Playboy, back in its heyday, published some great literature. This helped bring a bit of cover to those buying the magazine.

“Hey, I’m only interested in the articles,” was the standard line.

Next week the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hits the stands. Although not completely naked, the models just about bare all. And the cover line this year for any guy caught by his wife or girlfriend glassy-eyed and drooling over the pictures?

“But honey, I was just checking out Ronni Simon’s jewelry.”

Ronni Simon received the call that her jewelry designs would be used in the Sports Illustrated photo shoot while on a recent cruise. It was a working vacation. Her husband, Peter, taught photography on board while she held trunk shows of her jewelry. And, as the trip progressed, she began giving talks about the artistic life.

“When I was asked to speak I thought, what am I going to talk about for 40 minutes?” Mrs. Simon said. “I decided that a big part of what I do is encourage other people to be creative. And that creativity is manifest in so many different ways.”

Mrs. Simon’s journey of creativity, which will be on global, glossy display in just a few days, has taken many forms. For years she wrote successfully for television and film. Later she turned her focus to knitting and held knitting and meditation classes here on the Island. She also had a passion for color and beads.

Then, five years ago, while at a craft show she noticed a book on knitted and crocheted jewelry.

“I thought, how brilliant to combine my two passions. So I started playing around and coming up with designs.”

Mrs. Simon is a self-taught jewelry designer, but she has taken what could have been a liability and turned it into perhaps her greatest asset.

“Probably the most unique thing I do is a cuff. I didn’t know anything about making jewelry, like how do you close things? So I did it just the way I would knit or crochet a buttonhole for a sweater.”

The cuff has become one of her signature pieces. Handmade with semi-precious gemstones, it is about five inches long and rests comfortably on the wrist and forearm. It is the perfect mixture of simplicity and elegance. It also has a warrior quality to it. You could imagine Joan of Arc wearing it into battle and then out for a chariot spin later that evening in Paris.

Speaking of warriors, Blake Lively, the star of the hit TV series Gossip Girl, began wearing one of Ronni’s cuffs on the show during her fictional trials with the mean girls of New York city.

The cuff will not be adorning the swimsuit models, though. The editor was looking for something, how to put it, a bit smaller.

“She [Diane Smith] is really down to earth,” Mrs. Simon said. “What she loved most was the bracelets. ‘I can picture the girls sleeping in the jewelry and getting up and frolicking on the beach,’ she said.”

The road to Sports Illustrated was paved in part by Jesse Liotta, an intern who worked for Mrs. Simon two summers ago. Miss Liotta’s mother is a good friend of Diane Smith and a connection was made.

Ms. Smith liked what she saw and a few months ago Sports Illustrated sent Ronni Simon the color cards of the proposed shoot, to give her an idea of the theme and potential look of the layout. Mrs. Simon chose about 50 pieces of jewelry to send in, a mixture of bracelets and necklaces.

The bracelets sell for about $50 to $60 and in Mrs. Simon’s estimation, “are the least complicated things I make.”

She purchases the bracelets, silver and gold plated, then does the wire work and weaves gem stones such as freshwater pearls, jade and amethyst, to name a few, around the circumference. They can be worn individually but also look great with a whole series running up the arm.

Because the outcome of the swimsuit issue is a tightly guarded secret, the models involved still unknown and the cover girl a highly anticipated unveiling, Mrs. Simon does not know exactly which of her designs have been chosen.

The first hint could come on Valentine’s Day, when David Letterman welcomes one of the models to his show.

But for those lucky enough to be on the Island this weekend the wait will be much shorter. The Simon Gallery will be open each day, Friday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a sneak preview of her collection.

When visiting the gallery, either during this weekend or later this spring and summer, be sure to check out the next phase of the designer’s creative journey. For the past few years she has been making wall sculptures. The look is similar to her jewelry in materials and technique but instead of weaving the stones onto a bracelet or necklace she arranges them on pieces of driftwood.

“It is the same artform basically,” she said. “But now it’s all form without function. I don’t have to worry about how a bracelet fits or how an earring dangles. And that’s so liberating for an artist. Total creativity.”

She is also moving into three-dimensional pieces. At the moment there is a large, gnarled stump drying out in her garage.

“I was playing [golf] at Farm Neck and I saw, while searching for a lost ball, an interestingly shaped stump. It had such movement to it. It was too heavy to move myself. But I kept eyeing it. And then I played golf again and finally talked to [club general manager] Tim Sweet, because you have to get permission, and they got it for me.”

The lucky stump will soon be reborn as a jewel-encrusted work of art thanks to Ronni Simon’s ever blossoming creative energies. But for now it is her jewelry that is preparing for its close up.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition hits the stands sometime next week. After that it is anyone’s guess where Ronni Simon’s career will take her.

As she said in her talk on the cruise, “Art is about process, not outcome.”


The Simon Gallery is located at 54 Main street in Vineyard Haven. This weekend, Friday through Sunday, the hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ronni Simon’s jewelry collections can also be viewed at