Hawaii's New Heritage Jewelry Brand is Inspired by the Last Queen of Hawaii
The HIE Heirlooms of Hawaii product line offers a stylish and nostalgic take on an old-world tradition that dates back centuries.
There are many precious items that Hawaii visitors take home from the islands, from diamond-studded palm tree earrings to dolphin pendants adorned with mother of pearl that evoke memories of their time on the beach.
Yet for many native Hawaiians, such as lifelong friends Meleana Estes and No'l Pietsch Shaw, a different jewelry tradition is more important. In 1862, the future Queen of Hawai'i, Lydia Lilou Loloku Walania Kamakaeha, wore a solid gold bracelet she designed to sit for an engagement portrait. Inscribed on the bracelet was the Hawaiian phrase “Hoʻomanaʻo Mau,” which translates as “remember always.”
It was not long before the women in the queen's inner circle started making their own versions of her 14-karat gold bracelet and passing them down through matrilineal succession until this day.
This new fine jewelry brand, founded by Estes and Shaw, is inspired by the vintage bracelets with their black enamel Gothic lettering, which are worn tight around the wrist. The name comes from the Hawaiian verb he-eh, which means "to beautify" or "to distinguish themselves from others. "The name comes from the Hawaiian verb he-eh, which means "to beautify" or "to distinguish themselves from others."
When Estes was 16, she knew she'd get her bracelet, an Oahu-based stylist and influencer. As she tells Rich Report, her mother held the bracelet she had always dreamed of. My grandmother had made the bracelet for her when I was born, with the intention of passing it along to her.
"My mother married a Hawaiian and received bracelets when her three kids were born, even though she was from the East coast," Shaw, a luxury real estate agent who grew up in Honolulu, says. Mom's arm was covered in those three names. My sister's Hawaiian name was on one, my Hawaiian name was on one and my brother's Hawaiian name was on the other."
It turned out, however, that they were unable to find simple, flat gold bracelets like those they had been gifted when it came time to buy their own children bracelets. “We wanted to continue this tradition, but a lot of the guys who made ours had passed on,” explains Estes. “People would stop me at least twice a week at, say, the dentist’s office. ‘Where you’d get yours?’ And I’d say, ‘They’re old style, I got them when I was born.’”
It wasn't until late January that the two women, who both live in Honolulu, started sketching the beginnings of their own collection. A pandemic, countless hours, and a lot of innovation later, HIE made its debut.
There are nine styles of 14-karat yellow or rose gold bracelets in varying sizes, priced from $3,200 to $5,900, which are available online, at the Ron Herman flagship boutique in Waikiki, and at monthly trunk shows in Honolulu.
These styles include the Amelia Ana, based on the bracelet Estes received from her tūtū (grandmother) Amelia Ana Kaʻōpua Bailey; 1881 Fleur de Lis, inspired by Shaw's great-great-great-grandmother, a confidante of Queen Lili'uokalani; and the modernized Leslie after Shaw's late grandmother Leslie Maunakapu Long Pietsch, who owned a similar bracelet.
Additionally, the HIE bracelets are characterized by their seductively sentimental aesthetic. There is almost no piece that cannot be engraved, both inside and outside.
“People know what to put on the front,” according to Shaw. “It could be a name, a place, a saying in Hawaiian or English, it all depends on what you’ve gone through in life. But they have to get back to me about what to put on the inside. If I make a bracelet for my daughters, that’s a message they’ll have from mom forever.”
In the end, forever is the goal. As permanent odes to life's greatest hits (and misses), the bangles are designed without clasps or hinges to be slipped over clenched fists. One reason Estes and Shaw opted for 14-karat gold instead of higher-karat materials is the fact that it is harder and therefore less susceptible to damage.
“Women in Hawaii are really active,” explains Estes. “We’re jumping in the ocean all the time, going for a hike, making a lei in our garden. We don’t take off our jewelry as much.”
“They’re such a part of you, such a precious thing, and many women feel safer with them on their bodies,” Estes continues. “You have many pairs of earrings, but you only have one Hawaiian bracelet. They’re meant to wear with time, to collect your stories and your essence.”