How a Chance Encounter in New York City Uncovered a Passion and Led to a Successful Career in Jewelry-Making and Design

Yumiko Hamasuna was born and raised in Tokyo and moved to New York City in the late 80s. Here she shares how a childhood interest evolved to a love of jewelry design and became her full-time profession. Through a chance meeting with David Benlolo she became one of his first students in 2004 which began a longtime successful collaboration.

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Yumiko, were you always artistic? How did you develop an interest in jewelry-making and design?

As a child I was always “artsy-crafty” and liked to paint and draw. Over the years I discovered I wanted to work in three-dimensions instead of two and wondered how I might do that. One summer day after I moved to New York, I met David at a bus stop and we started to talk. He told me he was a jeweler and worked at Tiffany and other jewelry houses. I was fascinated by our conversation and it was the moment my endeavor to become a jeweler began. In 2004, I became one of his first students when he opened his teaching studio and I have been working with him ever since.

Since 2004, that is a long time!

Yes. I knew nothing about jewelry-making at the beginning. I started once a week after work. Under David’s guidance I learned design, techniques, gemology and the fabrication process, becoming more and more proficient. He is an amazing teacher with lots of patience and talent. I call him “Sensei” which in Japanese means respectfully “Master” of jewelry. He encourages us to and learn and grow.

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When did you decide to start selling your jewelry?

I initially made pieces for myself but after a few years I had the idea of having a Trunk Show in Tokyo to get feedback from friends. Since David already had Japanese clients we decided to have a Benlolo Studio Collection show which was very successful. After the show I had a feeling I wanted to design jewelry as a business but knew I still had a long way to go. I kept my day job and created more pieces under David’s guidance. My jewelry business continued to grow each year. I left my job three years ago and have been making a living as a jewelry designer ever since.

Do you still sell your jewelry in Tokyo?

Yes, we have a Benlolo Studio Collection in Tokyo every year in December. All of David’s students are welcome to participate. Two or three other students come every year. Everyone enjoys it and learns a lot from the experience of meeting with potential clients. Much of my business comes from that show but I have business in New York City too.

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David’s school sounds quite different from other jewelry schools?

There is no other place where I can learn such advanced skills with such intensity. He doesn’t have a school “textbook” method where everyone is forced to follow the same curriculum and he covers much more than other places. He covers mechanical design, fabrication techniques, gemology, process management and lots more. It's all hands-on, semi-private lessons where we can focus on our own projects. David’s studio is filled by his “can do” energy all the time. I greatly respect his professionalism and passion for jewelry-making.

David also finds beautiful stones for me. Through his contacts and travels he has an amazing selection of precious and semi-precious stones. It’s good he offers them at below wholesale prices.

After all these years are you still learning new things?

Amazingly, yes! After one decade, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. It is still fun and I learn new things because the bar is constantly raised by my clients. Also, as fast as technology evolves, we need to learn new things as well. The Benlolo Studio is not just a jewelry-making studio, it is an information-packed community. David creates a wonderful sharing learning environment with others. We share our experiences with each other -- about business, about techniques, about changes in fashion, about jewelry sources, etc.

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It sounds like it has been a very positive collaboration with David all these years. Before we go, how would you describe your personal style? Where can people find you?

I like to make “everyday” pieces of jewelry – rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings. I also make anniversary and engagement rings but I have always felt women need to feel beautiful all the time so they need different pieces of jewelry for “everyday” – even for different outfits. Wearing jewelry is fun and can cheer you up. Lastly, I appreciate the opportunity that David gave me. It is a great pleasure for me to be a part of this.

Facebook at “ROCK CANDY by Yumiko Hamasuna” Instagram “ROCK CANDY NY”.

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Interview by Bev Andal. The Benlolo Jewelry Studio, NYC. March 4, 2016