CRANSTON, R.I. – Carolyn Rafaelian, who founded the iconic Alex and Ani brand in the early 2000s, on Friday officially launched her new Rhode Island-based jewelry company Metal Alchemist, unveiling three new collections — all of which are manufactured in the Ocean State.
Metal Alchemist is “the first of its kind in so many ways,” said Rafaelian, who is no longer involved with Alex and Ani. “This is the kind of art I always wanted to do.”
The three collections are “Woven Metal Mesh,” “Intention Wire,” and “Precious Bonded Metal,” which uses a proprietary refining and ponding process that combines gold, silver, and copper and is exclusive to Metal Alchemist. The collections include cuff bracelets, rings, and necklaces; prices range from $28 to about $2,800.
Rafaelian said Metal Alchemist jewelry are “heirloom pieces,” intended to be passed from one generation to the next.
Her new company’s name is a nod to an ancient philosophy: Born in ancient Egypt, alchemy was practiced in Europe, China, India, and throughout the Muslim World, and focused the goal of transmuting base metals into gold. Alchemists believed everything is composed of the four elements— earth, air, fire, and water—and alchemy traditions helped form the landscape of scientific theories and laboratory techniques still used today.
The challenge for Rafaelian was to find a way to take an ancient practice and adapt it for modern manufacturing, which took two years of development, a team of engineers to create the machinery, and millions of dollars. Steven A. Cipolla, the president of National Chain Company in Warwick, and Rafaelian have invested nearly $8 million into the machinery combined.
The technique Metal Alchemist uses heats, presses, and stretches the metals, a process both new and “as old as time,” according to Marisa Morin, Metal Alchemist’s “chief alchemist.” Dozens of products are expected to be released in the coming months.
The jewelry will be available online, in Metal Alchemist’s flagship brick-and-mortar New York City outpost in Tribeca, and in all 62 Reeds Jewelers stores in the US.
Reeds Jewelers senior vice president for merchandising, Judy Fischer, was so intrigued by the new concept that, less than a week after Rafaelian called to tell her about it, Reeds CEO Alan M. Zimmer and Vice President of Marketing Mitch Cahn visited to see the designs for themselves.
“We just have that much respect for her. We don’t just jump on a plane to see a vendor too often,” Judy Fischer, the senior vice president for merchandising at Reeds Jewelers, told the Globe.
In the last two decades, Fisher explained, much of the jewelry industry has focused on the emotional bond between a man and woman, and much of the innovation has been around wedding bands. It took years for customers to accept metals like titanium, cobalt, and stainless steel, she said. But Fisher doesn’t think it will take as long to build consumer confidence with Metal Alchemist’s uniquely bonded metals.
“It was always about the emotional love story. But generations have changed and the industry has evolved. Romantic gift giving isn’t the main headline anymore,” said Fisher. “It’s more about self-expression. There are no rules, you can wear it the way you want and be you. So I don’t know if (Metal Alchemist) would have worked 20 years ago. But it is very much relevant to today’s consumer.”
Rafaelian started Alex and Ani in the basement of Cinerama Jewelry, the Cranston, R.I. company opened by her late father in 1966, which she and her sister eventually took over. She started experimenting with metals, soldering them into bracelets with charms with symbols and saints on them. In 2004, she received her first patent for a fairly uncomplicated design: an expandable wire bangle bracelet. By the mid-2010s, Alex and Ani was the fastest-growing company in America.
She was pushed out of Alex and Ani in 2020 after a series of executive departures, lawsuits, and issues with international private equity firms. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2021.
As she returns to the jewelry industry, Rafaelian said she is committed to making American-made products, and “turning the lights back on” in factories across Rhode Island — once known as the jewelry capital of the world.
“The world is ready for Metal Alchemist now,” Rafaelian told the Globe. “Just like how people care about what they put in their body and the products they place on their face, this brand will show them why it’s important to know about the metals we are putting on our skin.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.