Dr. Tonya Chen Mezrich is a non-practicing dentist who designs jewelry for her own collection: Jewel Design by Tonya. While at Dental School at Tufts University, she learned all the skills that she utilizes to design her one-of-a-kind jewelry. She finds jewels at estate sales in Boston, New York, and Paris and also uses sustainable materials, freshwater pearls and semiprecious stones as well as Swarovski crystals to create her unique necklaces.
Tonya is involved with the MFA Museum Council (nice to know as I’ve been a member for several years), the Animal Rescue League of Boston, serves as co-chair for the Boston Ballet Young Partners group, and sits on the advisory board for Mochi Magazine. She works with the Petpals program and brings her trained therapy dog, Bugsy, for regular visits with residents at Susan Ballis Home. If it sounds like Tonya isn’t busy enough, she’s also the Hot List columnist for Boston Common Magazine. The stylish jewelry designer is a nominee for the Daily Candy’s Sweetest Thing Fashion Category, and was named one of Boston Globe’s top 25 most stylish people. Tonya and her husband, best-selling author Ben Mezrich [New York Times bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House], live in the Back Bay.
Amy Steele [AS]: You are a dentist. What did you like and not like about being a dentist?
Tonya Chen Mezrich [TM]: I loved my patients, and really being able to make a difference in people’s lives with dentistry. It was extremely rewarding to be able to give a person who had suffered with no or very little teeth, a new set of teeth and watch them light up with confidence and happiness as a result. What I didn’t particularly care for about being a dentist was all the red tape that insurance companies put patients and dentists through.
AS: Why did you start designing jewelry?
TM: I started designing jewelry during dental school. A friend of mine, who was at Harvard Dental, was always wearing beautiful jewelry. She told me she made it all, and that it was very easy to do. She encouraged me to start designing my own. So I took my tools from dental lab class and started making earrings. Everyone loved them, so I moved onto necklaces.
AS: You said that dentistry and jewelry making were closely related. How is this so?
TM: They are closely related because they involve the same skill set. A good mind in structure, foundation and design, and a good set of hands to accomplish it! Both fields are extremely detail oriented. You wouldn’t want a diamond falling out of its prong setting, just as you wouldn’t want a crown falling off of your tooth. A dentist is trained in casting metals, bending wires, waxing up, etc, the same exact skills needed to produce jewelry.
AS: How did you learn the fine art of jewelry making, even if it is like dentistry?
TM: I am a self-taught jewelry maker. I learned it all by trial and error. But it also helped me having a strong background in fashion, as well as fine arts training my whole life.
AS: Why is your jewelry unique?
TM: My jewelry is unique because my designs come from the heart, and are made of one of a kind materials. When a design is made from the heart, it shows. It’s not just some cookie-cutter piece of jewelry that you see anywhere. My jewelry turns heads, and makes the woman who wears it feel confident and beautiful.
AS: How are you making the jewelry, with what kind of techniques? [An aside I know nothing about jewelry-making]
TM: I make the jewelry using wire bending and wrapping techniques, as well as incorporating mixed media. I do not have the lab space yet to do castings, but I would like to in the future.
AS: What inspires your designs?
TM: I look around at nature, and at what people are wearing fashion-wise, to get hints as to what jewelry would pair well for each season. I am also inspired by many successful jewelry designers such as Erickson Beamon and Alexis Bittar.
AS: Where is your pug while you are working? How jealous does he get that you need creative time or have you worked out an arrangement? [writer’s note: Tonya talks about her pug a lot on Twitter!]
TM: My pug hangs around nearby when I’m working. So he’s really right there in it the whole time. He sometimes even gets to test run my jewelry to make sure the pieces are solid and wearable. I’d say he’s the most fashionable pug on the block by far.
AS: What is your favorite type of jewelry (i.e. bracelet, necklace etc)?
TM: My favorite type of jewelry to design is necklaces. I used to do a lot of earrings, but I moved over to necklaces, because I am really into the chunky statement piece style. I don’t like to make chunky earrings because they pull at the lobes and stretch the holes, so I steer away from this style. I do have a signature chandelier earring that is extremely light, but still has a substantial appearance of “looking chunky”. People love this style because they can have the chunk without the damage that actual chunk causes!
AS: How much pressure do you feel having the Style Boston show and also being named one of Boston’s most fashionable people?
TM: There’s a lot of pressure being named one of Boston Globe’s most fashionable people, and also being nominated this year as The Daily Candy’s Sweetest Thing in the Fashion category. I used to just wear my lulu lemons out all day long. But now there’s this pressure to really look the part and put a good outfit together before leaving the house. (You never know who you might run into). But the pressure is kinda fun. It takes a really creative process to come up with a good outfit that works well and is perfectly accessorized. I am lucky to have a good husband who helps vote on whether outfits make the pass or not.
AS: What do you like most about making jewelry?
TM: I love the creative process. I have a million designs in my head, and on sketches that need to be realized. I just wish there were more hours in the day to accomplish them!
AS: What is the most challenging aspect of making jewelry?
TM: The most challenging aspect is making sure a piece is solid and wearable, and finding more hours in the day to design. The solidity of a piece is very important to me; I think it is because I come from a dental background, where foundation is so key. I hear a lot of people complaining because this or that piece of jewelry from another designer or a cheap design broke. A good piece of jewelry that is well designed should not break with normal wear and tear. (But ladies, I’m not saying to treat your jewelry like it’s a chain link fence or a set of handcuffs, it IS delicate, and should be handled with care) However, from standard normal wear, jewelry should not break. If you are buying disposable jewelry from an H & M or similar line, then you shouldn’t expect it to last forever either.
AS: What is the one essential item of jewelry a woman MUST own?
TM: A statement necklace.
AS: Where can people find your jewelry?
TM: Moxie on Charles St and in Wellesley, Serenella on Newbury St.
AS: Thank you Tonya! Have a Happy Chanukah. I definitely look forward to owning one of those gorgeous necklaces one day.