Blogs: All That Glitters / Designers

How to Celebrate Unhada’s 20-Year Anniversary? A Tea Party!


Unhada is celebrating an important achievement this spring: 20 years in business. The New York–based jewelry brand’s latest collection, Tea Party, puts a festive visual on this milestone with fanciful jewels inspired by such images as mismatched antique china, pastel petit fours, and elegant women in beribboned dresses. The pieces hover somewhere between vintage and modern, suspended in a cloud of fairy dust.

Unhada Tea Party collection
Clockwise, from top left: Tea Party stud earrings in 18k gold and sterling silver with opal, pink sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds, $2,200; Marie Antoinette earrings in 18k gold with sapphires and diamonds, $7,750; Tea Party ring in 18k gold, sterling silver, and enamel with tanzanite and diamonds, $2,000

“I feel like my thing has always been fairy tales,” says Unhada founder Jocelyn Prestia. “I am almost like a fairy creature myself.”

The name Unhada is a derivative of the Spanish word for fairy: hada.

“When I was in Spain on my honeymoon, I was shopping in a store and the women kept calling me una hada, but the way that they said it sounded like one word—oon-a-duh—and so I just made it one word. In fairy tales, there are no rules, anything goes.”

Unhada’s story has its origins in Bangkok. Prestia moved there in 2003 for a fresh start and to study at the city’s GIA outpost. Her original plan was to open an antique jewelry store.

Unhada designer Jocelyn Prestia founded her jewelry company in 2004.

“I was really interested in colored stones, and I felt like if I wanted to open up an antique jewelry store, I needed to have the knowledge that others didn’t. And Bangkok was perfect for that,” she says.

Prestia had a flair for drawing and an academic background in literature and film. Before moving to Bangkok, she’d almost pursued a career in horticulture (after ditching an unfulfilling job in PR). but was inspired to change her path by her friends Elizabeth and Pamela Doyle, who had recently started their now well-established jewelry business, Doyle & Doyle. “I felt like jewelry was calling to me,” Prestia says.

It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to create jewelry instead of buying and selling it. So she scoured Bangkok in search of metalsmiths who understood her vision and the nuances of her aesthetic. And her jewelry, with its intricate components and compositions and twinkling, dancing gemstones set just so, is made by highly trained Thai artisans to this day.

Copy of Gig is the best girl in the world - 1
Early Unhada pieces: First Knight ring in 18k gold with sapphires and diamonds, $4,900 (left); Royal bangle in hand-carved 18k gold and enamel with sapphires and opal, $6,800

“I was just in my own head, trying to put this vision out into the world,” says Prestia, who has an academic background in literature and film and a natural flair for drawing.

Looking back on her two decades in business, she says, “I’ve grown and I’ve evolved. When I first started, I think I was more literal in trying to convey that fairy tale feeling. Now I think my pieces have a more soulful meaning, almost darker in some ways. But I still call upon a celestial Asian aesthetic most of the time.”

Valentine Star earrings in 18k gold and sterling silver with diamonds and faceted moonstones, $3,900
Sur La Lune necklace in 18k gold and sterling silver with freshwater baroque pearl, akoya pearls, and pavé diamonds, $4,000

Ultimately, says Prestia, “I am a storyteller, whether it’s working in a garden, in a room, on paper, or in jewelry. I keep moving forward and telling different stories.”

In the Q&A that follows, Prestia tells us more about her brand’s emergence, the appeal of its ethereal design, and 20 years of growth.

Do you remember the first store to carry you?

Layla, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The owner, Alayne Patrick, was a mentor to me and still carries my jewelry today. I think because I have that Asian hint in my work, it just fit naturally into her store. When we moved back to the States, I showed my work to Elizabeth and Pamela Doyle and to Candas Caswell at Fragments [the now-closed jewelry and accessories showroom]. They all said you need a cohesive collection, so I made one and it was well-received.

By which shops, specifically?

Melissa Geiser at Stanley Korshak in Dallas took me in immediately. My husband and I went into Blue Tree in Manhattan, and [owner] Phoebe Cates was there and I was wearing my jewelry. She instantly fell in love with my pieces. It was literally just from her seeing my work that we connected and our relationship began. We were in Ikram in Chicago. Roseark in California. It was a lot of either sending emails with images or physically going into stores to show them my work.  There weren’t that many people doing things differently back then in terms of design and standing out.

What do you think these retailers—and their clients—were responding to in your work?

I think around 2004, the independent jewelry designer market was not saturated in the way that it is now. Back then, if you were brave enough to have a unique aesthetic, it was pretty easy to stand out. And then you just had to find the retailers who were willing to carry it and had their own strong point of view, so that they were able to convince their customers that the jewelry was wearable, even though it was different.

