For many of us, family vacation means a trip to the beach. But for jeweler Monique Péan, holidays were spent seeing the pyramids in Egypt, roaming the Great Wall of China, and learning about the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel. Considering how Péan was encouraged to explore and appreciate foreign art and culture, it’s no surprise that her approach for her eponymous sustainable fine-jewelry line evokes something akin to a National Geographic story.
Péan’s travels also triggered a desire to learn. Her foray into the world of fine jewelry was an exposure to the negative environmental impact of the production process. As a result, she only uses recycled gold in her pieces. “There is actually enough recycled gold in the world right now to use in jewelry for the next 20 years without needing to mine any new gold,” she explains. By launching her brand, in 2006, Péan sought to change the perception of sustainability and luxury. Hoping to lead by example, she employs environmentally responsible practices drawn from the culmination of knowledge and information she has absorbed over the years, demonstrating along the way just how chic that can be.
Péan’s first explorative research trip led her to a remote town in Alaska, where she traveled via dogsled to the village of Shishmaref. There, she immersed herself in the culture and craft of the native artisans and discovered fossilized walrus ivory—now a hallmark of her brand. She also witnessed the devastating impact of global warming in Shishmaref, whose people have been forced to flee their ancestral homes because of rising sea levels. “It’s devastating to see local artisans who I work with have nowhere to go,” she says.
In this regard, Péan maintains a humanitarian effort in her work as she engages in fair-trade relationships with artisans from the Arctic Circle as well as Guatemala, Peru, Norway, French Polynesia, and the U.S. Her jewelry sales also support philanthropic organizations that provide clean water and basic sanitation, such as Charity: Water, which brings safe water to people in developing countries.
Her latest collection, Tarai, took Péan back to the South Pacific, where she had previously traveled to French Polynesia to source sustainable Tahitian pearls. She was always drawn to mystical Easter Island, located off the coast of Chile, with a particular interest in the moai statues and crafts carved by the island’s Rapa Nui community. The name of the collection itself means “to sculpt” in the local language, and Péan crafted pieces from enchanting materials like cosmic obsidian and moss agate paired with meteorite and pyritized dinosaur bone.
Despite influences from the prehistoric era, Péan’s work is also modern, looking to art and architecture for inspiration. “The pieces in this collection speak to the interaction of the region’s natural topography with both ancient and modern architecture such as the ancient moai statues of Easter Island and the sleek modern simplicity of Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena on the mainland,” she says. It is this infusion of often primordial, organic materials and modern minimalist muses—Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Tadao Ando, Robert Smithson, and Nancy Holt, to name a few—that make Péan’s designs so attractive to the informed customer whose passions range from art to the environment.