J ewelry designer Nadine Ghosn shot to fame with her stackable "Hamburger" ring and she continues to bring colour and humour to the world of fine jewelry with her eponymous label. Here she picks her favourite pieces from across Sotheby's Spring Jewelry sales, and discusses her inspirations, childhood obsession with accessories and how it feels to have Beyoncé wear your jewels.
What was the piece that first started your collection?
The hamburger. Believe it or not my first collection was drawn overnight – I drew a hamburger, headphones, a battery. I focused on pieces I would wear and was very much inspired by everyday items that speak to our time and can be understood throughout society. I loved the idea of using my jewelry as a marker of time, and a means to elevate ordinary pieces we come across every day and elevate them through my craft – 18k gold and precious stones.
As a Stanford graduate majoring in Economics and Art, you were not always on a path to becoming a jewelry designer – what was it that drew you to the industry?
I had no background in the jewelry space; I was neither a next generation of a jewelry powerhouse nor an individual that was encouraged to explore artistic education. As you can imagine it came a bit as a shock when I left my career at both BCG and Hermes to build my own brand from scratch. Competition was fierce, and my chances at succeeding were awfully low. But something inside me gave me the courage to take the leap of faith and start learning everything from scratch – within six months I drew the burger and building out what seemed like the impossible with my artisans – a stackable 7 ring. One year later the veggie burger received the award of Innovation at the Couture Las Vegas show.
Your designs have a playfulness to them – how do you approach combining that irreverence with the materials and methods used in fine jewelry?
I loved the idea of democratizing jewelry. I chose to bypass the stale components and navigate my own approach rather than blindly follow conventional codes of conduct. In this process I welcome humor, color, and embodying ‘non luxury’ silhouettes by advancing ordinary objects we come across daily. This effort was to challenge us to revisit our perception of both beauty and luxury. I also love people to ascribe their own story or relevance to the pieces and find joy in their meaning. Many pieces bring you back to childhood where our purest joys are explored.
Nadine's Picks from Fine Jewels London
Your pieces are made by Lebanese craftspeople. How important is it to you to preserve and nourish local artisans?
I began by manufacturing in Lebanon – that is where I learned most of my production knowledge. I have now expanded production to Italy, Thailand and Hong Kong. I understood the industry more and got to know who specialized in what – my production is an intricate network of know-how and resource availability which has helped me navigate the global pandemic.
Where does your love of jewelry come from? Is it something you’ve been interested in since childhood?
Since I was three, I would ask my dad for earrings at any gifting opportunity. Often times I would direct him to the duty free magazine on a plane where you could buy a whole assortment. I would get so excited! My sisters would ask for dolls or barbies, but I always wanted jewelry. I think at that moment he knew that my love for jewelry was not fleeting. In photos from childhood I am accessorized to the nines with earrings, multiple rings and bracelets.
Nadine's Picks from Fine Jewels Paris
As I grew older, I realized I would always observe people’s jewels. I could not remember the name of someone I met the night before, but could recall exactly what accessories she or he was wearing. My jewelry muse was my grandma who loved jewels and would wear the same gold bracelets – they became an iconic symbol of her spirit and style. To me jewelry is really about expression or remembering a moment in time and capturing all that essence in a tangible memento.
Your work is ultra-modern but are you also interested in vintage and antique pieces? What would be on your wish-list?
I love all jewelry! Unfortunately, you are speaking to an aficionado. I actually believe it is more powerful to wear a mix and match of jewelry – fun and contemporary with very conventional or antique vintage pieces. Again, this makes your arm candy more of an expression of style than a commercial add. It is too easy to go and buy the basics and just wear them; it is way bolder and more interesting to create your own definition of luxury and often times you will find people drawn to it.
A lot of your work is influenced by pop culture. What or who inspires you?
I find inspiration in my travels and in the people I come across. I observe their style, how they wear their jewelry, how they express themselves across varying cultures and age groups. I am fascinated by these things and naturally they shape my constantly evolving aesthetic. As for who inspires me...I would say Karl Lagerfeld. I have met him multiple times and really appreciated his candor and wit; he respected creatives and supported them maintaining an innovative spirit. He embodied to me a true artist passionate about his craft until the very last day – and not scared to be bold, take some risks and be ahead of the trend curve, mostly because he would set them himself.
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Your burger stackable rings have become iconic. Why do you think they became such a runaway success?
I guess I was lucky. I launched it at a time when jewelry was quite conventional. Creating a piece like this, that is multiple rings combined together to create a form, was also technically difficult and quite bold. I believe the burger speaks to everyone – there is a universal recognition of burgers, and although some might not like it – it brings a smile to your face. I like bringing the fun into fine jewelry.
I also love doing the unexpected. When McDonalds approached me to make a custom 18k burger for them I was super flattered and happy to do it – we successfully created the ‘Bling Mac’ that carefully followed the Big Mac ingredients. Why not do a collaboration between two juxtaposing institutions: Fast Food x Luxury Fine Jewelry?
Would you describe yourself as a maximalist?
I am minimalist in my clothes, maximalist in my accessories.
What is your own most treasured piece of jewelry?
Probably it will be my future engagement ring. Today it is hard to pick as I have multiple pieces that represent different life stages, or monumental moments in my life journey.
What has been your proudest moment as a designer?
My biggest moment – that cemented in my mind the fact that I was a real designer – was winning the INNOVATION prize at Couture. It was my first year at the show, I felt like the odd one out and had no idea what to expect, and was working the booth on my own. I applied to be considered but thought I had no standing chance as I was up against industry leaders who have been there for decades. Getting up on that stage, I was speechless. It was definitely a rewarding moment that made me feel like the risks I took and the loneliness I felt that year in building what is now NGFJ was starting to come to fruition.
Which person wearing your pieces has excited you most?
Three people actually. Karl Lagerfeld buying my headphone necklace and wearing it consecutively for four months was an insane moment. Beyoncé purchasing the SHUT-UP earring from Colette and wearing it during concerts and photographed near Clinton was also a pinch me moment. I don’t have a press team so all this happening was beyond my control. It was just amazing to watch it naturally develop and was a huge surprise to me. And Sarah Andelman, one of the creatives behind the famous house of Colette, often sports NGFJ which is a huge compliment as I consider her to have an impeccable eye for both fashion and design.
What would you like to be your legacy within the jewelry industry?
I would like to be remembered as being bold and bringing humor and kindness into the jewelry realm. I encourage cross industry collaborations, taking risks and changing the landscape. I would also like to catalyse democratization of the jewelry space by encouraging young designers with a vision to take a risk and share their aesthetic. If NGFJ could be remembered as bringing the fun into fine jewelry by spreading joy one piece at a time then all the hustle was worth it.
Banner image: Darren Gabriel