By Lisa Kava
Emma Carlucci, a sales associate at Rutheny Jewelry at 215 West 83rd (between Amsterdam and Broadway) says her favorite story about her boss — owner and jewelry maker Jennifer Rutheny — gives her goosebumps. “Jen told me when she goes on her walks in the woods, she feels peace and clarity. She feels grounded. She goes right back to her studio and pours that feeling into her work with the hope of spreading the same energy to anyone who sees or wears her jewelry,” Carlucci told West Side Rag on our visit to the UWS store.
Jennifer Rutheny is inspired by nature. She begins each day with a hike or beach walk near her home in Croton-on-Hudson with her dog, Theo. She is fascinated by flowers, plants, trees, and animals. Rutheny’s store on West 83rd Street is furnished with tree branches and pieces of wood which she collected on these walks; her findings have become shelves, a light fixture, and a table. “I pick up these pieces on my morning hikes and put them in the back of my jeep,” she told the Rag. Rutheny incorporates smooth rocks that she finds into necklaces.
Rutheny Jewelry, even though on a side street under scaffolding, has a bright cheerful feel, with neutral calming tones throughout. On one wall customers can find jewelry with flower designs (including orchids, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, and dogwood.) Another wall showcases necklaces with all sorts of animal charms (including horses, polar bears, elephants, whales, and a variety of dog breeds.) There is a wall with colorful beads and gems. When we visited, Theo was taking a nap on his cozy dog bed under a wooden table in the center of the store. A piano player named Gabriel was playing music at the store’s entrance.
As a child, Rutheny was exposed to jewelry making at an early age. She watched her mother, a pottery teacher, make jewelry as a hobby. In high school, Rutheny enrolled in a jewelry class and worked in a local jewelry store. Then, while in college, she decided to study art education and later became a high school art teacher. Always interested in jewelry, she took a part-time job on the side working as an apprentice for the jeweler David Yurman.
After teaching art for three years, Rutheny realized she preferred her jewelry apprentice job. “I loved being in the workshop and being part of a production line,” she told the Rag. She decided to focus on jewelry making full time.
In 2004, a representative of National Geographic spotted Rutheny’s animal pendants in a gallery in Beacon, New York. The company asked her to create a polar bear charm necklace to be sold on cruise ships through their luxury cruise and travel company, Lindblad Expeditions. “I started with the polar bear for them, next they asked for whales and elephants. Now I make over 80 animals in both sterling silver and 18-carat gold.”
In 2005, Rutheny opened her first store in Croton-on-Hudson, where she began to sell the animal pendants. Soon customers asked her to create custom pendants of their dogs. “Right now I have a waiting list of people asking me to make their dogs.”
Rutheny opened a second store in Tarrytown, New York, in 2017. Her original store in Croton became a workshop where she now employs her own apprentices. “Many of my clients in Tarrytown came from the city,” Rutheny told the Rag. “They would ask when I was opening a NYC store so I began to look for space.” She found that space on West 83rd Street and opened her UWS shop in October 2021.
West Side Rag asked Rutheny to describe her creative process. “Ideally, I will have the flower in front of me while I am carving,” she said. But I can also do a sketch of the flower or take a photo.” When carving animal pendants she looks at multiple photos of each animal. “I will print out 15 photos of a polar bear. I need to see every single view, the front and back paws, the left and right side, the nose; I see it all right in front of me and then I create.”
On Friday November 18th, in honor of National Cider Day, Rutheny Jewelry will serve warm apple cider and offer 15% off all jewelry. Future events are in the works, such as a spring benefit for the Wild Bird Fund (a portion of all pigeon pendant sales are donated to the Wild Bird Fund.)
Rutheny felt at home quickly on the Upper West Side. “I knew it was the right decision immediately after moving in. The neighbors have been so welcoming. The reception has been just incredibly warm here. We love the neighborhood.”
And neighbors love the store. Wrote Michael Mannion, “a native New Yorker and Upper West Side resident since 1988,” who brought Rutheny Jewelry to WSR’s attention, “My wife Trish fell in love with the jewelry that the owner creates the first time we visited about one year ago….We don’t know Jennifer personally but in our interactions as customers we have seen that she is a special, talented person with a love for nature that inspires her jewelry and miniature sculptures.
“The store is tucked away on a side street that is not busy, and has been hidden under scaffolding since its beginning,” Michael concluded. “I think a lot of readers of the West Side Rag would like to know about this wonderful addition to our neighborhood.”