“Soft, yet strong” is a good way to sum up Jean Prounis’s nine-month-old jewelry line, Prounis. It comes down to the gold itself, a soft alloy of just three metals: fine silver, copper, and 22-karat gold. The pure blend—the same one you’ll find in Greek artifacts from 5,000 years ago—accounts for the jewelry’s semi-matte, “buttery” glow, but the rings, bracelets, and chain necklaces also “take on the life of their wearer,” as the designer puts it. “Your skin’s oils polish the gold over the years, but it also shows the knicks and knacks of everyday life,” she explains over the phone. “It lives with you, like a second skin.”
She’s calling from Greece, where she’s visiting the small town her paternal grandparents grew up in, got married in, and eventually left to immigrate to New York. It’s uncanny timing, given the “refined Greco-Roman” nature of Prounis’s work. “When I was growing up, my grandfather was in love with his Greek heritage,” she says. “He had such a large library on Greek culture, from art to jewelry to architecture, and seeing all of those books really left an impression on me. I see it now in my designs and even my branding—it’s funny when you realize what impacted you growing up.”
Those Greek details are evident in the yellow-y gold, the granulated edges, the weighty cabochons, and the simplicity of form; each piece feels equal parts rustic and elegant. But the Prounis family’s history in New York has been just as influential. In the 1930s, her grandparents arrived in Manhattan and opened the Versailles Club, a famous hang-out where Edith Piaf, Perry Como, and Texas Guinan often performed. “I’m so thankful that my grandfather kept all of these relics [from that era],” Prounis says. She recreated the Versailles’s matchbooks over the holidays, for instance, and collaborated with Pauline Roussy de Sales to reinterpret the watercolor menus as Prounis stationery. Even her brand’s dominant color, sage green, was pulled from the dining room’s tablecloths.
Another way Prounis’s jewelry is bridging the Mediterranean with the East River? Every piece is handmade here in New York. “I love the history of New York’s jewelry district, but it isn’t as strong as it once was,” she explains. “One day I’m hoping to have a team of jewelers here to carry on the legacy.” A trained goldsmith, Prounis works with expert craftsmen on the old-school, hyper-detailed processes: “When jewelry is made by hand, there’s more attention paid to the integrity and engineering of a piece,” she says. “Even the way it feels on your finger, all of those little details are more involved in the handmade process, which inherently adds to the longevity of a piece. My intention is to make jewelry you can really wear every day, but will last for thousands of years.”
Despite the care, attention, and fine materials that go into a Prounis piece—the 22-karat gold, the weighty gemstones, the cushion-cut diamond bands—it stands out from the ultra-sparkly, super-shiny pieces most of us associate with “fine jewelry.” The down-to-earth, relaxed way she photographs her pieces on women she admires (like Nane Feist, Georgia Pratt, sculptor Berta Blanca, “who would actually buy the jewelry for themselves”) doesn’t scream “fancy!” either. That’s precisely why young women are saving up for a Prounis band or pendant; the jewelry is truly precious, yet quiet and unpretentious.
In fact, later this month, Prounis will debut at New York’s Dover Street Market alongside Repossi, Selim Mouzzanar, Sophie Bille Brahe, and other well-known fine jewelry designers. That’s a capital-F fashion stamp of approval. Until then, you can start your wish list at prounisjewelry.com.