On the New York subway eyes shift with intrigue and fear, settling on a beautiful, strong woman dressed in black. Her silhouette stands behind a dark jetted miniature sculpture that dangles from her finger. Is that a weapon? No, it’s the Damian ring inspired by Queen Nefertiti’s headdress, and the woman is Angie Marei, founder and designer of Diaboli Kill Jewelry. If you’re wearing one of her unique pieces, you don’t have to think about your clothes. In fact, the designs are so bold that your garments are overshadowed. As a tactile person who has always created, Angie molded a successful career as a graphic artist and art director. But when she was craving some hands-on work, she turned to the jewelry district, training under a master and shaping her passion for jewelry design. Her desire to make pieces that spoke to her background and tastes led her down a spiritual path to ancient Egypt, a story she traced from her childhood and Egyptian-Dominican upbringing. And though Egyptian jewelry has long been made of fine materials, nothing she came across ever truly spoke to her own personal dark, luxurious style. Enter Diaboli Kill, described as sinister and sexy; a brand Angie personifies as David Bowie meets Tilda Swinton: androgynous, mysterious and elegant. Her point of view has been championed by iconic celebrities, including vocal powerhouses and style icons Beyoncé Knowles and Alicia Keys. Angie continues to refine her craft with custom work while still making statements with her luxe-noir creations. When she’s not in the studio blending technology with traditional jewelry making, Angie and her son are taking in life’s simple joys. To blend her career and home life, Angie relies on to-do lists and making time for daily rituals and quality downtime to help even out her chaotic schedule. Her goal as a designer is to create art that empowers but also feels like lingerie against the skin, inspiring all wearers to feel strong and seductive.
I saw that there was a gap in the market for luxury fine statement jewelry
I felt really empowered after becoming a mother
As a visual creative I always carry a sketchbook on me
At 18 years old I read, “Creative Visualization” written by Shakti Gawain and it changed my life
I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction
I stopped giving a fuck what others think
Creating a sacred space that displays what I want actually does bring it to life
Empowered, confident, beautiful and sexy
Rhianna, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Jessie J and Demi Lovato
I create an emotional experience through luxuriously designed objects that transports them into an ancient world of power and seduction
I can spend hours or days working on a single wax carving.
I found freedom
I didn’t realize my passion for making jewelry until a friend introduced me to Kristin Hanson Fine Jewelry School
Let’s start at the beginning - how’d you get into jewelry design?
I think I took my first jewelry class in 2010 when I was doing freelance advertising. I met this girl who made jewelry; she had a pair of earrings and a necklace or a little bracelet, and I was intrigued that she actually made it herself. She told me about the fine jewelry school that she attended, and then I started going there on weekends. I ended up going full time for a few months and then in 2013 I launched my brand, Diaboli Kill.
Which jewelry school did you attend?
It was called Kristin Hanson Fine Jewelry School, but it doesn’t exist anymore. I studied with a master jeweler who was a teacher there.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
A lot of my inspiration comes from my Egyptian background; I’m half Egyptian. I grew up with a lot of Egyptian sculptures in the house and paintings or papyrus and I also traveled to Egypt as a kid, so a lot of that stayed with me. When I started designing jewelry, I was looking for inspiration and I just kept getting drawn to ancient Egypt as well as art deco period jewelry.
What does ancient-Egypt-meets-art-deco jewelry look like?
A lot of jewelry from the art deco period was actually inspired by Egyptian revival design. I try to incorporate architectural details from ancient Egypt, but I also try to make my designs modern to fit today’s style. I love dark things, so I make it a little bit romantic, dark, sexy and edgy.
What drew you to that darker side of modern luxury?
My mom’s Dominican and she loved collecting jewelry from Egypt; when I was younger she gave me a bunch of gold, but I felt that it really wasn’t my style and it wasn’t modern enough. Then when I tried to buy jewelry from other designers, I found it hard to find pieces that I fit my edgier personal style, so I started designing pieces that I wanted to wear. So that’s kind of how it started – I couldn’t find what I wanted so I created it. I wanted beautiful jewelry that was edgy. A lot of the fine jewelry out there is kind of all the same, very simple and minimalistic and I’m like anti-minimalism, so I wanted something luxurious and extravagant and made from high-end materials instead of costume jewelry.
What kind of materials do you use?
