Inside the Heart and Mind of Jewelry Designing, Adorning and Owning

Jennifer Striegel

March 8, 2022

Introduction by Natalie T Steger

Photo credit: Sergio Kurhajec/Mitchells

Founder and Owner Thea Miller of DRU. Jewelry prefers to be working on her craft away from all the noise, rather than be in the spotlight unlike her celebrity clients whom adorn jewels from the likes of Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Emily Blunt. As personal customer myself, I bought one her pieces exactly for the reason she created it. To empower and protect me. Her ability to tell story, and create a connection to her clients thought artistry is influenced by own her grit, and grace that she has earned through her own life experiences but also her desire to create something meaningful that provides the wearer strength and power. The line itself mimics the symbolism one finds in renaissance paintings utilizing icons, symbols, and images along with powerful words that empower, and encourage women or men to be warriors feel protected in this symbolic armor. 

In her own words her audience and message is clear where she breathes life into her art , “My inspiration comes from the women and men who wear my jewelry–their struggles, fears, and feelings, for it is these truths that bind us to one another.”  

Photo credit: Joan Sheppphoto

Interview with Thea Miller

Before making the decision to turn your designing jewelry into a business, how did you get introduced to the art in the first place?

I first started making jewelry when I was in my early twenties, with no intention of turning it into a business.  I saw a necklace that I liked in a magazine but couldn’t find anything similar, so I decided to make one myself.  From there, I branched out in many directions, and over the next 15+ years, I continued to dabble.  Sometimes, I would sell my designs, and other times I would just create for myself.  It was a passion that gave me great pleasure, but it was still not something I did for a living.  My main love was teaching and working with children.  It was during a major crossroads in my life in 2016 that I decided to leave teaching, and jewelry design seemed to be the most obvious career transition.  Looking back, I can see how incredibly naïve I was, but that naivete served me well.  If I would have known how difficult the jewelry and retail business is—how many challenges there would be—I’m not sure I would have made such a risky venture.  

What does DRU. stand for?  

Dru is my middle name.  Choosing that as my company name allowed me to reinvent myself, while still remaining me.  It also allowed me to hide a little bit.  I’m very shy and incredibly private, so, by using my middle name, I was able to remain anonymous, but still be true to myself and from where I come.

Photo credit: Sergio Kurhajec/Mitchells

You refer to the aesthetic of DRU. as quality, uniqueness, and edge.  What do those words mean to you?

I would hope that the meaning of those words is clear.  Quality means that my jewelry is made by hand in Los Angeles by skilled artisans.  We do not hollow out pieces to keep prices down, most settings are done by hand, there are no shortcuts in the design or production process, and each piece is thoroughly checked and labored over before shipment to the client.  In terms of uniqueness, it is important to me that every design is authentic.  I do not produce a piece just because it happens to be a popular design on the market at that time.  In fact, I try to stay away from any design that is currently over-saturated, even if that means I lose out on potential sales.  Lastly, edge means that I like a little danger in each of my pieces.  A little “fu%# you,” if you will.  I grew up feeling like an outsider, and I want to be sure that my jeweler never conforms to others’ expectations.  I don’t want to fit in; nor do I want my jewelry to.

What is your creative process?

My creative process is messy.  Some pieces develop in a straight line from start to finish, but most do not.  It’s like anything in life.  I am moved by meaning and symbolism and significance.  Most importantly, I am inspired by emotions—my own and those of other people.  Those emotions are what typically lead me to a new design.  I think we tend to have a romantic idea of creativity and design, but that process is not always pretty. I know mine isn’t. I spend a lot of time with thoughts and ideas floating around in my brain for awhile before I do anything with them.  Sometimes those ideas are brought to life with my team, and other times they’re put on the back burner.  If they do come to fruition, it can takes months before they’re ready to be seen by the world.  And, sometimes they get completely shelved. I think the most important thing is recognizing the ebb and flow of the process and allowing that ebb and flow to exist without fighting it.  I try to give myself space to create when I’m feeling moved to create and to forgive myself when I’m not. I’m still working on that latter part.

Photo credit: Sergio Kurhajec/Mitchells

What is your greatest hope for the jewelry industry in years to come?  

My greatest hope for the jewelry industry is for it to become more inclusive and less of a popularity contest.  

DRU. has reached its holy grail.  How would you describe it?

I do not aim to reach any sort of Holy Grail. Instead, I aim to remain authentic.  I want to build a business that I can be proud of, and the only way to do that is to remain true to myself. I suppose that would be the Holy Grail.

Do you wear your own pieces?  What piece are you coveting the most right now?

Yes, I wear my own pieces.  My current favorites are the Phoenix—both the ring and the necklace—the claw rings, the Cigar Band, and all of the new chains.

The world continues to evolve in blurring lines between gender, age and lifestyle.  Have you found this with your jewelry too?  How does it impact, or not, your designs?

I’ve always designed my pieces to be worn by all.  It’s less about gender, age, and lifestyle, than it is about designing for a state of mind.  I design my pieces to inspire and empower people. I want them to feel stronger and braver when they wear DRU.  I also want them to feel more connected and grounded. And they should feel a little sexier and more alive too.  Those feelings are ageless and genderless.  Some of the fiercest people I know do not fit neatly within the constraints of gender, age, and lifestyle.  

So much of what you do inspires others, artists and wearers alike.  What one thing would you tell artists not to do?  And one thing you would tell wearers not to wear?

I don’t tell anyone what to do or what not to do.  That’s not my way.  An artist must remain true to herself. Period.  As for what to wear or not to wear, I am not stepping into that arena. Be you.  Do you.  Have fun.  Break rules.  Live a lot.  My only DON’T is: Don’t be too precious.

Your jewelry can be acquired stateside in local shops and globally at Neiman Marcus and Farfetch.  How do you decide which establishments to partner with?  

That’s a very good question, and the answer is always evolving.  My goal in 2022 and onward is to partner with only those stores that really believe in and support DRU.  I care more about having a good relationship with fewer stores than having a lukewarm relationship with lots of stores.  It’s quality over quantity.

The new year recently began. Any upcoming designs we should be sure to look out for, for ourselves or our loved ones?

The new chains are insane.  They’re all solid and handmade in DTLA.  They have been in the works since last spring and are now ready to shop.  I also love all the new enamel rings and bracelets.  In terms of brand new designs, be on the lookout for the new Claw Earrings and the newest iteration of the Phoenix coming soon.  

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