Jewelry innovators Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui first met while working toward their Masters in Finance at Princeton. In a class dominated by men—20 to 5—the duo was ecstatic to discover each other’s mutual love for fashion—a devoted interest that would eventually lead them to create their own Contemporary fine jewelry brand, AUrate (“AU” representing the chemical symbol for gold, and “rate” standing for both rate of return and high quality—the full term pronounced as, “orate,” or “storyteller.”)
The idea for this groundbreaking business venture sparked during a brunch at Nolita’s café Gitane, where the two said they pinpointed a massive void in the retail market. “While we loved fashion, specifically in the Contemporary field, we felt the market was already highly saturated,” said Kahn. “Take one walk through Soho and you see clothing stores everywhere. Contemporary fine jewelry, on the other hand, was nonexistent, so we decided to fill this market gap with fine jewelry at a middle-market price point. With this model, we realized we could revolutionize the fine jewelry market as it stood then.”
Since first launching in November 2014, AUrate has attracted a slew of dedicated fans like Victoria Secret model Imaan Hammam and “Suits” actress Meghan Markle. The brand is divided between three categories: Understated, Core and Statement—a trio united by quality materials and sophisticated designs. “Our jewelry costs a fraction of the price that you would pay at Fifth Avenue because of our online business model that cuts superfluous costs,” Ezzaharoui said. We caught up with the co-founders to discuss inspiration, New York and the AUrate woman.
You say your jewelry is inspired by New York. In what way?
SK: “Women in New York are so inspiring. The Statement line is for the New Yorker going out to say, a ball at the Frick. The Core line is for the woman who, for instance, works at a law firm and wants something she can wear to the office, but keep on when she goes out after for a drink with friends. The Understated line is for the woman who’s having coffee with her friend on a Saturday morning and wants to keep things casual.
We’re also inspired by New York’s fashion and art scenes. This city is full of artistic inspiration, whether that’s from a cool girl walking down the street in the Lower East side or an exhibition on connectivity at the New Museum. After seeing “Madame Butterfly” together, we stayed up all night editing pieces in our collection, based on the show’s beautiful décor—the mirrors in the ceiling helped us refine the long bar earrings.”
How has your background influenced your aesthetic?
SK: “Growing up in Amsterdam, I’ve come to appreciate Scandinavia’s minimal, clean aesthetic. Brands like Acne or Filippa K are what I’m drawn to and what I wanted to translate into jewelry: high quality with a focus on the materials and little noise. Sometimes the U.S. can gravitate toward flashy over-the-top pieces full of ornaments, colors and other distracting embellishments. With AUrate, we really wanted to focus on the beauty of gold itself. Gold is such a beautiful and special metal, why smuck it up with all these other nonessentials? Less is more—I think that’s the common thread that runs through our collection. No matter how dainty or severe our pieces are, they’re always developed from a clean, modern and minimalist perspective.”
What’re the best things to do in the Netherlands?
SK: “For Amsterdam, definitely King’s Day—Everybody is on boats in the canals and super happy; there is an atmosphere of elation and pure joy. The Dutch know how to party.”
What’re the best things to do in Morocco and France?
BE: “Growing up between Morocco and France, you learn how to live with a unique abundance of culture. You can sip a coffee while reading a book at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris and, depending on your mood, you could walk west to check out the murals by Monet at the Orangerie for the n-th time.
On the other side of the Mediterranean, you can wander in Marrakech until stepping into a Sultan’s palace, where walls and ceilings are still encrusted with the gold and colorful tiles that survived centuries. When you need some respite from the African sun, colorful Majorelle Gardens offer the best retreat and Yves Saint Laurent would agree with me on that one.”
Where are your go-to spots in New York?
SK: “Restaurants/Drinks: Café Gitane, Standard East, Leadbelly, Maison Premiere, The Smile, Il Buco, Café Cluny and Buvette.
Party: Paul’s Gaby Grand and Acme
Spa: Great Jones
Gym: Bari Studio
Stores: Dover Street market, Reformation, Marc Jacobs and Opening Ceremony
Museums: New Museum and MoMa PS1”
Talk about your collaboration process.
BE: “Sophie focuses on the design and creative direction of the collection. I handle the finances and make sure the pieces are sharply priced and offer the customer real value. We both focus on our strengths, but we’re very open to feedback on both ends. Sometimes S starts crunching numbers and I come up with a new piece; it’s more fun that way. Most importantly, an extra set of eyes helps take something from good to great.”
Who do you envision wearing your jewelry?
BE: “The AUrate woman is smart and independent, yet feminine. She’s a natural beauty, but not too perfect, we like imperfections because that’s what makes life interesting. While fashionable, she doesn’t follow trends—she sets them herself. She’s sophisticated, but has a slight edge to her and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s free-spirited and open-minded, yet grounded and rational. While she enjoys the finer things in life—music, art, fashion and travelling—she is also acutely aware of her surroundings and has a passion to give back. (Note: for every purchase, AUrate gives a school-book to a child in need.)”
SK: “That’s a hard one. It’s like asking, ‘Do you prefer water, coffee or a cocktail?’ You need water, but life without some caffeine or alcohol would be pretty dull. In other words, our pieces are made to be worn by the same woman, just during different moments of the day. I wear and need everything, just at different occasions.
Having said that, if I was forced to pick just one, I would probably choose the Statement line. I love self-expression and like to stand out with my wardrobe; the newness always catches my attention and excites me most, and that is most prevalent in our Statement line. Then again, I am linked for life with our Core line quadricolor and tricolor rings that I mix and match—they’re perfect solid staples that I need everyday.”
Which AUrate piece is your personal favorite?
SK: “Our geometric square ring. It’s full solid gold—quite heavy actually—and while edgy, it’s also a classic. I always love playing with opposites—having something that’s traditional and modern. This affinity for contrast translates throughout our brand, whether it’s the AUrate girl, our aesthetic or our general outlook on life. The ring perfectly highlights the beauty of gold; it reflects from every angle. It actually took a while to design, so it wouldn’t look like a napkin ring, and so it’d still have a bit of an edge to it. Like most good things in life, it didn’t come easy.”
Be sure to attend AUrate’s “Spring Gold Rush” event with Haute Hippie on Thursday, April 23, at 9 Prince Street, New York, NY, 10012. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org