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Nina Nguyen Shares Childhood Memories of Vietnam and Her Design Mission of the Future [INTERVIEW]

Her latest collection was inspired while riding on a wisteria-filled bicycle path in Tokyo.




Jewelry designer Nina Nguyen

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES shaped Nina Nguyen’s love of unusual stones and metallurgy. As the daughter of a gold trader, Nina’s fondest memories were of sorting stones at her uncle’s gold foundry in Vietnam. Early success selling her costume jewelry to department stores gave this former refugee the confidence to cancel large orders and pursue a new journey in fine jewelry. Coming full circle, Nina returned to Vietnam and started a women’s co-op that now serves as the workshop for her eponymous designs.

Golden Beginnings

“I used to help my mother trade gold in our hometown of Pleiku, Vietnam. Every Sunday, my mother would set up her little table, and workers from the nearby river who’d panned for gold would line up to sell my mother the gold they had found. My uncle used to make the beautiful sparkly gold dust into rings. My job was to bike to the market to deliver the gold. The gold rings were fastened on a chain for me to easily disguise under my clothes. This was to evade the communists’ eyes and ears on my parents. Being able to work with my family is a major part of my jewelry designing process today.”

Jewels For A Cause

“When there became a large demand for my line from jewelry stores, I knew I needed to seek a manufacturer to produce my designs. I traveled to Thailand, India and China, but I did not find what I was looking for. Instead, I only found factories, which did not satisfy a holistic approach to handmade jewelry design and manufacture. It was at this time that I decided to visit Vietnam, where my uncle and remaining family members could help me put the pieces of the puzzle together. Today, my jewelry is made in a women’s co-op managed by my family. My employees are provided for and experience a good quality of life.”

The Greater Good

“I think all products should be made in a manner that benefits everyone involved. I would love for my jewelry to help bring this message: That people should always be concerned with where the things they purchase come from, who made them, where the materials came from, how long will it last, and what will become of it when its life is over.”

Favorite Stones

“Anything that is unique, mineral, fossilized and can’t be found in a traditional jewelry store. Right now, I am obsessed with druzy and geodes.”


Design Inspiration

“I first experienced wisteria’s allure as a tourist traveling through Tokyo by bicycle. Pedaling a bicycle path completely surrounded by wisteria, I was immediately fascinated by the graceful purple blossoms cascading into view. Wisteria’s enduring beauty and charm will be represented in my spring 2014 collection.”

Celebrity Connection

“In 2013, Miranda Lambert wore our Audrey earrings in black druzy to the season premiere of The Voice. That was such a pleasant surprise! Her stylist contacted my PR firm, so I guess my unique design is being mentioned in the celeb stylist circle.”

Style Evolution

“I think my work has evolved as my personal preferences evolved. The styling of my design has changed from having a more modern and minimal look to having a somewhat classic, heirloom look while retaining the composition of a modern material.”

Standing On Principles

“In 2009, my line was represented by a New York showroom. I was dealing with the constant pressure from department stores and buyers to produce cheaper products. I don’t know how I did it, but I walked away from some very large purchase orders to focus on bettering my designs. The biggest achievement of my career was when I learned to stay focused on what I do, who I am, who my audience is and what my brand represents.”


Q&A: Getting Personal With Nina Nguyen

What is on your mind when you are not designing?

Children of Vietnam project. I plan to bring my experience to assist with raising more funds and bringing awareness to the organization.”

What can’t you resist buying when out shopping?

“Is there a hotline for Shoeaholics Anonymous?”

What is your favorite vacation spot and why?

“I moved to Boulder, Colorado a year ago. There is so much to do and it is always nice to wake up in my own bed since I am on the road so much.”

If you could have any other career, what would it be?

“Eco-handbag or eco-apparel designer. Have you tried to look for eco-clothes? I could see myself taking an interest in this industry.”

The Work: Jewelry From Nina Nguyen

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When There’s No Succession Plan, Call Wilkerson

Bob Wesley, owner of Robert C. Wesley Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., was a third-generation jeweler. When it was time to enjoy life on the other side of the counter, he weighed his options. His lease was nearing renewal time and with no succession plan, he decided it was time to call Wilkerson. There was plenty of inventory to sell and at first, says Wesley, he thought he might try to manage a sale himself. But he’s glad he didn’t. “There’s no way I could have done this as well as Wilkerson,” he says. Wilkerson took responsibility for the entire event, with every detail — from advertising to accounting — done, dusted and managed by the Wilkerson team. “It’s the complete package,” he says of the Wilkerson method of helping jewelers to easily go on to the next phase of their lives. “There’s no way any retailer can duplicate what they’ve done.”

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