Wendy Brandes Maneater Rings

Wendy Brandes is a force to be reckoned with, in the most positive of ways. I’ve followed her on social media for quite some time, and I’m inspired by both her unique jewelry and her strength of character. When I found out she would be showing at JCK in Las Vegas, I definitely made meeting her a “must do.” I’m so glad I did, as she and her collection were as impressive in person as I had envisioned. I now must share with you some of the most fantastical rings I’ve ever seen before, rife with detail and a story. Without further ado, enjoy this interview with Wendy about her Maneater collection.

wendy brandes maneater rings
I was SO taken with your Maneater rings at the show! Can you tell me a bit about what inspired this collection?

Since childhood, I have been fascinated by biographies of women, especially those of long-ago queens and other powerful female figures. In my first career as a journalist (at the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and People.com) I was, of course, dealing with current events. When I switched to jewelry design in 2006, I realized I had a way to keep telling stories, only now I could tell them about the historical women who had always intrigued me. I started my line with designs inspired by real people, ranging from the queens everyone knows about — Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth I — to women Americans might not be familiar with, including Empress Matilda of England, Queen Min of Korea, and Empress Wu of China.

It was Empress Wu, the 7th-century ruler of China, who led to the Maneater collection. I always liked the fact that during her lifetime, Wu was known as “emperor” — the only female ruler of China to use the male title. Historians have treated her differently from her male peers, the same way they did with other powerful women. You can find supposedly serious history books that refer to Wu (and other women) as a “dragon lady” or “maneater.” (Equally murderous male rulers have no equivalent pejoratives.) I like to take the words used against us and turn them into symbols of power. Besides, who doesn’t love dragons? So I created an 18K yellow gold Empress Wu dragon ring that holds the whole world — represented by a spinning lapis lazuli globe — in its fangs.

wendy brandes empress wu dragon ring
That other common insult — “maneater”– still stuck in my mind though. Eventually, I decided that every jewelry design I did didn’t have to represent an actual woman, and that I could create pieces around the theme of female power in general. Thus, the Maneater collection was born.

I believe there are 8 in the series, and I tried on 3 of them at the show: the bull and bullfighter, the pink elephant and Jonah and the whale. Can you give us a little description of each of these?

I originally planned to do a series of eight one-of-a-kind rings — eight being a “power” number if you are into numerology — but then I found a very interesting and large labradorite carving, so now the series is seven rings and a showstopping necklace that uses the carving. The necklace is still in the works.

All of the Maneater rings have a triumphant figure on top of the ring and a small man inside the shank. The Bull and Bullfighter Maneater ring shows a winning bull standing tall over a stadium. If you peek inside the shank, you see the bullfighter standing with his back to us, his cape swirling around him. The rose-gold bull is paved with 350 black diamonds totaling 1.48 carats. I also used 79 white diamonds totaling 0.37 carats. All together, the ring uses 25 grams of 18K rose, yellow, and white gold.

wendy brandes bull and bullfighter maneater ring
underside of wendy brandes bull and bullfighter maneater ring
The Pink Elephant and Tipsy Writer Maneater ring won an honorable mention in the Spectrum awards. “White Fang” author and journalist Jack London was the person who came up with the idea that folks who hit the bottle too hard might hallucinate pink elephants. The elephant is covered in 262 pink sapphires totaling 2 carats. She has diamond eyes and a ruby forehead ornament, and she stands on a bar that is set with 174 brown diamonds totaling 2.15 carats. Inside the shank, the writer slumps next to a wine glass, which is adorned with another diamond. I used 23.6 grams of 18K rose, yellow, and white gold in this ring.

wendy brandes pink elephant maneater ring
underside of wendy brandes pink elephant maneater ring
For the Jonah and the Whale Maneater ring, a diamond-pave whale with tsavorite eyes surges through a blue-sapphire sea. In the shank, Jonah is curled into the fetal position. I try to do each of the men in the Maneater rings a little differently, and I figured Jonah wasn’t going to be walking around upright in the whale.The yellow and white gold weighs 26.1 grams. I used 86 points of blue sapphires and about half a carat of white diamonds. All of the rings were made with the lost-wax casting process (carved by hand), all of them are one-of-a-kind, and all of them were made in New York City.

wendy brandes jonah and the whale maneater ring
underside of wendy brandes jonah and the whale maneater ring
I know that you, yourself, are a very powerful woman — from your artistic talent to your convictions. Which of the rings would suit you the best right now? And why?

I don’t like to have to choose a favorite from among my children, but I admit that I always favor the most recently completed design. In the Maneater series, that would be the Dragon and the Knight Maneater ring. (I really do love dragons!) In addition to being the newest Maneater, it’s the most complex Maneater design. In addition to 18K yellow, rose, and white gold, I added platinum to the mix, in the form of a sword clenched in the dragon’s jaws and a skull at her feet. The rose-gold treasure chest opens to reveal the dragon’s hoard of gems, and the wings and the skull also have a little movement to them.

wendy brandes dragon and knight maneater ring
underside of wendy brandes dragon and knight maneater ring
The gold weighs 29.78 grams, and there are 2.8 grams of platinum. There are 400 tsavorites totaling 4.5 carats on the dragon, 52 brown diamonds weighing 52 points on her wings, and white diamonds, rubies, and keshi pearls in the treasure chest. I think it would be rather pretentious to announce to someone in real life, “I am a complex personality!” In fact, I’m positive that most people who know me would say that I’m a very straightforward person. But when it comes to jewelry, the more complicated it is, the more I like it … so analyze that as you wish!

Can you believe this work? Jaw-dropping, to be sure. Wendy has a wide array in her collection, and you can see more at her online shop. I have no doubt that there’s a story behind each and every piece.

Wendy, thank you so much for your time and talent! I truly appreciate you.

amy roseveare and wendy brandes