Nettie Kent: Value Driven Brass Jewelry Designer


Value driven jewelry designer Nettie Kent talks with EcoSalon about her process, what changing color in brass jewelry really means and why she chooses to hand make her jewelry in New York City. 


Juliette Donatelli: When people find out your line is made in NYC what is the reaction you get?

Nettie Kent: Buyers here [in NYC] care. My showroom is actually in LA, it’s on the west coast, and they don’t care [laughs]. But people here definitely care. And also people that care about sustainable design, where things are made and all that–they definitely care.

One of my biggest selling points is that everything is handmade in my studio, and all my metals are recycled. I work with an amazing caster. This is all brass and he has just the best quality brass. A lot of casting techniques afterwards they rinse the casting in these super gross harsh chemicals– he doesn’t do that. And he doesn’t do that because he necessarily cares about the environment. He is so funny; his name is Frank and it is a family business. His daughters work there and so does his son, and when I first interviewed him — it was important to me — he was like, in this thick Long Island accent, “My family works here! I am not going to put that shit around here, I am not going to expose them to that.” I said I love you we are working together!

So, it’s more work because when my castings come back they are really dirty and it is more work polishing them and cleaning them up. But for me it is worth it. Sometimes is it a curse [laughs] you know. But the color I can achieve from his brass is amazing.


JD: Yeah, I would have never been able to tell it was brass, I thought it was gold. 

NK: Yeah, it is wild, [matches up gold ring against Nettie Kent brass ring] this ring is gold and you can hardly tell the difference.

Also, I don’t do any plating, plating is a really dirty business.

JD: Why is plating a dirty business? What does it entail?

NK: A lot of customers want things to be gold plated; they think it is more valuable and they think it means that it will stay. But what happens when you gold plate something is first it is washed–it has a nickel coating on it and nickel is a white metal, a lot of people are allergic to it, so that is why I say my brass is nickel-free. Because people think they are allergic to brass, it is not actually brass they are allergic to, they are allergic to nickel. So when something is plated it is dipped in a nickel bath and then dipped in the gold. So between the brass and the gold it has this kind of like a poison on it. It is really hard. The only kind of plating that lasts a long time is micron, and  it is a real thick layer. And it very expensive. It is hard actually to find someone in New York that is good at it. Rhode Island is actually the best.

So I just decided not to do it. People ask me too, and I say sorry I just don’t do gold plating. If you me to make it in gold, I would love to make it in gold for you. It is just not part of what I do.

Here I am going to all these lengths to make my jewelry and make my practice clean. And then to cover it in that seemed totally silly.

I love brass, I love how it changes color with the environment and ages. And it is just an interesting metal. It reacts to your body’s pH too. Your body reacts to brass when it is too acidic, like when you are overtired or drinking too much coffee.

I had to learn all this about brass when I switched over. I had to learn this because people would ask me, ‘Why is my brass turning color?’ And I would say, let me figure that out!

I try to have fun with it, and make things I want to wear. I am not a sales person, but I feel like if I believe in it I can recommend it to people.


images from the brand

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Juliette Donatelli

Working in the field of sustainability for over seven years, Juliette is passionate about its intersection within the fashion industry. Juliette began studying ecological conservation, and led consumer awareness campaigns around the world from water usage in southern California, riparian restoration in South Africa, food distribution in Paris and bison habitat in the Great Plains. She has launched her passion--consumerism and sustainability--into a place where it hits home--fashion. Juliette is the founder and editor-in-chief of, Director of Sustainability at Manufacture NY, and loves to read, dance, swim and enjoy the occasional glass of champagne.