The Jewelry District, Episode 115: Guest Vanessa Fernández


JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates speak with Miami-based jewelry designer and bench jeweler Vanessa Fernández of Vanessa Fernández Studio. She reflects on her longstanding love of jewelry, which started with taping magazine cutouts of Rolexes to her wrist as a child, and has now led her from Bali to Paris to the White House. Vanessa also talks about her design aesthetic (a celebration of the female form that’s curvaceous and sensual but never too delicate), her next project, and a stone so breathtaking it brought her to tears in Tucson.

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Sponsored by De Beers: institute.debeers.com

Show Notes
02:55 The paper diamond years
05:54 Finding her place
07:22 A bold move leads to Bali
10:00 Lessons from Louis Vuitton in Paris
15:04 The White House comes calling
21:04 Feminine but not delicate
22:50 Tucson takeaways—and a stone to remember

Episode Credits
Hosts: Rob Bates and Victoria Gomelsky
Producer and engineer: Natalie Chomet
Editor: Riley McCaskill
Plugs: @jckmagazine; institute.debeers.comVanessa Fernández

Show Recap
The paper diamond years
Vanessa grew up playing with beading kits and spent some of her happiest moments cutting jewelry photos out of magazines. “I would tape Rolexes to my wrist [and] diamond necklaces to my chest,” Vanessa remembers. “It was a favorite thing of mine.”

Her early years were also shaped by visits to her aunt, an established sculptor in New York City. “I spent a lot of time in large, hot sculpture studios with welding going on in one corner and charcoal drawing in another,” Vanessa says. “So I was really surrounded by a lot of art growing up.”

Finding her place
Initially, Vanessa planned to study nursing in college. But her major required an art elective, and as fate would have it, jewelry-making was one of the courses offered.

From day one, “it was like the world stood still. When I was in that jewelry studio, I forgot to eat, I forgot to drink. The sun would set and I was still there…. It was real love.” Her future path clear, Vanessa transferred to another college, where she earned a BFA in craft and materials studies with a focus on jewelry and metalwork.

A bold move leads to Bali
Degree in hand, Vanessa moved back to Miami and landed a job with a jewelry manufacturer that supplied to HSN. A year later, she was invited to a party in Miami Beach hosted by John Hardy. “I knew the head designer was going to be there, and I knew I had to meet him,” Vanessa remembers. She introduced herself to Guy Bedarida and boldly told him, “I want to work for you.” He encouraged her to send him her portfolio, and the next thing she knew she’d been invited to work as an unpaid intern with his design team in Bali.

Rob asks if she experienced culture shock going from a company that mass-produced jewelry to one that did everything by hand. Vanessa says yes, but she felt at home at John Hardy, where the careful handcrafting harked back to her days as a student. “It was such a beautiful environment, I was so supported. [Guy] really took me under his wing,” she says.

Lessons from Louis Vuitton in Paris
After returning from Bali, Vanessa got a chance to meet Lorenz Bäumer, then head designer of fine jewelry at Louis Vuitton as well as a designer in his own right. Once again, she mustered her courage and asked to work for him. A yearlong paid internship at Louis Vuitton in Paris followed.

In contrast to Bali, where designs were done in traditional gouache, Bäumer’s team taught Vanessa to design using transparent paper. “What’s really cool about that is you can render on the front [and] also on the back, so it allows your renderings to have so much depth,” Vanessa says, “and you can render much faster.”

Working with Bäumer also deepened Vanessa’s appreciation for color. “If you look at my work, it’s really heavy in the color department. Lorenz really influenced me…. He really embraces all the colored stones.” Her tenure with the Paris team and the rendering skills they taught her have proved indispensable. Without them, “I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today,” Vanessa says. “I use those techniques to the fullest.”

When the Louis Vuitton internship ended, Vanessa went home to Miami and started her own line, running a successful trunk show. But her career hit the pause button when she had two children in quick succession, then the pandemic stalled her plans to resume work. Toward the end of 2020, she created a limited line, promoted exclusively on Instagram. It sold well, and Vanessa began attracting private clients.

The White House comes calling
In May 2021, Vanessa was surprised to get a call from the U.S. State Department, asking her to design jewelry for the upcoming Summer Olympics. “I agreed, and that’s where my career path changed forever.”

Over the past three years, Vanessa has designed between 150 and 200 pieces for the Chief of Protocol, who handles gift giving for the First Lady. She’s also had numerous opportunities to visit the White House—invitations she never turns down.

Nor does she outsource orders. Once a design is finalized, with the State Department’s input and approval, “I move into my studio. I shut the door, [and] nothing gets in my way,” she says. “I do it completely alone and without computers. On occasion you have to do work in 3D, but I really enjoy making things by hand.”

Feminine but not delicate
Asked to describe her signature style, Vanessa calls her aesthetic “bold but also feminine.” She explains: “I don’t do anything too delicate. The work is always going to be sculptural. It always appears fluid. Multiple parts appear to be moving.” Other adjectives she uses are sensual, voluptuous, and organic. Shapes intertwine, twist, and wrap so that pieces look different from every angle, eschewing symmetry for curves and often referencing the female form.

Tucson takeaways—and a stone to remember
What impressed Vanessa at the recent Tucson shows? First, an unexpected uptick in business: She more than doubled her sales from the previous year. Second, a Tanzanian stone so stunning it brought her to tears. Spinels and tourmalines are among her favorite gemstones, but none had made her cry…until now. “I had never seen a more beautiful red spinel in all of my life,” Vanessa says. “I could barely contain myself.” Though she didn’t buy the stone, seeing it was “one of the top moments of my life.”

Up next for Vanessa is a collection of wholesale pieces, due out later this year.

Any views expressed in this podcast do not reflect the opinion of JCK, its management, or its advertisers.

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By: Kathy Passero

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