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A Decade of the Unexpected
Spinelli Kilcollin Then and Now
It’s been 10 years - nearly exactly - since Dwyer Kilcollin and Yves Spinelli jumped head first into the world of fine jewelry with no formal design experience and just one unconventional ring. “There was a lot of uncertainty,” remembers Dwyer who had never made jewelry but was a sculptor with an established career in the art world. Yves and Dwyer had met at Maxfield boutique, where Yves, a designer and fashion consultant, worked, and Dwyer was looking for an outfit for a gallery opening. Not long after they began dating, they found themselves making the biggest commitment of all- going into business together.
It all began with a ring design imagined by Yves, a style that could be worn across all four fingers, connected by small interlocking rings. He commissioned his father Antoine, a hairdresser with a love of metalsmithing, to create it for himself - but the unique piece turned heads. It was a unique style, varying in thickness, a lightweight silver that felt industrial yet delicate, masculine yet feminine. Yves and Dwyer’s friends in the fashion and art world started asking the duo to make one-offs in their garage and to their surprise, the ring took on a different style for each individual.
One person may wear it across all four fingers, as Yves intended, but some wore it all on one finger, stacked. Or across two fingers, with varying combinations. Even across three fingers, with one ring dangling off in the center.
Their friends loved the design, but when it came to the idea of starting the brand Spinelli Kilcollin, professionals in the jewelry industry were skeptical. “People said our brand was too difficult because there was too much explaining around the styles, too much versatility. And one ring is not a jewelry line.” Dwyer recalls. “Maybe it’s my background, but the guiding principle of every truly exciting movement in art has been to break the rule, to move in a different direction. I just kept thinking, in order to make the brand what we wanted we needed to break from industry standards, like Warhol or Duchamp. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. You have to have the right combination of naivety and conviction.”
Over the next ten years, the brand grew. Production remained with the same designers with which they began in Downtown Los Angeles but the operation has scaled significantly, now selling hundreds of styles at boutiques and wholesale to department stores around the world, doing collaborations with high profile friends like Emily Ratajkowski and Hoorsenbuhs. Spinelli Kilcollin accrued a passionate following of celebrities, designers, and creatives who were attracted to the exact risks that felt so uncertain at launch. They introduced mixed metals into their lines, working with unexpected combinations of golds and silver, pairing different types of diamonds and metals together, surprising wholesalers when customers flocked to their uncommon designs. “We weren’t jewelry trained so we naturally think out of the box,” says Yves. “We didn’t learn the old rules. We come up with ideas based on what we think is cool. Dwyer, as a sculptor, looks at materials differently. I like playing with unexpected designs. It's a unique approach.”
For Spinelli Kilcollin, the risk had paid off.
Then, in March of 2020, just a few months before their decade anniversary, the pandemic came in with a sudden burst, and like most small businesses, threw Spinelli Kilcollin into that feeling of uncertainty once again. Dwyer and Yves shut down production as stay at home orders were mandated, moved the entire business back into their garage, and went back to their roots for real inspiration. “When we started the brand, we sold individual rings to people, and it’s funny, now we’re back working with people directly.” Explains Yves. “We get to fortify those relationships and remember who we are making this for in the first place. Buck stereotypes. Change our own way of thinking. And not be tied to our own collections. We’re circling back to our origins.”
One unexpected result came from this time of unknowing: a new collection of rings made in .925 silver sold at a lower price point, with proceeds going to charity causes. “We love silver.” Explains Yves of the .925 Collection, “In the beginning we started with silver because we couldn’t afford anything else, and now we are back at it. It's an excuse to get back to the beauty and simplicity of pure silver, a way to open up our market to even more customers, and to find our own way to give back.”
“We used to donate things to charity auctions all the time,” Dwyer expresses, “But when May hit with the murder of George Floyd we felt compelled, not only as individuals but as a company, to do something. We knew action was urgent but we also wanted to make sure we were asking ourselves the important questions surrounding what it means to be socially conscious as a brand. Part of creating means having a platform. Who and what we support matters.”
“We wanted to honor the events that were happening,” says Yves, “but also do something that was more than a one-off reaction.” To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the brand, they launched the first ring of five styles in the .925 Collection, with half of proceeds from each ring going towards a separate charity that aligned with their values. The Solarium Silver celebrated Pride month with half the sales of the launch month going to the Martha P. Johnson Institute. The response was unexpected. “Orders poured in in the first hour. It was shocking. So we decided to just keep it up and made every ring of the collection go to a different cause.” So far, the .925 Collection has raised over $41K for five different causes. “We really wanted to find a way to embed new and accessible styles into our collection that can forever benefit organizations. It feels great,” Yves says, “We can all help each other be successful.”
“It's a good lesson to learn, even 10 years later.” continues Yves. “You think you know the field, your customers, how they think and react, but you have to always be open to new ways of thinking.” This year, like their first, has been a year of unexpected changes, of new hurdles, of rethinking and evolving and taking risks. But for Spinelli Kilcollin, both then and now, embracing the unexpected seems to be the best –and only– way forward.
Words by Kate Messinger