How Celeste Onorati of Jai Mala Rose came to make jewelry out of rose petals.
NEW YORK—Celeste Onorati couldn’t keep still. The effusive gray-haired mother of two grown children was one of the first women in her office when she started her corporate career. During time off from her banking and finance work, she rode a motorcycle and built her own house with bricks and a wheelbarrow.
And then, about one year ago, she broke her hip. The injury was initially misdiagnosed and she was sent home to rest. When the pain persisted, a second examination revealed a fracture. But insurance wouldn’t pay for a hip replacement because by then it was considered a preexisting condition. Unable to get to work, she had no choice but to stay home.
Onorati has long been a “seeker of the truth.” Thirty years ago she chased gurus and studied Ayurvedic medicine, crystal healing, and astrology—all things that taught her to relax and remain in the present.
One day following the injury, inspiration came to her while meditating: “Go to the garden, pick roses. You’ll make beads out of them.”
She researched whether such a thing had been done before. It had. Since at least the 1500s, European nuns created beads out of crushed rose petals and strung them together to make rosaries.
Onorati, who had never made jewelry before, began experimenting.
“When I started making them I was so happy looking at what I had created,” she said. She does the whole process from design to stringing. “I was giving them away and people loved them.”
And, sure enough, people came up to her and said that their grandmothers owned antique rosaries made out of roses. Onorati had stumbled upon a lost art.
Gradually the rosaries, called mala in the Asian tradition, were consigned to Jivamukti Yoga studio in Union Square, where they were sold out within a week.
“I can’t make them fast enough now,” she said.
Thus the jewelry line Jai Mala Rose was born. “Jai,” from Onorati’s childhood nickname Jai Jai, means victory in Hindi.
We spoke to Onorati at the Hester Street Fair’s pop-up shop on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 29th Street in Manhattan. The pop-up shop will be active until Dec. 21.
The atmosphere is festive, with clothing, art, and accessories vendors displaying their wares on tinseled up booths. The place looked as if Etsy exploded out into a storefront. A 1970s-style Santa, clad in a silver space suit, decorates the ceiling.
She arrived with her son, actor and associate producer Jonathan VanWettering, who employed his set-building skills in designing Onorati’s booth. He routinely helps his mother roll beads, manage Web content, source supplies, and run errands—things she couldn’t do with her broken hip.
Onorati views the line’s budding success as a blessing that grew out of tragedy.
“If that didn’t happen,” she said, gesturing to her hip and then to her jewelry booth, “This wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have sat still long enough to allow this to manifest.”
Made with nothing but rose petals and water, the beads take 8–10 days to roll and dry. Yellow roses dry to a bronzy gold, red roses to a deep maroon, but results vary from batch to batch.
“When I choose roses, I don’t even know what color they will dry to be,” she said. The beads retain their scent and get smoother, darker, and more polished as they are worn and handled.
Besides mala, Onorati also produces bracelets, earrings, and necklaces that are as versatile as accessories as they are functional for prayer. She is attentive to details, making sure that the healing stone beads she chooses are natural, not dyed, and that the colors in the pieces are harmonious.
Sometimes she creates pieces spontaneously, inspired by the personality of the intended wearer.
“As I’m making these beads, I’m chanting and meditating, and hoping that whoever will wear it, let it bring them whatever it is they need to bring them to a higher state of being,” she said.