Before mass-produced cubic zirconia tossables became the norm, jewelry was cherished and kept. Sisters Kim and Nicole Carosella hope to capture the “romance,” as they describe it, of vintage jewelry in their line Sorellina, devising distinctive pieces that echo old-fashioned elements.
Nicole, who studied jewelry design at FIT, handles the creative side, while Kim, who majored in art history at Tulane, takes care of business. Kim has an art-educated eye, but Nicole can find a muse in, say, a pile of dirty snow. (Which actually happened, by the way—more on that later.)
The Victorian era in particular influences their aesthetics: the line is made of mixed metals, which were once commonly used in fine jewelry. Over time, the silver will tarnish. Natural stones, sometimes with visible flaws, make their pieces impossible to reproduce.
Sorellina–Italian for “little sister” (Kim is younger, and Nicole is smaller)–started when Kim got engaged and asked Nicole to help design her ring. Kim had seen and loved Nicole’s designs, and when the engagement ring turned out, they realized the time was right to start a line. They’ve already picked up a celebrity following: Florence Welch layers snake rings from the “Victoria” collection, and Ellie Goulding and Erika Christensen have worn their earrings.
When we talked over the phone on Memorial Day weekend, Kim and Nicole were excited for the official debut of their line at the exclusive Couture Las Vegas jewelry show on Thursday, following a soft launch last summer. Talking over the other, the sisters’ mutual praise blended with thoughts about Sorellina’s present and future.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: When Kim and I decided to launch the line, I actually took a job at Doyle & Doyle, which is a vintage jewelry store on the Lower East Side. I loved working there. I saw such beautiful vintage pieces. While I was working there is really when we started the line.
RACHEL SMALL: What did you love about Doyle & Doyle?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: A lot of the inspiration behind the line comes from vintage jewelry and the romanticism behind it. I loved selling engagement rings, and I love designing them now. I love the symbol of an engagement ring, and I love how personal it is.
SMALL: It sounds like a lot of the jewelry has greater significance for you then just the piece itself—what would you say that significance is?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: The romanticism–I just love the idea of vintage jewelry, and the stories behind it. I actually own a lot of vintage jewelry. Each piece I own, I own it because it has a great inscription in it. I also have a lot of mourning jewelry, which some people might think is a little dark, but I actually think it’s very beautiful.
KIM CAROSELLA: Mourning jewelry is typically black.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Right, it’s usually black jewelry. It came about after Prince Albert died. Queen Victoria went into mourning. So mourning jewelry became very popular if you loved someone and they passed.
KIM CAROSELLA: You would wear black for months and months at a time, and then they would have this black mourning jewelry to wear.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: I have a locket that has a sailboat on it. Usually if there’s a design on the piece, it’s representative of how you lost the person. I just love the idea that someone loved someone so much, and maybe they lost them at sea, and how much love there was back then, and how people honored the people that they loved. I’m a romantic.
SMALL: Kim, it sounds like maybe your art history knowledge is informing this a little bit, as well.
KIM CAROSELLA: Absolutely. Because I studied art history for so long, I really understand balance, composition, and color. I’m constantly there for Nicole to bounce ideas off of. Right now we’re making jewelry for Sorellina, and Sorellina needs to have a specific DNA. So it’s helpful that I can filter from her design to make it so we have a really cohesive brand.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: If I could, I would design a million pieces.
KIM CAROSELLA: Right, she’d be doing furniture at the same time.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Oh, I’d love to do furniture!
KIM CAROSELLA: She loves making plastic jewelry, too.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: I’d make some greeting cards. I do love making cards.
SMALL: So, when did Sorellina really come together?
KIM CAROSELLA: Nicole showed me a pair of earrings she designed, and I was just floored. It was a new perspective on jewelry. I think that’s when the seed got planted that this could be something for us.
SMALL: What do you mean by new perspective?
KIM CAROSELLA: There was a lot of use of black and silver. The combination of that with yellow gold and diamonds, it really elevates silver. At the same time, they were so vintage-inspired, but they still had a modern sensibility. Usually when I see vintage-inspired jewelry, it looks like a knock-off, but this was vintage jewelry with a modern perspective. Then, my boyfriend and I were ready to get married. I wanted to participate in designing my engagement ring, and Nicole and I collaborated on the whole thing. Then we were like, “We really can do this, this is the right time.” So, last summer we came out with 11 mini-collections, and we’ve had trunk shows for friends and family since then. But officially our real, true industry launch will be on at Couture.
SMALL: How do the vintage elements translate into the pieces?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Well for one thing, continuing off of what Kim was saying about the silver, they didn’t have torches that were hot enough to heat platinum in the Victorian era. When they mixed metals, they would do gold with silver, and then over time that silver would be naturally oxidized and tarnished and become black. So we mix metals often.
SMALL: And the process is the same?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Well, we don’t have a hundred years to process the silver. We also use a lot of rose-cut diamonds, which were very popular in Georgian jewelry up until the 1920s. So, I would say the combination of mixed metals and the rose cuts are the most obvious vintage elements. We also pulled vintage diamonds.
