by Maria Canale, Jewelry Design ’82

In her first jewelry-rendering class at FIT, Maria Canale had an epiphany that altered the course of her career. She had trained at a jeweler’s bench from the age of 13 and assumed she’d go into a career in metalsmithing. But when Sandra Boucher, a now-retired adjunct faculty member and a legend in the industry, taught her how to design and paint a lifelike representation, her aspirations shifted dramatically “I didn’t know the job of a designer existed,” Canale says. “I was used to making things out of metal, and I thought, ‘This is so much more creative.’”

Thus began a remarkable career. Canale has designed signature lines for industry titans Harry Winston, Richard Krementz, Carvin French, and for 20 years, John Loring, the famed design director at Tiffany & Co.

“John had a lot of respect for designers,” she says. “He had that Tiffany aesthetic embedded in his DNA, and he passed that on to me.”

Three decades in, Canale is still hitting new career milestones. In 2013, she began a collaboration with Neiman Marcus on an all-diamond collection using responsibly sourced Forevermark stones. For the first time, she used her name on her designs and began to develop a brand.

“I was always 20 feet from stardom, behind the scenes,” she says. “Even now, when I interact with customers, they say, ‘You’re just like me. You’re a real person.’”

Her winning humility carries through to her work. Her jewelry is beautiful, but her first concern is for the women who wear it. She doesn’t design heavy, clunky things. She also puts hours of care into choosing—and sometimes designing from scratch—settings and clasps, so that each piece is easy to put on, hangs naturally, doesn’t pull hairs or pinch, and feels weightless. “I want women to wear their diamonds, not keep them in the vault,” she says. “To me, it’s all about, do you feel good in it?”

On these pages, Canale tells the stories behind six pieces that have made women feel really good. — Jonathan Vatner

Fireworks 1

Fireworks collection, Tiffany & Co. — 1991

This was my first big collection in the industry. They’re fairly large brooches with an irresistible burst of color. They made quite an impact! Fireworks was featured in a double-page color ad in The New York Times Magazine. Tiffany sold the collection for decades.


Spectrum opal — 1992

The Spectrum Award, sponsored by the American Gem Society, is the last great industry competition. For this brooch, I used this triangular black opal with phenomenal colors. To be honest, I’m not an opal lover, but this one was on fire. I set it with rubellite, green tourmaline, and yellow citrine, and accented it with diamonds. The result is incredibly graphic, and it won the Spectrum Award in 1992. I’ve won ten times.


Diamond International cuff — 1998

De Beers used to sponsor the Diamond International competition for diamond jewelry. I designed a cuff based on the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh Willow chair. I won based on the rendering, and Suna Bros. made the piece. It garnered an incredible media response, and I built a whole collection from it.


Krementz Kaleidoscope tourmaline necklace — 2011

Richard Krementz, owner of Krementz & Co., was one of those rare people who said, “Just design, and we’ll get it made.” Nobody says that! He was a gemstone fanatic. One day, he showed me a very long watermelon tourmaline and asked me to design a one-of-a-kind piece. I put it in a necklace juxtaposed with baguettes. As the jewelers were setting it, the stone broke. When a one-of-a-kind piece breaks, it’s a tragedy. But we recut the two pieces and remade the necklace. The irony was that the necklace actually worked better with the two stones. It now had more movement and laid better on the neck!


Deco cuff, Maria Canale for Neiman Marcus — 2013

My first line exclusively for Neiman Marcus is steeped in Art Deco. This cuff has a classic trellis shape—it’s timeless, not trendy. And it’s light because it’s made by hand. You don’t even know you have it on—it becomes part of you.

Aster collarAster necklace, Maria Canale for Neiman Marcus — 2015

We’re not all Queen Elizabeth: a woman today wants jewelry that’s easy to wear. The Aster necklace is a flower on a hinged frame—you can open it up and put it on without having to fuss with a clasp. The petals are set with rose-cut diamonds that create a subtle, airy feeling like that of a real flower, and the full-cut Forevermark diamonds are set in the center of each blossom for impact.