Jess Hannah’s love of jewelry is pure and her standards are high. When you conjure the classics in your mind, like the perfect signet, locket, or not too big, not too small band, Jess has the details honed to a T. Her eponymous line J.Hannah is simplicity, perfected and modernized. All jewelry is handmade in the J.Hannah studio, based in downtown LA. Pieces are made in 18k gold or sterling silver and stones are ethically sourced.
Before being a brand born on Instagram was a thing, Jess was there, snapping pics and crafting a beautifully curated assortment of photos before crafting a “feed” was really a thing. Having followed her since the early days we can attest that her transition from image curator to designer felt seamless and natural, though we know much hard work has gone into it’s growth and success!
On a recent trip to LA, we were excited when Jess invited us to her airy and industrial DTLA office and studio to catch up. Despite often being considered delicate and minimalist, the jewelry is substantial in person. The kind of pieces that make even the most staunch minimalists want to pile it on. Also, for the record, I think the curves of the Form II Ring is a work of genius. -Jenna Wise for The Stone Set
Tell us about your life leading up to creating your brand. How did it all come to together?
I discovered my love for jewelry early on, after inheriting some of my grandmother’s vintage pieces. In college I studied graphic design, but I liked making things with my hands, so it was a natural progression to learn the craft, as I couldn’t afford the things I was lusting after. I began learning from a retired jeweler out of her garage. Later, I started making pieces independently in my bedroom, and later on briefly apprenticed with a local jeweler duo. J. Hannah started with me hand-making every piece myself and it grew organically from there!
Your brand manifested on Instagram. How has it played a role?
Made-to-order fine jewelry that is sold online poses some obstacles for the customer and for us. We want people to feel as comfortable picking out a piece from us as they would if they were shopping in person. I think Instagram has been an indispensable tool to help communicate not just our brand vision, but a more holistic view of the designs we are offering as well as the inspiration, styling, and conceptual that brings them to life. It also enables us to have a direct and candid line of communication with our customers so it’s definitely much more than a promotional tool for us.
Any words of advice for designers starting a brand today? What business lessons have you learned?
Work smarter, not harder. Sometimes you need to identify your weaknesses so you can dive into your strengths. Time is everything, and it shouldn’t be wasted on things that you can’t do easily or efficiently. Researching the best ways to outsource and optimize what you can’t easily accomplish on your own is so liberating. You hear a lot of advice out there about growing—in every direction at all costs. I think it’s much more important to grow slowly and thoughtfully, with intentions and the right foundations.
Your jewelry is made in downtown LA with ethically sourced materials. Why is this important to you?
We wouldn’t want to have a business if it wasn’t impacting everyone involved positively. For us this this includes everyone in our supply chain, our jewelers, and the members of our team. It means are fairly compensated and working in a safe environment. Our metals are recycled and are stones are always traceable. We don’t just want them to be happy and healthy, we want to show other businesses that they can do the same without making any sacrifices.
What pieces have the most meaning to you? Which do you never take off?
A big part of why I became a jeweler was my early interest in tinkering with my grandmother’s jewelry. She had accumulated a lifetime of pieces that all had different significance for her. My favorite piece of hers inspired my Clara collection, it’s a delicate oval bead that is suspended from a cable chain. I elaborated on the original design with a few variations, including a bracelet and a few other necklaces. My Clara Necklace is a foundational piece that I never take off.
What have been some of your most exciting moments?
We have grown so much over the last year so there are many milestones. It’s hard to pick out a few specifically. At the beginning of this year I met with my small team to reflect on this growth. It was gratifying to come together and acknowledge how far we have come in such a short span of time. Reflecting on these accomplishments and sharing in that victory naturally segues into “what’s next?” We have a thankful and excited attitude towards all our horizons for what’s to come.
Why did you create nail polish? How does it complement your jewelry?
My motivation for starting the polish line was that I couldn’t find what I wanted on the market. I figured I probably wasn’t the only one craving some respite from the louder pop colors you usually see on the shelf. I wanted to make it easier to find that laid back shade that you won’t ever get sick of, and that will actually look good once you put it on, not just in the bottle.
We love your bridal collection—it feels fresh and new while still classic. How did it come about?
Ceremony started out of the awareness that the engagement and wedding ring narrative is outdated: we love the symbolism that a ring can stand for, rooted in history and significance.
However, we believe a ring can represent whatever you define it to mean — a marker of engagement or weddings, but also able to signify meaning, connection, and growth. We wanted to create a collection that represented a ring as a symbol of love and acceptance; a reminder of individuality and love of all kinds. We don’t use the word “bridal,” but I’m glad you did because that is exactly where all this came from.
We wanted to create a collection of commitment rings that felt more authentic to real relationships. It’s a spectrum of designs that leaves room for the customer to decide how to mark and signify their love, whatever that looks like. We didn’t separate the collection into men’s and women’s categories, and you don’t need to be getting married or engaged to wear one of our rings.
We tried to avoid design semantics that would explicitly gender the pieces or render them static. It’s an invitation for the customer to freely consider a multiplicity of styles, and oust any predetermined boundaries that would drive someone away from what they might be otherwise drawn to wearing.
At the same time we both came from backgrounds steeped in jewelry design and production, and wanted to give people a product that is created from the highest quality materials, responsibly sourced, and conceptualized by a designer — without the extreme price markups that are standard in the market for something like this; overall, a ring that aligns with your values.
What’s in the pipeline?
Currently I’m working on a product that blends the two world of jewelry and beauty. I don’t want to ruin the surprise!
Photography by Emerald Carroll