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When ballet dancer-turned-jewelry designer Jamie Wolf landed a coveted dancing role in the film Black Swan, she had no idea she was about to land an incredible design role as well: the opportunity to create actress Natalie Portman’s engagement ring. It was serendipitous for Wolf, who had danced with Natalie’s fiancé, Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied, during their years together at New York City Ballet. The stunning ring, featuring a conflict-free antique stone, sparkled on cue for the cameras as Portman clutched her Oscar, helping Wolf pirouette into jewelry design fame. We spoke to her during a recent appearance at Neapolitan in Winnetka, which carries her jewelry line.
Sheridan Road: Tell us about your path as a dancer.
Jamie Wolf: I was born and raised in New York. My mom took me to see The Nutcracker when I was 5 and afterwards I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to be a dancer.” When I was 8, she took me to audition for The School of the American Ballet (New York City Ballet’s academy) because you have to be 8 to audition. I was accepted and trained there until I was 17. When I was 17, Peter Martins invited me to be an apprentice with the New York City Ballet, and I danced with them professionally for 10 years.
SR: What made you decide to take the leap from dancer to designer?
JW: I always knew it was something I wanted to transition toward. As a dancer, you have significant amounts of time off between seasons. You might perform November through January, but then you might be off February and March, so you have two months with nothing really important to do. About seven years into my career, I started to use that time to explore jewelry design.
SR: In what way does your ballet background influence your design choices?
JW: So much of what you learn in ballet is to see the whole by really focusing on all the details. In other words, consider how your head is tilted or how you use your hands, your feet, your legs; how all of the parts create something beautiful. And I think the same thing is true in design. The scale, the shape, the color, the weight—all of these things contribute to creating something beautiful, and I think that having that attention to detail and that awareness has really helped me transition.
SR: What makes your jewelry unique?
JW: I think the uniqueness of the collection is found in the details. I use lots of engraving patterns that I use from season to season. Certain shapes, I’ll repeat. The idea is to have a collection that evolves based on consistent shapes. That way, a woman can invest in a pair of earrings one season, and then the next season perhaps buy bangles or rings, but it all feels of the same thought. The pieces merchandise well together, but they don’t look contrived in that sort of matchy-matchy, boring way.
SR: What’s been your best-selling piece so far?
JW: Neapolitan has done really well with earrings. I think that’s a great category, because they’re easy pieces that you can wear every day. The earrings I’m wearing today, I’d wear with a jacket, with jeans and a T-shirt, and I’d wear them in the evening as well. Many women feel like they can invest in jewelry they can easily transition from daily life to a dinner or an event.
SR: What are you doing for spring?
JW: We’re adding a lot of color. We’re working with a stone called rhodolite, which is a very dark rich pink that I’m excited to workwith. I think it will be very flattering. I’m also going to continue working with black diamonds, they’ve been especially strong for me. And cognac diamonds and always white diamonds as well.
SR: Have you ever thought about designing a line around a specific ballet?
JW: I’m actually working on a collection of earrings right now for the New York City Ballet. They’re redoing the costumes for Symphony in C, which is a Balanchine classic. Swarovski Crystal is involved in the costumes, and they’ve given me the shapes and cuts to work with to create jewelry that’s related. They’re debuting the new look of the ballet at their gala this coming May.
SR: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in Black Swan?
JW: It was really wonderful. A friend of mine [Benjamin Millepied], who did the choreography for the film, saw me in a dance class, and said, “I really think you should audition for this.” So I auditioned, and was chosen to be one of the dancers who [appeared] in all the performance scenes, all the classroom scenes, and all of the gala scenes. I really enjoyed training again. After I left NYCB, I was pretty ready. But it was pretty wonderful to put one toe back in.
SR: And then you ended up designing Natalie Portman’s engagement ring.
JW: It was such an amazing project to be a part of. Ben and I worked together really closely to make sure we had everything just as we wanted it to be. We took every detail into consideration, from using recycled platinum to finding a conflict-free diamond. All of the stones in the ring were Kimberley Processed, so they are certified as conflict-free stones.
SR: Who, besides famous actresses, are your customers?
JW: I would say the Neapolitan customer is a perfect example of who my customer is—women who shop for timeless pieces they can wear from season to season. And, of course, my friends who are dancers have supported me from the beginning, so I’m proud to have them as brand ambassadors.
The New York City Ballet will be debuting its new costumes—and Jamie Wolf-designed earrings—at its spring gala performance on May 10 at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. —By Kerrie Kennedy