Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Earth and sky

The jewelry of TAP by Todd Pownell balances a moody, romantic sensibility with the powerful forces of nature.

By Jennifer Heebner

Image: Tap by Todd Pownell  

Jewelers Todd Pownell and Debra Rosen met while working in their mutual field and bonded over a love of unexpected beauty — particularly the kind that comes from Mother Nature. From fissures in the earth to night skies, their TAP by Todd Pownell brand is romanticism in fine-jewelry form, championing rugged-looking designs that give a nod to landscapes, dramatic pairings of dark and light, and inverted stone settings. While the company does not sell directly to consumers, its collections are in demand at a growing number of independent retail stores — 30 to date.

Training grounds

The two cofounders took different educational paths to jewelry. Pownell, today a certified gemologist appraiser, got his diploma in jewelry fabrication and stone setting from the now-defunct Bowman Technical School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He then started working in Youngstown, Ohio, while earning his graduate gemology degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Rosen, meanwhile, went to the Cleveland Institute of Art before pursuing further jewelry instruction in Cologne and Halle, Germany. There, she immersed herself in the art jewelry scene before eventually returning home to Ohio. She was working as a wax carver in Cleveland when she met Pownell, who was head stone setter at the same company.

They began working on projects together, including running a small jewelry school out of a shared studio and starting a little gallery for jewelry sales. They also participated in a couple of shows around 2005 for the Society of North American Goldsmiths. The synergy in their aesthetics — including a love of setting diamonds with culets upward — was apparent, and they happily sold pieces to galleries. By 2014, they decided to explore the possibility of exhibiting at a New York trade show to boost sales. That was the Jewelers of America show, and they ended up taking the Mort Abelson New Designers of the Year award.

Signature styles

Orders skyrocketed after that. Retailers fell hard for the pair’s ruggedly beautiful and highly textured designs, often in oxidized silver with rich yellow gold. Their style reflected the “unexpected ways we find beauty within the forces of nature and landscape,” explains Pownell. Inspired by romanticism, TAP’s designs include abstract forms in nature as well as the chaos that sometimes accompanies it.

“Our Fissure rings have cracks in them with small stones set upside down,” he says. “They’re a little bit of a discovery with an unexpected sparkle through the diamonds. Turning our diamonds upside down was never supposed to be subversive or punkish, it was meant to be unexpected.”

The brand’s night sky styles also feature inverted single-cut diamonds, with darkened metals and a little bit of 18-karat yellow gold to capture that feeling of dusk. “There are little sparkles and texture through a rustic hammered finish,” he elaborates.

That texture has been honed through practice and well-used hammers with tiny crevices and cuts. The overall effect is one Pownell calls “stony”: “It’s not super deep, but gives the appearance of the surface of a brick.”

Upcycled gems are another fixture in the TAP line. So are mixes of diamonds and cuts such as full, single, kite, shield, old European and cushion, as well as salt-and-pepper stones. Pieces end up having a unisex vibe and a genderless appeal, and sourcing efforts reflect the latest sustainability requirements.

Pownell’s and Rosen’s understated love of nature in their jewelry speaks volumes to those who live in outdoorsy regions of the country. “We have strong audiences in Colorado, Oregon, California, and Santa Fe, [New Mexico,]” says Pownell.

Retail enthusiasm

TAP’s retail fan base includes Debbie Klein, the owner of Art & Soul in Boulder, Colorado, who picked up the line in 2015. “Buying into the line was one of the fastest decisions I’ve ever made,” she says. “It’s refined, organic-looking jewelry that has a relatable, comfortable and accessible quality that appeals to people.” Men’s bands from TAP are among Art & Soul’s best-sellers. Even Klein’s husband — who swore never to wear a diamond band — fell in love with a Fissure-style one. “He loves the individuality of the ring,” she says. “It’s substantial and gives you a little sparkle without being too flashy.”

Emma Pompeii of Peridot Fine Jewelry is an equally enthusiastic fan. “[Pownell] is designing my engagement ring,” relates the marketing and graphic design director for the Larchmont, New York, company. The ring is an offset pear-shape, salt-and-pepper diamond on a yellow gold band with platinum prongs. The appreciation is mutual. “Retailers help acquaint us with new audiences and demographics,” says Pownell. “In this way, we have been able to evolve and do higher-end work through our store partnerships.”

And retailers love doing custom work with him and Rosen. Projects have included carving the sound wave of a spouse’s voice into a band, and emulating mountain ranges. “Todd once modified a Fissure band to look like the Flatirons mountains,” recalls Klein.

Clients also bring family stones for TAP to fashion into something cool. “They always come up with something harmonious,” Klein says. “They are warm, lovely people, and that shows in their work.”


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2021. To subscribe click here.

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