It all started with a message on Instagram last Tuesday. “@rachelpfeffer, is that your necklace?” asked a customer in the Netherlands. That’s the kind of thing that gets me excited — seeing one of my DC flag necklaces or bicycle rings that I hammered and soldered together in my Washington D.C. apartment out in the world. But this, this was something entirely different. For there it was, a honeycomb necklace design I’d been making for the past six years, laid out beautifully on the bare neck of none other than Beyoncé. I immediately started to freak out.
I was home by myself. My husband (full disclosure: a reporter for The Post) was away on a reporting trip and my computer was in the shop getting fixed. I gripped my iPhone as if I were on a deserted island and this was my last banana.
You can’t see her face in the picture, but she’s lying down with two necklaces on her neck. The top one is a single hexagon and bee encrusted in diamonds, and the one below it bears an amazing resemblance to one of my earliest and most popular designs: a simple hammered asymmetrical hexagonal honeycomb shape, with a bee perched slightly at an angle near the middle. By the time I saw it, the picture already had 318,821 likes. Maybe it was because it was an almost topless picture of one of the most famous celebrities in the world, or maybe it was the necklace. Who’s to say?
I took a screen shot on my phone and re-posted it on my own Instagram feed, with the panicky caption: “IS @BEYONCE WEARING MY NECKLACE. what is happening.”
The first step was trying to determine if the necklace really was one that I made. One thing is for sure, I would have remembered if the name Beyoncé Knowles, Shawn Carter, or even Sasha Fierce appeared in an order from www.rachelpfeffer.com. I tasked friends and family with going through the more than 6,000 comments under the Instagram post to make sure no one else was claiming the bottom necklace as their own. No one had, and instead we were finding people directing commenters to my site. I started doing the same.
Customers from all over the world started writing to me on my re-posted image, congratulating me and saying how they wore my jewelry way before Queen Bey. Sales after the picture was posted and into the following days more than tripled. One proud honeycomb necklace owner in London wrote saying that she just went into an American Apparel wearing the necklace, and the cashier squealed: “Oh my god, that’s Beyoncé’s necklace!”
I was raised in a family of jewelers: My dad, uncle, and two cousins are all masters of the trade. Even though I grew up in my parents’ jewelry store, I never thought I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I’d be a dog psychiatrist, maybe. But it turns out I’m a maker at heart.
Just ask anyone who has eaten with me at a restaurant — I tend to absentmindedly tear up coasters and straw wrappers and design elaborate scenes with them on the table. In the 8th grade, I funneled this creativity and restless hand syndrome into a duct tape accessory business called Lucky Duct Designs. I made things like purses, ties and business card holders, all out of tape and recycled materials like candy wrappers and old comic books, and sold them all over. I made a killing on my Geocities site, or what felt like one at the time. I was definitely able to buy all of the glittery eye shadow and hair gel I ever wanted.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college and started working at the Boston Museum of Science, however, that I realized maybe jewelry was something I would enjoy making. And thus, with a few tools, a wonky soldering iron, and some panicky calls to my father about whether or not I was going to burn down the apartment building, Rachel Pfeffer Designs was born.
The honeycomb necklace was one of my earliest designs, and nearest to my heart. I designed and made the first one during my stint at the Museum of Science, while one of my co-workers was getting involved in beekeeping, and there was a wonderful beehive on the roof of the museum that I loved to visit. It was always one of my most popular designs. But the idea of the honeycomb necklace finding its way to Beyoncé’s neck never crossed my mind.
It’s a mystery to me how it got there. And in this business, as with many creative fields, there are so many copycats that it’s hard to know if what she’s wearing is definitely something I made with my own hands. What I do believe is that it’s my design.
The chain is the same style I use, attached to the honeycomb piece in the same way, and the hammered comb part is identical, as is the bee. Nevertheless, getting copied is a cruel inevitability in the creative business. I’ve had to tell a number of large fashion retailers to stop selling bike necklaces that were identical to mine but made for pennies in China (they very kindly stopped selling them). I, along with lots of small jewelers I know, have had the terrifying experience of seeing my designs for sale on mass-produced Chinese manufacturing web sites. They’re even advertised by using my photos with my jewelry and my hands in them, but with their watermark superimposed on top. Sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task to get the big conglomerates from stealing your designs, especially when it’s difficult to tell who exactly is passing them off as their own.
I hope that the necklace in Beyoncé’s photo was indeed hammered and soldered by my own two hands, in my home studio, with re-runs of The Mindy Project playing in the background.
Which reminds me, Mindy, if you’re looking for some good jewelry for next season, my work has been featured on Beyoncé’s neck.
Rachel Pfeffer is a jeweler living in D.C. and co-owner of Stitchtagram.com