Catbird (Est. 2004) is a jewelry brand that began in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York with a single employee making rings at her kitchen table. Today, it is a phenomenon that offers rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, personalized jewelry, the Big Little Charm collection, chains, wedding and engagement rings, bands, as well as beauty, home, and other gifts that include candles, perfumes, paper goods, ring dishes, lounge accessories, serving dishes, plates, candlesticks, bowls, and more.
Its original, tiny, flagship store opened on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, NY in 2006 focused solely on jewelry that became the Catbird line. Since its debut, co-owners Rony Vardi and Leigh Plessner’s jewelry has established a cult following, with fans including Emma Watson and Michelle Williams.
The brand’s first big success was a stroke of luck. Catbird had been around and open for business for about two years when an employee started creating millimeter-thin gold and silver stackable rings that propelled the brand to a viral juggernaut. Catbird didn’t invent the stackable ring, which has been around since the ’70s, but it is largely credited with making them a must-have emblem of cool in in its Williamsburg location and, from there, to the rest of the US.
According to Founder Rony Vardi, Catbird didn’t invest millions in marketing its brand to the world back in its early days. Instead, it invested in reaching out to local designers looking for a place to sell their handmade creations and building a Yahoo! site to sell the locally-created goods to a worldwide digital audience.
Catbird was also lucky, according to Vardi, in that early customers were makeup artists, costume and set designers, models and actresses who were in touch with “modern cool” and all the more effective at carrying the brand than any paid marketing campaign could have been. Actresses Kristen Stewart, Olivia Wilde, Jessica Biel, and Lena Dunham are also among the brand’s more notable and visible fans.
According to a July 20199 article that appeared in Vogue, Catbird co–creative directors Rony Vardi and Leigh Plessner describe their tiny, almost-invisible chain bracelets and necklaces as “sparkly air.” The brand’s handpicked roster of designers represents the best and the brightest in the world of personal fine jewelry. The company chooses its new designers slowly searching for designers who make beautiful work, but also who can and do stand behind their product. Many of Catbird’s designers have built their careers by launching from the Catbird fold.
Among these is Leith Clark who started in the early-’00s. Clark was at the top of the Catbird list of “dream collaborators.” After meeting Clark in person and floating the idea, the co-creative directors and Clark set to work on a vaguely mystical array of “ribbon” earrings, delicate necklaces, and etched pendants, all of which were two years in the making. The launch dovetailed with a major milestone: Catbird’s 15th anniversary in 2019.
Unlike a lot of collaborations, this one was a departure for everyone involved: Clark had never designed jewelry before, and Catbird rarely creates “real collections,” instead focusing on single pieces. The Clark pieces feature a stone one does not often find in any shop: moonstone, Clark’s favorite gem.
An iridescent choker threaded with tiny moonstone beads is a standout, along with a domed ring with little stars and a diamond hidden within the stone. Both were brand new concepts for Catbird in terms of skill and scale.
Those who have followed Catbird over the years note that most of the jewelry is on the smaller, more delicate side, so the substantial weight of the moonstone ring was a departure.
Every piece draws inspiration from “a trove of photos” the women gathered including photos of people, vintage jewelry, art, snippets of poetry, textiles and Clark’s own time spent in the jewelry room at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
With the gold ribbons on necklaces and “ear climbers,” Clark was thinking about the jewelry and fabric pendants suffragettes wore a hundred years ago. Modern-women with a cause are also drawn to Clark’s gold pendant etched with a tiny girl raising her fist.
Today, Catbird’s entire team works together in a light-filled, clean environment with new tools and equipment, in stark contrast to an industry notorious for people working out of poorly-ventilated, dark basements. All of the brand’s diamonds are ethically and responsibly sourced. All brilliant cut diamonds in the line are recycled.
Catbird sources its gold chain, wire, findings and castings from vendors committed to minimizing the environmental impact of their work. The brand uses a New York City caster who is a leader in using all recycled metals and clean, electric equipment. Catbird is a certified member of No Dirty Gold, an international campaign to clean up the industry.
Each new material they introduce is made with stringent requirements as the brand continually strives to bring the most beautiful and least harmful natural materials to its customers. Its pearls are from a third generation farm in Hubei Province in China that engages in clean water practices. Stones are sourced from mines that adhere to the highest environmental and human rights standards. To ensure that the mines are up to the standards for inclusion in its lines, Catbird only works with a small palette of stones.
Catbird jewelers are on-site to weld the Forever Catbird Bracelet, a Forever Sweet Nothing Bracelet, the Forever 1976 Bracelet, a Forever Tiny Corsage Bracelet, as well as a Forever Diamond Pinprick Bracelet.
The Forever Catbird Bracelet is the brand’s classic, sparkly, bracelet that is welded onto the wearer’s wrist by a Catbird jeweler. It has no clasp and should require no maintenance. The brand likes to think of Catbird Forever pieces as permanent, but they can simply (and permanently) be removed with a scissors.
Catbird jewelry is perfect for those who value quality, workmanship and minimalist design. While customers might spend a little more than with some other brands, they often feel as if they are holding on to a small luxurious and timeless piece.
Catbird is also perfect for those who want to layer necklaces or rings. Because all their pieces are equally dainty, it is easy to layer a few together and still have the light, minimalist look. The brand also creates gorgeous engagement rings and wedding bands that look bohemian and unique.
Today, Catbird jewelry is worn by Meghan Markle, Lena Dunham, and Jessica Biel. The brand's most popular item is the Threadbare ring. All Catbird jewelry is handmade by a team of talented jewelers who work in the area that was formerly the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Currently, the Catbird studio employs around 40 jewelers, working full-time to create 500 or so pieces of jewelry a week. The workers are primarily women based in the Brooklyn, New York area.
Catbird has made it a point to keep diamonds a rarity in its designs. As a result, in 2018, the company decided to use recycled diamonds and other gems as well.