Design of the Times: Barbela Design

Michelle Bar is a New York City native who began her career in philanthropy after graduate school. Coming from a family of jewelers dating back to the 1930s in Belgium, Bar eventually found herself following the family tradition when she noticed a need for affordable yet stylish pieces of fine jewelry designed for the millennial woman.

That’s when she decided to leave her corporate job, and in 2014, Barbela Design was born. Produced by its team of metal smiths in New York, Bar aims to create jewelry that becomes a staple in any woman’s wardrobe. Since its launch in 2014, Barbela has developed a loyal celebrity following and can be found in stores all across the United States.

We caught up with the designer herself to learn more about her journey in the jewelry industry, her design process, what she’s looking forward to at Luxury 2019 and more:

How did your journey in the jewelry industry begin?
I think my journey began way before I was even born, to be honest.   My father’s family is from Antwerp and they have been in the jewelry industry for countless generations.  I am the first daughter in the family to become part of the industry.  Prior to Barbela, I was working at a big bank in their Philanthropic Affairs department.

What was the initial inspiration for your brand?
As a millennial I felt there were not an options for contemporary fine jewelry that was made in the USA.  I was at a point in my life where I could financially invest into nice, well-made jewelry pieces- but all that was available was sterling silver pieces, or gold pieces that were not made locally made.  I knew there was a space in the industry for an NYC based brand that made high quality contemporary fine jewelry. 

What else inspires you when designing?
I’m very lucky to live in New York City – I get inspired here every day! This city is filled all different people all with unique styles, it’s hard not to take a piece of that when I design.

Can you give us an idea of your design process?
All of my initially images are created on CAD and I make whatever adjustments I need to on that program first.  Then I create a resin- at this point I try the piece on to see if it sits properly or if it’s comfortable.  I do the majority of my changes at this stage because I am someone that need to touch and feel a piece before anything can go into production. 

How long does it typically take to create a piece of jewelry?
It depends on the piece but around 4 weeks.  Sometime I’ll leave a design alone for a few weeks and come back to it later too. 

How would you describe your brand using only three words?
High quality, effortless and contemporary

How do you personalize your jewelry and designs?
I really put a lot of time and effort to make sure that my pieces are

You have a number of different collections. Do you have a personal favorite?
I really love our brush gold pieces because it give an aged, textured look. I also love sapphires so any piece with sapphires is also a favorite of mine.

How about a favorite piece?
I really love our Mini Pearl Hoops because pearls are seen as a more traditional.  We designed these hoops to have a bit of edginess to them.

Are you partial to any particular stones or hues?
I love yellow gold. I have always been a big fan of the way it looks especially when it has a brushed texture to the piece- it gives this aged, worn in feel that I love.

What do you think sets your jewelry apart from other companies that specialize in fine jewelry?
I think that our jewelry is made entirely in New York City is something that set us apart.  We also have a very robust collection and we design pieces that fit all lifestyles of women—the new mom, the young professional, the millennial entrepreneur and so on.

Have you noticed a shift in consumer attitudes since the start of your brand?
Our initial target demo were the female millennials but it did shift to include the moms, aunts, and even the grandmothers’ of the millennials.

How would you describe your target audience?
I would call my target demographic the “Netflix generation” which encompasses millennials and Gen Z.  That’s not to say that the moms of the “Netflix generation” aren’t buying Barbela as well.

We’re very excited to have you joining us at Luxury this year! What are you most looking forward to at Luxury 2019?
This is my first year showing at Luxury 2019 so I’m looking forward to connecting with retailers from all over and showing them my collection.

What types of pieces and collections can we expect to see from you at Luxury 2019?
Expect to see lots of texture! I love when pieces have a brush or hammered finish to them—so a lot of my new collection highlights those aesthetics.

Any other fun plans in Vegas when you’re not exhibiting your designs?
Well fingers crossed I can get tickets to see Lady Gaga.

Learn more about Barbela Design here.

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