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The jewellery industry is maturing and becoming less stuffy, more approachable, and younger. Top jewellers have recently begun using Gen-Z-loved celebrities in their commercials in an effort to appeal to millennial and Gen-Z buyers. In a recent YouTube video, Cartier used buzzy names like Maude Apatow, Emma Chamberlain, and Austin Butler. The definitions and ideas of luxury are being expanded at the same time by an inspiring new generation of independent designers. Through purposefully irreverent and playful-meets-elegant designs that are successful on social media, they are developing online businesses. These gems are not those of your grandma.

The personification of this continual change is Mark Sabino. The Manhattan-based Pratt alumna, 25, creates handcrafted items that deftly combine internet culture, nostalgia, and expert design and manufacture. In September 2020, Rihanna wore a Sabino bucket hat with the New York Yankees logo on it. The humour in Sabino’s writing is evident. The acorns that appear in Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch in real time throughout the fall season served as inspiration for a simple silver necklace that includes an acorn-shaped pendant and a pink sapphire diamond. Sabino recently published a mock-up with his thousands of followers that subtly alludes to Hello Kitty. The distinctive bow of the Japanese character is undeniably formed by a trio of red gems. His designs are baked with joy.

In her interview with Vogue, Sabino says, “I guess what I’m trying to accomplish for jewellery is find that same relationship between modern accessibility and ‘classic’ design.” When describing his influences, he uses overtly millennial terminology and makes references to Supreme, Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator, and Instagram. He describes it as “similar to what Supreme did by opening a boutique out of a skate shop.” In the Diamond District, a densely populated area of independent jewellers in Manhattan, “I want people to get the same personalised experience they would get and have it feel achievable.”

Although Sabino is best recognised for his jewellery designs, he also creates inventive and fashionable clothing and other items. So much so that a stylist for Rihanna contacted Sabino last year and said the pop singer would like to purchase a worn-in bucket hat with the New York Yankees insignia that Sabino had listed online. Soon after, RiRi was seen wearing the hat while out and about.

According to Sabino, 75% of his social media posts result in a commission. These commissions typically vary from $500 to $600 but can be as high as $1,000 or $2,000 depending on the complexity of the project. For someone who once wanted to be a sneaker designer at Nike, this social media-fueled and Rihanna-endorsed career is a little unexpected. Actually, Sabino fell into the realm of jewellery creation by chance. When he was 17, he used LinkedIn to get in touch with someone who worked at the Nike corporate office and inquired about the best way to land a position there. He recalls, “They advised me to focus on industrial design.” He applied to Pratt after listening. Sabino attempted to enrol in Pratt’s one and only sneaker-design course, but the course was already full. He therefore chose his fallback strategy, jewellery creation.

A few years later, Sabino has dressed the current era’s style icon while still operating his business out of his apartment. It might be evidence of his efforts to promote himself. He has a talent for understanding the visual cues that appeal to attention and work well on phone displays. An advertisement for a necklace with a passport in the corner depicts a person who is not just fashionable but also well-traveled. Another advertisement has a silk handkerchief, a teacup, and a necklace box (also created by Sabino). The items serve as sophisticated visual shorthands. He co-created an in-shop workshop with Nike, realising his dream of working with the sportswear giant.

When it comes to self-promotion, Sabino prefers to be upfront: “I have a true love for advertising, and I think openly saying, “Hey, just to be clear, I’m trying to sell you stuff,” is a nice change of pace from hearing how your laundry detergent recognises that you have social anxiety. In order to allow them to exist independently of their primary function and simply be admired for what they are, I try to approach my advertisements like any other narrative medium, he says.

Sabino manages every aspect of his expanding firm by himself, a practise that is becoming more and more typical among today’s up-and-coming designers. This entails locating gems and jewellery, making 3D mock-ups, and occasionally forking over cash up front (which, obviously, are high, often prohibitively, in the world of jewelry). Sabino claims that his independent strategy has benefits and drawbacks. When he can keep the work “actually in-house,” he says, “it’s extremely useful not having to worry about the cost of a studio or outsourcing work to other areas.” “However, there are some procedures, like casting 3D shapes, that I can’t do due to the expense and risk associated with the equipment, but I like that those restrictions encourage me to problem-solve,” the speaker said.

He is pleased with the current trend in menswear, which is to emphasise jewels more and more. When wearing rings and necklaces, Sabino, who enjoys piling items to maximalist proportions, quips, “I get a lot less odd glances.” “I adore the fact that more people are wearing silver and appreciating its unique character. Jewelry has a way of telling stories, and I adore how the scuffs and patina it develops over time may serve as a reminder of different periods in your life.

Unexpectedly, and perhaps unorthodoxly, Sabino claims he does not intend for his company to see rapid expansion. He wants to work for another company. “Prefer than creating more, I’d much rather apply my ideas to something that already exists and has capable production processes, whether through partnership or a role as director.” He still has high expectations for his creativity and for himself. He hasn’t given up on his desire to someday work for Nike. Once more, that is