Muehling never set out to become a jeweler. “I took one jewelry class at Pratt, which was not my favorite class,” Muehling, who graduated in 1975 with a degree in industrial design, once told the New York Times in 2004. “I think it’s always good to come from outside an area, with a fresh eye,” he added. “I sort of invent my own ways of making things and come up with things that aren’t in the book.”
Since drawing inspiration from the leaves of a gingko plant to hammer his first piece back in 1976 (early works quickly attracted the attention of Anna Wintour, now editor-in-chief of Vogue), that original perspective and out-of-the-box sensibility has continued to shape Muehling’s award-winning jewelry, which takes cues from everything from insect wines to coral and snail shells.
Working alongside a team out of his Tribeca studio, where he famously surrounds himself with his ever-evolving trove of outdoor finds (bird nests, pine cones and insect wings, to name a few), Muehling offers up his own takes on natural beauty, interpreted through his sophisticated, sculptural aesthetic. The result: everything from sinewy seaweed-inspired earrings dotted with champagne diamonds to luminous scarab-shaped beetles crafted in green niobium and coral to a spiraling silver cone shell pin—the latter one of the standout silhouettes found throughout his designs.
“There is something about the shell—the changes in direction, the compound curves, that is satisfying and graceful,” said Muehling, contemplating a turtle shell found in his collection in a New York Times article in 1991 (a year after he opened his namesake store in Soho). “I don’t like things that are overwhelming,” he said. “I think something can be quiet and intriguing and draw someone toward you,” he later noted.
That simplistic elegance (which has garnered Muehling numerous accolades including two Coty awards), is reflected throughout his shell-shaped designs, from smooth oxidized bronze large clam shell pin to kissing snail shells suspended from a 14k yellow gold chain and a pair of winding 18k green gold-plated turret shell earrings.
“I don’t want to make jewelry for the world,” he explained to #Legend magazine. “I don’t want to be Tiffany or Cartier. That’s not my goal. I only want to make something interesting and beautiful.”