The fashion industry has a notorious reputation for being fast-paced. Its often “What’s next?“ mentality has even bled into the jewelry industry and has left many looking straight ahead for style inspiration. However, L.A.-based jeweler Marvin Douglas holds the true answer to this incessant question.
In every aspect, to him, it’s not about erasing the past, but rather honoring it by applying it to the future.
Inspired by his Palmdale upbringing and Salvadoran roots, he conveys and highlights the overlooked beauty of both worlds in his jewelry designs. It’s a powerful homage that’s delicately yet deliberately found in each design, and each intricacy serves a purpose.
His artistry has caught the attention of many in the industry—and most notably, Bad Bunny. In fact, Douglas’ eye and passion, have led him to be one of the Latino stars stylists and go-to jewelers while being on tour. But even with this untouchable success, Douglas humbly reminds us that it’s his upbringing that made him into the designer and the empire he has today.
Even with all these incredible feats, he’s not done yet. In more ways than one, Douglas has broken through molds and is creating new ones for Latinos in the industry.
Q&A: A Conversation With Jeweler Marvin Douglas:
Secret Los Angeles (SLA): How did you get exposed to the jewelry/fashion industry?
Marvin Douglas: It really all starts with my grandmother who came to the United States from El Salvador. One night, she was out at a bar, and this older man kept looking at her. He finally goes up to her and says, “Hey, I love how you carry yourself and how charismatic you are. I can help you make money in this country. I have a jewelry store in downtown L.A. You should come work for me and sell jewelry for me.”
It was perfect. She was looking for work. So she takes the opportunity, and she’s doing really well at it. But after a few months, this guy dies. [Suddenly] she’s left with nothing. No job, no anything. She had no connection to him at all, so it was kind of just done there. So she started, housekeeping, babysitting, jobs that a lot of immigrants do when they come to this country.
SLA: That must have been a tough transition for her.
MD: She was struggling. A few months go by, she gets a call, and it’s the guy’s son. He lives in Texas, and he [tells her], “I wasn’t really close to my father. I already have a business out here. In his will, he left you the jewelry business.” It was a wild scenario. She didn’t know what to do with all the machines that he left, because she didn’t know how to use them. She just knew how to sell gold. So with the connections that she had made in the jewelry district, she ended up selling the machines. With that, she was able to bring my Dad and his brothers from El Salvador to the United States.
SLA: Is it fair to say your grandmother has had a significant influence on your career?
MD: Absolutely. Every birthday, every Christmas, I always had a new jewelry piece to look forward to as a little kid because of my grandma. At the same time, she would teach me about what this gemstone meant, “This one means this… this one’s for this month.” It kind of started that way, and I would always get complimented on my jewelry. It got to the point where I was just like, I can make a business out of this. Since I wanted to go into the business route of it, I knew I had to educate myself.
SLA: Where did you turn to receive that education?
MD: I applied at Tiffany & Co. and I ended up getting the job. Through them I got firsthand experience and education. They sent me to every training I could possibly go to. Then from there I went to the store called Dover Street Market, which was a store I fell in love with. It’s like this fashion mecca, you could say it’s a place where all celebrities go to—it’s just such a cool place. I found out they were opening an L.A. location, and when I went to apply, and the only ad that they had was for a Fine Jewelry Specialist. It was perfect. I ended up getting it. That’s where everything kind of like jump started as far as opportunities with working with a lot of people.
Then I ended up becoming part of this scholarship that was for jewelry designers who are people of color. It was put together by Lorraine Schwartz, who is a jewelry designer. From there I was able to certify myself through De Beers as a diamond expert. I was able to get access to diamonds that I wouldn’t normally have access to, manufacturers that I wouldn’t normally have access to, because this whole time, even doing jewelry before the scholarship was very difficult because it’s such a gatekept industry.
SLA: Since there is gatekeeping, what advice would you give someone who is striving to be in your position?
I would just tell them go for it. Knock on every door. Find that one thing that you want to do and literally give it your all. Focus on that one thing first, before anything. I know as creatives, you want to do everything at once, but I feel like center all that [passion] into one and then branch off later. Knock on doors, literally. I knew I wanted to do jewelry, but my grandmother never designed jewelry. She always just bought and resold it. So she wasn’t really a connection. I could ask her, “Hey, where can I make something?” She didn’t really know. So I kind of just went to the jewelry district and knocked on doors.
