Meet the Founder of Ian Charms, the Celeb-Favorite Jewelry Brand You’re Seeing All Over Instagram
“The jewelry is being displayed on a bust of Pete Davidson,” is a sentence I never thought I’d hear outside of, well, an SNL sketch. But Lisa Sahakian, founder of jewelry brand Ian Charms, is completely serious when describing how her vision for her company’s first-ever store is coming to life at Rockefeller Center.
Sahakian shared all of this within the first two minutes of our meeting, yet somehow it all made sense. You can instantly tell she has an encyclopedic knowledge of nostalgic pop culture, a product of growing up in Los Angeles and being obsessed with the entertainment industry (prior to launching Ian Charms, she worked as an assistant in reality television). Now she’s turned passion into profits, creating handmade jewelry featuring beautiful charms modeled after childhood hallmarks like pizza, Swedish Fish, smiley faces, butterflies (hello, Mariah!), and Magic 8 Balls.
Facing pay cuts and potential layoffs at work in early 2020, Sahakian did what many of us did: found a side hustle. She began looking up jewelry-making videos on YouTube and creating custom pieces for friends. “I’d never really worn jewelry before this, let alone knew how to make it,” says Sahakian. After only a few months of producing pieces, stylists quickly started reaching out for their celebrity clientele. “I got a Vogue article because Dua Lipa was wearing my stuff back-to-back, and my boss was like, ‘Are you gonna quit?’”
Spoiler alert: She did. Sahakian’s momentum was undeniable, and she turned her attention to Ian Charms full-time. “Based on the name, everyone now calls me ‘Ian’ and thinks I’m some 11-year-old boy making charm bracelets,” she says, explaining she conceived the name for her brand by highlighting the common suffix of Armenian last names (“-ian,” as in “Sahakian” or “Kardashian”) as a way to honor her heritage. All of the brand’s pieces are handmade in L.A. using one-of-a-kind, internationally-sourced charms that have become the brand’s calling card.
“I knew I needed to build moats around my castle so that it was hard to copy my stuff,” Sahakian says, noting that dupes for her jewelry started popping up almost immediately. She vowed then and there that buying into the Ian Charms brand meant you were getting something special that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. “We needed to be un-dupe-able. Now, if you want to recreate my pieces it would cost you more than just buying [them] from me.”
To secure these unique charms, she began reaching out to ceramicists and glass artists around the world who could take drawings of what she wanted and bring them to life. Ceramic charms come from a family business in Peru, while most of her glass charms come from Ukraine, proving to be a challenge as supplies are limited. “They said to me, ‘You have to keep purchasing, it’s the only way we’re making money,’ as I’m ordering the most ridiculous beads you’ve ever seen."
It’s no secret that the charm and friendship bracelet aesthetic is having its moment, with many high-end brands buying into the look as a trend. What makes Sahakian’s approach different is that she was an outsider in the jewelry space creating exactly what she wanted. “Having no experience in this lane has let me think outside the box and push myself and everyone I work with to get where I want to go,” she says.
It’s this fresh perspective on something as rarefied as jewelry making that has attracted her A-list customers like Lizzo, Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Naomi Osaka, Emma Chamberlain, Seth Rogen, and Maluma. Dua Lipa, who started the brand’s upward trajectory, is frequently seen wearing her charms. “I still don’t fully understand the magnitude of her wearing the pieces,” she says, sharing how her Instagram following jumped from 200 to 10,000 almost instantly when the pop star was photographed wearing them.
While celebrities have created buzz, the brand’s staying power is customization. “People really love miniatures—beaded jewelry is a trend, but my brand will last because of the custom pieces people have made and the connection they have to them,” says Sahakian, who references an Ian Charms necklace that rapper The Kid LAROI wears featuring a photo of his friend who passed away.
Further solidifying her brand’s unique POV is the new Ian Charms store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which Sahakian describes as an ode to nostalgia. “The space is modeled after a ‘90s bedroom. There’s literally a bed; it’s ridiculous.” The tactile experience features several surfaces on which jewelry will be displayed, such as vanities and the aforementioned celebrity busts, with the added texture and dimension of posters, shag rugs, and bead curtains. Shoppers will find classic Ian Charms pieces, as well as new fine jewelry pieces that are being released exclusively in-store.
“I mean, what’s more iconic than opening a store at Rockefeller Center in New York?,” she asks, noting that opening a retail store wasn’t originally in her playbook. Now, Sahakian sees the opportunity for the Ian Charms outpost to act as a community meeting place, with plans to host events and bring in tattoo artists. “I want this to be the place where, if you’re bored, you pop over to see what’s new.”
Ian Charms is now open at 30 Rockefeller Plaza,