Hessonite Garnet Gems with Wood, designed by Christine Brandt, $132
The women in Rwanda who make these bracelets are using African gemstones (amethyst, garnet, prehnite, aquamarine, and rose quartz—another way to support the local economy), and each bracelet comes with an O charm or toggle. For a real hit of luxe, we asked New York City jewelry designer Christine Brandt to donate her artistry. Brandt's fantastical rings, cuffs, and pendants are the sort of wearable sculpture that shows up in fashion magazines. For this project, she channeled her high-end creativity into a simple concept that accommodates the native materials and the abilities of women living with no electricity or running water, not to mention sophisticated tools. (Go to ChristineJBrandt.com to see more of her work.)
Slab-Cut Amethyst, designed by Fair Winds Trading Artist Dean Ericson, $88
The rest of the line is designed by artists at Fair Winds Trading. Started by Willa Shalita humanitarian pioneer whose trade-not-aid philosophy has resulted in secure income for thousands of Rwandan women weaving baskets for Macy'sFair Winds Trading works directly with the beaders, from training through production.
Large Globes of Prehnite, Aquamarine, and Rose Quartz, Designed by Dean Ericson, $187
"The women are making $10 to $12 a day," says Rakiya Omaar, director of African Rights, whose study is funded by the Waitt Family Foundation in the United States. "That's $10 to $12 up from zero," she clarifies with a hearty laugh. None of the women had been working, and even if they could have found some kind of employment, the top daily pay for handicrafts is $2 to $3. "Because they're making such extraordinary money from the O Bracelets," Omaar says, "we're seeing an immediate transition into optimism."
Crocheted Amethyst, Designed by FWT Artist Mary Fisher, $330
All the beaders who lived through the 1994 genocide reported that gathering to make O jewelry helped their emotional recovery. When they're sitting together working, eventually their troubles slip out and they start sharing their stories, which provides not only relief from the deep isolation they live in but also a slow realization that the "enemy" is actually their sister. "Some of us are Tutsi survivors, others are Hutus, but we've gone past the divide of ethnicity," says one 45-year-old widow who lost five of her children and gained a daughter when she was raped during the slaughter; both she and the girl were left HIV positive. "Before, I was nothing. Now I see myself on the same level as a government functionary because I earn as much as they do."
Melanite Garnet Briolettes, Designed by Dean Ericson, $330
When the woman who strung the bracelet you're wearing says, "This activity has really changed our lives," it gives a whole new meaning to making a fashion statement.
Please note: Prices do not include shipping and handling.
To order: Go to macys.com/obracelet. As part of its continued commitment to the women of Rwanda, Macy's is helping to make these O Bracelets available and will receive no profit on their sale.