Jewelry-designing couple keeps the brand true to its roots in Jerusalem.
By Leah B. Stern
Diamonds and pearls are so very often the symbol of love and commitment in pop culture. But one couple has literally made them the foundation of their beautiful story.
When they were in their twenties, Orna and Isaac Levy met in Israel in 1986, following their mandatory Israel Defense Forces Duty. They were unemployed and waxed poetic about what the world might offer.
One night, when asked about what she might do for work, Orna confessed to her future husband, “I really only know how to string pearls.” Isaac admits that, “at the time, I didn’t even know what pearls were.”
But Isaac was a quick study, and Orna proceeded to teach her new apprentice everything she knew about the sea’s most valued treasure. “Orna was my first teacher and opened up this whole new world to me,” says Isaac.
Orna convinced Isaac to give her every penny of the $2,000 he had saved up so that she could buy materials to make their first pearl necklace. It would be the first of many creations in which the couple would collaborate.
“She returned with pearls, gold beads, and clasps and started teaching me how to weave pearls like you weave a carpet,” remembers Isaac. “I totally fell in love with this work. It opened a whole new world to me, and I dived with all my passion into it.”
Fast forward thirty years later, and Orna and Issac have built Yvel — the mirror image of their name — into something of a jewelry powerhouse. They have crossed the globe many times over in the search for the “next big thing” in gem stones. And although pearls will always anchor their flagship collections, they have expanded to gold, diamonds, and multi-hued sapphires that have adorned the décolletages of Hollywood royalty on many a red carpet. Fans of the Yvel brand include celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Rihanna.
“In 2002, Orna and I had managed to turn the Yvel brand from being a company that follows the trends in the world, into becoming leaders in the pearl-fashion jewelry world,” says Isaac. “Since then, we had many celebrities coming to us to request that we design one-of-a-kind pieces for them — for special events or just to celebrate life.”
Yvel’s products are sold in more than 650 stores, internationally, and its high-end pieces have nabbed multiple design awards, including the prestigious Town and Country honors — the “Oscars of the jewelry world.”
And Orna knows a thing or two about the business. Her family, the Moussaieffs, started in pearls more than 100 years ago. Her grandfather came to Jerusalem in 1888 from Russia, riding on camels with forty cases of pearls, gold, and diamonds.
The Levys have kept the brand true to its roots with the Yvel factory offices located in Jerusalem.
“If Orna and I would have been as savvy business people as we were supposed to be, we would have shifted the Yvel factory to the Far East and moved to live in the United States,” says the Argentinian-born Isaac.
Yet, Jerusalem brings much inspiration to the brand, which is, perhaps, not surprising from a city that is more than 5,000 years old.
“Jerusalem is located in the Judea valley. All of our gold pieces were inspired from the Judean Desert that is next to Jerusalem. Our gold jewelry has a special matte finish that reminds Orna and me of the unique sand of the desert. It is very rare to find shiny gold in the Yvel collection.”
And when this foolish author asked about the comparative luxury between pearls and diamonds, Isaac patiently responded, “Pearls are not more luxurious than diamonds. They are more sophisticated and more feminine than diamonds — just like a woman compared to a man. Men can wear gold and diamonds, but I haven’t met many men that can pull off pearls.”
The different collections all have their own unique travel stories to tell, such as Biwa and Tahiti. These two names of the collections are after the source of the pearls.
“It’s all in a name,” remarks Isaac. One of his favorites is the Golden Brown Collection. “This is a collection that I designed from golden Indonesian, brown Tahitian, and Champagne Australian salt-water pearls, combined with sateen finish gold and natural cognac brown diamonds. I always loved the song ‘Golden Brown’ by the British band The Stranglers; so I named the collection after that song.”
There is also the Golden Honey Collection, made out of natural smoky quartz in four different colors: whisky, cognac, Champagne, and brandy.
“Obviously, you must be over 21 to wear this collection,” he jokes, adding, “I named it after the description of the state of Israel — the land of milk, gold, and honey.
Yvel hires employees from 22 countries — mostly new immigrants — to help strengthen their earliest days in a new country with a job.
“This is my humble way to try and repair the world,” Issac says as he refers to the Judaic principle of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that refers to humanity’s shared responsibility to heal, repair, and transform the world.
These two designers are not only great role models in business, but also in life and love. When asked how they maintain a work-life balance, Orna says simply, “We are soul mates.”
“She completes me in many different ways,” adds Isaac. “In order to be able to live a peaceful and productive mutual life-business and family-wise, we set a special way to run our life in peace. At Yvel it is exactly the same.”
You don’t have to travel across the Atlantic to fall in love with Yvel. Yvel’s flagship boutique is in Miami’s Design District’s Palm Court, 139 N.E. 39th St., Suite 203.