JCK Asks…Nina Nguyen



Since we’re suckers for sparkling chunks of drusy and slices of geodes, we had to track down Colorado-based designer Nina Nguyen for our annual fashion issue. We found her (alas, only via email!) traveling in her native Vietnam. But soon she’ll be in Vegas, at the Design Center at the JCK show, with “solid gold, silver, black-oxidized and super-delicious, all-you-can-eat, yummy, one-of-a-kind pieces!” Another thing you’ll find at her booth: a bangle engraved with the name of a disabled child affected by Agent Orange. Says Nguyen: “Proceeds from the sale of the bangle will go to an organization I work with to care for these children.” 

 

Age: 36

Number of years in the biz: 11

Number of employees you oversee: 25

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Baci

Family and pets: Husband and a 5-pound Chihuahua named Baci who is way more popular in Vegas than I am.

Describe your personal style: Bohemian-chic meets chic-bohemian.

First piece you ever designed: The first piece I designed as an adult in the biz was a stunning gemstone crochet necklace.

Favorite (or current favorite) gemstone: Geode. I love the uniqueness. You never know what you’ll find inside!

Most underappreciated gemstone: Pink tourmaline. It’s such a hot stone.

Best piece of advice you ever received: “Surround yourself with people who share your vision and perspective.”

Worst piece of advice: “Why don’t you just buy jewelry in China and sell it? It would be easier and cheaper.”

First job ever: Folding clothes at a thrift store. That job gave me such a sense of the wealth gap between wealthy donors giving us buckets of branded clothes, often with price tags still on them, and the very poor customers who frequented the place. 

How did you get started designing jewelry? My uncle in Vietnam is a master jeweler. As a child I’d help him out in his shop. I was probably more of a hindrance than a help, but look where we are today! 

If you weren’t designing jewelry, what would you be doing? Software, tech, programming—I’m a closet geek. I love to cook too, so maybe open a restaurant.

Jewelry you’re wearing right now: Moonstone Heritage necklace, Calypso opal earrings, wedding band made by my uncle, antique diamond ring from my grandmother, drusy ring I just black-oxidized today, and the eighth bangle sample for my new funding project to help disabled children. 

On your desk right now: Smartphone, six months of Entrepreneur magazine, samples of my new collection, stone samples, passport, coffee, piles of paper.

On your playlist: Anything (almost) from Miles Davis. He gets a bit out there on some albums, but what a genius. Esperanza Spalding, Roberta Gambarini. 

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Manhattan

Exercise regimen: Pilates is my favorite, but I don’t get to go often. I do yoga once or twice a week. Otherwise hiking, jogging, Colorado outdoors activities like skiing.

What did you have for breakfast? I’m in Saigon at the moment. The local cuisine is chicken pho for breakfast. In case you’ve never had pho, it’s a chicken or beef broth soup with noodles, vegetables, and fresh herbs. It’s light and healthy and gets me through most of my day.

Guilty pleasure: Bourbon and the latest Game of Thrones.

Drink (daytime/evening): Daytime is iced tea. Evening is one of my husband’s Manhattans.

How do you unwind? Tulum, Mexico, or Bali’s eco-resorts are very good options.

Book you’re reading: Shantaram, which was recommended to me by a very well traveled gentleman I sat next to on one of my long flights. 

Book you’ve been meaning to get to: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.   

Preferred news source: The New York Times. When English isn’t your first language, writing style counts! 

Main means of transportation: Uber.

Who would play you in your life story? Not sure if Hollywood has that kind of stock?

Personal motto: “Of course we can get all that done in time.” 

 

Top: samples of 14k rings with raw diamonds, opal, and more; Seafoam necklace with sapphires and drusy; bangles with geodes, drusy, moonstone, and carved turquoise

(Cocktail: Gabe Palmer/Alamy)