21 In Style/ Women Now

Women making a difference: Jewelry designer Bess Nathan Rice

Studio Jewelry Collections

I’d been receiving the emails counting down the days until Studio Collections would be closing its doors. I’ve written about this gem of a jewelry store right off the Sonoma Square for some years now.

(Here’s a favorite post about Deborah who worked there and rocked an eclectic style.)

I’m happy to call Bess Nathan Rice, the owner of Studio Collections, a friend. Her jewelry designs filled her narrow store along with an enviable stable of artists. Besides being the place to find unique jewelry, it was a gathering ground of cool people. Everyone seems to know Bess and anytime I was in her store, it was filled with interesting people with great stories.

Studio Jewelry Collections
Bess in the center of the action
Jewelry collections

Selecting jewelry for my clients

When clients needed to add jewelry to their own collections, I’d stop by and see Bess.

I’d have Bess pull pieces from the display cases that I thought would work for a client. She’d arrange my selection in a display case the day before I’d leave to see my client in Marin or the East Bay or San Franciso. I’d return with an empty case.

Bess carried unique pieces

They appreciated the unique rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings that came from Bess’ store. I sit here at the keyboard and know exactly which accessories my clients own. When I’m styling outfits for my clients, clothing pieces get changed out but the jewelry keeps working. There was nothing trendy about Bess’ collections. You can imagine all the Beauty Bundles I’ve created that have her pieces at the heart of them.

We say goodbye to this magical jewelry store

Sunday, September 15th, was the closing day. Bess’ lease ran out and she couldn’t find a suitable place to relocate. But that sent her into new ideas. She wants to continue designing and perhaps she’ll have a studio where she’ll show her work by appointment only. For now, she’s going to rest.

She had the store for twelve years which is a long time in retail years. When she announced several weeks ago that she’d be closing, you could feel the community gasp. It’s such a part of the Sonoma experience. It seemed impossible to imagine not having Studio Collections to drop in on any day of the week.

She’s a masterful artist and a masterful shopkeeper. We all felt like she was our best friend and confidant.

Russ and I stop by one last time

Russ and I were out and about on the store’s last day. I looked at my watch and said, “If we leave Glen Ellen right now, we can get by Studio Collections and say goodbye to Bess.”

We got there for the last thirty minutes. There were lots of hugs and kisses and well wishes. And then there was a little bit of shopping.

Russ and I were leaning into one of the jewelry cases when he asked Bess about a silver cuff he saw. She pulled it out and he tried it on. It was grand. Russ fussed about the scale. He was used to wearing thinner cuffs together. Bess and I gently but firmly dismissed that idea. He’s a tall, striking guy. He can wear larger scale pieces.

“Look at it again, Honey,” I said and steered him to the mirror. Russ isn’t the kind of person who declares his appreciation of things with grandiose exclamations. For him to say, “I quite like it,” meant he REALLY liked it.

Personal jewelry

I wanted to be sure he’d wear it so I probed a little deeper. He said, “The thing I like about it is you wouldn’t see others wearing one like this.”

“Honey, I see you try on silver cuffs whenever you come across them. This one is the most handsome one I’ve seen on you. And look, you can still wear more than one cuff at the same time.”

He kept his eye on it while I moved his wrist from the right to the left.

Bess said, “Well if you can’t stop thinking about it, you know where to find me.”

personal jewelry
Russ is the last happy customer at Studio Collections

That’s when I said, “I want to buy it for you.” I could easily predict how much enjoyment he’d have wearing it.

Bess writes up the final sale

Jewelry collections
The final sale

It made me so happy to be the person holding the receipt of the final sale at Studio Collections. I don’t think Bess could understand how much joy she’s brought to so many people, even people like my clients outside of Sonoma who never met her in person.

Personal jewelry is so, well, personal. The essence of a piece we wear a lot can becomes an integral expression of who we are.

The difference one woman can make

I couldn’t let this occasion pass without sharing the difference this one very talented woman made over her twelve years of having her retail shop in Sonoma.

Bess, you know how much I love you, adore you, believe in you, cherish you. Just like so many others do. You deserve to rest as long as you wish. Your fans will be here for whatever new adventure you decide to take us on.

If you want to receive a notice from Bess about what she’s up to next, email her at bnrjewlerysonoma@gmail.com. She’ll add it to her list. Find her on Instagram at @studiocollectionsjewelry.

As part of this love letter to Bess and Studio Collections, I invite you to share stories about jewelry that’s made a big impact on you. Do you have pieces that were passed down to you or were gifted to you? Did you splurge on something that continues to bring you great pleasure? Let’s share the love of jewelry!


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  • Reply
    Ginger Burr
    September 24, 2019 at 5:56 am

    That cuff looks amazing on Russ! I’m so glad you got it for him. And, it’s always so sad to lose these fabulous vendors and creative spirits. My favorite store around here closed for the same reason as Bess and it was SO sad. I suspect you haven’t heard the last from Bess and hope she keeps her creativity blossoming!

  • Reply
    Kathleen Adams
    September 24, 2019 at 6:00 am

    I consider myself the keeper of the family jewels. I have pieces from my mother in law, my mom, my grandma, my aunt. Some important, like wedding rings, some costume pieces. I keep them in good repair, wear them all regularly and will pass them down to my daughter. I also collect Sergio Lub bangles and now have one for each of 7 granddaughters. I also have several nice pieces of my own to add to the collection. I consider a woman’s jewelry to be a personal statement, I am honored to be able to have fun with pieces by adding them to my outfits! I feel connected to these women when I wear those pieces. I stand in front of my jewelry box and say, “Ok, ladies. Who wants to go along today?”

