A Jewelry Collection for Time Travelers

a wall with drawings on it
A Jewelry Collection for Time Travelers Adam Kremer

Prounis’s jewelry looks like something you could find in the ground. Or at a museum, and not in the gift shop. It’s easy to imagine an archeologist lifting one of her earrings from the dust of a dig, brushing it off, and gasping as it catches the light—almost as easy as it is to picture some sort of Greco-Roman queen decking herself in a Prounis necklace before a banquet. The point is, it’s jewelry that stimulates the imagination. It looks like what King Arthur would buy his girlfriend. It’s easy to get obsessed with it.

Jean Prounis launched her collection in 2017 with a centuries-hopping origin story: In the 1930s, her grandparents, immigrants from Greece, founded the Versailles Club, a Manhattan hotspot known for hosting singers like Edith Piaf. The sage green of the club’s tablecloths became the sage green of her branding (it helps that it’s her favorite color.) And her grandfather’s love for his own Greek heritage became her entryway into historical references, pulled from the books he would show her when she was a child.

Seven years later, Prounis is still making every piece in New York City with recycled 22 karat gold, and she’s built up a clientele of devoted fans, mostly creative types (“We have a lot of writers,” she says) who come to her for occasion pieces. Because it doesn’t quite make sense to peg her jewelry to seasons, she releases her work in looser waves which she calls chapters, and for her latest chapter (number seven), she’s time-traveling again—this time to 15th century Germany, where artisans sell and trade tumblers made of Waldglas, a glass known for its very Prounis shade of green.

three glass pendants on a chain
Pendants inspired by WaldglasAdam Kremer

Waldglas translates to forest glass,” Prounis explains. “When they were creating these vessels in the northern woods of Germany with beech trees, the plant ash created a chemical reaction and resulted in this beautiful sage green color—this kind of special concoction of beech and magnesium oxide and a few other elements. [It’s a] really calming and serene color.”

The Waldglas, she says, found her. “I first came across it at the Met. I always kind of run through the Renaissance area and the medieval area, getting from one side of the map to the other, but I saw it and was like Wow, what is this? This is amazing.

prounis tourmaline and pearl blush earrings
Prounis tourmaline and pearl blush earringsImage courtesy Prounis

She liked the organic form of the vessels, which have rounded protrusions called prunts. “The reminded me a little bit of Greco-Roman granulation, which is often my main reference throughout the collection.” And she was amused by the functionality of the prunts: The glasses were made for feasts, where people would be tossing back beer and eating with greasy hands. They needed knobs on their drinking vessels so that they wouldn’t drunkenly drop them on the floor.

The leap from antiquity to the medieval era might feel like a big one, but Prounis isn’t bothered. “I am inspired by all history, so it's limiting to only just do one vein of that. Why not all the sources?” For her next chapter, she’s thinking Art Deco. Partly, she can jump around in time like this because the historical references aren’t literal for her. “I think there’s a connection to history, but then it’s about making your own history with that item. What I see with my clients, and what's really kind of fueling for me, is they bring an inherent meaning to the piece. It's an investment, so it's like, I'm buying this because I've just graduated, or just got my PhD. It could be anything.”

prounis coral earrings
Coral earringsAdam Kremer

For example, she just worked on a pair of custom custom coin pendants for a mother who wanted them to represent her two daughters. “We looked to antiquity—her one daughter has a name referencing greenery, so we looked at the goddess Flora, and then the other one was based off of the goddess of the sea. So it definitely connects with the clients in terms of the history, and then they put their own meaning on it.”

two women sitting at a table
Prounis and OkhioAdam Kremer

On Friday, June 7, at 12pm, Prounis will be launching her Waldglas collection with a salon exhibition at the Whitney Studio at the New York Studio School. “It’s a room that we're recreating based off of what would be a merchant's trade room from that time, where Waldglas would pass through. On display, we'll have antique furniture from that time period or referencing that time period.”

The exhibit was arranged with the writer and curator Camille Okhio. “I've always admired her way of bringing the past in today—with a twist.” You could say Prounis is doing the same thing.

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