Growing up, Jean Prounis was obsessed with ancient Egyptian jewellery and its connection to nature. “When I was in high school, I purchased an ancient Egyptian replica snake ring from the gift shop at Louvre and wore it every day, until the gold plating wore off,” recalls the Long Island-based designer.
From a young age, Prounis says she has been drawn to antiques and the stories within each object. “When I was younger, I loved going to flea markets with friends, squeezing into vintage pieces and then wearing our new finds out to concerts.” She later studied jewellery and metalsmithing in college. During summers and after graduation, she also took classes in ancient goldsmithing techniques like granulation, chain making, alloying, and recycling gold. This paved a path for Jean into the world of jewellery.
With a firm vision on sustainable practices, Prounis launched her brand in 2017. Drawn to the buttery yellow gold jewellery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knew her creations had to be made with a custom shade of the ancient 22-karat alloy, where fine gold is mixed with a small dosage of copper and fine silver, resulting in a vibrant yellow hue.
The Bulla collection is her latest work for 2020 and is a modern interpretation of the ancient Roman Bulla pendant, a protective amulet worn through childhood.
How have you reimagined the Roman Bulla, and how did something so quaint become your muse?
For the Bulla pieces, I sought to interpret the disc-shaped pendant into a breadth of styles. For the rings and earrings in the series, they each reference the domes commonly seen in ancient Bulla pieces in varying scales. For a while, I was looking to make pieces specifically with a grounding energy in mind, something I felt we could all use a bit of these days! I’ve been working on my meditation practice and wanted to design pieces that reminded me of those soothing moments. I was drawn to working with rounded shapes as they have a naturally calming energy.
When I began to research historical jewellery references with rounded shapes, I came across ancient Etruscan and Roman Bulla, which are most referenced as a protective amulet given to children, but was also worn by adults. I was drawn to the protective qualities that were thought to be represented by these lenticular pieces. For adults who sported a Bulla, it was a piece of jewellery that differed from most others during that period in that the wearer could self-describe how the it fit into their lifestyle. You can often see Bulla pendants depicted in ancient Etruscan relief paintings and even sculptures.
How many pieces form part of the Bulla line? What stones have you used?
There are about 11 new styles in the Bulla chapter, but it will continue to expand. I prefer to keep our collections in small sets that I call chapters. We keep them open and grow new designs from each piece naturally. I like to think of our entire offering as a continuous narrative. As for the stones, I used tumbled sapphires for these pieces to contrast the circular shapes with a more organic form.
At the heart of your work lies recycled gold and responsibly sourced gems. Why is this so important to you?
Preservation of culture and our planet are two of the main forces for why I am dedicated to working with recycled gold and responsibly-sourced gems. I strive to maintain minimal impact on our planet with our production. All of our gold comes from either refined post-consumer gold pieces or studio scraps and sweeps. With our gems, we only source from transparent vendors who can speak on their mining relationships and lapidary practices. Most stones change hands numbers of times between mining and cutting so we are committed to working with vendors with traceability. Aside from our contemporary stones, we source as many antique stones as possible in an effort to create pieces with a unique history while maintaining minimal impact.
What inspires you most in your work?
Nature, beauty in imperfection, rarity, storytelling, my friends and family.
What do you do in your downtime?
Antiquing, wandering, trying out new recipes, traveling, conversations with friends. I just started a garden at my parent’s house that I’m excited to tend to over the spring and summer. I’m currently dreaming about growing flowers to make into arrangements for our studio.