I use gold, silver and gold-plated silver and also occasionally platinum, but that’s usually for the bridal pieces. Everything I make uses really high-quality materials because I care about what I put on my skin.
Have you always been an artist?
Yes; I’ve always made things. I grew up making my own clothes because I didn’t want to wear the same clothes that everyone had, so I’d make my own. I cut hair, I made paintings and illustrations and sculptures, and I went to art school, and then I ended up working in advertising. In college I studied communications design, so I learned a little bit of everything like graphic design, typography, sculpture, and architecture, all of which I use a lot in my career and in making jewelry. I’ve always had a passion for jewelry but I never really thought about making it until I met that girl at work, where she told me she made her own pieces. I was making clothing then, not jewelry. But I don’t really like sewing, and I love making jewelry, so I found it very relaxing to sit behind the bench and sculpt something out of wax or go to the jewelry studio and hammer a piece of metal for days. I found it was like meditating for me.
How did you get the confidence to break out as a jeweler with a different point of view?
I just did it for fun; I did it for myself. I have a professional background in graphic design, but with jewelry, it was more for fun. At first it was just a creative outlet for me, I didn’t really design for anybody else, and then people really liked it, and they liked how unique it was. That’s when I decided to go with it, you know, to trust my instinct and go edgy.
Can you describe how business was from your start in 2013 compared to where it's at today?
Well, it was more of a side project – like a hobby- when I started; a lot of trial and error and a lot of word of mouth. Even making contact with manufacturers and suppliers was a lot of trial and error. The jewelry industry is ancient so you can’t find things easily on Google; a lot of things require meeting people and asking questions. It took me a few years to find the people that I work with now, and in terms of business, I guess it’s still growing. I’m doing more custom jewelry now, which is really interesting and fun for me. I’m focusing more on custom bridal jewelry these days too, and I love that because I get to create something very personal for someone – truly one-of-a-kind pieces for ceremonies and weddings. It’s great to work with clients one-on-one, and it’s cool to do both: I can design for my brand, but I can also design specialty pieces.
Does creating wedding jewelry - which is classically very white and clean - offer a challenge since it contrasts with your usual edgy style?
It’s sometimes a contrast, but usually the people that contact me are looking for something different. They don’t want the same solitaire ring that everyone has – I mean, those are fine, and just as beautiful – but they want something unique. I love collecting estate jewelry and a lot of those pieces were made by family jewelers that created something custom for them, so they’re not mass produced. They’re specific styles for a specific person, sometimes with unique engravings inside, so for me it’s nice to continue the tradition of creating pieces that don’t exist for people – it’s special.
Tell me about the kind of woman who wears Diaboli Kill.
They’re all very different. I have a lot of men who wear my pieces too. The women that wear my pieces are very confident, it doesn’t matter what they look like, they’re comfortable with themselves, and they feel sexy and seductive. They know what they like and they have a very powerful personality. But I have to say again that they’re all very different; I can’t say that any of my clients are the same. These aren’t people who want to feel safe by wearing the same thing that everybody else does; they want to make a statement. They’re not all like me though, they’re different ages and from all across the world.
And there are quite a few celebrities that are wearing it as well, is that correct?
Yes, I have Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys wearing my pieces, as well as Zendaya, Nicki Minaj, Jessie J, and Ava DuVernay. I have a lot of really cool powerful women wearing my jewelry – it’s pretty amazing.
Is there a piece that you're particularly proud of?
Probably the Damian ring; it’s my most iconic piece. It was inspired by the sculpture of Nefertiti in her headdress – I wanted to create something using that unique shape. I created that ring for myself; I thought people would be too scared to wear it and now I’m surprised how many people really love that ring. It’s my best seller, and for men too.
You previously also worked as a graphic artist, right?
Yeah, I still do that. I have a business doing branding, advertising and web design for large companies, but that’s just always working on the computer so it’s nice to have something I can do with my hands.
Your website mentions you also worked with some pretty luxurious brands as an art director.
Yes, I am an art director by trade. I’ve worked on big brands like Gucci, Yves St Laurent, Max Mara, and Estée Lauder. I’ve done conceptual ads, I do a lot of campaign work, and I also do packaging design and branding. I have my own agency, and I also freelance as a creative director.
What's your agency called?
It’s called Saint New York.
How do you have time to do all this?
