The Sustainable Making of Our AILI Edition
It takes all sorts of thoughtfulness to make this necklace magic.
Monica Ruzansky is quick to name-check nature as a constant source of inspo for her daintily cool jewelry line AILI, and her earth-friendly approach to production completely backs it up. That means using environmentally friendly sourcing and working with people who are caring and meticulous about what they do. “There’s a lot of damage and waste in this world,” she says. “I want to do my part to repair that.” Here’s all the goodness that went into her Of a Kind piece. —mattie kahn
“I try to use recycled metals whenever I can. You know, because every little bit helps. It is important to me to do my best to be environmentally friendly. Once a piece is finished, I recycle my scrap, either by melting it down or reusing it in a new piece. And here’s a trick: In the studio, I keep different little cups marked with the different gold karats for all the dust filings. Over time, you can get a good amount of gold dust. It’s so precious. You don’t want to waste a thing.”
“Sustainability factors into design as well. The triangle shape of this piece symbolizes equality and balance. I use a lot of triangles in my work. I just think it’s a powerful shape. For me, it means stability and strength.”
“I don’t do casting or setting myself. I hand that job over to the professionals! The setters that I work with are a sweet family that I met through my studio mates. They’ve been in business for years, and they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s special to be able to know the faces of the people that work with you. They’re your community. The rubies that they set and that are used for the edition come from Thailand and are cut in Bangkok, where the government oversees the cutting process in order to keep working conditions good and wages fair.”
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Monica Ruzansky’s Rockin’ Guide to Mexico City
A half dozen places you just gotta hit.
For the jewelry designer Monica Ruzansky, there’s no place like home. And though she finds New York plenty appealing, the exuberance of her native Mexico City has no rival. “The energy, the food, the nightlife—it’s addictive,” explains the mastermind behind AILI’s pared-down gems. So book a trip, visit six of Monica’s fave spots, and don’t be surprised if you never want to leave. —mattie kahn
“This delicious place is on the fancy side but still casual. Every time I go back to Mexico, I have to visit it. Make sure to get the soft-shell crab taquitos, tuna sashimi, and the zihuatanejo tiritas—fish cured in lime. They also make their own fluffy and tasty tortillas. And all of this is best when you accompany it with a clamato-michelada.” (Durango 200, Roma, Cuauhtémoc)
“This is a more casual restaurant. I love this place for the aguachile de camarón, which is raw shrimp cured in lime and chili powder. I could easily eat an order for myself and not share.” (Nuvo Leon 109, Cuauhtémoc)
La Lagunilla Market
“La Lagunilla is a really great flea market, where you’ll find all kinds of Mexican vintage objects, old movie props, furniture, toys, clothing… I also go there to visit one of the regulars who sells stones and has an amazing selection of minerals.” (Rayón and Allende)
Mercado de Sonora
“This market is fascinating! It’s divided into different sections. On one side, there are traditional Mexican toys and piñatas. And on the other, there are all sorts things for white and black magic. You can find anything from soaps to attract love, amulets or herbs for any kind of medical condition…I highly recommend it.” (Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419, Merced Balbuena)
Parque de Chapultepec
“The one place not to be missed is the Parque de Chapultepec. It is the biggest national park in Mexico. Have some flour chicharrones with valentine—a spicy sauce—as a snack while you go for a stroll around the lake, and then go up the hill to the castle for a magnificent view of the city. The castle is now a museum that was once the home of Maximiliano, the ill-fated emperor of Mexico.” (Periodista, Miguel Hidalgo)
“One place where I like to hang out with my friends is an old Spanish restaurant and cantina called Covadonga. You can still find men playing dominos. It is a simple but authentic bar—there is no music, but between the conversations of the crowd, you can hear the domino pieces falling, like a soundtrack to the night.” (Puebla 115, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc)
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Monica Ruzansky knows that good things take time—it’s why there was a whole eight-year gap between when she crafted her first piece and when she founded AILI, her line of wear-every-day fine jewelry. “It was definitely not instantaneous,” she recalls. “The idea for the business grew slowly.” It also necessitated a career change.
A professional photographer since the early 2000s, Monica couldn’t quite shake a growing desire to move beyond behind-the-lens observation. Hoping to satisfy her curiosity, the Mexico City native enrolled in a series of jewelry-making classes. And while her intention had been to make only a few delicate creations to wear herself, friends, family members, and a slew of strangers kept asking after her pieces. When the compliments followed Monica to New York—where she moved in 2005—the designer eventually snapped up a vacant spot in a shared studio in Red Hook and, in 2011, decided to commit herself to the trade full-time, making teensy rings, necklaces, and earrings studded with itty-bitty, gleaming gems. “AILI means light in Gaelic. As a photographer, light has always been a source of inspiration,” explains Monica, shedding some, er, light on how her past life still influences her work now. “I feel very much that my job is to reveal what is already so precious in nature. Light is how the world reveals itself to us. It illuminates what we might otherwise miss.” —mattie kahn
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Rachel’s Rad Studiomates
One of the perks of being a designer: sharing quarters with other really talented people.
Rachel signing our certificates of authenticity in the studio’s entryway.
Just recently, Rachel Rose graduated: She went from being a designer who works from home to one with a genuine Red Hook, Brooklyn, workspace. There she transforms stark, white silk tees into attention-grabbing, color-drenched pieces alongside other up-and-coming creators. Here are the people who make up her new office posse.
Rebecka Fröberg, a super-charming Sweden native who owns the space and creates teeny-tiny details on her necklaces and earrings using some fierce-looking tools. As she puts it, “Jewelry is so shiny when it’s done, but the process is not pretty. It’s dirty and grimy.”
Teresa Kahres, a jeweler who is almost as into enamel as she is silver.
Andy Lifschutz, who turns hunks of rock and metal into chunky rings and armor-like necklaces.
Annika Jermyn, who makes some of the most amazing teddy bears you’ve every seen using crochet or repurposing button-downs. “I started using my husband’s old shirts that shrunk—or he might’ve grown,” she explains.
Monica Ruzansky, a Mexico transplant and jewelry designer who is as new to the space as Rachel is.