Emerging Women: jewelry designers taking Puerto Rico by storm

Five female artists are bringing a new dimension to high-end jewelry. Let’s meet these gifted designers!

By Lorna Zayas Rodríguez
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Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, Ricky Martin, Giselle Bündchen, Kerry Washington, Princess Rania of Jordan, Elle Macpherson and Marc Anthony, just to name a few have worn pieces made by designer Marimerce Santiago, who created MIMA House of Design (MIMA Casa de Diseño).

Her stunning creations made out of materials such as silver, brass, gold, semiprecious stones, and gems with lace and leather details have appeared in fashion editorials of renowned publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, Lucky, and Elle magazine.


Made by hand, all of MIMA accessories are distinguished by a small gem that is present in every design, a technique used by the visionary Marimerce, who used to work for over two decades as a stylist, personal shopper, and fashion editor before launching MIMA in 2006.

“I went to the procession of Our Lady of Medjugorje in Yugoslavia about 10 years ago and there I asked for guidance of what should be my next professional step. When I arrived to Puerto Rico I gave my friends as a gift, necklaces made out of string that were blessed. People began to call for me so I could make them similar necklaces, but I did not know how, so I did nothing… I became curious and visited the former store called El Gallo de Oro in Old San Juan, where I found some antique horns and charms they had stored away. That is how I began to make my first necklace cluster by using diverse components that are then welded,” Marimerce said.

That’s how Marimerce decided to embark on a path 10 years ago that she was not familiar with.

Bracelets, rings, earrings, and layered necklaces (her most recognized pieces that can be used together or separately) give life to MIMA, a super versatile jewelry line that works well for day to night use and that can be bought at dozens of stores like Anthropologie, Calypso, Henri Bendel, Barney’s in Japan, and Bergdorf Goodman.

MIMA accessories made by assemblers, weavers, and silversmiths in Puerto Rico have different looks.

Some are simple with a relaxed bohemian and beachy quality although always chic, while others are more architectural, elegant, and elaborated. Notwithstanding, all have a peculiarity and distinction that have made their creator be named among the “20 Best Designers” by upscale specialty store Henri Bendel as well as the first Puerto Rican to be invited to Premiere Classe, a notorious fashion and accessory trade show in Paris.

For more information or to buy jewelry from MIMA House of Design visit the website www.mimajewelry.com; or call (787) 444-8273 or (787) 529-5294 or email Mimapuertorico@gmail.com.

Natalia Subira Collection
The empty nest syndrome Natalia Subira confronted when her daughter left to study abroad, motivated her begin a hobby that little by little began transforming into a business.

Artistic photographs of delicate gardenias, lush rainforest trees with palmate leaves, and lively scenes from Old San Juan, like the colorful, eclectic houses and the centuries-old blue cobblestone streets began to be embodied initially into amazing trays made by the artist.

“Trays were the first pieces I designed back in 2008. I was looking for a technique to market my photos that did not include a frame; the idea was to mix them with acrylic (Plexiglass), a material that I really like because it is modern and functional. I began attending shows and bazaars to sell the trays and noticed it was a good product to continue developing,” said Subira, a native of San Juan who then began to add clutches, wine bottle coasters and cuffs to her beautiful collection.

Subira’s work has also been featured in key magazines and newspapers in Puerto Rico. She also designs different pieces upon special request.

She studied economy and Latin American literature at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, and has always been fascinated by photography.

“I was a member of the Photography Club in high school and took some classes while I was at university and the Art League in San Juan,” she said.

Subira finds inspiration from the beautiful tropical surroundings of Puerto Rico and from her travels.

“I try to take the most perfect pictures because I don’t like to use Photoshop. I am very careful with my work,” said Subira, who explains that once she takes the pictures they are sent to a manufacturer in Puerto Rico where they make her accessories.

Once a year, Subira designs a new piece that becomes part of her collection in order to keep evolving. That constant novelty also has made her begin to try to incorporate a new material, a malleable variation of stainless steel, to her designs.

For more information or to buy items from her collection visit the website www.nataliasubira.com or go to enter her Facebook page: Natalia Subira Collection.

Aida Irene Fournier, owner of Art Glass workshop
Aida Irene Fournier’s plans were changed when she began taking the elective course Introduction to Glass Glowing while studying to earn her bachelor’s degree at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“As a child I was passionate for the arts. For many years I took classes with the teachers from Casa Candina and my favorite was working with clay. I attended university with the idea of studying another major but when I took the elective course of glass art it just fascinated me and I said “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Fournier completed her degree with a major in History of Art and Language with a minor in Glass.

“Melting glass is like making cobblestone…the glass is completely transformed. I love its energy and transparency. It’s something that mesmerizes me. When you find that passion, you have to live and take it where it wants to go,” said Fournier, who designs necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets out of glass. Fixtures, murals, lamps, plates, and sculptures are some of the pieces that give life to her Art Glass workshop.

“All my pieces are unique and hand-made. I usually start with a piece of glass to make my jewelry collection. I make a main piece in glass and complement it with semiprecious stones, silver, leather; plastic….there is no limit to how many materials you use. I have used them all and design pieces depending on the season,” said Fournier, who lives up in the mountains of Cayey.

