How He’s Managing: Jewelry Designer Johnny Nelson

Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine (and for many, reopening).

Today we hear from Brooklyn, N.Y.–based jewelry designer Johnny Nelson, founder of Johnny Nelson jewelry. (Fun fact: Johnny Nelson is a hypocorism of the designer’s given name, Johnel Jamison.) 

JCK: Where are you based, and are you still in quarantine? If so, who are you quarantined with?

Johnny Nelson: I’m based in Bed-Stuy [Bedford–Stuyvesant], Brooklyn. I’m quarantined with myself.

Have you been getting out a little more with the reopening of parts of New York City?

Yes, I’ve been getting out more. Mostly for work, though. I go to the Diamond District to pick up my castings from City Castings (shout-out to Sherlly). I also hit the local parks to work out everyday. I marched along with my people in a couple of protests.

I ride my fixed gear bike everywhere I go. I’m kind of skeptical about the train situations, and I like the cardio. I also attend the Black Lives Matter meditations that are being held in local parks throughout Brooklyn. My friend, streetwear legend April Walker, put me onto that. Health is wealth.

Describe your work life right now.

Work life in quarantine consists of me always researching. I actually have been brushing up on a couple of CAD programs. Quarantine has given me more time to learn, study, and practice. After I wake up and I’m done with my morning meditation and work out, I’ll probably be at my bench until around 1 p.m. polishing up some pieces, putting some new, lit adornments together, or coming up with designs. Then I’ll ride my bike 10 miles to the Diamond District to pick up castings and source.

Johnny Nelson working
Nelson working at his bench at home in Brooklyn
Johnny Nelson working out
Working out at a local park

How has the pandemic changed your business plans for 2020 and beyond?

A couple of projects fell through, but God’s plan is bigger for me. I’m accepting the now, whilst learning and growing through the process.

How has your heart and mind been reacting to the BLM protests (and the deaths of Black individuals at the hands of police that brought us to this moment)?

My heart is heavy. I feel the pain. I’ve been a victim of police brutality on multiple occasions growing up in Brooklyn. I know the feeling of being helpless and brutally beaten by the people you thought were supposed to protect and serve you (the cops).

I thank God that I’m alive every day to tell my story. I like that the world is coming together in hopes to create change. I pray that people can learn to be more loving and that the generational curse of racism can be broken.

How do you feel the protests and BLM movement will impact your work going forward?

My jewelry is created to speak to our political and socioeconomic climate by honoring our Black ancestors that fought the fight we are still fighting and inspiring our leaders of today.

Johnny Nelson heads
Castings depicting the faces of iconic Black figures, including Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman, which have become signature for the designer
Johnny Nelson earring
A cast hoop earring

What kinds of things do you think the jewelry industry could do to become more inclusive, and appropriately recognize and celebrate BIPOC designers?

We need more grants and jewelry design programs in middle schools and high schools.

How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during quarantine?

I work out, practice yoga, and meditate every day. Actually, a fellow jeweler friend, Aziza Handcrafted, put on the Deepak Chopra 21 Days of Abundance meditation. That was dope. I suggest guided visualizations for anyone that may want to start meditation but feel it’s “too hard.”

Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Top: Jewelry designer Johnny Nelson (all photos by Gianni Lee, courtesy of Johnny Nelson)

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JCK Magazine Editor