Like most great businesses, Camille Hempel’s start was a humble one, on the top floor of a since torn down house on South 6th and Berry Streets, right behind Diner. It was back in 1992 when Camille made the move from Wisconsin to Williamsburg, and it’s here she has stayed for nearly 20 years. After taking a few design classes in college, Camille got a job making custom jewelry in Madison, Wisconsin, where she learned a great deal about the trade of jewelry making. Following her stint there, she decided to come to New York, where, after nearly a decade of jewelry making in the house, she began finding herself knee deep in projects commissioned by people she didn’t know. The sign came when the house was set to be demolished, it was time to open her own storefront.
Like a removable tattoo, Camille said, “I think of jewelry more as self-expressive than as accessory or decoration.” Original, artistic and custom creations are what Camille Hempel Design’s are all about. “I’m more of an artist than a business person, but I’ve learned so much about business since I opened the store, enough to make it work. I just feel lucky that I have enough support that I can just keep doing what I do,” Camille said while standing in her small showroom on the corner of Wythe Avenue and South 2nd Street. In the beginning, Camille wasn’t even sure that she wanted to make jewelry on a professional level. “I didn’t want to take the fun out of it and have the pressure to sell jewelry,” she said. But a big help was not only her gaining notoriety, but it was also in finding a space that was simultaneously her showroom and workshop.
“I really emphasize stuff like joints and moving parts,” Camille told me. Her philosophy is to make truly one-of-a-kind pieces. Though she has molds for certain bracelets and rings, everything is one-of-a-kind and no two pieces are alike. In her shop, Camille will solder diamond settings onto Rose Gold rings (all diamonds are conflict free), engrave work with requested messages like anniversary dates or names, and (which is one of the most original ideas I’ve ever heard in jewelry making) imprint your or your partners fingerprint onto a ring (see top picture).
“I think jewelry should be really personal and people like my style and I help them make it just right for them. Because no matter what I can imagine, there are still differences in peoples own taste.” This is where having her own storefront really came into play because of the feedback she could receive, Camille said. “It really brought my work to a new level,” because it’s about collaboration with the customer. “They have the idea and I help them make it work,” Camille said. “Comfort is really important, practicality, stone setting.” But with that, comes a lot of creative licensing, people trust Camille with their gems and jewels and she creates intricate and innovative pieces for them. “It’s great. When do you ever get to work with a two carrot old mind-cut diamond?”
An interesting aspect of Camille’s storefront is that it used to be a diner and before that a candy store. As she took me into the shop in the back, we passed the old remnants of a different time. Recently, Camille had a wine party for friends and occasionally makes brunch for said friends, and invoked the spirit of the diner, utilizing the counter and stools that are still standing. She joked, “Sometimes it smells like bacon during shop hours. Bacon helps sell jewelry, too.” The sizeable work shop houses two benches, one for her and one for the young girl, Autumn, that helps her with finishing and other processes. Truly, Camille Hempel Design’s are one-of-a-kind and a surefire place to find something special for that special person in your life.