Before debuting her fine jewelry brand, Unhada, in 2006, Jocelyn Prestia wrote “fluff” for a PR firm and wrangled rock-and-rollers as a music exec in New York City. She nurtured spectacular plants as an intern at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and traveled all the way to Thailand to learn about colored gemstones.
But the 41-year-old, who comes from a family of artists, says with a small laugh, “I just want a simple life at this point.” It’s her brand, which is stocked at influential retailers, including Ikram in Chicago and Talisman Collection in El Dorado Hills, Calif., and her family (she’s a mom) that provide Prestia her thrills these days.
Unhada melds Prestia’s love of Asian- and Eastern-inspired design with vibrantly colored, often irreverently mixed, gemstones. The styles, which play with chain and unique settings, are on trend but never trendy; you can easily envision them being worn by both older and younger women.
We asked the jewelry designer to catch us up on how Unhada initially came to be.
Tell me about what you did before you got into jewelry.
To be fully blunt, I was living in New York with my husband and we got married and I was literally in the middle of a nervous breakdown—my parents had this awful, messy divorce.
At the time I thought I would go into horticulture; I was interning at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I was in the music business before that…I was like a schmoozer back then, I guess!
I interned at Arista records for a long time. I worked in A&R with someone who worked under Clive Davis, and I would go and see bands. Then I worked for Maverick records and later a small indie label, where I would promote the worst music I’ve ever heard to radio stations.
I later worked at Deep Elm records, and I was dating the owner. He introduced me further to the world of indie music. I had a zine for many years called Monsters in My Bed. It was literally like a small magazine where I would write an article on circus performers and the origins of Christmas. I would interview [bands including] Death Cab For Cutie and Jimmy Eat World.
How did you eventually come to jewelry design?
Around that time, I was shopping for a wedding ring at [New York vintage and estate store] Doyle & Doyle, because I love old jewelry. They were so inspiring to me in that store; they had so much knowledge. I decided to start collecting antique jewelry and open a store. I decided I would go to gemology school.
I had always wanted to be an expat, so I ended up going to Bangkok GIA. My husband convinced me to do it. It was the colored gem capital of the world and I felt a lot of pieces I loved had colored stones. We moved and I enrolled in GIA and it felt crazy.
How was the GIA experience?
In Thailand, I met these gemologists—it wasn’t like they were jewelry designers, their whole life was gems. It was amazing to see what they did and to know them. I started going into this world while I was studying gemology. The gems themselves inspired me so much. Being a writer I’d always been obsessed with fairy tales. I immediately had a vision in my head of what I wanted to portray with my jewelry, and it was really different from things I had seen.
In Thailand, it’s very conservative in a way. You have all these people who are from third-generation emerald families and things. They make jewelry but it all looks the same.
It ended up not really working out. My teacher wouldn’t teach me; she said my designs were unmanufacturable. The director of the school saw something in me, and they gave me all these free classes that I never took. I made it halfway through, then I walked away. That was the end of my formal training. But then I started to make jewelry and people wanted to buy it.
What was your first sale?
I came back to New York and showed my stuff to a woman who ran the retail floor at Fragments. I showed her what I was doing and she told me what to do. And I showed Elizabeth Doyle at Doyle & Doyle what I was doing, and she told me what to do. In a very short amount of time, I made a collection.
Why do you think retailers responded to it so well right away?
It looked really different from everything else at the time, I think. I formed mini collections inspired by different things—one was my time in Asia, and another was called Wings and was all carved wings with settings.
My process is a little different—I literally think up stories and design collections based on those stories. I try to stay true to those stories, sometimes to a fault.
How did you eventually turn it into a business?
[Laughs] I’m the worst business person ever. I’ve never really been in it for the money. I’m in for the art and the love of what I do. I got swept away with it, and I still do.