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Growing up between New York, Paris, and São Paulo, she was constantly surrounded by art, as well as visually rich and multicultural environments. For her 16th birthday, her mother, a gemologist and art gallerist, had one of her daughter's designs produced. That started Yael down a path to forge her own work. After graduating from Barnard with a degree in French Literature and Translation, she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metals & Jewelry Design from Parsons School of Design and began creating handmade, sculptural designs out of sterling silver and gold. "I knew then that is was what I wanted to do with my life," she says. "I was able to actually create wearable sculpture that could express my thoughts and feelings."
In 2000, while living in São Paulo, she reignited her love of colored stones. "In Brazil, I discovered the pure beauty and life of gemstones," she says. Not long after, she created what was to become her most recognizable collection: Perpetual Motion, so named because of the constant, rolling movement of perfectly round gemstones suspended in sleek structures of gold. The design, inspired by the playful magic of special toys, was also what marked her transition from purely artistic expression to wearable fine jewelry.
Since then, her designs have won multiple awards, including the 2002 Tahitian Pearl Trophy Award for her Spinning Wheel necklace. Her work has been shown in boutiques and galleries in the U.S. and internationally, and worn by Olivia Wilde, Morena Baccarin, and Scarlett Johansson, among others. She brought her business to New York ten years ago, and in 2013, she opened an elegant showroom there, in SoHo. Today, she continues to celebrate kinetic design and pieces that complement the strength and beauty of the women who wear them.
The brand was established in São Paulo in the year 1998, and has since attracted a devoted clientele and industry accolades from around the world, many of which acknowledge the designer's unique ability to create modern and sophisticated jewelry that sets gemstones free and, at times, in motion. "It takes time to appreciate, in full, the detail of these intricately-designed pieces," says Béatrice Telcat, director of the Galerie Elsa Vanier in Paris, which sells her work. "Like layers of a secret, they reveal themselves slowly."
While various collections take their initial inspirations from childhood toys, nature, and even societal ideas about marriage, all get filtered through the designer's mind, using artistic and technical skills that interpret these concepts in a completely new and wildly imaginative way. Deeply embedded in each and every work is a sense of play, of energy, and of clean-lined beauty. From the first collection, Perpetual Motion, which reimagines gemstones as perfectly round spheres free of prongs and traditional settings, to Spinning Top, with its constantly rotating pieces placed precisely within gold frames, there is delight and discovery not just in the visual but in the audible effects of rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. "Jewels 'come to life' when they interact with the owner and the gemstones meet the metal in harmonious sounds," says Telcat.
Each piece also comes to life thanks to Brazilian gemstones and Brazilian stonecutters and goldsmiths, who work closely with Sonia to create new stonecutting and metalworking techniques. While there are complex mechanics and architectural lines on display, the work is always executed by hand. It is something that remains important to Sonia, especially as her pieces reach a larger audience. "For me jewelry transcends self-adornment and reveals how individuals express themselves," she says. "For a lot of people jewelry can be considered a talisman, while for others it's a glamorous object." No matter the association, it's important that there is a connection: "I believe," she says, "that jewelry should always be handmade."