Wordplay: Dru. Jewelry

February 17, 2022   |  Beth Bernstein

A former teacher, Los Angeles-based designer Thea Miller lets her love of language shine through her irreverent mantras that balance edginess with deep meaning.

Thea Miller’s Be the Change pendant for her brand, Dru. Jewelry, launched in 2016, could be the slogan for the entire collection of edgy, tongue-in-cheek yet meaningful jewelry that has since created almost a cult following among retailers, consumers and celebrities. Miller transforms pendants and signet rings into badges of empowerment with sometimes cheeky, always symbolic, messages and styles that connect women to their emotions, moods, strength and sense of humor.

It’s a balancing act of rock-and-roll chic with relevant motifs and masterful workmanship in pieces that speak to the different emotions we all experience. Here, Miller talks about her own changes in becoming a jewelry designer as well as the ups and downs and the resilience it took to build the collection in challenging times.

Be the Change! medallion in 14-karat gold. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
Be the Change! medallion in 14-karat gold. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.

Why did you transition from your career as a teacher to designing jewelry?
I was born and raised in Southern California. At UCLA I obtained my degree in psychology. I went to grad school and got my multiple subjects teaching credential and my master’s in human development. After graduation, I worked in education as a teacher, administrator, consultant, among other roles, for over 20 years. But around six years ago I wanted to try my hand at something new. I left teaching and began to pursue jewelry full time. I knew very little about the industry — but my naivete turned out to be an asset. If I’d known how difficult it was going to be, I might have thought twice about this new career path. Instead, I threw myself into it with gusto and passion, and slowly but surely learned as I went. My teaching background is reflected in my engravings.  My love and respect of language shines through.
All jewelry is made in downtown Los Angeles, and I touch every piece that is made. I am involved in every step of the process — much to my jewelers’ sometimes annoyance.

Thea Miller working with her jeweler. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
Thea Miller working with her jeweler. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.

What was the inspiration behind your creations?
The salient thread that has run through my design ethos has been empowerment, and my goal has always been to offer pieces that are imbued with the ability to inspire to feel strong, confident and capable. I, myself, have been seeking those same feelings as I have been building Dru. I am no different than the women who wear the collection. Dru. is me — the good, the bad, the scarred, the scared. And I have found that this is what connects us all. We are all seeking meaning in our lives, and we all need to be built up, to laugh at ourselves, to find strength when it is buried deep inside and to have something tangible that we can hold onto when we need it.
Dru. is literally me since it’s my middle name. I chose Dru. as a name for the company because I was looking to reinvent myself. It was a way of “coming into my own” without having to become an entirely new person.

Sword ring in 14-karat gold with diamonds and emeralds. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
Sword ring in 14-karat gold with diamonds and emeralds. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.

Lately many celebrities are wearing your pieces. Can you name a few?
Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry and Camila Cabello on the red carpet and to premieres. Stars who have bought pieces are Glennon Doyle (she’s the largest collector), Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, and Kate Beckinsale.

Model wearing a stack full of rings. Shot taken at Joan Shepp.
Model wearing a stack full of rings. Shot taken at Joan Shepp.

What are your most iconic designs?
The daggers and shields, which represent protection; crosses for hope; medallions/memento tags; and signet rings. The messages to which people are especially drawn are: Be the Change, Persist, Respect, Mind (over) Matter, Hell or High water, Onward, Upward and The Love Reflection medallion, which is engraved with the word “loved” backwards so that the wearer can be reminded that she is [loved] when she looks in the mirror. In my signet rings, the big draws are Be a Lady, Calm Down, and Play Nice (all meant to irreverently be worn on the middle finger) and the Emotional, Bad Habit, and Lover on any finger. Recently people are purchasing the new enamel bands, particularly Do No Harm on the outside with Take No Shit on the inside.

Shield and dagger pendants in 14-karat gold with stones. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
Shield and dagger pendants in 14-karat gold with stones. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.

How has your collection evolved?
As a woman who has gone through the good, bad, and everything else that life has to offer in the pursuit of independence, self-sufficiency, and dare I say, happiness, I understand we all go through different things and need bolstering when it happens. As a company, Dru. has ridden the waves of all that has transpired since the election in 2016: [from] the #MeToo movement to the much overdue protests, and our enormous losses — economic, personal, and emotional brought on by Covid-19. More than ever, we are looking for connection and grounding. That continues to be the goal of my jewelry. I want the women and men who wear Dru. to feel powerful in their uniqueness, to feel connected even though we’ve been so isolated, and to feel loved especially on those days we think ourselves unlovable.

My newest collection uses enamel letters, which are bolder than my original engravings. It also includes rings with hidden messages. The most interesting part of designing and building Dru. has been women connecting to pieces I didn’t think they would. The latest pieces are a little dangerous. Sharp edges and fine lines, engraved with barbed wit.

Model wearing a stack full of rings. Photo: Sergio Kurhajec/Mitchells.
Model wearing a stack full of rings. Photo: Sergio Kurhajec/Mitchells.

Although you originally designed the collection for women, is your style gender-fluid?
Although Dru. is traditionally thought of as a women’s brand, the daggers, skulls, crown of thorns, chains, and many of the signets are all worn by men. I design for the bold who are looking for the meanings in my designs as well as the diamond and gemstone rings and earrings.

Jewelry sitting on the bench. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
Jewelry sitting on the bench. Photo: Dru. Jewelry.
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