Joan Hornig Asks Jewelry Wearers to Speak Up for Change

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Ben Lau
Monday, April 2, 2018
Joan Hornig wearing her jewelry designs

Tools, as we know, are created to accomplish a task. For jewelry designer Joan Hornig, that task is to spread the message of giving back.

Walking into the dining room of Hornig’s Upper East Side duplex, there’s a table filled with pieces from her “Tools for Giving” collection. As with every item from her namesake brand—which has the tagline “Philanthropy Is Beautiful”—100 percent of profits from each sale goes to the purchaser’s charity of choice. One of the latest styles is “Power-Up the Giving”, a sterling silver plug and socket charm made with three strap versions—a lariat necklace, a leather bracelet and a Shamballa beaded bracelet.

It’s made to be worn by both women and men and sells for $150. Inspiration for the design came from Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico, which left thousands in need of electricity, food and water. Homes were destroyed, lives were taken and many have been severely injured. The aftermath of the Category 4 storm, to this day, is extreme—a large part of the island’s residents are struggling to get by.

Joan Hornig "Power-Up the Giving" sterling silver Shamballa beaded bracelet

“I was really upset to hear that one school in San Juan got power—that is not enough. There’s always news that will eclipse the crisis but we can’t be so shortsighted,” Hornig tells AVENUE. “We’re in it to play the long game and that means we cannot forget about our neighbors. This is very important. The entire Latino population has such a rich and beautiful culture and we embrace it in so many ways without necessarily noticing. We have to be more inclusive, not exclusive.”

Having grown up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, Hornig first discovered philanthropy at age 15. While friends were going away to summer camp, something her parents couldn’t afford for her, she started doing community service in high school. The pastime became a passion as she taught inner city kids how to read. “We visited travel agencies because there, you can pick up brochures for free,” she recalls. “I showed them pictures of the world and we would be able to talk about it.”

Joan Hornig "Power-Up the Giving" Lariat Necklace

After earning a B.A. in fine arts from Harvard, she went on to get her M.B.A. at Colombia Business School. Upon graduation, she worked as a professional fundraiser for her alma maters before spending 19 years on Wall Street as a financier. It wasn’t until the 9/11 attacks that Hornig realized just how fragile life can be, and in 2003, she changed career paths and launched her business to help change the world.

To date, she has donated more than one million dollars to 900+ charities and the list keeps growing. Over the years, her designs have been worn by those including Oprah, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lopez.

Joan Hornig “Power-Up the Giving” sterling silver leather bracelet

The “Tools for Giving” collection started back in 2009, after the earthquake in Haiti. The first piece featured two wrench-shaped charms on a silver chain to symbolize the heart-wrenching occurrence. The name of each style is a play on words. For example, there’s an 18k sterling silver vermeil and diamond microphone pendant called “Amp Up the Giving”.

The mic may be small, like so many women’s voices have been, but its power to broadcast injustices and further engage a community can be significant. Its overall mission is to encourage you to speak up for what you believe in and provoke others to do so as well. “A lovely friend of mine saw that I was wearing one, so I took it off my neck and said you can have it. She loved it. We went to a luncheon and she shared her story with another woman who offered to switch her gold necklace for it,” says Hornig. That pendant then went to another woman at a speaker bureau in Washington, D.C. and now its become known as a traveling mic. It’s priced at $365 to stand for every day of the year.

Most recently, Hornig launched “Pavé the Way”, a collection also resembling tools and all made with pavé diamonds. “I’m trying to access the power of the purse at all age ranges. For those of us who are more mature, it’s our time to pave the way for the younger generation. And it’s time for the succeeding generation to understand they have to go forward and do more.” The pieces in this collection are less bespoke and offered at a lower price point, featuring styles such as a $260 “Secure the Future” hammer motif bracelet to a $340 “Do the Heavy Lifting” weight motif necklace.

Joan Hornig "Amp Up the Giving" Necklace

In the corner of the dining room, Joan opens up a large, clear toolbox of pieces in the making for “Lettuce Give Back”, an upcoming segment of the “Pavé the Way” collection. As we sit on the floor sifting through the charms, she shares that her hope is to launch the line at an event for the non-profit Citymeals on Wheels and create awareness about healthy eating. Looking closely, there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to the lineup, which includes a pair of almond-shaped earrings made with freshwater pearls and a brass cuff resembling a kale leaf.

When Hornig designs, it all starts with an idea, which sparks from travel, conversations or books. After creating a sketch by hand, she then scans it into the computer to get a model then a mold casting. “Here, I’ll show you the CADs,” she says while we walk over to her home office.

Pulling out a large three-ring binder from a shelf, pages of the comprehensive computer-aided design in reference shows three-dimensional views of each style and its exact stone measurements.

Joan Hornig "Secure the Future" Diamond, 18K gold vermeil and red silk cord bracelet

Everything is made in New York City. “When I started to make jewelry, my goal was to define investment differently,” says Hornig. “It wasn’t investment in gold, platinum, silver or diamonds, but investment in the future to make a difference.” In the diamond district, Hornig noticed that everyone she worked with came from different backgrounds and cultures. “It’s an industry where there is actually a tremendous amount of immigrants. On Wall Street, I’ve been used to working with people who believe your word is your bond. Here, it’s the same—people would make the jewelry for you with their gold and you’ll pay them later. They’ll keep your mold and give you stones on memo. It’s a beautiful thing.”

In the living room—a spacious layout with couches, framed art and colossal windows—Hornig mentions she often hosts lectures to bring people together and talk about philanthropy. The topics can range anywhere from Puerto Rico’s economic recovery initiatives to the Girl Scouts’ latest projects. The point is, everyone can contribute in some way. “You can have a big life or you can have a small life, but your life is important. You have an impact.”

Joan Hornig "Do the Heavy Lifting" diamond and 18K gold vermeil chain necklace

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Hornig’s brand since it launched at Bergdorf’s. “The focus of my collection at the time was about beauty in the rough. Not everything has to be pristine. I love the patina on my furniture and the scratches on my silverware.”
Imperfections are what make stories interesting.

“It’s all about creating a conversation,” says Hornig. “If someone says to you, ‘I like your necklace’ and you say ‘thank you, it’s important because of XYZ’, then that’s the first step in making a change.” And there you have it—mic drop.

Ready to make a difference? Shop the styles at and at the Store at MAD: Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle.


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