Ceremonial Style: The Sculptural and Stackable Jewels of Anna Sheffield

The paths that people travel to find jewellery as a passion and career are endlessly fascinating to me, which is why I was struck by Anna Sheffield and her background in sculpture. Today, Anna creates textured talismans, ‘Ceremonial’ bridal designs often featuring unusual mineralogical treasures that cement her status as a “magic maker”, at least according to her Instagram bio! During a visit to New York this April, I spoke to the designer about her jewellery journey, the alchemy of her signature nesting bands, and the ‘alternative’ approach she takes to jewellery making.

Despite being based on Bleecker Street in the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, New York, jewellery designer Anna Sheffield has roots in the high desert environs of northern New Mexico. These formative years in America’s Southwest, surrounded by the Native American cultures of the Four Corners area, have had an important influence on her work, which jumps between architectural, spiritual, artistic, and natural themes. Even today, Anna channels multiple inspirations simultaneously, especially as she lives between the diverse States of New York, New Mexico and California. 

One of the first things I discovered about Anna is that she pursued a degree in sculpture before shifting over to fine jewellery. This innate interest in shapes, volumes and engineering informed her signature style, which she initially channelled into a custom jewellery brand called Bing Bang (now BB Atelier by Anna Sheffield). The concept centres on the “tough but sweet” customer who wants something fashionable, a little bit alternative, but perfect for everyday wear. 

Selections of rings by jewellery designer Anna Sheffield

As the brand grew, Anna collaborated with the likes of Barney’s, Liberty and, later, Marc Jacobs, but mostly on fashion jewellery collections. However, this experience opened the doors for her and led to the idea of exploring fine jewellery and diamonds.“I had never had any reason to make diamond jewellery; I didn’t think about it, and then, all of a sudden, I clocked into this experience with an incredible old-school diamond dealer – a total New York moment, and he gave me wonderful teaching about what they’re all about, why they’re beautiful, and I fell in love,” Anna shares with me while taking various engagement rings from a display to show me.

This was a formative shift for Anna, who stepped out from behind a successful brand name and started using her own identity to create pieces. However, it wasn’t plain sailing. “Getting into fine jewellery as an independently financed female from a small town in the mountains in New Mexico is not always the easiest thing,” she shares. “I didn’t have the backing of a major VC firm or something like that. But being in New York City, finding my people, finding my way, and building a career have been amazing. I feel so blessed.” Anna quickly realised that she no longer had to “hide behind” her brand and could decide upon a fresh, creative look and feel for her eponymous business and its namesake store. The result is an art installation of jewels, sculptures by late New York artist Hanna Eshel, and large slices of agates and jasper that demonstrate a fresh and singular perspective.  

With a loyal customer base from her Bing Bang brand and a new focus on fine jewellery, Anna began to receive enquiries for engagement rings. She naturally drew the non-conformists who wanted something cool and unconventional, like black or antique diamonds, so she began to design a whole range of unique jewels. Then, in 2011, she launched her Ceremonial collection – a retelling of the ‘traditional’ bridal story with east-west-set gems, heavily included grey diamonds, rutilated quartz, and suites of unusually-shaped stacking wedding bands and eternity rings. “The whole premise was having a wide range of silhouettes and launching with this idea of nesting bands that go together,” she says. “I decided to invent something that allows people to wear a really cool wedding band but speaks its own kind of language.” 

Remember that this is more than ten years ago when the concept of ‘alternative’ engagement rings was still a whisper rather than a shout! She explains: “Alternative bridal didn’t exist, but it was happening with dresses, with ceremonies. It was the early moments of saying, ‘You don’t have to be in a church,’ and you can get married anywhere. People wanted ceremonies to represent who they were, so what kind of rings were they wearing? They don’t want to just have a regular white diamond and white gold solitaire!” Similarly, although nesting rings had flourished in the 1980s, they were overshadowed by the classic solitaire in the 2000s and early 2010s. “I think I can safely say I launched them into the world,” Anna says of her bridal stacking concept. “The whole premise was to play and create pieces that told your unique design story. Then, it becomes singular, personal, and so special. People could have the same ring but put different bands with it and get this completely different style, which I love.”

“The idea is that you can collect over time, like tree rings, and capture moments from different times in your life,” Anna Sheffield. 

Personally, I think this adds to the ‘modern-day talismans’ vibe that Anna talks about on her website. Some of the salt-and-pepper, black and grey diamonds she uses aren’t traditionally ‘pretty’ gems, but they are eye-catching and treasure-like. She describes them as “feminine yet unconventional”, which is the perfect turn of phrase for the Ceremonial collection. There are some mineralogical surprises in the offering, too, like wine-coloured zircons, golden rutilated quartz, rainbow moonstone, and peachy champagne diamonds. 

These naturally lead us to the Terra Firma collection, which pushes the concept of mineral talismans to the next level while also providing customers with a great ‘right-hand ring’ option. Here, we find striking pendants and talon-claw set rings bursting with unusually included quartzes that Anna chooses based on their unique frozen universes of sand, rutile, dolomite, and eccentric elemental infusions. “The beauty of it is the clear quartz that formed last; when the clear quartz forms it’s almost like the air is turning into glass and just captures everything inside. It creates these beautiful little worlds that you’re looking into.”

More collections in her arsenal tap into the nesting concept, like the Serpent range (I learnt that Anna loves snakes and their symbolism), the Attelage chain ring, and the Bea & Theda selection of slimline, stone-set bands. However, others are more evocative of where Anna was born, such as the turquoise-infused Heritage collection, which donates 20% of sales to her Future Heritage Fund for preserving habitats and supporting contemporary Native American artists. “I want to give back to the community,” she tells me. “I work with a variety of organisations, providing art scholarships at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). That was the impetus to say, ‘Okay, I am going to work with turquoise because that’s my jam, this is who I am, this is where I’m from, and this is beautiful.” 

I think this is what I will take away from my conversation with Anna – the importance of being yourself and accepting what you love regardless of whether it is ‘trendy’ or popular. She explains it better, saying: “I like to embrace what other people aren’t doing. That’s always been my vibe! I’m a ‘do it my own way’ person, but some of the experimentation is also [because of] where I’m from.” Fortunately, there are plenty of people in Anna’s orbit who share her passion for the unconventional, and these numbers are only growing as jewellery continues to be a tool for absolute self-expression

Jewel Bar set up at the Anna Sheffield Bleecker St. Store

Anna concludes: “I feel like we’ve come to this level of personal style where so many people have their own version… that’s why the collection is so broad because I like being able to support uniqueness and differences. As weird as you want to be, we can be – that’s my kind of thinking!”

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