Mar. 02, 2021

by Vanessa Machir

Melissa Kaye.

Melissa Kaye’s eponymous, rock star–worthy jewelry line is crafted in New York from 18-karat gold, incorporating diamonds and other precious stones. It also features neon enamel. Why? Though Kaye, Jewelry Design ’12, can often be found wearing neutrals like many New Yorkers, “When it comes to color, I believe in going for it,” she says. “I’ll wear all black and neon-yellow sneakers.” 

With a background in computer and computational sciences and engineering, Kaye started her career at Goldman Sachs. After more than 10 years, she took a break from the finance industry, craving a more creative path. She entered FIT’s two-year Jewelry Design program in 2010—and it was a natural fit. Growing up, “I had a bench set up in my room, and I was always tinkering and making things,” Kaye says.

Jewelry designed by Melissa Kaye. Photos courtesy of Melissa Kaye

Going back to school full time as an adult was a dramatic change, and there were moments of self-doubt. “I remember looking at a classmate’s drawing of a necklace, and it was unbelievable, gorgeous. I thought, ‘These people can really draw. What am I doing here?’” 

But this moment helped solidify her own design perspective. She realized that from an engineering standpoint, her classmate’s necklace wouldn’t sit properly. “My starting point is always, ‘How is this going to work?’” Kaye says. “Engineering jewelry is obviously different from engineering software, but it’s still about how you approach problems. That thought process has remained across everything I have done.”

And when it comes to engineering her pieces, Kaye focuses on wearability first. “I will not suffer for fashion,” she says, so she pays close attention to fit, feel, and weight. “When I put on a ring, I don’t want it to scratch. I want it to feel like a diamond hug.”

She founded her business in 2013, selling through trunk shows and word of mouth while reaching out to bigger retailers. “There are so many amazing jewelry brands, and it’s hard to get attention,” Kaye says. But her work caught the eye of a Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills buyer, and the store began carrying her pieces in 2015. 

Kaye’s pieces blend gold, diamonds and neon enamel.

Promoting work continues to be difficult. “You wonder why people like this baby and not that one,” Kaye says. When she started using neon enamel, a colleague questioned whether it would sell. But clients loved it so much it became a signature.

Kaye’s work can now be found in stores like Net-a-Porter, Harrods, Holt Renfrew, and Elyse Walker. And while she enjoys counting celebrities as fans—Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few—“What’s more thrilling is seeing real people wear your pieces,” she says.