“My biggest source of inspiration are the wonders of Mother Nature,” Daniela Villegas muses. “Her secrets and magic, her symbolism and sensibility. It is what I believe, and what makes me feel at peace and calm.”
Taking cues from botanists, naturalists, and her own insatiable curiosity, Villegas’s one-of-a-kind works feel less like static pieces of jewelry than they do enchanted specimens. The Mexico-born, Los Angeles-based designer’s creature-inspired collections form a kingdom made to be worn. A sapphire crab clutching a fleck of watermelon tourmaline winds about the finger. Agate beetles cluster around the wrist. A coyote, donning a crown of spinel and gold, stares from its chain. Villegas influses her subjects with elegance and charm, softing any sting with the glimmer of silver and gold, the playfulness of color.
There is an undeniable aliveness to Villegas’s work. “For me,” she explains, “it is very important that the pieces have a story behind them. Jewelry cannot just be an accumulation of gold and precious materials; it must have a soul and provide a dreamy feeling when we wear it.” The designer’s interest in symbolism and metaphor helps infuse each piece with its own particular magic, lending her jewelry the quality of an amulet—something you might take on a journey for protection and good luck. Like any good heirloom, the pieces are meant to accrue meaning and significance over time. “As an artist,” Villegas continues, “I create that initial story, but the client adds their own, bringing multiple lives to the piece.”
Though a mystical vein runs through Villegas’s jewelry, her work is far from cryptic or brooding.
“Jewelry is a celebration,” Villegas says. “Every time we wear it, it should be a moment of enjoyment.” The colors she employs range from gentle to vibrant, and her affinity for rarer stones like seraphinite, pietersite, and chrysoberyl add an unexpected moment of discovery to her creations. In this marvelous world Villegas has created, youthful exuberance rules the day and the imagination, no matter what age, is sacrosanct. Possibility is everywhere. An adventure waits just around the bend. To wear a piece from her eponymous collection is to be the protagonist in one’s own grown-up fairy tale.
It’s been 13 years since Villegas launched her brand. In that time, she’s lent her signature whimsy to red carpets and glossy magazines, appearing on the likes of actresses Yalitza Aparicio Martínez, Mini Driver, and Lake Bell, and within the pages of Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar, to name just a few. Below, we talk to the designer about her history, her process, and her latest collection.
Can you describe your personal path to becoming a designer?
I felt it since I was a little kid. My great-grandmother used to be a collector of jewelry. She was always super chic, wearing her jewelry everywhere and telling us stories about her pieces.
Making and wearing jewelry evokes those memories of a time when I was a child and everything could be fixed with a smile or a hug.
How has your brand evolved over the years?
Since the beginning, my main focus for the brand has been in quality rather than quantity. Ninety-percent of the pieces are “one of a kind,” and the collections are permanent. This business model makes me see my works as art pieces that use jewelry as a way of expression. It also gives me the opportunity to tell and explore different stories. The collections evolve all the time, but you can still wear the old and the new pieces and all the elements will match together beautifully. It’s like a continuous dance.
What do you hope a person feels when they wear your jewels?
I hope they feel beautiful and powerful, that they shine like the unique jewels they are and their power comes from within.
What is your production process like?
The pieces are consciously handcrafted by skilled local artisans who bring my dreams to reality by simultaneously weaving historic techniques and modern innovation through each piece. Every product is unique. My style manifests in a mix of ethically sourced organic elements— like beetles, porcupine quills, feathers, shells, pebbles, and wood—alongside 18K gold and precious and semi-precious stones.
Which of your pieces are you most fond of?
Each piece and collection holds a special place in my life. The Backyard Collection, which is inspired by the insect world and its environment, is very dear to me, and the one most people associate with my work. Collecting bugs is one of my hobbies and I love to create different jewels inspired by them. Into the Deep is inspired by the ocean and its creatures. Curiosity is inspired by scientists, botanists, and explorers whose curiosity shaped the world we live in now. Each piece is unique. They tell different stories. Some are more complicated to make than others but all they bring a shared message of joy and hope.
I’d love to focus on one of your pieces to shine a light on how you think about design. Let’s talk a bit about your Attina crab claw earrings.
The crab is incredibly rich in symbolism, and signifies prosperity, renewal, and success. It exemplifies the need to honor ourselves and to find a balance of protection and vulnerability suited to our personal needs and emotions. The earrings are made using 18KPG, sapphires, and agates. Agate is a stone that balances the mind, body, and spirit, helping us to slow down and center ourselves.
Can you tell us more about your latest collection, Threads of Love?
The collection is inspired by needles and quilts—the act of weaving—and by how these elements serve as a metaphor to express our relationship with life. When we create a quilt, we use different types of fabrics, patterns, and textures. These elements depict different symbols of different experiences in life; some are more beautiful than others, however, in total, they make up the life we have. My wish for this collection is that the pieces hold the power of our intuition and creativity so that we can use these influences to live a life with more peace and empathy, where we can use our complicated experiences in life to grow and learn… always seeking beauty in everything we do.