One of the great things about Israel is the plethora of funky jewelry designers. No, I'm not talking about Michal Negrin or Ayala Bar - who most of us have already heard of and probably bought at least a small, intricately designed pair of earrings from. Whether at the Nahlat Binyamin street fair in Tel Aviv or in a little shop on a moshav, there are many hidden gems that have yet to be discovered.
In the hunt for an original piece of jewelry, one will, I admit, come across a lot of junk - fake, poorly made or even downright ugly - but here's a handful of lesser-known designers who can grace your ear, finger, wrist and collarbone with a truly creative work of art.
Blown, melted, dyed and combined with different metals, glass is one of the most popular mediums for jewelry designers here today, and can be transformed into a sophisticated ornament or add colorful charm to otherwise plain outfit.
Rina Epelboim, 32, a glass jewelry designer in Moshav Nehalim near Petah Tikva, utilizes the ancient method of lampworking, or using a torch (or in older days, an oil lamp) to melt and shape the glass. An animation graduate of the Camera Obscura School in Tel Aviv, Epelboim's glass creations are as animated and colorful as the graphics she produces for the animation industry.
"There's always a unique combination of colors," says Epelboim, who has been designing glass for some three and a half years under the tradename Mandarina and often incorporates twisted metals into her jewelry for added texture. "I get inspiration from everything I see - from a pair of socks to a woman wearing a pretty dress."
At her bright studio on the moshav, amid a dairy farm and herds of sheep, visitors can watch Epelboim at work with the torch and see the process of molding glass into jewelry, as well as hanukkiot, vases and numerous other tchatchkes. In honor of Pessah, as she does before every holiday, Epelboim will have new products inspired by the festival. Her vivid and beautifully beaded bracelets are my personal favorites, and aside from her studio, her work, ranging in price from NIS 45 to NIS 500, can be found at Nisha on Derech Beit Lehem in Jerusalem, and she has plans to begin selling in New York in the coming weeks.
With a simpler style is up and coming glass designer Ziva Kalamnovich, 31, who uses the even more ancient form of glassblowing to form the glass while it is still in a semi-liquid state.
Her "love story with glass," as she calls it, began when renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly opened an exhibit at the David's Citadel Museum in Jerusalem six years ago and Kalamnovich worked for the artist as a glassblower. "I was just amazed by glass," she says.
After spending a few years studying the complicated glassblowing technique in the US, Kalamnovich came back and learned how to apply the process to making jewelry.
Her pieces, like Epelboim's, are vibrantly colorful but in a more understated way and reflect quintessential geometric shapes combined with gold and silver.
"Usually you don't see so many colors in jewelry, everything is gold or silver, but with glass you can mix so many colors together and really use your imagination," says Kalamnovich, who sells her collection at street fairs throughout the country and recently set up a counter at a Golf chain store in north Tel Aviv.
As a young designer, she says the jewelry market is tight and small, but adds that designing in a country where women are more open and creative gives her a greater sense of accomplishment and appreciation.
In the future, says the cheerful Kalamnovich, she'd like to help other young designers sell their wares, because while there are many talented artists, few know how to promote themselves.
"I wouldn't call myself an artist - that's a big word," she says modestly. "I like pretty things, so I'm just trying to make them."
Growing up painting, drawing and designing jewelry as a hobby, glass artist Nirit Dekel got swept up into the hi-tech field after finishing a master's degree in sociology and forgot about her favorite pastime until she, too, visited the 2000 Chihuly exhibit.
"It was like an alarm clock waking me back to life," says Dekel, who designs higher-end glass jewelry for the shop at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.
"I'm fascinated by glass," says the artist, whose collection is distinct from the others in that it is composed of just glass, without any metals or extra materials. "Glass has a sense of vitality, it's a casual material yet has the ability of becoming delicate, refined and elegant and can be played with in infinite possibilities."
Her selection, which ranges in price from NIS 450 to NIS 2,500, is just that - classic and stunning and made especially unique by the intricate shapes and careful design of the individual glass beads.
"Glass beads are like people for me," she says. "It's like they have movement inside them, and each one is a bit different and has its own personality."
The established artist mostly sells her jewelry in the US, Canada, England and Australia, but also says designing jewelry here gives her more freedom to be creative.
"Glass has an honorable part in the history of jewels and art objects and has had a peculiar role in the Mediterranean culture," she says. "For me it's a challenge to make my own mark and be part of this ongoing way of preening."
But glass is far from the only medium available. Gal Padani, granddaughter of Uri, the founder of the famed Padani jewelers, has just launched her own collection of all-silver jewelry.
"I decided I wanted to work in silver because it's much cheaper and more available, and the material is much softer and easier to work with," says Padani, who will sometimes gold-plate her pieces for added depth.
Much of the jewelry is simple and basic, with finds for both men and women, but her Mandala collection, based on world cultures and styles, is dynamic and different. Adapting the style to Judaism and Kabbala, Padani designed a necklace that finishes with a geometric shape filled with little stones - each color representing a different emotion - that can be changed depending on your day or mood. The seemingly amateur concept translates to a timeless and traditional piece of jewelry with character.
Ranging from NIS 370 to NIS 2,150, Padani's jewelry is currently available at Ravid chain stores throughout the country, though, like the designers who came before her, she aspires to eventually open shops abroad.
With a much more imaginative and romantic feel, Keren Wolf's designs bring us back to the 1920s, as her vintage pieces blend gold filled and natural pearls with pink gold, copper, subtle stones and silver elements.
"My influence is the actresses of the '20s, their glamour and personality really inspires me," says Wolf, 28. "Women were just becoming more independent, more feminine, and from there they decided to create things that were very delicate and very feminine, and I really relate to that time."
Originally an actress at Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv, Wolf got into jewelry design because she couldn't find any jewelry that suited her that she was able to afford, and ambitiously decided to make it herself. Her friends adored her creations, as did their friends, and so began Wolf's career as an artist. She has now added hats, belts and hair pieces to her exquisite collection.
Currently performing in the play The Woman that Lives in the Picture, Wolf applied her dramatic hand to her studio in Neveh Tzedek (Rehov Shabazi 1), a renovated 100-year-old house designed to represent the quaint period atmosphere. Her wares are priced from NIS 150 to NIS 950 and are also available at her stand at the Dizengoff Center Designers' Market, where she made her debut.
The most awe-inspiring jewelry, however, comes from veteran designer Sarit Asaf of Moshav Mishmar Hashiv'a, who "knits" metal threads into magnificent pieces of jewelry.
"The only thing I buy is the thread," says Asaf. "Everything else I make by myself from start to finish." Because everything is tediously handmade and it takes many hours for her to knit just one small bracelet, her line, also available at the Eretz Israel Museum, is pricey, ranging from NIS 700 to NIS 2,500, but owning at least one of her extraordinary pieces is well worth it.
Asaf, who studied special education until she became enamored with knitting jewelry, defines her modern style as clean and classic, and says that unlike most artists, she didn't grow up knowing she wanted to design.
"I had a friend who made jewelry and she convinced me to study it, and because I wanted to become an expert in a specific area, I studied knitting," she says, adding that she has no particular inspiration for her ideas. "It's very calming for me to knit, it's very relaxing, and while I knit my mind goes to work and I just create with my hands."
So while diamonds may be a girl's best friend, if you're looking for less of a commitment and a bit more fun, these original creations will ensure your jewelry doesn't like look like everyone else's.