In her pursuit of the American Dream, Carolyn Rafaelian once took inspiration from her grandfather's journey through Ellis Island. Now, with a new collection made from a very special source, she's literally carrying the torch. While working in her father's factory, Rafaelian designed jewelry for herself on the side, sparking the idea for Alex and Ani, which she started in 2004 just after the birth of her daughters, Alex and Ani.
Home: Providence, R.I.
Profession: Designer and entrepreneur.
HOW YOU KNOW HER
As founder, CEO, and chief creative officer of Alex and Ani, she designs every element of the company's collections, headquarters, and even its 70-plus stores around the country.
In partnership with the Ellis Island Foundation, Rafaelian has created items that feature copper elements crafted from material preserved during the Statue of Liberty's centennial restoration.
How did this come about?
It was fate. In 1986, all of this copper from the statue was going to be discarded—until somebody who had a lot of foresight said this metal is so precious, so full of the hopes and dreams and love of millions of people, that it's priceless. He held on to it for the right moment to get her message, Liberty enlightening the world, out there on a global scale.
How can a necklace tell a story?
Jewelry holds so much meaning, not just in the symbology of the materials, but also in that it is passed down from one generation to another. My grandfather, Melkon Rafaelian, came through Ellis Island in 1913 to escape the Armenian genocide. This country meant life to him, and he thrived here. All of that was embedded in my father, who started his jewelry manufacturing business, Cinerama, in 1966, and in my own philosophy with Alex and Ani, which I named after my daughters to show them that there are no limits in life.
How did you use the copper in your design?
It had to have Lady Liberty's message represented with all kinds of beautiful symbols. Her flame, which is very distinct, is forged in copper with no plating or anything on it, so it's pure her. There are three stars that represent peace, love, and unity, and 50 stars on the back with the outline of her podium in the shape of Fort Wood. The medallion is stamped with 925 for the quality of sterling silver. And 9/25 happens to be my birthday. It's serendipity.
What was your first memory of seeing the Statue of Liberty in person?
I was 8 years old, and the one thing I remember is this really cool pen I got from the gift store. It was one you turned upside down with her floating up and down with glitter. I had that pen forever. Who knew it would all come full circle and I could play a part in representing her to the world?