I really like working with retailers who have a very individual point of view and know what they want to present and they’re confident about showing it and selling it to their clients.

It sounds like you met with some success right from the start, but you say your breakout moment came in 2015 when you won the Mort Albertson New Designer of the Year award at the JANY show. Let’s revisit that.

I had never shown anything at a trade show before. But I think as a storyteller, I’m very good at presenting. So I knew exactly how I wanted to present my brand. I launched the Dynasty collection at that show, and things took off. We added more accounts, and we got lots of trade press. I was fortunate to have had Cindy Edelstein in my corner. She was the wisest woman I’ve ever met. She was such a champion of my work, and she was so honest, that I felt like it really helped me to move forward and build momentum. Cindy was my fairy godmother.

Dynasty included long necklaces that really showcased the gemstones. And large statement earrings. Those pieces really told a story. People could see the wearability, but also see the magic. And I think that fairy tale/Asian aesthetic was a unique idea to some people. So I think all of those elements, combined, allowed a lot of people to respond to it.

Lady Chang earrings in 18k and sterling silver with moonstone and diamonds, $4,600
Acrobat earrings in 18k gold with lapis, fancy sapphires, diamonds, and amethysts, $5,600

In addition to Dynasty, what other pieces have become signatures for you?

Necklaces from my Fringe collection. There are a million ways to design them, and people really gravitate to them. Also, pieces I’ve done with agate, where the goldwork wraps or drapes over it. I used to do really big necklaces with dendritic agates, with beautiful patterns and scenes on them. Each one told a different story. The ones I used were from Kazakhstan, but they’re harder to find now.

From left by chain: Bali Dynasty necklace in 18k gold with fossilized Balinese Petoskey coral and moonstones, $4,150; Emperor necklace in 18k gold with labradorite and apatite, price on request; Dynasty Fringe necklace in 18k gold with dendritic agate, opal, diamonds, and color-change garnets, price on request; Fairystone necklace in 18k gold with black opal and purple sapphires, price on request; Dynasty necklace in 18k gold with labradorite, color-change garnets, and emerald, $3,795; Dynasty necklace in 18k gold with actinolite in quartz, color-change garnets, and fancy sapphire, price on request.

Do you have a heart stone, one you have returned to over and over throughout the years?

I love opals. They’re so magical. When you look at them, there are little galaxies, whole worlds, that exist within them.

Fairydusted ring in 18k gold with Mexican opal, $7,200

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about running a business?

Be organized. You have to build a pipeline. Because if you don’t build the pipeline well, when the faucet gets turned on and the pressure starts to increase, you can’t handle it, and the pipeline will fall apart. You have to have a system in place and stick to it. You need to set everything up, from your inventory system to your line sheets, and it all needs to be interconnected.

Tell us about what you’re doing with Turquoise Mountain, the humanitarian organization founded by King Charles that works to support Afghan artisans and uplift their communities?

In the late ’90s, I learned about the plight of women in Afghanistan. It really spoke to my heart. I was horrified, and I decided I wanted to help them. So I became very involved. I started to work with organizations, I held a fundraiser. I actually started a nonprofit very briefly, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees took interest in what I was doing, but it was just too much for me to take on at the time. So I vowed that I would get back into it. And since Turquoise Mountain works with training people in certain countries—Afghanistan being one of them—I decided for my 20-year anniversary, I’d like to work with the organization to create a jewelry capsule collection so that I can once again give back to the Afghan people.

What advice would you give designers starting out today?

You have to pay your dues. I have been paying my dues for 20 years, and I feel like I’m just starting to make headway. Some of that is on me, and my own mistakes, but I feel like you have to pay your dues. And you should be realistic. With that realism, know that just because a big store looks really shiny, it doesn’t mean it works well for a small business in its early years. I think what the really big stores expect from designers would be very hard for a small designer to achieve. It would risk their business in some ways, and I feel like new designers need to understand that.

Looking ahead, what are your goals for Unhada?

I just want to continue to make jewelry that brings magic to other people. But the other, more tangible thing that I would like to accomplish is to partner with more retailers. I love the retailers that I have now, and I’d love to add some new ones and start some new relationships, may even ones that last for 20 years.

Top: A dynamo from Dynasty, Unhada’s breakout collection from 2015—Magic Pagoda Earrings in 18k gold with rutile quartz, opals, blue sapphires, star sapphires, akoya pearls, and black diamonds, $6,300

Follow me on Instagram: @aelliott718

Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine
Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

Log Out

Are you sure you want to log out?

CancelLog out