Text by Maggie Lange
Images courtesy of Irene Neuwirth
“We’re such homebodies,” Irene Neuwirth tells me over Zoom from the home she shares with her boyfriend. The jewelry designer has impeccable taste, of course, so friends naturally pump her for tips about restaurants: “People are like, ‘Where’s your favorite place to eat?’ and I’m like, ‘On my rooftop!’”
Until a recent move to Point Dune in Malibu, Neuwirth lived in a home on the canals that run through Venice, California. Neuwirth could canoe right from her property. “Venice is a really special and creative mixture of people,” she says. “Being by the ocean, the air feels clean. It gives me room to breathe.” Neuwirth loves Malibu, but she misses her Venice home, which she’s renting to a friend of a friend. She is trying not to stress about the beautiful dishware she collected over the years. “Everything is very personal in that house!”
Everything is very personal with Neuwirth. She’s chatting from her new home office—an airy, quirky, bright, confident space with light beaming from vaulted ceilings onto a tiger-orange couch. “It’s a lot of chaos: My dogs are flopped all over the place, there are a lot of colored pencils and paints,” she says. She brings stones home from the store to make sketches with the actual material in front of her.
“I feel like everything I do is so from the heart, so from my creative mind. My house looks like my office which looks like our store which looks like our jewelry,” she says. “It’s always been that way, it’s the way I dressed and put things together as a kid. It’s just been an innate thing.”
Neuwirth’s origin story as a jewelry designer aligns with this sense of natural propulsion. After college in 2000, she was pursuing another big love—horseback riding—by assisting horse trainers and mucking stalls in Agoura Hills. On the side, she put together simple jewelry, stringing semi-precious stones and glass beads into necklaces and bracelets. Before the year was up, word had gotten around about her eye for color, and Barneys New York started to carry her work. Neuwirth’s distinctive, feminine designs have been worn by Emma Stone, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jennifer Lawrence, and Julianne Moore. (Neuwirth also got a significant name-drop mention in season one of HBO’s Hacks, when the main character lies to impress someone by bragging that she once attended “Irene Neuwirth’s birthday party.”)
Neuwirth still paints all her designs, and she’s involved in every part of the business, from stone selection to writing thank you letters to every person who purchases a piece. Like her work, Neuwirth insists that each letter be “very specific and very personal.” She loves correspondence, though she thinks her stationery situation could improve. “My stationery is fine, we have a beautiful logo,” she says. I can tell she’s struggling to restrain herself. “If it were up to me, I would have hand-painted everything.”
Neuwirth, in a blessed way, is cursed by her own diligence and creativity. This, she admits, is exemplified by her beloved pet portrait charms. She found an artist who uses “this old Victorian method,” which involves carving and then painting portraits onto a quartz crystal. They’ve got a three-dimensional quality, which makes them even more entrancing in person. Neuwirth designed the first one with the artist “just for myself as a funny thing.” Then they printed an image of the charm onto an invitation—and someone wanted one.
“Now, the conversations I have with my production team are like, ‘Do you think that this dog’s whiskers are too funny on the right?’” They’ve done countless dogs (including Neuwirth’s three pups), countless horses (including Neuwirth’s three horses), and even a turtle and a squirrel. The portraits have become a calling card. Like much of Neuwirth’s aesthetic, it’s got the littlest touch of whimsy, but it’s mostly beautiful, adorable, careful, personal, lasting.
The pandemic, naturally, could have been a very difficult period for an ultra-fine jewelry company, but Irene Neuwirth’s company had an especially successful year. The jewelry sold extremely well online. “Things that are bold and colorful tend to translate better online in general,” Neuwirth speculates. But mostly, she credits incredibly loyal clients. And it couldn’t have hurt that, for her official portrait as Vice President, Kamala Harris wore a pair of incandescent Irene Neuwirth pearl and diamond earrings.
Neuwirth’s work shines on its own, even in a formal portrait. It’s confident, powerful, but with an undeniable sprezzatura. “Most of all, I think a lot of my jewelry is not overdesigned,” she says. “It’s really fun, classic, and simple jewelry, but it has a lot of flavor.”