Women on Top Awards: The Transformers

For Marie Claire's third annual Women on Top Awards, we combed the country for the up-and-comers leading thought-revolutions, creating businesses, and making names for themselves in fields from the military to the arts. None is a day over 40, with a couple of notable exceptions: We've added a "Super Woman" category to celebrate women of any age who made their mark on 2012. But their accomplishments speak for themselves...

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    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."

    Graeme Mitchell
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