“Growing up in Southern California, my childhood was always very informal. Before I moved to New York City, I never wore a long dress to a black tie. Turning 1970s Southern California surf culture into an 18-karat-gold fine jewelry line just came so naturally. It’s what I want to wear—I want to be unassuming and elegant at the same time, and I think that’s the way many women want to adorn themselves nowadays.”
Renna Brown-Taher, the East Coast-based founder and designer of RENNA Jewels, creates pieces that live up to her Laguna Beach youth. The central inspiration for the collection: a small coffee bean shell found on the beach when she was nine years old. It was kept by Brown-Taher’s mother, unbeknownst to her, in a safety deposit box until it was turned into a bracelet that she received as a college graduation gift. “When I decided to start my own line, I saw so many different jewelers doing so many exciting and creative things,” says Brown-Taher. “It was overwhelming at first to consider what my perspective was, and why what I wanted to create was important enough. Ultimately, I looked to the bracelet to ground myself and remind myself of the DNA of the brand—and still do.”
Plumbing the depths of the sea and combing its shores, Brown-Taher transforms organic inspiration into perfectly polished forms. The sculpted spines of shells—immaculate recreations in lemon-colored citrine and watermelon tourmaline. In gold, the fine ridges of a coffee bean shell hug towards a hollow center. On a pendant, the slender tentacles of an octopus stretch towards its gold frame. Peach-tinged lobster pincers hang from morganite studs. The collections are always playful but not sophomoric, clever but not kitsch. RENNA is as pretty as it is positively wearable.
A frequent subject of interest in publications like Vogue, Town & Country, and Brides, Brown-Taher’s delicate works have made it into the jewelry boxes of preeminent aesthetes and influencers. RENNA’s range of acolytes is perhaps evidence of its undeniable appeal. Supermodel Gigi Hadid, ballerina Kathryn Boren, socialite Nicky Hilton, pilates guru Ashley Deleon, actress Drew Barrymore—each has been spotted sporting one of Brown-Taher’s pieces, and each decidedly in their own way. Below, with the summer season at its apex, we saw no better time to check in with Brown-Taher to talk maritime legends, big waves, and good vibrations.
What’s the process of making your shell pieces so true to their original form?
For the coffee bean shells, we made a silicone mold out of the original shells. We’ve scanned that model into the computer and now we are able to scale it smaller or larger depending on the piece. Each is hand-polished and sandblasted for that high-touch, luxurious finish. You’ll see the smallest version in our Bitsy Studs and the largest in our Salt Creek Pendant.
Some of your pieces–the Caspian series, in particular–have an almost storybook quality to them. Do you ever look to illustrations for inspiration?
Absolutely. I love looking at vintage maps and historical sea artwork for inspiration. Maritime and whaling museums have some of the most beautiful artwork, based on both legend and reality.
As a designer for whom sustainability is important, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the industry in that regard?
Fine jewelry is inherently sustainable because it is made to last a lifetime. Jewelry is not made to be disposable; it is made to be passed down from generation to generation. We are careful to source recycled gold and ethically source our gemstones. Where we can, we work directly with mines like the Women’s Zimbaqua Aquamarine Mine in Zimbabwe and the Muzo Emerald Mine in Colombia— both of which work directly with their local communities to positively impact healthcare and education along with creating local jobs.
How does using recycled gold help preserve the environment?
Precious metals can be recycled. Gold is used in a plethora of items, all of which can be melted down, the impurities removed, and returned to 24-karat gold—its purest form. From there, we can create any karat of gold. We work with a US-based company that does the whole process in-house, from start to finish. Before we purchase the gold, it is certified by an independent lab for purity.
Do you consider a stone’s, say, mystical properties when creating a piece?
I do! Our Dream Shell Collection is all about tapping into a stone’s core vibrations. We source rose quartz for love, citrine for success, lapis lazuli for communication—the list goes on. Each is hand-carved in Germany in the likeness of a seashell. These stones are so meaningful because they are a quiet reminder of your goals and dreams on a daily basis.
What stone are you currently most interested in and why?
I am currently obsessed with labradorite. Initially, you may think it’s just a gray stone but it contains planes of flashing light that are so beautiful. In the sunlight, it glows. We use labradorite for our Dream Shells and also made a beautifully faceted bead necklace from the stone which is finished by our cheeky new Lobster Clasp.
Last beach or body of water that really captivated you.
Gouverneur Beach in Saint Barthélemy. Dreamy.
How does the Atlantic differ from the Pacific, in your opinion?
Pacific Beach culture is casual, and the waves are huge and cold. You jump in and come out with scratches and bumps, sand everywhere. The Atlantic is clear warm water, and the beach culture is a little more dressed up and proper. All in all, I love them both and, of course, there are exceptions to this on both sides!
Living in Manhattan, the sea–though close–can often feel so far away. How do you keep your connection to the ocean alive on the East Coast?
It helps that I live on the West Side and walk to the Hudson River every morning to find peace.
Where do you imagine a RENNA piece in 70 year’s time?
Hopefully these pieces will be among the most treasured in family collections. I imagine granddaughters saying: “I remember when my grandmother used to wear this piece at every family gathering and it reminds me of her.” Or: “My father gave this to me when I turned 21 to remind me of the family time we spent at the beach.” Hopefully these jewels are vessels for past and future memories. The designs are current but almost always have an heirloom quality to them that will preserve for a lifetime.
Which piece from your personal collection—be it from your line or not—holds the most emotional power for you?
The first coffee bean shell bracelet that my mom made for me when I graduated from UC Berkeley. I still wear it every day, and, without it, we wouldn’t have the jewelry line I get to share with you today.