Sometimes when we are at a crossroads in life, a new path presents itself. That is exactly what happened for jewelry designer Halleh Amiralai. After working for several years in the wholesale ready-to-wear business at Chanel in New York City, Halleh decided she wanted to take some time off, so she and her father took a trip to India. “I walked into a jewelry store in Jaipur and I was inspired,” she recalls.
When she returned to New York City, Halleh began taking jewelry-making classes at the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She soon decided to return to India to learn goldsmithing. Halleh stayed in India, for a month, learning to be a bench jeweler, and then returned to New York, a trip she made several times before developing her line. From her years at Chanel, Halleh had a lot of connections in the fashion world and she began doing trunk shows and selling her jewelry. It wasn’t long before Halleh realized that she needed to actually create a collection with a color story and a cohesive feeling.
An avid traveler, Halleh brings a global point of view to her designs. She was born in Iran, but she and her family left during the Iranian Revolution in the early 1980s. They were in Germany for a couple of years before moving to Houston, Texas. She left there to attend Boston University, where she studied International Relations, before earning her master’s degree in International Marketing at Emerson College in Brussels, Belgium.
“Travel inspires me; you are away from home and it makes you come out of your comfort zone,” says Halleh. Although, she also notes that she can be inspired by anything, anywhere at any time, from people that she sees when she’s riding the subway to the metalwork on the street grates of New York City. She is also influenced by the seasons, especially summer and the light and green of the season. Emerald is her favorite gemstone and she uses it a lot in her creations, along with sapphires, diamonds and touches of enamel. In Persian, Halleh means, “halo around the moon” and some of her earlier designs had celestial and moon motifs.
Halleh believes that fine jewelry is meant to be timeless and one of the most important elements in her designs is comfort. “You will never put on a pair of my earrings that are so heavy you want to take them off in an hour,” she says. For quality assurance, Halleh wears everything she makes to be sure that it is comfortable and she makes sure that all of her pieces transition easily from day to evening.
Amber Michelle: What is your favorite city?
Halleh Amiralai: My favorite city is Marbella in Spain. I have a home there and it is where I spend my summers. It’s a perfect mix of city and beach. Marbella has beautiful mountains, then a valley and a beach. I can go hiking in the mountains and then go to the beach. It has an arid climate like Los Angeles. I have a connection to Spain, I have been going there since I was a kid. I love it there, because I am so in tune with Spanish culture. People have dinner at midnight and enjoy life. It’s also a place where I spend time with my entire family and we’re all under the same roof together.
AM: Who do you most admire?
HA: My mother. She is a fountain of positivity in our household. We went from Iran to Germany to the U.S. within a few years; it wasn’t easy. My mom had to establish roots wherever we went. She didn’t know German and she spoke very little English. When I think of her, I see a lion carrying a cub in her mouth. That is what she is like.
AM: Are you a morning or night person?
HA: Night. I’m really clumsy in the morning, you should see me at the gym. My brain turns on at night, I love late dinners and my dreaming starts at night.
AM: What piece of jewelry do you always wear?
HA: A pinky ring. When I was growing up, my mom always wore a pinky ring. I thought it was very feminine and chic.
AM: What is your favorite book?
HA: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. He’s an Australian author who was formerly a heroin addict and bank robber, who escaped from prison in Australia and went to India. The way the author describes India through his words vividly reminds me of the smells of the country. It’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read in my life. It’s a long read and I carried around the actual book for a long time; it’s very thick and heavy. I could relate to so many scenes and places in that book.