With its hammered gold-and-silver plating, delicate classic design, and sweetly colored semiprecious gems from India, Thailand, and China, you might never guess MIJA Jewelry is the product of conservative Washington. But the eye behind this line, Michelle Guest, is based in Glover Park. After she created spur-of-the-moment bracelets for her nieces, lots of people asked where to buy the dainty single-pearl chains, and Guest decided it was time to channel her creative juices into professional jewelry making. The result—a collection of stack rings, bangles, charm necklaces, and earrings named for the designer and her sister Jani—is “youthful, refined, and delicate,” according to her fiancé. The understated and versatile add-ons work with everything from jeans to wedding gowns, and we especially love how the bangles and simple birthstone rings can be combined to create a unique look that doesn’t overwhelm.
Now in her third year selling her pieces all over the country, it’s safe to say Guest knows a thing or two about jewelry. So we turned to her for gift-giving advice this Valentine’s Day. Read on for tips on finding the perfect Valentine’s piece for your significant other and how to win a his-and-hers gift package from MIJA and Smathers & Branson, another DC accessories company.
DC designers of a feather certainly seem to flock together! Guest with her fiance, Peter Carter of Smathers & Branson.
Because accessories are one of the best ways to showcase personal style, jewelry can be a tricky thing to pick out for another person. How can a guy be sure his gift will be something she’ll truly love? “It’s funny how clueless guys can be when it comes to picking out jewelry. The best advice I have is this: Pay attention. Pay attention to what she wears and when she points something out in a magazine or on someone else. Most importantly, when you’re out shopping together, notice the style and aesthetic of jewelry she oohs-and-ahhs over. That’s more important than the type of piece. If you nail that, you almost certainly can’t go wrong.”
Let’s say he’s a little late in doing his homework. How do you help a guy narrow down his options? “One of the first questions I ask is whether she wears more silver or gold. For the most part, a woman sticks with one more than the other. Next, I’ll ask him to think about the style of jewelry he sees her in most often. Does she wear delicate pieces? Then I’d suggest going with a dainty necklace, a chain bracelet, or a few stack rings. If she wears chunky statement jewelry, I’d opt for large button earrings or a stack of bangles.”
What sort of jewelry works for different lengths of relationships? “For a relationship that’s a month or two old, get something sweet, simple, and not too expensive—a delicate necklace or a chain bracelet works. When you start hitting the six-month mark, pretty gemstone drop earrings—such as MIJA’s Double Pear set —would be a good pick. If you’ve been together for one or two years, consider something more serious and pricy, like a stack of our Flower Bud bangles.”
Is it ever appropriate to give diamonds or rings on Valentine’s Day when they won’t be paired with a proposal? “You can certainly give a girl diamonds that aren’t an engagement ring—a simple bezel-set diamond on a delicate chain necklace is a good example. You can also give a ring that’s not an engagement ring if you choose one with either a colored stone or no stone at all. I’d also wrap it in a cute way that doesn’t resemble a typical engagement ring box. The last thing you want her to do is think it’s an engagement ring when it’s not!”
MIJA's XO necklace and a Smathers & Branson Fishbone belt. Scroll down to find out how to win these treasures for you and your Valentine.
What are your favorite MIJA pieces? How do you wear them? “From the current collection, my favorite necklace is the Mama Bird necklace. My favorite bracelets are the Flower Bud bangles in gold (pictured above). I own two stacks—one with white sapphires and one with multicolored gemstones—and I wear them all the time. I’ll usually wear the multicolored bangles when my outfit needs a color boost, and the sapphire bangles come on when my outfit already has a color scheme going and I need something that can easily complement it.”
Peter Carter, cofounder of the Bethesda-based needlepoint-accessories line Smathers & Branson, proposed to you this December. [The pair met at a San Fransisco trunk show, where she was helping a friend and he was promoting his own goods.] Was the design-based small-business connection a bonding point in your relationship? “While our businesses sell very different things, they’re structured and run in a very similar manner. When I started my company, I had the privilege of learning from Smathers & Branson, who took the time to teach me how to organize taking orders, working with stores, and scheduling trunk shows. Peter and I ask each other for advice and like to hear each other’s opinions on things we’re considering for our companies. We also find that we often share customers. At many trunk shows, a woman will buy a Smathers & Branson belt for her husband, then walk right over to MIJA and buy our jewelry. Both of our customers like unique, high-quality, beautifully designed items.”
As a newly engaged couple, we bet you also know a thing or two about great date spots in Washington. Any romantic suggestions? “One of our favorite restaurants in DC is Proof. The food is so good, and the decor and atmosphere are perfect for a romantic dinner. Iron Gate Inn’s garden patio is also quite romantic. With all the vines, flowers, and lattices over your head, you feel a bit like you’re in Europe. And the National Cathedral flower garden is a hidden gem. It’s off to the side of the cathedral, so most people don’t even know it’s there.” Giveaway alert! Giveaway alert! Giveaway Alert! In honor of the upcoming holiday, Michelle has teamed up with her soon-to-be husband to offer a special gift for Washingtonian readers. The couple who leaves the most creative Valentine’s Day gift story in the comments below will receive a special his-and-hers package: a signature Smathers & Branson needlepoint belt and MIJA’s XO necklace (pictured above). Make sure to leave an e-mail address for contact purposes. The contest ends February 16.
Both MIJA Jewelry and Smathers & Branson accessories can be found online as well as in the Georgetown boutique Sherman Pickey. Brides, take note: Smathers & Branson offers customizable preppy groomsmen’s gear we actually don’t hate, and MIJA, worn by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Marcia Gay Harden, and Katie Holmes, will release its bridal jewelry line in early summer.