When it comes to jewelry, it doesn’t get much bolder than the designs created by Sharon Khazzam. With bright, playful colors and whimsical designs, her one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces stand out in a crowd and have gathered a devoted following of women who do the same. It comes as no surprise, then, that her studio is just as dynamic and multihued as her pieces and the woman herself. What is a bit unexpected is the second role the space plays as an art gallery curated by Khazzam’s daughter, Alexandra Ainatchi. We recently caught up with the talented mother/daughter duo for a closer look at the shared space that house both Khazzam’s headquarters and Alexandra’s SUS Gallery.
Perched above a bustling-but-quaint street in the village of Great Neck, NY, Khazzam’s second-floor studio has been her personal sanctuary for the past eight years. But when the opportunity arose to purchase the building, complete with its street-level storefront, two years ago, it was an opportunity too good to pass up. It also provided a unique chance for the designer to create a space for her then-newly graduated daughter. “When we acquired the building, we realized we had to do something with the front retail space, and I didn’t want to sell jewelry out of it,” Khazzam said, mentioning that she prefers to sell her pieces at Barneys than to have her own store. “Alexandra had just gotten her degree in art history, and after discussing it, we came up with this idea for her to have her own gallery.”
And thus, SUS Gallery was born. Focusing on young, lesser-known artists, Ainatchi has used the space for a variety of exhibitions and events, all filtered through her unique point of view. The newest exhibit, Bytes, takes a look at the cultural phenomenon of food photography and elevates it from the more familiar world of Instagram to the walls of the gallery.
“Everyone loves looking at photos of food, and it becomes a way of enjoying a meal that you’ve never had before. There’s so much more variety out there than you might be able to experience in person, and photography can give you a taste of it,” Ainatchi told us of the idea that sparked the exhibit. “It’s also a completely different kind of art form, one that’s totally new and very interesting. These photographers have never been considered artists before.”
Bytes, on display at the gallery through July 24, aims to not only captivate viewers, but also to change the way they look at food photography, especially on their phones. “I hope people start giving each photo more than a cursory glance, the way people often scroll through Instagram dedicating less than a second to each image,” Ainatchi says. “I hope people really look at the images and realize how much effort the photographer put into capturing the beauty and how much effort the chef put into creating it.”
For Khazzam, the transition from jewelry designer to gallery founder had an obvious sense to it. “Everyone likes pretty things—that’s the through-line between the jewelry collection and the gallery. Everything has to be pleasing to the eye,” she told us. And as the woman behind some of the most dazzling pieces to grace the shelves of Barneys, Khazzam knows a thing or two about pleasing the eye.
Describing her pieces as “elegant, but with whimsy,” Khazzam caters to a client who knows who she is and what she wants. “The woman who purchases my pieces is usually sophisticated and secure, in that she doesn’t need the validation of people knowing she’s wearing an expensive piece of jewelry. She wants pieces that no one else has and that no one else ever will have.”
That uniqueness is by design and something that Khazzam is proud of. “Every piece is truly one-of-a-kind—in most cases, even I couldn’t duplicate them, since all the stones I use are so unique.” And though precious, each piece is also meant to be worn and enjoyed, Sharon says. “Sometimes people feel like they can only wear my pieces for certain occasions, but I encourage my clients to wear them all the time. They aren’t to be put away somewhere, especially if wearing them makes you happy.”
And that idea of happiness is both a core tenet of the Sharon Khazzam brand and a key component of her workspace. Decked out in her favorite warm tones—shades of red, orange, and yellow—the space is a reflection of all the things that make Khazzam happy. She’s quick to share that her must-haves for the space include music, (“I MUST have music. I even turn on the music from outside the space even before I come in, just so that it’s always present.”), light (“The first thing we do when we come in is open the doors and windows so the space is flooded in light.”), and fresh flowers (“I’ll sometimes spend up to an hour and a half just arranging flowers and our little bud vases, because it makes me happy.”)
But lest you think it’s all sunshine and rainbows 24/7, know that Khazzam’s foundation is one of rigorous training and a daily obsession with even the smallest of details. Having graduated from FIT with a degree in jewelry design, she then went on to study with the Gemological Institute of America and complete a year of tutelage under an old-world French jeweler before she even began her first job, designing for the storied British luxury brand, Asprey. This background in the traditional tools and techniques of jewelrymaking started a passion in Khazzam that she now continues as a member of the board of directors for the American Society of Jewelry Historians.
“What I pull from historic jewelry is how it’s made, the process and the quality,” Khazzam says. “You have to know what came before you, how did they did the old techniques, and what techniques you can combine with your new concepts to make them work. That’s missing in a lot of today’s jewelry. You have to know the rules before you can know the right ways to break them. You almost don’t have the right to break the rules unless you know them through and through.”
And Khazzam actually credits Barneys for the courage to begin playing with the traditional ways of doing things, dating back to when we first launched her collection in 2001. “I spent so much time learning the rules that it was years before I was able to have a collection under my name, and Barneys was the reason I had the guts to break all the rules. They gave me permission and said that they’d back me up.” It was the Barneys buyers who first embraced Khazzam’s idea to use diamond slices in her pieces, something that’s become widespread in the industry but that hadn’t been available on the market until she tried it.
Always forward-thinking but with an eye to the past, Khazzam has long been redefining what’s possible in the world of jewelry. And now that she’s sharing her space with her daughter’s gallery, together their creativity, vision, and passion are redefining what’s possible within a studio space.