Melissa Joy Manning opened her jewelry shop on 5th Street in Berkeley in December and, as far as she’s concerned, it’s the ideal spot. “It’s right next door to my absolute favorite store,” she says referring not to a fashion boutique or a chocolate emporium, but to East Bay Vivarium, home to a multitude of slithery reptiles and google-eyed amphibians.
Manning, who grew up in San Francisco and Alameda, spent a lot of time in Berkeley as a child because her father was at Cal. “I bought my first snake when I was in junior high,” she says. And her life and work have come full circle because she now draws inspiration for her sustainable jewelry designs from her neighbors — or at least their skins, colors, and textures. ‘It’s the perfect place for me creatively,” she says.
Manning also appreciates that the eponymous store is located in “a corridor centered on craftsmanship”. “I considered Telegraph Avenue and Fourth Street,” she says, “but I liked the zoning in this area — the fact that you have to make what you sell. I wanted that feel.”
Manning’s jewelry, which she has been making for 15 years, has found a ready market — her pieces have appeared in Vogue, are sported by the likes of Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Aniston and Sheryl Crow, and she has a showroom in Soho, New York where she also now lives.
She travels back and forth between the coasts and re-designs the Berkeley store — which is something of a cabinet of curiosities — regularly. Alongside the jewelry there is vintage taxidermy, insect and spider specimens and selections from Manning’s rock collection. There are pieces for sale by other local jewelers and artists, and she recently made some papier mâché animal heads for the store’s vintage French mannequins.
But, despite the celebrity connections, the glamour and the jet-setting, she’s pleased her first retail operation is in Berkeley. “I wanted to open in the area where I grew up,” she says. “It’s part of the history of me and my jewelry.”