Manya & Roumen, a collection of 18k yellow gold and sterling silver intricately carved limited edition jewelry inspired by nature, is a labor of love from husband and wife team Manya Tessler and Roumen Vragov. When the couple married in 2006, they wanted wedding rings that reflected their passion for art and nature and so they set out to design them themselves. After studying wax carving with Alan Brodsky, a leading jewelry instructor in New York City, they carved their wedding rings, which depicted two intertwined buffalos. Fast-forward a few years and Manya & Roumen is an award-winning niche brand making the rounds at some of the world's most prestigious jewelry shows.
We spoke with Roumen to find out what inspired them to take their passion and turn it into a business, how their jewelry has ended up being worn by celebrities, how they find inspiration in nature, and more.
The Fashion Spot: Have you always been inspired by nature?
Manya Tessler: I am an animal lover and living in NYC I usually admired nature from afar through exhibits or when visiting family in New Jersey, but since moving to New Jersey in the Fall, I am inspired by nature daily.
MT: We live on the edge of a reservation and when my wife and I walk the dogs, we always hope to see deer. If we're lucky we'll spot one — this past week we saw a mother and her fawn — and a couple of weeks ago I actually saw a fox for the first time ever in the wild! In the Spring, entire groups of turkeys waddle down from the forest to eat the bird seed we had sprinkled outside — the females come quite close! Yesterday, the bird-feeder was crowded with all different types of birds and a chubby squirrel who was pushing bird seed down to what we assumed was his mate down below on the ground. Overhead, a whole bunch of fluffy adolescent bluejays were calling out and hopping from tree to tree. Birds were drinking and bathing in the bird bath nearby. Last month, a raccoon somehow squished her entire body into the birdhouse and squeezed her head out through the tiny birdhouse "window".
tFS: What made you decide to take your passion for jewelry making from a hobby to a business?
MT: It was a combination of several factors. The teacher, Alan Brodsky, that taught the jewlery making class that I took at the 92nd St. Y to first learn about jewerly making treated us all like professionals, and when I would go to pick up my pieces from the caster or the stone-setter in the Jewelry District, they would often tell me that my work was unique. We tested the waters by doing the Jewelers Association Trade Show in NY in the summer of 2009 and received the Mort Abelson award and so much encouragement from amazing jewelry designers like Todd Reed and Alan Revere—we were inspired and hooked!
tFS: What are some of the best and worst parts about running a business with a spouse?
MT: Great question! One of the best things is that I get to work with my best friend, but we each have our own studio/office. There is never a shortage of topics of conversation—in fact, we have sworn off talking about business when going to sleep because we could stay up all night! So that's the drawback, if there is one—we are always thinking about work. But that's also a plus—we're always open to inspiration.
tFS: Your designs must be incredibly intricate to craft. What are some of the biggest challenges?
MT: There has definitely been a learning curve for me, since designs often come first and practicality later. I hope that I am improving on pieces' wearability. Also, so that I can focus on designing and carving, we work with subcontractors who polish the pieces and set the stones—something which I admire but do not enjoy. Finding a jeweler who has the patience that our work requires has not been easy, but we have met some amazing jewelry designers who have really taken us under their wings and advised and mentored us. We feel very fortunate—we feel that we are never alone.
tFS: How long does the average piece take to go from conception to finished product?
MT: Ideas percolate in my mind for months. Each piece takes a different length of time, though, depending on how complicated it is and also my mood! A simpler piece can take me about a week to carve, but a very complicated piece can take a couple of months. If there are stones to be cut by the lapidary, that can take a week, and the casting often takes a week, and the finishing and stone-setting can take anywhere from a week to a month.
tFS: Your pieces have been worn by a few celebrities. How did that come about?
MT: We did a trunk show at Diana Heiman's Jewelry Salon and Vanessa Williams came and purchased the Goldfish ring. We were so excited to meet her, I don't think we dared say a single word! She talked about the beautiful architecture that she had admired on a recent trip to Cuba and about other art-related topics. Rose Ark loaned our Goose cuff to Lindsay Lohan for a video.
tFS: Can you tell us about some of the pieces you're working on now?
MT: Gladly! I'm currently carving a silver and gold swan ring swimming through waves in which the wings and waves wrap around the finger and I'm in the process of finishing a silver ring that I built around a gorgeous light blue tourmaline slice which has an orange streak inside of the stone that looks like a koi in a pond, so I carved churning water underneath the translucent stone and all around the bezel. Maybe because it's summer, I'm dreaming of the sea and swimming. I think both of these rings will be quite comfortable and also rings that I would love to wear.