SLA: Would you say your grandmother also has an impact on your designs?
MD: Absolutely. Even with my design aesthetic. All my family had jewelry because of her. I remember when I was young, one of my uncles died from cancer, and this uncle of mine, specifically, I remember him for his jewelry. I remember he had, this big anchor gold necklace, and these cool signet rings. He always wore a pinky ring, and it was the coolest thing. He was the coolest person I had ever seen. When he passed away, the way we remembered him was by everyone receiving a piece of jewelry of his. So yes, I’m definitely influenced by grandma and my family. I try to bring that Latino culture and tradition in my pieces with the timelessness of them. The whole heirloom essence of them, which is why they’re meant to be passed down. Jewelry is something that outlives us.
SLA: Why do you think it’s important to keep the Latino tradition of passing down heirlooms alive?
MD: I feel like we’re kind of in a time where a lot of tradition is being lost because all of our elder family members are passing away. Times are changing. We’re the future of this. I feel like it is very important to keep our tradition alive because I know I would want my kids in the future to experience the things I experienced. It’s a part of us, and what makes us uniquely us is our culture. I feel a personal sense of responsibility since I’m putting out pieces, and I’m putting out art to show people my culture, and using jewelry as a medium to show my tradition. [My] jewelry is meant to be forever.
SLA: How would you describe the vision behind your designs?
MD: It’s my Central American heritage, desert upbringing, and a merge of those worlds [together.] I like highlighting the beauty of a place like [Palmdale], where I grew up because it’s not [typically] known as beautiful, but it’s what shaped me. It’s what made me and gave me my drive.
El Salvador, for example, is a place that has such a negative portrayal in the media—and because of that negative influence, people don’t really get to see how beautiful my country is. My designs that are Central American based are [inspired by] the texture of the land, and I get to show them the beauty of that land through my jewelry.
Some people may night be familiar with Palmdale, how it was growing up in the desert of L.A. County?
MD: I love Palmdale, it’s home. I’d say take Joshua Tree, for example, people go on inspiration trips just for the weekend to get inspired and they come back, and do some cool shit. So just imagine a place where it’s that inspiration is there all the time. But it also it builds you into a person that’s ready to face on the rest of the world with ease.
[While living there,] you know that L.A. is there. It’s there because you know that it’s right over those mountains and Joshua trees. I know for me, my dream was, “One day I’m going to go over those mountains and I’m going to live in L.A. I’m going to live in Hollywood.” That was my goal. There is beauty in dreaming and looking at [Palmdale’s] landscape.
What would you tell the desert kids out there with dreams?
MD: Whatever it is, I would say just go for it. [Palmdale] is definitely a place that’s useful as far as somewhere you could really perfect your craft because you have so much time on your hands. But depending on what you want to pursue, go to the main places where the industry that you want to be in is booming, just go there. Just do it. Luckily I had family in L.A. But I was sleeping on one of my tias floor for years while I was working at Zara. Just because I wanted to get into the fashion industry. Maybe Zara wasn’t the way in, but it was my way to see clothing every day and get out of Palmdale. Just remember, one thing leads to another and if you’re passionate about something, eventually you’ll get there. If you stick to that one thing, if you’re passionate about it, you will [somehow manifest it.]
You went from sleeping on the floor to now touring around with Bad Bunny. How does that feel?
MD: It’s wild because I’m 29 now, but I feel like even throughout my 20s I’ve gone through so many ups and downs. So many different points. I feel like your 20s, you’re really just finding yourself, “What am I going to do? What’s my career going to look like?” I feel like letting myself go has been part of this. And like I said, it was manifested. Zara led to Tiffany, from Tiffany that led to Dover, from Dover that led to working for an artist.
SLA: Where do you see Marvin Douglas being in 5 years from now?
MD: My main goal one day is to design for either a major fashion house or a major legacy jewelry brand, like a Tiffany. I feel like it would be not only an amazing full circle moment for me, but also it’s something that I would really love to do because it would promote my [Central American] designs on a worldwide scale. I would love to be doing that five years from now, but still having my brand how it is now. I don’t strive to be in every store. I would love in museums. That to me is cooler because it’s more so for people to see the art, rather than buy.
[And in 5 years,] I do want more Latino jewelry designers.