After graduating from university, Fournier worked 10 years in the travel industry. And thanks to that she has been able to practically travel the world.

“I began appreciating diverse cultures, which has had a big influence in my work,” Fournier said. However, she felt something was missing. “I began to think that I needed to give myself the opportunity to do my vocation in life, which was to work with glass.”

In 2001, Fournier developed a workshop with a small oven and began designing glass pieces that did not last more than a few hours in her hands since they sold almost immediately.

What gave Fournier the additional push to her career was designing jewelry for a fashion show in 2002 for Gustavo Arango, a Colombian designer who resides in Puerto Rico and this move sealed her luck in her new profession by making her a big name in a larger audience.

Popular local publications have featured Fournier’s accessories that have been sold and exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Museum in San Juan, among other locations.

For more information or to buy Aida Irene Fournier items visit the stores Pure Soul and Pure Soul Living in Old San Juan or call (787) 607-3786 or email Artevidriopr@gmail.com.

Ivelisse Nieves Jewelry
Design and creativity runs through the veins of Ivelisse Nieves. “Everyone in my family sews and I was making jewelry and clothing for my dolls at the early age of four. I also liked to make necklaces when I was young to sell to my friends and family,” said the owner and designer of Ivelisse Nieves Jewelry.

Even though Nieves always had the interest of designing jewelry, it wasn’t until 2005 while living in Virginia that her love became her trade.

Two years later Nieves returned to Puerto Rico to continue to develop her avant-garde collection comprised of limited edition bracelets, cuffs, hair headdresses, and necklaces where freshwater pearls, gems, semiprecious stones, Swarovski crystals, Bali & Thai silver, copper, bronze, Murano glass are its centerpiece.

Nieves added rings and neckties made out of French chatilly cloth and guipure, lace, leather and ribbons that can be worn by men or women alike in her spring-summer 2016 collection called ¡Ole!..Morena. , Ivelisse added rings and neckties that can be worn by men and women alike in materials like French Chantilly cloth and guipure; lace, leather and ribbons.

“I love elaborated work and the use of different materials. I enjoy mixing colors and resources to design unique and exclusive pieces,” said Nieves, whose new accessory line was inspired by Plaza de Toros in Sevilla, Spain and was featured this past November during Glamour Fashion Week, marking a major milestone at the same time: her collection’s 10 year anniversary.

After presenting ¡Ole!...Morena in Puerto Rico, Nieve’s collection obtained articles in fashion publications in Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland, and Peru and it has been showcased in the Dominican Republic.

During her career, Nieves has featured her accessories in local and international fashion shows with artists such as Bolivian designer Rosita Hurtado, Venezuelan designer Samy Gicherman, Puerto Rican designer Reinaldo Alvarez, and Dominican designer Bernarda Morales. She also participated in PLITZS New York City Fashion Week, Virginia Fashion Week, Latino Fashion Week in Chicago, and fashion weeks in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, among other events.

For more information or to buy pieces visit the website www.ivelissenievesjewelry.com, or call (787) 908-1618 or enter her Facebook or Instagram page: Ivelisse Nieves Jewelry.

Sofia Tort Creative Jewelry
Brass pieces dipped in 24 karat gold as well as stainless steel and acrylic designs distinguished by their organic shapes, textures, vibrancy and dimensionality embrace the exquisite collection of Sofia Tort, the rookie designer of this artistic group of women.

It was May 2014; eight years after Tort graduated as an architect from the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York and obtained a Juris Doctors at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, she was inspired to design her signature statement piece: la Cola Earrings, motivated by the plant known in Puerto Rico as a cola de pescado (fish tail); while case studying the three-dimensionality of a sheet of brass with mentor and jewelry designer Jeannette Fossas.

It wasn’t until December of that same year that Tort expanded her creative jewelry collection by adding earrings, rings, hair broches, bracelets, and necklaces.

“Everything I have designed has been inspired by a plant. I have made pieces on the movements of the plant when the elements caress. That initial earring, la Cola Earrings has been designed in different sizes and materials, and they are created so that when a person is wearing them there’s a play with light, motion, brightness and dimensions, creating a different effect with movement.

“I’ve had the curiosity of designing jewelry for a while,” Tort said. “I made different pieces and they always captured attention. After earning a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 2006 I began to study law at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. When I finished my studies I designed a pair of earrings for myself and everyone who saw them went crazy. That is how I fell back in love for the world of the arts,” said Tort, who currently works as a Notary even though her long-term plan is to devote herself completely as a jewelry designer.

Tort has had the opportunity to showcase her artisan pieces at various events, two of them were at the charity fashion show of Puerto Rican designer Heriberto Vazquez; as well as San Juan Fashion Week.

“My plan is to stay in Puerto Rico and continue selling my designs here and outside the island,” added Tort, who said she learned jewelry making and design techniques from the notorious Puerto Rican jewelry designer Fossas. “My goal is to be able to sell my designs to major retailers.”

For more information or to buy Sofia Tort designs visit the store Pure Soul in Old San Juan or visit the website www.sofiatort.com.

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