Studio Tour: Digby & Iona’s Cobble Hill Treasure Trove

Jeweler Aaron Ruff let us snoop through his Brooklyn studio stocked with unusual baubles and nostalgic vintage finds.

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Catherine Blair Pfander
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Catherine Blair Pfander
The son of a Maine carpenter, it's no surprise that Aaron Ruff, designer of Brooklyn-based jewelry label Digby & Iona, can make just about anything with his hands. We caught up with Ruff and his four-legged friend, Nuki, at their treasure trove of a Cobble Hill studio to see how the unusual baubles come together.
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Ruff began dabbling in jewelry design soon after leaving Parsons, where he studied product and furniture design. "The furniture I was making wasn't really selling, but the jewelry was," Ruff explains. "I also had a few really bad accidents, like chopping the ends of my thumbs off, so I thought, 'Maybe it's time for a change.'"
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Hoping to maintain a degree of anonymity, Ruff named his new line "Digby & Iona" after two Nova Scotia towns. "I was a dusty woodworker, and started doing the jewelry but didn't think anybody would take me seriously, especially since it was just me and I wasn't familiar with many men doing high-end jewelry design," says Ruff, who officially launched the collection in 2006. "So I came up with a name to fool people into thinking it was a man and a woman—a Charles and Rae Eames kind of thing."
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Crowded with vintage finds and relics from his travels, it's impossible to look around the studio without stumbling onto an inspiring trinket or other. "I was obsessed with archaeology and treasure as a kid, and now I get to make the things that I couldn't actually dig up." In addition to jewelry, Ruff's work table is cluttered with old indigo fabric swatches and interesting illustrations.
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Ruff's unsual designs are often imbued with a sense of nostalgia and whimsy, influenced by childhood memories growing up on the Maine coast. "Everything I do now comes back to when I was a kid—it's all just coming back up," says Ruff. Here, a look at his latest "War of 1812" collection, which represents a return to the designer's sea-faring interests. "I really missed doing the nautical pieces."
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Catherine Blair Pfander
After the success of his "Fighting Bears" ring--which features two three-dimensional bears clutching a giant diamond--Ruff began collecting unusual diamonds to incorporate in a higher-end collection of fine jewelry and engagement rings.
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Catherine Blair Pfander
"My designs are typically very thematic, rather than conceptual," Ruff says of the new collection (pictured above). "The more traditional pieces aren't about crazy engravings or three-dimensional bears. It's been challenging for me to step away from that part of my design sense and not be so literal with the high-end pieces." Of course, Ruff proved himself equal to the task: Here, a look at the sleek new engagement rings (including an unusual square-shaped grey diamond, shown at center).
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Each Digby & Iona piece is crafted entirely by hand in Ruff's Cobble Hill studio. Here, he carefully resizes a silver ring. "I burn myself pretty often," he jokes.
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Catherine Blair Pfander
Loyal studio-mate Nuki takes a load off while Ruff works on orders.
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Catherine Blair Pfander
An early sketch for Ruff's popular "Stump" ring, inspired by the Shel Silverstein classic, "The Giving Tree." True to the text, each ring is customizable with carved initials. "The best compliments I get are nonverbal," says Ruff. "It's seeing a stranger on the street wearing my jewelry. That's just the best thing ever. Talk about ego-padding. It's awesome." Check out Digby & Iona's latest trinkets and treasures at DigbyandIona.com.
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