There’s more to jewelry than just gems, and there’s more to art than just the abstract. Like the facets of a fine stone, passionate jewelry people recognize the many levels of aesthetic appeal woven into a well-designed piece of jewelry. Self-professed designers and acclaimed jewelry artisans extol the creative virtue intrinsic in every ring, bracelet, or pair of earrings molded by human hands. It is a nod to an unspoken desire to participate in the lives of their customers, to contribute to the significant. Jewelry is about significant moments, significant people, and significant emotions.
It’s to that end that Marthe Le Van approaches her retail store Mora. Recognizing that “significance” comes in all shapes and sizes of jewelry, Le Van has created a world where jewelry and art mesh to display unique, handmade, significant jewelry pieces - pieces that her customers say can’t be found anywhere else.
“Mora is about modern jewelry that is unique and crafted into wearable art,” remarks Le Van. “Our pieces reflect the authenticity - the voice - of the artist, and I am personally involved in choosing each of the artists I carry. Our eclectic collection speaks to our customers, who tell me they’ve never seen jewelry like this before. That is exactly what I strive to deliver.”
As a Louisiana native raised in an artistic family, Le Van is a passionate aficionado of jewelry design who carries within her a true artist’s soul. Intentionally resisting the urge to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a watercolor artist, Le Van steered her college education to the least artistic, yet still art-based, classes she could find, which drew her into more of a business-in-art education. These artsy, yet business-based courses paved the way for her future job as editor at Lark Books. Le Van is credited with establishing Lark Jewelry and Beading as a Lark specialty division through which she helped edit and publish more than 50 books on the craft of making jewelry.
“I find that I’m a consummate knowledge sharer seeking to connect those with a passion for the art of jewelry making. I am happy being in the background and enjoy acting as a conduit for artists to share knowledge, ideas, and their passion with others. That’s how I became involved with writing, editing, and publishing a series of jewelry design books like the 500 series. These included ‘1000 Rings,’ ‘500 Silver Jewelry Designs,’ and ‘500 Pendants & Lockets.’”
Countless hours spent sourcing handmade jewelry for these books fueled Le Van’s desire to bring art and jewelry under one roof. Seeing the large number of jewelry artisans who go unnoticed brought to light the gap between traditional retail jewelers and jewelry-art designers. Le Van, along with Joanna Gollberg, a jewelry artisan she collaborated with on several books, joined forces and opened Mora in Asheville, NC, more than two years ago.
“Sourcing true jewelry artists is imperative to Mora’s business model, and our handling of these one-of-a-kind pieces is another unique part of who we are,” states Le Van. “I carry more than a dozen different lines that I truly believe in. I’ve discovered I cannot carry anything I’m not passionate about. I cannot sell what I’m not in love with. I know these lines are not for everyone, but I trust my aesthetic sense because this is very personal to me and to the artists who create these pieces.”
Mora provides its customers a new way to experience jewelry. Gone are traditional cases with product locked behind glass. Their custom metal cases and wood cabinets act as a modern frame, absent of glass, through which customers can reach in and touch the pieces that interest them. Visitors to the store walk into what feels more like a living room than a formal jewelry store, where they can sit, sip, and connect while soaking in the unique beauty of the product.
But perhaps the most amazing development of this meshing of wearable art is the significance it holds for Le Van.
“The advent of Mora brought a new dimension to my work, one that I didn’t even know was missing. While this has been more challenging than I thought, it is also where I’ve found my voice. As curator for this space, I get to work with people every day. Making them happy and making sales is very satisfying.”
Today, Mora sits poised in its eclectic, artsy community, welcoming all those who are curious - anyone seeking something unique, something significant. And Le Van, the self-proclaimed contemporary jewelry evangelist, is living her dream of effectively bridging jewelry’s gap between art and industry.
“I want to show the jewelry industry the broader spectrum that pairs art jewelry and fine jewelry together. It’s all beautiful, all valuable, and Mora is a fusion of craft, art, and design. We provide artistic wearable pieces that people love to experience, not just wear.”
Le Van’s gospel message rings true. The desire of jewelry makers and sellers alike is to give - give happiness, significance, joy, and heritage. Perhaps, even without thinking, makers and sellers share a desire to contribute to the significant moments in their customers’ lives. Consequently, they willingly give of themselves, their time, their knowledge, and their passion to make it happen. Giving, sharing, and contributing - these are the common threads that bind the jewelry community together.