KIM CAROSELLA: And melted down the gold.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Vintage diamonds are cut differently, so they reflect light in a much different way, in a much more fiery way. Whereas modern cut diamonds have so many facets that they make an ice blue look. So to pair them together combines vintage and modern.
SMALL: I noticed in one of the pieces there was actually a flaw in one of the gems, it was sort of a crack in the middle. I thought that was cool.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Yeah, I love finding these natural stones. The ring that has rutilated quartz, I love that look. I think that stones–and again, this goes back to my romantic idea of the world–but I really think that stones are bits of magic.
KIM CAROSELLA: With some of these cuts, you just can’t replicate it; you’re just not going to get the exact thing twice.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: We try to have a lot of special details in the jewelry. Back when they had a month to make a ring by hand for someone, they could really take the time to put in these little details. A lot of jewelry is mass-produced–it’s generic. We’ll try to put in details. For instance, on one of the cocktail rings, if you flip it over, there’s a little snake underneath it. No one but the owner will see it.
SMALL: Nicole, I hear you’re also inspired by dreams you have?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: I have a really overactive imagination. I’m one of those people who has very vivid dreams every single night, and they are very fantastical. When I was away in Belize, it was such a beautiful day, and I went to sleep. We had gone to this island where there are all the birds—it’s just an island where the birds hang out, and we’d taken a little rowboat through there. That night I had these dreams of all these butterflies in cages, so I could bring them with me, but they were so happy in the cage. I didn’t like them being trapped. I called Kim and I was like, “I had a dream about golden butterflies in cages!” And she was like, “I don’t even know what that means, but okay!”
KIM CAROSELLA: “I don’t know what that means; get back to your vacation. When you get home, I would like to see five sketches on my desk.”
NICOLE CAROSELLA: People always ask about our inspiration. Obviously vintage jewelry is a huge part of the inspiration, but the imagination, just experiences and sometimes—
KIM CAROSELLA: Personal experiences. Because if she didn’t have the personal experience of rowing through some canopied tree area and seeing this, then maybe she wouldn’t have dreamed it.
SMALL: Do you see random things walking around that you get inspired by?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: All the time. I don’t know if Kim told you this but the “Hail Storm” collection, which is all the flowers—Kim made so much fun of me—we went to look at our apartment in Brooklyn during a terrible snowstorm two winters ago. I don’t know if you know this about Brooklyn, but they don’t love plowing the streets. So the streets were dirty, and there was that mix of the really white, fresh snow with the really old, black, gross snow. We were climbing, literally, over these snow banks to get to where our apartment is. I stop, and it’s freezing cold, and Kim is like, “What are you doing?” And I was like, “Kim, look at this over here, the way this is laying, it looks like there could be these beautiful flowers that would come out of the storm.”
KIM CAROSELLA: It was basically dirty snow. That’s what I saw. I actually consider myself a relatively creative person, but it was dirty snow. But she was like, “It looks like these snow-covered blah-blah.” So now we do a lot of these black ink flowers, with a pop of white diamonds. But it came from dirty snow, that’s what normal people would see. But that became one of our most successful collections so far.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: You never know what you’ll find from dirty snow.
KIM CAROSELLA: There’s beauty everywhere…We have fun together.
SMALL: Fun is important. I know Florence Welch wears your snake rings, and a few other celebrities wear your pieces as well. How is that?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: It’s really flattering. I’m so grateful that people respond to it. Especially when it’s people like Florence, who is constantly playing in my studio when I design.
KIM CAROSELLA: When you have someone like Florence, who so clearly has their own aesthetic, their fashion sense, that is exactly what I want. I could be wearing the same rings in a totally different way, but Florence brings them into her world of heavy patterns and long flow-y curls, and big hats, and all this stuff that she wears. It’s cool to see someone with their own sense of fashion make our stuff their own.
NICOLE CAROSELLA: Probably one of the the best thing that I’ve ever heard is when Florence looked at me and said, “Oh my god, I love these, you’re so talented.” I burst out laughing. My face was so red. I’m glad you actually can’t see my face right now.
KIM CAROSELLA: She’s blushing completely.
SMALL: Why do you think people love your jewelry like they do?
NICOLE CAROSELLA: When I went to the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit, it would make me so sad. You’d see these beautiful pieces; they would tell you a story, but then so many of these gorgeous pieces would sit in a person’s safe, and they would maybe wear them twice in their life. To me, jewelry is art, it’s wearable art, and it should be worn and seen. There is that magical element that I like to think comes through with the jewelry. We knew we wanted to make amazing pieces that would never really see a safe. That would be worn multiple, multiple times. We wanted pieces that would be worn and loved and could be passed down.
KIM CAROSELLA: We loved the idea of creating family heirlooms. These are pieces that you pass down. Instead of something that someone would throw out and would end up in a landfill. Or something that would break. That’s not going to happen.
SORELLINA OFFICIALLY LAUNCHES AT THE COUTURE LAS VEGAS JEWELRY SHOW TOMORROW. FOR MORE ON THE LINE, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.