Former Alex and Ani Execs Find Meaning and Balance With New Brand Air & Anchor
November 8, 2021
They were high school sweethearts who attended adjacent high schools in Cranston, R.I., then worked together at Alex and Ani, one of jewelry’s biggest modern success stories, before Omar and Rachel Ajaj used their combined experience to create Air & Anchor—a new jewelry and accessories brand that’s designed and fabricated in the Rhode Island factory Rachel’s grandfather built.
The duo, now husband-and-wife, debuted Air & Anchor in April 2020, smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Rachel, a third-generation jeweler and designer who was one of Alex and Ani’s first-ever hires, says the lull gave the couple ample time to refine the look, feel, and messaging of their product.
Rachel and Omar Ajaj, founders of Air & Anchor, in their family-owned factory in Rhode Island
The brand specializes in cast-brass pieces that wear well with jeans and tees and kicky athleisure—a good thing, since those are the clothes we’ve all been living in for two years. The vibe of the jewelry is vintage, with its design inspirations spanning at least a century: a cast component featuring a hare jumping under a moon and stars borrows from the Victorians, while the brand’s signature stamped Cuff Keeper has more in common with post-World War II metalwork. Still, the collection’s overarching retro-ness makes it feel familiar, while still trendy. “We say ‘Our jewelry reminds you,’” Rachel says.
For the couple, the brand is also manifestation of a dream that includes putting the brakes on the “working nonstop” lifestyle they’d led for years as high-level jewelry executives. “We were always chasing this end game and not stopping and reflecting on the things in between,” Omar shares. “For us, it was stopping and saying, ‘This is the stuff that really matters.’…things like the 5 a.m. coffee we have together before the chaos begins every day!”
The couple has three young kids, and Rachel’s happy to see them exploring the family factory, as she did as a child. “I grew up in and around manufacturing, it was a true family business and my grandfather taught me everything, from soldering to ordering,” she says. “Even today, you will see gemstones and crystals dating back to the 1970s in the factory. He would create amazing component pieces, from casting to stone setting, chains, and rhinestones, making things for stores like Bebe, Express, and Arden B.”
Rachel and her daughter in the family factory
Playing around: Rachel and kids
Air & Anchor’s collection is accessibly priced between $22-$148, and though it’s primarily a direct-to-consumer brand, the company employees one wholesale rep to field offers and opportunities from retailers.
Giving back is important to the brand, say its founders. Through its Give a Cuff initiative, Air & Anchor donates 68% of each sale of an individual cuff bracelet ($25 retail price) to one of its charity partners, which include Blessings in a Backpack, National Autism Association, PeaceLove, Friends of Jaclyn, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Organizations can fundraise by purchasing a box of pre-made Air & Anchor cuffs in bulk to sell individually at a price of their choosing for a philanthropic cause (boxes are sold in sets of 25, 50, 75 or 100 for $8 a piece). Or they can choose from 12 different color combinations, choose a charm, and start fundraising for a cause or charity they want to support.
“We wanted to make an impact, but we also wanted to do something different,” Omar says. “We wanted to create something, yes…but we also wanted to sell a box for people to be able to raise money for things they care about. So, then it became about creating the customizable program. You pick your own items to sell—it’s yours to help do what you want to do.”
Top photo: A mix of Air & Anchor components creating a customized necklace (all photos courtesy of Air & Anchor)