After a study stint at l’ecole Van Cleef & Arpels last 2017, jewelry designer Nicole Whisenhunt figured that the next step was to set up shop.
Her jewelry store, at the new wing of Power Plant Mall, is a reflection of the designer’s aesthetic. A bookcase filled with books, objects and art collected from home and travels mimics Whisenhunt’s living space. “I want this space to feel like more than a store,” she says.
The store houses her collections, as well as a number of enviable estate pieces she’s recently taken a shine to, assembled from auctions and brokers.
How did you get into fine jewelry?
In my 20s, I had the idea of one day working with fine jewelry. It’s long lasting and more of an investment—plus they can be passed down. I found the challenge quite interesting. Often, the purpose of commissioned jewelry is important because it commemorates occasions or have more meaning. I thought it would be nice to be a part of something special.
What was the first piece of jewelry you received?
I think all little girls grew up with fine jewelry from their mothers—charm bracelets, scapulars, etc. So I can’t really remember exactly when I received my first piece of jewelry, but I do remember I received a special set that I know was chosen for me.
On my 16th birthday, my mom gifted me with a set of Rosettas (probably the most common set of girls’ jewelry to date), with a ring, earrings and pendant. I loved it. I would use it every day. She felt I was of age and responsible enough to take care of something precious. I still have that set today, but I’ve reworked it into a different style.
What was the first piece of jewelry you invested in?
In my mid-20s, as I was beginning to earn from my embroidered jewelry, I purchased a vintage ruby and diamond
creolla pair of earrings. It was a treat to myself, and because I wanted to mark a memory.
You’ve recently opened a shop in Power Plant. What was the concept behind the space?
I wanted to create a cozy space for my clients, where they could spend time with the jewelry in a place that would feel more like a living room than a retail space. Since jewelry is often a considerable decision, the space should allow our clients to take their time in comfort and privacy—that’s why I made sure we had a private room aside from the main room.
The overall look I was aiming for was an Old World feel with modern elements. The cool colors are inspired by California, a suggestion of Miguel Rosales, who assisted with the design, which perfectly suited me since I grew up in San Francisco.
Having limited space, we needed to be functional and well-planned. I wanted a lot of detail. We have a jewelry library, a mini bar for our guests, the main room—which showcases our in-house designs —the wedding annex, and our heirloom collection which encompasses vintage to antique, signed and unsigned pieces.
I’m hoping to eventually hold talks on jewelry in the space. There are many facets to jewelry collecting which are very, very interesting.
You’ve been investing in estate jewelry recently. What prompted this sudden interest?
I truly enjoy the hunt for estate pieces, and their history makes them even more exciting. My personal interest goes back to my mid-20s, but now that I have a shop, I finally have the chance to grow that category, since we can now properly display them in the showroom.
Why should anyone invest in estate jewelry?
You really need to appreciate, invest in it for the love. Estate pieces range between vintage of 25 years to antique of 100 years and up. They can also vary in price. Like in art, as women begin to grow their jewelry collection, they eventually want more challenging pieces.
I could see how a woman could become passionate about collecting estate jewels, since pieces may come from various design decades, makers, or rare materials and are difficult to find.
Is there a particular piece of jewelry you’re dying to own?
Yes, a Rene Lalique or Henri Vever piece. They are very rare and were produced during the Art Nouveau era. They’re extremely delicate and fragile, the artistry is beautiful.
Many people argue that instead of investing in bags, people should opt for jewelry instead. As someone who invests in both, would you agree?
I’m actually not that big on bags! I’m one of those people who buy my bags out of necessity. Bags have wear and tear to consider as well as a trend factor. Bag trends change seasonally, while jewelry is made of materials meant to stand the test of time. Jewelry can be an investment if selected well.
Your style is a mix of feminine and utilitarian, a lot of streamlined silhouettes, and a lot of flourishes. Is this also reflected in your design?
Yes, I like combining the old and the new, never being too much of any. I’m always drawn to Old World elements because of their detail and beauty, but I feel contrasting them with architectural details or something modern will give them a more current feel.
When shopping, what labels do you seek out?
I’m not very big on labels, but I’m all for the design. I buy what I like, but I’m also one of those people who I would like to think buys wisely. Quality and concept are very important to me.
What’s the last thing you purchased?
A fringe dress by Realistic Situation at the Comme Ci boutique
What’s your shopping philosophy?
I’m not so much of an emotional shopper. I’m also not one to hoard, I really think my purchases through, and I prefer to buy fewer things which I can use for a long time, rather than plenty of things which won’t last. I guess I’m more strategic.
What jewelry brands do you love—aside from your own?
I love Van Cleef. The pieces are very art-driven and they still produce jewelry using Old World techniques. For Cartier, I favor its Art Deco jewelry. For contemporary, I find Repossi brilliant. And I love the young, fresh feel of Delfina Deletrez.
Next step for your brand?
We are launching the shop on Aug. 8 to clients and friends with a small capsule collection to be featured on the day. Then I also would like to work more on our estates category and hopefully create an interesting selection. And in the near future, maybe even a collaboration with one of the local art galleries.