For Susan Rockefeller, the Hamptons signify a place of innocence, a place of beauty, and a place of mystery. “My earliest memories are being in East Hampton making sand castles and admiring the elemental aspects of the beauty of the sun, the salt, the sky, the clouds, and the farmland,” she says wistfully from her Upper East Side abode. “Just great memories of being outside, catching fireflies, Good Humor trucks driving by, and all those wonderful memories that make a happy childhood. East Hampton is obviously very different now. It’s much more built up, and there is more traffic, but I don’t have recollections of any of that.”
Despite the noticeable differences in the area, Rockefeller has found a way to capture her favorite parts of the Hamptons—the beach and the ocean—through her new Dive Deep jewelry collection. “My favorite piece is the sea urchin ring. I just think it is so beautiful and magnificent,” she reveals. “Each piece of jewelry also has a little element of surprise, like a small diamond, because when you come home from the beach, you always find a granule of sand somewhere!”
Besides creating timeless and elegant 14-karat gold and sterling silver baubles that can be passed along from generation to generation, Rockefeller says that her pieces are designed to spark a global conversation about ocean protection and conservation. “Half of the world’s oxygen… every other breath we take… comes from the ocean, so there are a lot of reasons why we need to keep them healthy,” she explains. “So often, people look at the beauty of the surface of the ocean, but what’s beneath it is so full of mystery. I want to bring attention to what is really going on with the ocean.”
In an attempt to use inventive tactics to engage and educate individuals about environmental issues, Rockefeller believes that the first step is to create an open dialogue rooted in sentimentality. “I think that most people are really overwhelmed by the enormity of problems facing the planet, and if we figure out creative ways to engage them, whether through film, music, or the design of my jewelry, it will allow them to come into the conversation in a very easy way,” she divulges. “So many people go to places because they love the way it makes them feel. They love the beach, they love the sand, and they love to swim. If people love a place, then they want to protect it. If you start with all the problems, I think that people get overwhelmed, so I love being able to use creative methods to get the message across.”
Another concept that Rockefeller strives to convey through her jewelry is the need for rest and balance, specifically for women. As a result, many of her pieces feature mermaids, which she believes are metaphors for balance. “It’s the idea of being centered,” she continues. “We all have such hectic lifestyles and they serve as a reminder that if we do not take time for ourselves, we cannot really give back to the people that we love and the work that we are doing.” But for Rockefeller, mermaids have even deeper symbolism, representing all the mysterious things in the world that cannot be explained by reason.
“When I think about mermaids, I think about the times when I am at the beach sort of staring out, and I think I see something… it could be the tale of a mermaid, a whale, or whatever, but at that moment I know that there is more to life than I ever could imagine,” she elaborates. “The mermaid is a very potent, mythical symbol that is pretty much in all cultures, and I’m trying to bring it back as something that will represent balance for our society, which is desperately in need of rest.”
Despite her ongoing quest for rest and relaxation, even Rockefeller spreads herself too thin at times. Besides designing jewelry and creating documentary films, she also sits on the board of Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation organization, and serves as chair of its Ocean Council. She is also a board member of the We Are Family Foundation, a member of the Global Leadership Council for Natural Resources Defense Council, and part of the program committee for the Stone Barns Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
On July 19, the busy philanthropist is co-hosting the 25th anniversary celebration of the South Fork Natural History Museum, which she affectionately describes as the best-kept secret in the Hamptons. “It’s a great place for families, or really, anyone of any age,” she says. “They have different nature walks, bird watching, and a very good introduction of natural history in the East End. They have lots of workshops and lectures, and it is just a really great way to become more engaged and have a deeper appreciation of the diversity of what’s around us in the Hamptons.”