1. Top Designer
Monique Péan, 31, founder, Monique Péan
Résumé: An overachiever with an Ivy League degree and finance job, Péan never questioned her life trajectory until 2005, when her 16-year-old sister died in a car accident. Craving a change, Péan blew her life savings on precious gems and launched an eponymous line of fine jewelry featuring eco-friendly materials. Today, she sells her modern designs in 35 stores worldwide and Michelle Obama is a fan.
Path to the Top: "When I was growing up, my father brought us to countries from Brazil to Mali to Egypt for his work in international development. My mother, a painter, always introduced us to local artisans, and I never lost interest in the arts."
Defining Moment: "A buyer at a boutique liked a scarf neck-lace I'd made for fun, and ordered several hundred of them. I cranked them out so fast, my fingers were bleeding!"
Statement Piece: "My signature ring a piece of fossilized woolly mammoth or walrus ivory surrounded by conflict- and devastation-free pavé diamonds set in recycled gold is our top seller. They're all different, with painterly designs that have been infused into the fossils over thousands of years."