I don’t know; I drink a lot of coffee. I’m also a mom, so I know what it’s like to always be busy. I really don’t know – I guess I really enjoy working and being busy?
What made a successful graphic artist and art director want to get into jewelry?
Jewelry is my art form and my true creative outlet. Like I said, I’ve always been very artistic, I just didn’t find my voice right away. Growing up I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do; I knew I loved fashion but I didn’t necessarily want to be a fashion designer. I didn’t really know what I wanted so I did everything. I love photography, drawing, and painting but I wasn’t obsessed with any of it; I didn’t find that one thing that really got me going.
I studied communications design at Pratt Institute – partly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Working in advertising you become a commercial artist, so you’re creating visual identities for brands but it’s not personal, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’ve enjoyed visually enhancing the advertising world of luxury fashion for years, and I still do, but it’s creating for other people and brands that resonate with their audiences – it’s not you. For me creating jewelry was very personal and it was my own voice and hard work. I love making my tiny sculptures; they’re just like the sculptures that sit on your mantle or on a pillar or in a museum, I just create ones that are wearable.
Do you think that your other work carries over to your jewelry design?
Yeah, definitely. I do all my branding and I built my own website. Actually, after I had my son I stayed home with him for nine months and I needed to do something for my mental sanity besides feeding my baby and putting him to sleep. I took on my own project and I was making jewelry already but I didn’t really have a website, a brand name or a logo so I decided to do for myself what I usually do for everybody else. Diaboli Kill became my pet project. I had a lot of fun doing it and I still do. I just love being creative and having my own brand that allows me to do whatever I want to do. I’m in control, whereas when I’m working with other brands, it’s tailored to their needs and their brand voice.
Can you talk about the value of branding prior to launching a business?
I think for a lot of people that maybe aren’t familiar with branding they see a logo and they think maybe that’s the brand, but honestly you don’t even need the logo to have a brand. You should think about who your audience is, what your brand voice is, who you’re targeting and what you want to say. I think of brands as people; I kind of personify them. So I’ll look at a brand and say ‘oh, they sound like Oprah – so what would Oprah look like if Oprah was a brand?’ I think it takes time to figure it out, but you need a specific point of view so people understand who you are and so you don’t get lost. These days everyone has a startup, everyone has their own company, and it’s hard not to get lost in the mix. If you really want to stand out it’s important to take the time to flesh out who you want to be in your category – or maybe you’re creating a new category. First think about what the brand visually looks like and then come up with the name and the logo. The very first thing you need is the essence: the brand personality, the point of view. I’ve worked with a lot of brands who don’t have that quite set up; they’re really caught up in creating an elaborate logo for example, but no one really cares about the logo if there is no brand.
Did you approach your company the same way? If so, who is your person?
My person is somebody very androgynous and mysterious and elegant. I would say something like a cross between David Bowie and Tilda Swinton.
I love that! Is it important for you to give women an edgier option?
Yeah, that’s very important for me because I think in this day and age women should be proud of themselves – proud of who they are and what they look like and not afraid of being sexy. I’m not saying you have to be sexy to impress anyone, but for me the jewelry I create is almost like wearing very seductive, beautiful lingerie. You wear it under your clothes and no one else has to see it, but you’ll go to work that day and feel like a rockstar because you’re wearing the most beautiful bra or silk stockings. You know, it just feels good on your skin and gives you this sense of confidence. And I think women are so amazing and so beautiful, we are life givers. After I had my son I didn’t feel sexy for a while but then I started going to the gym and working on myself, and I felt so good. I brought a child into this world! Women are capable of doing such amazing things, so I wanted to create something that empowered women to feel sexy. It doesn’t matter what age you are either – you could be 90 years old and still be sexy. It’s the attitude; it’s the attitude you exude, and I wanted to create something that’s ageless.
And when you're wearing your jewelry is that how you feel?
Yeah – I love the way it feels on my skin. My pieces are a little heavy, so you’re always reminded that you’re wearing it. But I love touching things, and I love texture so for me there’s something very sensual about feeling the edges of the jewelry. And then there are the reactions I get from people, like when I’m on the train and I’m wearing my Damian ring people are intrigued but they’re also kind of scared, like ‘what the hell is that, like it looks like a weapon…but it’s also really beautiful.’ I love that reaction. People always ask me what it is, and you know I just love that it’s mysterious, it’s sculptural, and it’s shiny, so people notice it. But when I wear jewelry, it’s definitely like the clothes don’t even matter, like the jewelry kind of speaks for itself.
