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Naomi Lerner Tussin: Designing Jewelry for a Good 'Cause'

Avon Patch has chosen her as our April 2012 Person of the Month.

Naomi Lerner Tussin, who owns Naomi Jewelry in Avon, has always been a lover of jewelry, but for her it's not just about glamor and profit.

“I wanted to create something fabulous and also wanted to create something good,” said Tussin, 57, who lives in Avon.

The Elisabeth Collection

Tussin’s friend, Elisabeth Talbot, a former Avon and Collinsville resident, developed cancer in 2007. She kicked bladder cancer once, but it came back more aggressively and spread to other areas, Tussin said. Talbot was diagnosed with ureter cancer, according to a blog her daughter, Monica wrote. When she was dying of cancer, she told Tussin, “I don’t have a legacy.”

So, in 2009, Tussin, who has made jewelry since 2003, launched The Elisabeth Collection, featuring Liz Is It necklaces, bracelets and earrings, as well as a junior version of the bracelet called Babette — Talbot’s nickname growing up.

Yet, Tussin said she was one of the “most extraordinary people I’ve ever met” and had a lot to be remembered for, such as raising “two beautiful, smart, talented daughters” and being named Hartford Journal’s Business Champion twice for The Talbot Group.

Talbot was also a member of the Guerlain family – known for its French perfumes.

“That was her family, but you’d never know it because she was so down to earth, Tussin said.

The two met when Talbot sold the Tussins their house in Avon at the beginning of her real estate career. Talbot died in December 2009 at the age of 56.

“Liz was one of those people, and we’d been friends for 30 years, that our lives would sometimes come together and sometimes it wouldn’t, but when it did, we’d pick up from where we’d left off.”

The distinctive feature of the Liz Is It necklace, besides square Bali silver beads and smaller pearls, is a single large pearl in the center.

At least 10 percent of store proceeds for The Elisabeth Collection go to the Center for Integrative Medicine — a department that specializes in holistic healing techniques — at Hartford’s St. Francis Hospital, as per the late Talbot’s request. Dr. Kathleen Mueller wears it to carry on Talbot’s legacy.

“That’s who she was — elegant, centered and also dynamic,” Tussin said.

LoveMellissa

That was not the last time Tussin created a jewelry line in honor of a lost loved one.

In September 2010, her son, Jake’s friend, Mellissa Andrew – an Avon High School senior at the time – was killed in a car accident in Harwinton.

When Jake was helping his friend Conor McCarthy plan a golf tournament in her honor – McCarthy’s senior mastery project – Tussin wanted to donate a piece of jewelry for the silent auction. The proceeds from the event benefitted Smiles for Mellissa, the charity that funded a new sign-language program at in remembrance of Mellissa, who signed to communicate with her younger brother, Aidan, who has Down syndrome.

It was clear to Tussin that her new LoveMellissa design needed to be lavender – Mellissa’s favorite color.

“I wanted to do something else that would make it hers,” said Tussin, who majored in graphic design at the University of Hartford in 1977.

So she added a charm of a hand signing, “I love you.”

All of the money paid for the jewelry at the golf tournament went to Smiles for Mellissa.

The line is still sold at in Avon, in Windsor and in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. Ten percent of sales benefit Smiles for Mellissa.

“Causes have always been big,” Tussin said of her work.

‘cause by Naomi

And so it’s fitting that ‘cause by Naomi was the name of the first jewelry line that Tussin ever made in 2008 to support charities and local organizations.

Tussin, who has friends with sons on the autism spectrum, originally designed a silver bracelet with a puzzle piece etched into a square as a symbol for autism.

West Hartford jeweler Bob La Perla suggested taking the puzzle piece off the square and conforming it to her signature necklaces — beads, Bali silver squares and silver “twists,” she said. Now, customers can buy any of her necklaces with a puzzle-piece charm attached to the clasp.

Tussin, apprised of her friends’ experience raising children on the autism spectrum, understands the challenge it presents.

“Both of the boys, now they’re men, they’re in their early-to-mid 20s and, one in particular, his mother was very concerned about what he would do for work,” Tussin said of her friends.

So, Tussin had an idea of how to address the concern. By the holiday season, Tussin hopes to bring on people with intellectual disabilities or autism to help her package ‘cause by Naomi boxes.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful for somebody to do this and be proud of it?” she said.

The person loading a box will also sign a card inside.

“There would be somebody, a supervisor with them, and maybe I’ll be there because I think it would just be fun,” Tussin said. “That’s the part that really gets me excited, that it would just be this cooperative effort.”

She consulted with her friend, Chera Gerstein, who has a son with autism, about her plan.

“She was excited about it and saw it as something her son might be able to do,” Tussin said.

Tussin contributes at least 10 percent of the proceeds for the line to autism-related causes chosen by the buyers. Additionally, 10 percent of  ‘cause by Naomi collection sales at La Perla between April 26 and Mothers Day, May 13, will be donated to HARC, an organization that supports individuals with intellectual abilities. There will be a kick-off benefit there on April 26 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A Calling

Jewelry designing has always felt like a calling to Tussin, who also runs her own advertising business, Lerner & Co. LLC in Avon, and does pro-bono work.

Now her jewelry sells in about 10 locations in Connecticut (including the  in Avon, Tapestry Rose in Rocky Hill and WAVE Gallery in New Haven) and New Hamphire, as well as in Sweden.

She often donates her work to silent auctions — most recently at a Connecticut Forum event on March 16 featuring . The proceeds of her Wired Diva design — silver twisted around beads — benefited the non-profit, which hosts panel discussions “among renowned experts and celebrities” and “community outreach programs,” according to the organization’s website.

Tussin is pleased to give back to the Hartford County community — particularly through The Elisabeth Collection, LoveMellissa and ’cause by Naomi. Seeing people wear her designs reminds her of the cause behind the craft.

“The joy in it is knowing that it’s also doing good,” Tussin said. “For Liz, it’s keeping her spirit alive. For Mellissa, it’s helping others to do what she was able to do with her younger brother. [Sign language] is how she was able to communicate with him. And with ‘cause, it’s spreading it around. It’s allowing the donation to be important to the person who is wearing the piece.”

Tussin makes her jewelry at her Avon home. For more information, you can contact her at 860-930-2882 or design@naomijewelry.biz.

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