Bauble, Bauble and Toil Give Two Designing Sisters the Magic Touch

updated 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Someone once told us our designs look like what you'd find in your grandmother's jewelry box," says Karen Mandelbaum, "if your grandmother was on acid." Not a bad description. Island Magic Jewelry, the Manhattan-based creation of Karen, 28, and sister Lyn, 32, combines old-time lace, velvet and crystal with trendy fake fur, charms and tiny mirrors to produce wacko finery that most grandmas wouldn't go near. Funkier types adore it: Rocker Annie Lennox owns a black crystal choker and Cyndi Lauper makes an Island Magic tassel earring jump in her latest video. Just three years after making their first sale, Karen and Lyn have their necklaces, bracelets and earrings in 1,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Malaysia and gross $300,000 a year.

They attribute this partly to magic. "For centuries, people in many cultures have believed that certain colors, shapes and stones have magical powers," explains Lyn. "We did a lot of research and decided to create jewelry incorporating the ancient symbolism." Since very few customers would know just by looking that jade improves the sex life, that the number 12 brings cosmic order and that turquoise wards off evil, the Mandelbaums include an explanatory booklet with each item. Says Karen: "We really believe in this stuff." Adds Lyn: "In the beginning, we actually sort of thought we'd be saving humanity with our jewelry. But when you're from New York, you're a little weird."

Growing up in New Rochelle, N.Y. with a lawyer father and a mother who was a circus acrobat, the sisters have always mixed whimsy and practicality. As kids they staged dramatic home spectaculars—but charged admission. Both went to the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Lyn's prints have since been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and Karen's film shorts in Manhattan clubs. In 1983 they thought of magic jewelry. Their first, handmade line was snapped up by Lord & Taylor.

Five employees now make most of the jewelry. Lyn and Karen, who have nearby lofts in Manhattan's Tribeca, handle marketing and design while painting and making movies in their spare time. Their jewelry is now less strictly magic-based than it once was, and their latest scheme, a line of makeup, would leave the occult even further behind. But come on. Do they really believe that magic stuff anyway? "To this day, I will not get on an airplane without wearing a couple of our necklaces," says Lyn. "You just never know."

From Our Partners