    • Reply
      September 24, 2019 at 9:52 am

      Oh! The question you ask the ladies gives me chills! You said something that I was trying to say about how we can feel connected to others through jewelry, just like you do. How wonderful to be keeper of the jewels. If we select jewelry that’s so right for us, I think over time it connects us to ourself in a deep way. Certain pieces bring me comfort when I need it, courage when I need it. Thanks so much for your share. It’s so rich!

  • Reply
    Amy Roseveare
    September 24, 2019 at 6:56 am

    I’m so sad that Studio Collections has closed, but I know that Bess will continue to use her creativity to make the world a happier place. I look forward to her next step!!

    • Reply
      September 24, 2019 at 8:53 am

      So true, Amy. Bess just can’t help herself. I also think she taught by her actions about how to be with people. She was/is so great at that. There’s this guy that owns a farm stand and has the worst customer service although his peaches are divine. Bess’ customer service was unmatched. Just one of the things I love about her!

  • Reply
    September 24, 2019 at 8:07 am

    I wish my partner would wear jewelry! Good for Russ!
    Thank you for telling us about this store.

    I think it’s very interesting that, in the second and third photos there’s one woman in winter clothing (boots, woolen shrug, hat and gloves, while the other is bare-armed and in sandals!

    • Reply
      September 24, 2019 at 8:51 am

      That photo, Cara, was taken during the holidays last year. One woman had come in from walking outdoors and the other one had been inside. I loved that juxtaposition! Yes, I’m glad too that Russ wears jewelry. He came into my life that way and he wouldn’t be Russ without it! Thanks!

  • Reply
    September 24, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    I have several pieces that have sentimental value to me. Of course, my wedding and engagement rings hold prized place for me. My two other favorites are from the women that book-end my life. The gold filigree bangle bracelet that I treasure was my Mother’s. I remember rainy days, with permission, playing in her jewelry box and modeling the bracelet in front of the dresser mirror. (That wooden, hand-carved jewelry box sits on my coffee table and houses remotes, bookmarks and reading glasses now.) When I turned 12, I was allowed to wear the bracelet to Sunday School. When I turned 16, I was allowed to wear it on dates. Every time I wear it, I’m transported back in time and feel her presence. My other favorite piece is a silver ring made by my daughter in high school. I wear it all the time. I often catch myself examining it, tracing the design with my fingers, admiring her handiwork. I see her delicate hands at work in my mind and it always makes me smile. Now, she’s a mother herself. And the circle of life continues.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 11:08 am

      Connie, this is such a rich story. We’re all blessed to have read about your relationships with your mother and your daughter. I can feel it in my heart how meaningful those pieces are. They represent so much. The power of jewelry is immense!

  • Reply
    Brenda Benson
    September 24, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Love the bracelet you bought Russ. He is rocking it! And Bess, so glad I at least got to know her through your beautiful blog post today. I’ve signed up to be in the know about her next adventure.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 11:05 am

      Thanks, Brenda for your comment. Russ is so in love with that bracelet. I’m so glad that worked out so beautifully. I’m with you: can’t wait to see what Bess does next after her well-deserved rest.

  • Reply
    September 25, 2019 at 5:03 am

    Bess’ jewelry looks amazing! And Russ will always have the memory of being her last sale. Looking good Russ & best of luck to your friend, Bess.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 11:03 am

      Thanks, Sandi. Hope you’ll see that cuff in person. It looks so good on him!

  • Reply
    Janet Urquhart
    September 25, 2019 at 7:43 am

    Very lovely jewelery and post. But WHO is the extremely cool older lady with the jeans, shrug and turban in the tops photos? So exceptionally stylish. Can you run a post on her? Wow. What a great look!

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Oh, I wish I could! She was just a customer in the store that day. Isn’t she divine?!

  • Reply
    La semaine d'une gourmette
    September 26, 2019 at 4:26 am

    I was the only woman who wore jewels in my family (my grandmother only wore the same 2 rings, and a brooch on special outfits, my mother a few necklaces), so they gave it all to me, which means I have lots of old and beautiful pieces that I admire and wear regularly. I added to the collection too. One of my favorite pieces is a very graphic, streamlined silver rigid necklace (with a hinge in the back) my mother bought in Mexico in the late sixties and wore a lot when I was a kid.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 10:59 am

      How wonderful to have family treasures like that. And I love hearing how you wear them a lot. Yay!

  • Reply
    Christine Sigman
    October 4, 2019 at 9:37 am


    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 10:43 am

      Yes, the bracelet and the man!

  • Reply
    October 8, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Twelve years selling artist-made jewelry speaks volumes about both Ms. Rice’s talent and her business acumen.
    Most people understand “karat and carat” price when it comes to jewelry. Far fewer appreciate the value of the artistry and the amount of creative time and work that goes into producing jewelry that’s original and not mass-produced.
    In the process of learning to make jewelry myself I have been fortunate to get to know jewelry artists and lapidaries of enormous talent. Most of them don’t make their whole living by what they love to do because of factors like high rents for display space and working studios, steep fees for shows, and sky-rocketing precious metal prices.
    That they keep working at all is a testimonial to their creative spirit.
    My hat is off to Ms. Rice. I wish her the best.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Liz, your comment speaks volumes. You’re so right. I love that you shared with all of us the behind the scenes aspect of it all and how truly amazing it is to have had a jewelry store for 12 years. Once again, I’m in awe of you Bess, and Liz, how rich of you to point this out.

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