Third Crown brings regal bearing to contemporary jewellery
Kofi and Kristin Essel, the couple behind New York-based jewellery brand Third Crown, have developed the kind of verbal overlaps and interweaving common to successful life-work partnerships. Kofi, who grew up in Ghana, says, ‘Third Crown is about taking the aesthetic of a queen mother or a chief wearing all those traditional rings that are huge and stacked up, and when you see that person you just know who they are.’ Kristin, whose parents are from Jamaica, adds, ‘When you go to Jamaica – real Jamaica, not the resorts – you see everyone in big gold chains and lots of jewellery. So we want to make sure that all our pieces are big and bold.’ They laugh, realising they have mirrored one another’s responses but posited them in two locations. However, they are not interested in leaning on nostalgia, but instead are committed to crafting something new from their New York base that has resonance further afield.
Third Crown wears its founders’ heritages lightly. While cultures of origin inform the brand’s overall aesthetic, geometry, architecture and travel also inspire pieces that are simultaneously audacious and timeless. ‘Our first collection was “Arc” and it was a little translation of that shape of the Arc de Triomphe,’ says Kofi. ‘We like to think of all our collections as chapters in a book.’ Like a book, where the characters evolve with time and circumstance, Third Crown’s initial design theses have grown into collections that form an elegant continuum. Thus the ‘Arc’ morphed into the ‘Marcy’, a curvier iteration, and in the case of the ‘Hedron’ and ‘Prizm’ collections, tetrahedron forms were reinterpreted to include bevelling details and a custom chain link.
Since launching in 2013, Third Crown has remained wholly authentic to its ethos while nimble in execution. ‘A strong part of our brand DNA is the power of the pair,’ says Kofi. ‘Us coming together is what the brand is: as husband and wife, as male and female. But it’s also about creating this genderless space.’ For Kofi, who studied at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, and Kristin, who followed her degree in apparel design at Florida State University with stints at David Yurman and Reed Krakoff, it has meant creating jewellery that fits seamlessly into wearers’ everyday realities but doesn’t compromise the brand’s design language.
Actively rejecting the high jewellery scene and opting instead to create contemporary gold-plated pieces, pieces you ‘can ride the train in’, was canny and inclusive. And, rather than old-school suites or parures, pieces are simply paired, creating mini sets. When New York’s retail jewellery gatekeepers gave the brand a lukewarm response, they pivoted, focusing instead on e-commerce. ‘It actually worked in our favour,’ says Kristin. ‘Because once the pandemic hit and all the stores closed, everyone was shopping online.’
The brand’s ethos and daring, elevated aesthetic has attracted an A-list clientele that includes Beyoncé, Solange and Cardi B. ‘I feel that what we’re bringing to the table is different, and the artists that have worn us are just an extra nod,’ says Kofi.
The death of George Floyd in May last year and the attention it garnered for Black-owned creative businesses was bittersweet. ‘It was quite unfortunate that it took someone’s death for people to recognise Black creatives,’ says Kofi. But Kristin adds that they used the moment to pay their success forward, adding, ‘We made sure to donate a lot of the money we earned from the exposure to help others’. Future plans are informed by their new Brooklyn atelier, where a collaboration with fashion designer Jonathan Simkhai is in progress. Kofi is also keen to forge new links with Ghana. ‘One thing I really want to be able to do is source gold from the motherland,’ he says. §