So is your fashion pretty minimal then?
I’d say so; I tend to wear mostly black because I don’t have time to think about what I’m going to wear. Like I said, I used to make clothes, so I’m aware of the tailoring and the craftsmanship and I like nice things, but I usually go pretty basic with my clothing. Sometimes I want to wear something more feminine, but my style is generally more on the androgynous side.
How do you balance being a mother with running two businesses and then some?
There’s a lot of time management that goes into my day. I take a lot of notes, I have really long to-do lists, and I prioritize things. So usually at the beginning of the day, I have to get a workout in. So I’ll drop my son off at school, and then I work out real quick, and then I’ll go to my office and work, or I come home and work, or I’ll go to the jewelry district and work, but I usually have a schedule; I know what needs to get done that day. I also split up my time, so I don’t have a 9-to-5 day. I pretty much work all day from when I wake up until I got to sleep, but I prioritize time with my son, so when I pick him up we do after school activities, we cook together, and I make sure I spend good quality time with him. But after I put him to bed I’ll respond to emails or plan the next day, so it’s very busy, and I wouldn’t say that it’s really balanced. I try to get as much done as possible in a day, and with being a mom you have guilt, where you’re like ‘oh I should be staying at home with my kid,’ but even though I feel guilty I’m also like ‘I cannot live without working because it’s part of my life, I love working,’ and I think it’s also good for my son to see that his mom works hard. He’s already interested in making jewelry. He tells me he has ideas, so we’ll make things together, and I try to include him. My days are really jam-packed overall though, and filled with lots of energy drinks, lots of coffee, and lots of vitamins.
You mentioned mom guilt, and that you think setting a good example and being true to yourself helps you deal with it. How else do you address that feeling?
I just have to put it aside. I think the guilt comes no matter what the moment you become a parent. But I guess I try to overcome it by having a really good time with my son; when we’re together we do fun activities. I dedicate a lot of time to do things with him like drumming class and karate, and we go on adventures together. But I don’t know if the guilt will ever go away because I always feel I could be spending more time with him. I could give up my work and stay at home, but that’s not me. I’ve been working since I was 14 and I just feel like I can’t stop.
I try to make good memories with him, especially because he’s five now so he’s going to remember being five and doing fun things with his mom. Freelancing gives me the flexibility to take him to school and pick him up and cook dinner together. Sometimes when I have to work he’ll sit next to me and ask questions while I’m using Photoshop. I keep him involved – I don’t go into the other room when I work. When he was a baby he was right there in the carrier while I was working – not when I was making the jewelry, but when I was working on my website or going to the jewelry district or getting pieces polished or taking them to my stone setter or to be 3D printed – he would come with me, and he still often does today.
Are you making the jewelry now or are you mostly directing the process?
I stopped making the jewelry when I became pregnant because there was a lot of soldering and stuff going on that I couldn’t really do then. The jewelers I have now are incredible so I mostly do the design or wax now. My passion is more the sculpting, so I’ll design stuff and 3D print it or I’ll design it by hand with wax. It’s so relaxing for me and so beautiful to create something out of nothing. Some of the pieces need more precision, especially for adding gemstones, so those I’ll design and do the spec drawings. I can illustrate, so I draw them, measure them out and then have a 3D rendering made. Then I get them 3D printed and from there I have to do a silver model and then the mold. Or I’ll sit in my studio or in my kitchen and make something from scratch from wax – it totally depends on the piece.
How was the Damian ring made?
I made the first model by hand with wax because I couldn’t really describe to my jewelers how it would fit on my hand. I mean, they’d never seen a piece like that before because they were used to making more traditional jewelry. So the first model was wax but I needed it to be more precise, so they took the wax and had a 3D rendering of it created, then we printed it in wax from that.
I’d like to talk a little bit more about your upbringing and your connection to Egypt. At what point did you know that was the direction you wanted to go with your jewelry?
