Watch Of The Week: Jewelry Designer Maggi Simpkins Finds Power In Her Grandmother’s Cartier Tank
The record-setting engagement ring designer believes in the power of objects.
In Watch of the Week, we invite HODINKEE staffers and friends to explain why they love a certain piece. This week’s columnist is jewelry designer Maggi Simpkins, who has run her bespoke engagement ring company since 2015. She recently designed a one-million-dollar ring for “Brilliant and Black – A Jewelry Renaissance,” an exhibition at Sotheby’s.
Most of the jewelry I wear has a significant amount of sentimental value for me. Almost every day I wear my mom’s engagement ring, a ring of her mother’s that I stack with a band I made out of my father’s gold-fill glasses frames. On my neck, I wear a pendant necklace from his mother. I’m a strong believer in connecting emotion to the objects we wear.
That’s part of why I love what I do with engagement rings because my connection to jewelry is really a sentimental one. I like pretty things, but really it comes down to really wanting to create things that tell stories and mean something significant to people.
And while the pieces I wear every day keep me connected to my loved ones, I have a special piece, my superhero piece, that I save for special occasions – my grandmother Lilian’s Cartier Tank.
I never knew my grandmother, she passed away when my mom was pregnant with me, but I always think of her as an absolute powerhouse. She managed to buy her own home on Long Island as a Black woman in the 1960s, working two and three jobs to send my dad and his twin brother to private school (which, of course, he hated). She was a sweet, hard-working, deeply religious woman who dedicated her life to others. I think of the pieces I have from her – my necklace and this watch, especially – as my guardian angels, her strength is carried through me.
My career feels like a reflection of my family in some ways; my mother encouraged me to be creative, my father was a welder and made things with his hands, and my grandmother was this source of strength.
My dad and his brother inherited her home in the late ’80s, but when my father passed away in 2012, I went to the home to help clean through all the belongings. It was a time capsule of his life and hers, as well. There were lots of old photos of my dad and a few funky vintage toys, but she was a single mom of two boys so there wasn’t a ton of opulence. But then there was this watch in her dresser. So beautiful and out of place. I think one of the reasons why I am so sentimental with jewelry is that there have been family members that I never got to meet, but I get to have little pieces that hold their stories.
Because I never got to know her, I don’t know much about the watch itself. I took it to a local watch shop when I first got it a few years ago to get it fixed and was told it was real, but if I’m being 100 percent honest, whether it’s real or fake means nothing to me. In that sense, it might as well be a Seiko or a Casio. It just so happens that I think it’s stunningly beautiful and is to my taste.
I recently had an epiphany – it felt like it was right in front of my nose, really – and I want to get into working with watches. For so many people they serve the same purpose as jewelry – pieces that commemorate occasions, get passed on from loved ones. I was intimidated by watches, the mechanics, “does it come with a box and papers?”, but the more that I learn about it, the more I approach it the way that I approach jewelry. I’m not so precious about the little things. I sell stones with certificates, but I also sell stones without certificates. For me it’s most important to think: Do we like the stone? How does that sparkle? If you touch it and it means something to you, that’s what is important.
All photos, Aileen Son