When we met Meira Tugendhaft of New York fine jewelry brand Meira T, we were struck by her love of family and art. Her company is multi-generational, with her three daughters and husband in defining roles. Meira’s strong business acumen and deep understanding of her customer have enabled her eponymous brand to endure since the 1990s. With a growing celebrity clientele and an emphasis on value and sophistication, Meira T jewelry is a must-have for independent women. Meira invited us into her art-filled Upper West Side home for an afternoon of jewelry, conversation, and modern art.
“I grew up in Germany and my family traveled frequently. They owned a clothing store, so as a child I accompanied them on buying trips. Exposure to different countries – the fashion, the art, and cultures – definitely impacted me. This exposure to fashion at such a young age was the real beginning of my love for design. I was so taken by it that I even convinced my parents to open a jewelry counter at their clothing stores. My first designs as a young girl were costume but I really wanted to create jewelry that could last a lifetime so I decided to pursue my passion. I went to Antwerp, Belgium, the diamond capital at the time, to learn more about diamonds. There, I met my husband who had recently opened his own diamond company.
Soon after, we got married and when I had my children, I took a break from the industry but needed an artistic outlet. I began knitting children’s sweaters. I always needed to do something creative using my hands. My friends on the Upper East Side loved them and I sold them to boutiques in the neighborhood. It became a full-time business but it was never my passion. When my girls entered grade school I decided to go back to my passion of designing and creating fine jewelry. With my husband’s encouragement, I began designing for his diamond company and came up with the signature asymmetrical charms that are now distinct to the Meira T brand.
At Meira T, I encourage everyone that’s part of the team to be creative. I think it’s really important for the human spirit to be creative, and that’s not to be confused with being artistic. I think being artistic is something you are born with but creativity is something that can be cultivated. I encourage the Meira T team to think outside of the box and share their ideas concerning the brand and how to constantly improve. As far as a character traits, loyalty is something that is very important to me in all aspects of my life. I do think loyalty is something that is earned, but to me, that is the ultimate necessity when I bring someone onto our team.
In terms of my jewelry, I value quality. I have a very specific aesthetic and vision as to how I like my designs to be made. I hope that when consumers look at Meira T they appreciate the design element as well as the workmanship and quality. My brand offers women fine jewelry that is both sophisticated and cool. I like to think of my pieces as playful and feminine. They transition perfectly from day to night. As a woman, I know how busy we are and I try to make pieces that we can do anything in whether it be attending a dinner party, going to a class at the gym, or a jumping into a warm shower at the end of a busy day.
People love the unique rough cut stones that I use in tandem with my signature off-centered charms. They love the vibrant and unique color combinations that make these pieces earthy and natural. The variety in the collection means that everyone can find something that speaks to them. I wear a brushed yellow gold leaf necklace with side charms. Each disc or charm is the initial of my family members. I love nature and my family so I feel this necklace perfectly represents my life.
The brand has a very rich family history. My husband started the business 35 years ago but it was predominantly a diamond company until I joined and began designing around ten years ago. We work hand in hand and he does all the diamond purchasing ensuring we offer our customers a beautiful product with high quality materials.
As a mother of three girls, I have always tried to let them choose their own path and never push them into any particular field. I tried my best to balance having a career with being a mother. This balance is really so delicate and is one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of being a woman. I think every woman will agree that it’s so hard to find the right balance. This is a struggle that we women face in today’s modern world but it’s a struggle that we are so fortunate to have because that means we have the right to choose what will make us happy and feel fulfilled. All three of my daughters have decided to join the business and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I love seeing these strong, capable, and beautiful girls that I raised working so hard to further the brand and make it what it is today.
I really enjoy working with my family—they’re so talented and different. My oldest daughter Nurielle brings her business mind to Meira T. She is great with numbers and computers and has really helped modernize the brand in a way that I would have never been able to do both internally and externally. My youngest daughter Brigitte has always been extremely creative and artistic. She took the GIA course and began working and designing for Meira T. She is a prolific designer and her designs are always cutting edge, and bring a fresh and unique quality to the brand. All the celebrities end up wearing her pieces since they are so unique and fashion forward. My middle daughter Chantal joined the business this past year. To start, she is acting as in-house legal counsel but is also exploring some new projects I’ve had in the pipelines. She is helping me market a new children’s collection that I plan on launching later this year in conjunction with a celebrity. The details are still in the works but we are very excited about this project.
My travels serve as my biggest inspiration for my line. I travel to Asia, the Middle East, Italy—these are all such vastly different places. I would say my rough stone collection is inspired by the landscapes and colors and artistry I see as I explore. I also try to incorporate symbols from various cultures I encounter through my travels. I design with the tree of life and Om symbols as well as religious symbols such as crosses, evil eyes, and hamsas. My yellow gold collection is inspired by my love of nature. I love to visit beaches, go hiking, and biking. I often make castings of real leaves, shells, or other artifacts I find. The shapes, hues and dimensions of nature are always presenting themselves in ways that are surprising and help give me a fresh viewpoint.
My husband Tobie, cofounder of Meira T, is a huge art collector. His love for art is totally eclectic—he will marvel at street art on a wall in Bushwick with the same passion he will admire a masterpiece in a world-class museum. My favorite place to design is at home with my daughter. We sit in our dining room surrounded by these great works of art—I like to think the art sets the tone for the art we are creating.
I think many woman are afraid to be strong; they somehow think that strength is masculine. I think that if you look at every single woman you see a strength there that is undeniable. I think women should never be afraid to be strong and that can mean many different things. I also always loved the quote by Anita Roddick who said, “Whatever you do, be different.” That was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out. I always try to be different, but most importantly, I always try and stay true to myself.” –Meira T
Photography by The Stone Set.