Where do I start? I grew up in New York but my parents are both immigrants and were very stuck in their ways. My mom’s Dominican, so we spoke Spanish in the house, and my father is Egyptian so I also learned to speak Arabic and he was always bringing me books about ancient Egypt. He was an artist too so he was into creating stuff – and my mom’s a very good illustrator, so there was a lot of creating art in the house. To be honest, when I first started making jewelry I was more intrigued by medieval period jewelry. I liked how it looked very handcrafted and kind of organic, so when I started creating wax sculptures I was making more medieval-style stuff. As I started researching more and looking for inspiration, I was really drawn to Egypt, and it made sense for me because that’s what I grew up seeing. I noticed that darker Egyptian jewelry didn’t really exist though; a lot of the jewelry I had was Egyptian-influenced jewelry but it wasn’t very dark and it was stuff I didn’t want to wear – it was very ornate with lots of flowers and weird designs. Everyone gifted me jewelry for birthdays and holidays, so I had tons of gold jewelry but nothing that was really my style.
So what was it about ancient Egypt that spoke to you?
What I find really interesting about ancient Egypt is how advanced the civilization was; a lot of people still can’t explain how things were made to this day – it’s kind of magical. And I think that goes for a lot of other ancient civilizations, too. People still can’t explain exactly how the pyramids were made and I find the whole mystery about it really interesting, as well as how everything was made of gold. Tombs were covered in gold and everything was just so extravagant and intricate and detailed. I feel like today we’ve kind of lost this whole spiritualistic way of creating things, and I try to get that back. When I travel I make sure to visit an old church or temple and I really look at the work that it took to create these places; that doesn’t really happen anymore. Everything is made really quickly and made to make money instead of created as a space to pay tribute to the sun or pay tribute to a god; it’s less common to have these grand places created by spiritual belief. I find that really interesting because I’m a very spiritual person. I’m not religious, but I respect all religions and I’m fascinated by the history of building monuments. People believed so much that they dedicated their whole lives to erecting sculptures, tombs and buildings and all that, but it just doesn’t exist the same way anymore. I find it really interesting to create something that could live forever – almost mimicking building monuments but on a smaller scale.
Ancient Egypt was a time and place where females had high authority - Cleopatra comes to mind for example as someone with edge, darkness and power. Does your jewelry style and concept speak to that?
That definitely is an inspiration. They were royalty, they were Queens; they led armies and had and held power. I’m not sure when in history that was taken away from women but we’re getting it back.
You mentioned the jewelry industry being old-fashioned. Have you found the industry growing or changing at all since you've been in the space?
I can’t say that I’ve been in it long enough to say how much it’s growing, and I don’t even know if it is growing to be honest. I’d say it’s changing though. I know that there’s more access for people like me to create jewelry, especially with technology; I’m able to create my dreams with 3D printing for example. With today’s technology it’s possible to create almost anything – it’s pretty amazing. I can think of things that might be impossible to make by hand but the technology allows you to make it.
Do you use 3D printing a lot in your work?
Yes, but I don’t want to only use 3D printing; there’s always hand work incorporated as well. Most of my pieces are still created by hand but we can create parts of the form itself with 3D technology. For example, I have clasps that don’t exist anywhere else. I had an idea for a clasp for a bracelet that we made using 3D printing because it wouldn’t have come out very well if we’d made it by hand. The technology is really cool for small functional things like that. I love computers and technology so for me to have it all come together to create art is pretty amazing.
Have there been any challenges in your business?
There are always challenges – I mean it’s a small business; I don’t come from a family with lots of money, so I have to self-fund my business. I don’t have a team of people working for me, so I have to learn things as quickly as possible so I can do them myself. I’m the one person behind the brand and there’s a lot to do, so it’s challenging to do everything without any partners, but it’s also rewarding because I get to control everything. I get to talk to my clients one-on-one, I get to ask them what they’re looking for and what they want, and that gives me the flexibility to change things on the go. I’m constantly learning new things every day. Even just building awareness is hard, but also easier in a way with social media. Smaller brands can raise awareness and talk to people through social media but it’s a lot of work. If you have a big company you’re able to hire a community manager to handle all that; it takes a lot of money, marketing, and PR. The technology is there to provide opportunities, so things are possible, but you just have to figure it out.
Where do you see Diaboli Kill going?
I actually want to turn it into a lifestyle brand; I want to tie in my advertising business with the jewelry a little bit more. I’d like to have a bigger physical space than the small showroom in Brooklyn I currently have, which is cool, but it’s still small. I’d also like some kind of bigger shopping experience – not necessarily a traditional store but maybe more like a showroom space.