Custom Made

Exploring Ancient Artform, Heritage Through Inspired Jewelry

A sample of beadwork by Yona Kohen. Image courtesy of the artist.

Beadwork is one of the world’s oldest art forms. With a history that goes back thousands of years, the use of beads on clothing and in jewelry was one of mankind’s first examples of luxury. And while their use has appeared in almost every culture, a very specific kind of beading — specifically, Ottoman prison-work beading, a term used for pieces made by WWI Turkish prisoners of war — is the inspiration behind the celebrated jewelry brand created by Yona Kohen ’19 (General Fine Arts BFA), recently showcased in The New York Times.

Kohen, an international student from Turkey, returned to her hometown of Istanbul after graduation, where she began learning and experimenting with traditional Turkish beading techniques. She came across Ottoman prison-work beading while visiting Istanbul’s antiques markets and bazaars, and her interest eventually grew into her eponymous jewelry line, launched in 2021. Fueled by a cultural legacy of craftsmanship and storytelling, Kohen’s work draws from her Turkish heritage, with each piece — characterized by intricate beading that incorporates bows, shells, and glass — telling a story through its eclectic mix of elements.