the way nature designed them. They are not stylized or made “cute”.
We make jewelry for those who maybe wouldn’t necessarily even wear jewelry. We are jewelry for those who like to forage, not only in the garden or the forest. We’re jewelry for those who are curious and connected.
Where are the pieces produced?
Rhode Island. The state was the heart of fashion jewelry production in the 19th and 20th centuries. Everything is made in America. The waxes are made in Beacon, NY. Made in America was really important to me when building this business. I was inspired by what Shinola did for Detroit.
What was the first piece for Orchard?
What’s the most popular piece?
Peace dove, followed by the acorn and the sage. [link to them]
What metals and finishes do you use?
All different kinds. Most are gold-plated brass. I also use gunmetal, Swarovski crystals, some silver-plated brass, and resin pearls. But everything is available custom made with precious stones and metals.
How many collections do you have?
21, as of August 2017.
We’ve classified them below:
Swimmers: Fish, eel, oyster
Fliers: Dove, cicada (the wings)
Fauna: Rabbit, horse (the tail)
Flora: Bowman’s Root, acorn, vine
Flora (edible): Green bean, pear, seeds, pumpkin, sage, peapod, apple
Flora (bloomers): Bluebell, lotus, sunflower
Where is Orchard Jewelry located?
Naturally it’s in nature, in the trails, pathways, ponds, flyways and garden beds of historic Bird Haven Farm, a 100-acre farm in Pottersville, New Jersey where Janet lives part time with her husband, Wayne and dogs: The Duchess of Pottersville, Octavia Plotinus Augustus, Count Axel Von Jackson and Infanta Marie Pimental Alba.
Bird Haven is not open to the public. However, if you’d like to visit, please call in advance. If Janet is at the farm, she’s generally eager to show people around.
Where can you buy the jewelry?
At orchardjewelry.com. Limited pieces have been available at Food52, Terrain, One Kings Lane.