Jess Hannah

Jess Hannah

WORDS: Aly Comingore
PHOTOS: Cara Robbins

It’s a strikingly serene scene inside Jess Hannah’s new Los Angeles studio. Tucked behind her home in Jefferson Park, the small open space is all white walls and softly curved lines. A metalworking bench sits neatly in one corner; across the room, an inspiration board filled with moody black-and-white photographs and vintage Comme de Garcons ads leans against a wall; in the center, a quiet reading nook furnished with Georg Jensen’s Silversmithy: 77 Artists, 75 Years. The studio is, in no small way, a direct reflection of Hannah’s style – a carefully edited mix of old and new, with a touch of Georgia O’Keefe thrown in for good measure.

As the founder and mastermind behind J. Hannah jewelry, Jess creates delicate, simple, vintage-inspired pieces ranging from necklaces, bracelets, and signet rings to custom wedding and engagement bands. Since its inception three years ago, J. Hannah has earned praise from the likes of Vogue, The New York Times, and Harper’s Bazaar, and now includes a line of nail polish and collaborations with Winden, with even more new projects on the horizon. Still the goal, Jess says, has always been simple: to create pieces that look and feel like modern heirlooms.

Fittingly, the 26-year-old designer attributes her first memories of jewelry to her grandmother. “She had a box of stuff that I was only allowed to play with under supervision,” she recalls. “Eventually, when I was older, I got some pieces and my sister got some pieces—there was this beautiful pear diamond cocktail ring and this beaded necklace. … My grandparents valued nice things, but they didn’t have a lot of possessions. And the pieces made in that time, the craftsmanship was just different. “

While studying graphic design at Cal Poly, Jess started taking lessons from a retired jeweler in the neighborhood and quickly got hooked. “I set up a bench in my bedroom—my roommates weren’t super thrilled with it—and I started teaching myself using YouTube videos and books,” she laughs. “Anytime there was an opportunity to ask for a gift from my parents—for Hanukkah I got a torch.”

Underwhelmed by the idea of working in graphic design full time, Jess enrolled in a summer course at Revere Academy in San Francisco, and took up an apprenticeship with a local jeweler. Inspired by the craftsmanship and attention to detail she learned from her mentors, she launched her first J. Hannah line from her living room in 2013 with the hope of making handcrafted jewelry accessible to other women her age.

“I’ve always really loved design, so [creating a line] was a tactile form of it – little tiny sculptures that you keep and wear on your body,” she says. “Where art in other forms just sits in your house or hangs on a wall in a museum, I feel like jewelry is a merging of fashion and art in a different way than clothing is. And it’s much less disposable.”

Not surprisingly, J. Hannah quickly joined the ranks of a rising class of stylish young female designers who are championing small batch, high quality, ethically made and inspired fashion. Since moving to Los Angeles, she’s also slowly been able to turn her one-woman operation into a thriving small business that puts quality and craftsmanship first. All of her creations are made in her downtown studio. Jess and her craftsmen work primarily with recycled 14K gold, and and all the stones Jess uses are either vintage or ethically sourced and conflict-free. “It’s about closing the loop as much as possible, and just being an informed consumer.”

In a sea of rapidly waxing and waning trends, Jess’ designs stand out not just because they’re clean, modern, and beautifully inspired. They’re also testament to a larger generational shift away from fast fashion towards things that are well crafted and meaningful. “I try to only buy vintage and small designers,” Jess says. “Now, there’s so many options. I love the thrill of the find. It’s exciting, and it’s special to know that you have this thing that someone else is not going to be wearing the next day.”