Jewelry Designer Lauren Harwell Godfrey Hits Her Stride

In late May, Lauren Harwell Godfrey was putting the final touches on her latest collection for The Couture Show, an all-important annual trade show in Las Vegas where she and other fashion-focused jewelry designers present their latest work to stores and the press. 

Weeks before, she and a clutch of fellow fine jewelry designers on the rise toured Botswana on a trip hosted by diamond giant De Beers to learn about its partnership with the African country’s government and tour its mines. And before that journey, Harwell Godfrey was on an enviable itinerary sailing the Nile in Egypt in high style.

Perpetual motion and insatiable curiosity feed her creative engine and have also helped secure her current stature as one of the most celebrated names in contemporary fine jewelry design—five years after starting her eponymous brand, Harwell Godfrey. 

Harwell Godfrey brooches
Natural Wonders: A trio of platinum Harwell Godfrey brooches

Her brand’s seemingly lightning-quick success actually blossomed after more than two decades of work, but her path was winding. Jewelry design isn’t Lauren Harwell Godfrey’s first high-flying creative career or even her second. The California native ascended the ranks of the advertising world, becoming a creative director working with a stable of prestige clients like Absolut and Adidas. Ready for a new challenge, she pivoted to food, attending culinary school and applying her talents to blogging, developing recipes, and styling cookbooks. But, she says, “I wasn’t feeling very original in the space. Also, it was really hard to get paid.”

So she began making jewelry for herself, first as a hobby. And because passersby constantly asked to place orders, she flipped it into a formal occupation. What started as a line of funky leather and crystal pieces suited for a weekend at Coachella quickly evolved into more refined pieces rendered in gold and gemstones. The first Harwell Godfrey collection launched in 2018.

The meteoric rise soon followed. Some of her first designs, vivid compositions of gems—lapis lazuli, turquoise, mother-of-pearl—in geometric arrangements set in 18k gold, drew from her fascination with sacred geometry and the healing power of stones. Taste-making independent jewelry store Twist bought the collection immediately, ensuring a successful debut. Many more followed the retail maverick’s lead, and now Harwell Godfrey counts Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Net-A-Porter among her retailers.

Lauren Harwell Godfrey
The designer introducing her 'We Are Seeds' collection on Instagram in July 2023

Some of the designer’s most memorable creations have sprung from philanthropic impulses. During the first wave of the pandemic, Harwell Godfrey felt lucky to be safely ensconced in her Marin County, Calif., home with her family (she is married and has one school-age son). All the while, “I was reading stories about families being food insecure, and it broke my heart.” 

To do her part to alleviate the hunger crisis, she began selling a heart pendant made from the deep-green malachite gemstone, with all proceeds benefiting World Central Kitchen, the organization founded by chef José Andrés that provides meals to those in need during humanitarian crises. The jewel has generated nearly $50,000 in donations to the group. Harwell Godfrey has released additional heart pendants to benefit more organizations, including the NAACP, Every Mother Counts, and the Human Rights Campaign. And she has no plans to stop the project—her donation goals are ambitious: “I want to get to a million dollars” to benefit the nonprofits, she says. 

When “Beautiful Creatures,” a 2021 exhibition of exquisite jewelry depicting animals at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, sparked her imagination, she created Menagerie, an ever-growing bestiary that includes gemstone-encrusted scarabs, a coral and sapphire crab clutching a pearl in its claw, dragonflies, and an owl bedecked in a rainbow of candy-colored stones. The Fortune Favors the Bold collection pieces recall her childhood as an equestrienne: The horseshoe-shape earrings and pendants set with diamonds and gems are engraved with sayings such as “Love + Luck.” 

Reworking the familiar in her singular voice has become a touchstone of Harwell Godfrey’s work. “I like to take a motif and make it according to my design language,” she says. Her latest collection features one of jewelry’s most familiar themes: florals. Called We Are Seeds, a reference to the quote, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds,” the jewels evoke the potential for joy even in the face of difficulty. Luxurious-feeling, oversize blossoms—enamel and diamond lilies, poppies dotted with pastel stones, bees with moving wings and a playful honey bear carved from fire opal for good measure—are the most masterful and lighthearted expression of her vision yet.

Finding her voice as a jewelry designer has changed her personal aesthetic too, trickling down into her wardrobe. “I was always on the neutral side of things, but now I’m embracing the more colorful, feminine side of myself,” Harwell Godfrey says. She has developed a particular weakness for the exuberant clothing of another rising star. “I can’t stop buying things from Christopher John Rogers!” she confides. Dries van Noten and Valentino are other favorite luxury labels known for their varied palettes. 

Fashion influences how the designer conceives of her work; she sees the two as inseparable. And the fashion world also has Harwell Godfrey on its radar. In 2022 she was a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and won the Gem Award (essentially the Oscars of the jewelry industry) for jewelry design. 

Harwell Godfrey snail
Harwell Godfrey snail brooch in 18k yellow gold with a variety of white and natural fancy colored diamonds, $14,850
Harwell Godfrey Charity Hearts
Harwell Godfrey Charity Hearts, $2,500, the designer made to benefit the World Central Kitchen (malachite, at left) and the NAACP (onyx, on right)

Indications are good that she’s found her true calling among the jewelry crowd. The attraction has a personal element. She says, “I really love the community; it’s full of really good, interesting people.” And there are lots of frontiers left to explore and engage her mind. “I love learning, and there’s always something to learn in jewelry,” Harwell Godfrey explains. Taking a deeper dive into the world of gems and exploring their unique properties is one of her current fascinations. “Garnets have been a big eye-opener for me. I can’t believe the iterations and colors out there. And I’ve started pulling moonstone into my work. It has otherworldly luminescence.”

But given her experimental nature and wide range of interests, should her growing army of collectors start to hoard her designs for fear that Harwell Godfrey will one day be off on the next high-flying adventure? Interior designer? Animal wrangler? Trapeze artist?

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” she says. “I think this is the final destination.”

All photos courtesy of Harwell Godfrey