OK, admit it: sometimes you need a break from the intensity and emotional highs of touring Israel’s religious and historic sites.

A two-hour visit to the Yvel Design Center, where beauty, creativity and social responsibility come together, might be just the ticket to recharge the senses before you continue with your tour.

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Yvel is a family business, founded by Isaac and Orna Levy, that has been creating exquisite, unique and award-winning jewelry since 1986. But from the minute you arrive, it’s apparent that Yvel is so much more than just a business.

Yvel courtyard. Credit: Judy Lash Balint.

The Design Center occupies a tastefully renovated 160-year-old stone building in Motza, a few miles west of Jerusalem, just off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. Your visit begins with a relaxing stroll through a peaceful, lush courtyard enhanced by a soothing waterfall, bronze sculptures and an array of native plants and trees.

Soon you will be directed inside to the Yvel theater, where a short 3-D film will reveal the first secret of Yvel’s success—the rare organic pearls that are Yvel’s signature design motif. While most jewelers design pieces and only then look for a pearl or stone, at Yvel the jewelry is fashioned around the pearl or stone.

Jewelry being crafted at Yvel. Credit: Judy Lash Balint.

Meet the Megemeria

Another six-minute film introduces the Megemeria training program that’s the most unique feature of the Levy empire.

Taken from the Amharic word for genesis, or beginning, the school, which trains budding jewelers, provides a new beginning for some 22 Ethiopian Israelis at a time. Students are chosen for artistic sense and propensity for precision work.

Their Ethiopian-inspired Megemeria jewelry line is for sale in the elegant Yvel showroom alongside the regular Yvel pearl and sapphire collections, as well as at retail outlets and online.

The Megemeria line features stunning pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings made of brass and plated with 24K gold at prices starting from $50. Many of the designs incorporate a hidden or mysterious message inscribed in Amharic, the native tongue of the Ethiopian student designers. Personalized messages such as initials or single words like “forever,” “love” and “friendship” appear in Amharic lettering on ID-style bracelets, pendants on leather cords and rings. All profits from the sale of the Megemeria collection are channeled back into the business to help fund the school, provide stipends for the students and recruit more staff.

Walking through the center, you’re encouraged to stop and watch the students and the craftspeople at work—you’ll see them setting diamonds, goldsmithing, and perfecting and crafting original jewelry.

Attached to the airy showroom featuring the full array of Yvel’s signature lines is the new Megemeria Craft Center, whose sounds and sights evoke an Ethiopian Jewish village. With Ethiopian music playing in the background, you can check out the jewelry, browse the crafts, baskets and ceramics and take the opportunity to partake in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Yvel (Levy spelled backwards) is committed to employing immigrants from all over the globe. Today, more than 90 percent of Yvel employees are immigrants, hailing from 23 countries. That’s because Isaac Levy understands first-hand the difficulties of immigration and absorption in Israel. Levy made aliyah as a child from Argentina with his family. He watched his father struggle and get beaten down by the bureaucracy and unscrupulous business partners as he tried to support his family.

As a self-described committed Zionist, that’s an experience Levy vows he will not have to be endured by as many immigrants as he can train and launch into a better life. On a recent visit, Levy could be seen stopping at the desks of various employees to exchange ideas and give feedback.

Yvel was forced to close for months during the early days of the pandemic, since workers sit in close quarters. “Our lifetime achievement was about to crumble before our eyes,” Levy recounted.

Scrambling to figure out a way to retain his employees and keep the business going, Levy took a commission from a wealthy businessman, who wanted an 18K gold COVID-19 mask. Levy took five months to produce the piece, valued at $1.5 million. He used the proceeds to shore up the business and compensate all 150 Yvel employees until the design center could reopen.

The mask, which is encrusted with 3,608 natural black and white diamonds, won Arabian Watches & Jewellery Magazine‘s Best Independent Designer Award design and is currently on display in the showroom.

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Insider tip No. 1:

If you have any jewelry in need of professional cleaning, give it to your guide, who will whisk it away at the beginning of the tour and return it in sparkling condition before you leave.

Insider tip No. 2:

Yvel is the perfect place if you’re looking for a romantic spot to buy and present a gift for a special person. Invite them on the tour, stop and choose a beautiful piece of jewelry and walk through to the dark and intimate wine cellar, where the two of you can share a glass of wine from one of the local kosher wineries while you wait for your gift to be cleaned and wrapped.

Insider tip No. 3:

There’s a significant discount from catalog prices if you buy a piece of jewelry at the design center. Depending on the piece it could be up to 20% off, with insurance and delivery to your home address included.

Hours:
Sunday-Thursday: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Address: 1 Yechiel M. Steinberg St., Ramat Motza, Jerusalem 9677149
Tel: 02-673-5811
Entry fee: 25 shekels ($7)

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