As the new year begins, Nicole Whisenhunt’s fine jewelry creations sparkle with celebration for both the past and present
Walking through the new wing of Rockwell and stepping into Nicole Whisenhunt’s showroom, you’re welcomed by glittering displays of jewelry that span styles, time, and places.
Under glass cases are vintage Cartier watches from Europe with diamond-encrusted bracelets. Another display sparkles with gemstones of cocktail rings, harkening from the prohibition age.
When prompted for a certain piece, Nicole Whisenhunt stops for just a second to think, then responds confidently with, “I know exactly what to show you.” Moving through the showroom in an effortless sweep, she selects a curated few pieces and presents them on a velvet tray.
The jeweler’s interaction with her collection goes beyond mere selection and design-based curation. Instead, she creates a dialogue with each piece, showing her profound understanding of fine jewelry, weaving a narrative in each gem with a touch of elegance and a sense of mastery.
Early Steps in Jewelry Making
Even in middle school, Whisenhunt found herself enamored by the world of jewelry. It began with gifts from her mother of jewels for special occasions. One of these was a flower-shaped diamond necklace for her 16th birthday. Whisenhunt reminisces,
“I used to lay my jewelry out on the bed at night and just look at them. That joy from jewelry and interest were always there.”
This fascination with jewelry only grew as she stepped into her 20s, venturing into the art of jewelry making.
Her first forays into the world of jewelry making were through fashion and costume jewelry. She fondly remembers participating in Rockwell bazaars, where she sold handmade beaded necklaces and simple wired pieces. She soon transitioned into crafting delicate, embroidered pieces. Eventually, she began to experiment with bridge jewelry—high-quality pieces made with more affordable materials like semi-precious stones or gold-plated silver.
It was only when she reached her late 20s that she decided to take the leap and venture into making fine jewelry pieces. She reflects,
“I realized that the older you get, you want to buy pieces that have longevity, value… Something that will last you a lifetime.”
After a successful first batch of just four pieces, and aided by the support of a loyal client base, Whisenhunt unveiled a much larger collection of fine jewelry at the Manila Peninsula.
“The rest was history,” she says, “It’s been about 12 years since then, and it was the best choice I ever made.”
A Style that Spans the Ages
Besides mastery of jewelry’s shapes, angles, and the functions of materials, Whisenhunt displays a deep understanding of jewelry history. Her education with Christie’s and the École Van Cleef & Arpels in Paris further enriched this appreciation for cultural heritage. There was a time when she was deep into the Art Deco era, with geometric shapes and vibrant gemstones in magenta and emerald hues. In other years, she has even taken inspiration from medieval architecture. Her current works include chunkier, yet chic, more sculptured designs, with a preference for gold and diamonds.
She gushes as she says,
“I feel like fine jewelry is something I can grow with… There’s so much potential. It’s also more exciting. There are so many angles to appreciate it.”
“We could talk about jewelry history. Or how there’s meaning when people give jewelry. Maybe mid-century people were giving amulets, or even earlier… In so many different cultures, they have their own reasons why people give jewelry.”
At the heart of Whisenhunt’s showroom, custom designs range in a spectrum of styles. From grand formal pieces to engagement rings and wedding bands, each creation resonates with a story. The collection extends to intricate brooches, elegantly draped necklaces, and deeply personal pendants, often engraved with monograms or messages.
Whisenhunt emphasizes the importance of understanding client needs and purposes to fabricate truly unique, meaningful creations. From getting to know the client, to sketching, until production, Whisenhunt says on the process,
“When it comes to designing for clients, I feel like it’s a collaboration in the sense that I need to understand what they need, where they’re going, [and] what’s the purpose of this piece… These are our more special pieces.”
Besides custom designs, Whisenhunt’s advocacy for sustainability shows in her practice of reworking vintage pieces and client-owned jewelry. She acquires vintage pieces chosen by her eye from travels around the world and restores them into new, vibrant designs. She has restored jewels such as a glittering Tiffany & Co. By Elsa Peretti cuff and a striking Bucherer cocktail ring originally from Lucerne. She shows one project where she breathes life into a client-owned engagement ring with a Marquee-cut diamond.
View this post on Instagram
As the conversation winds down, Nicole Whisenhunt’s eyes light up as she tells us of her future plans. Fresh off the heels of her October 2023 show tailored for the Christmas season, her creative gears are already working towards new projects.
The year ahead is brimming with plans: The first quarter of 2024 promises another elegant showcase, featuring estate pieces handpicked by Whisenhunt during her travels. Later in the year, she plans to unveil a new Whisenhunt collection of casual yet exquisitely designed day-to-day wearables, to add a touch of luxury to everyday routine.
From the third generation of Whisenhunts in the Philippines, Nicole Whisenhunt herself weaves a rich tapestry of heritage into her work. Her lineage—a blend of Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino blood, with an American grandfather and a German surname—mirrors the diverse influences in her designs. This heritage, intertwined with the entrepreneurial spirit of her family’s Diamond Motors legacy, shapes her path as a creative entrepreneur in the jewelry industry.
Although the jewelry industry is not as glitzy as the pieces it revolves around, it encompasses challenging aspects like marketing, inventory, and finance.
Yet, in her reserved, soft-spoken demeanor, there is an evident reservoir of passion in the jeweler. As she moves through the glittering world of jewels with a sense of grace and old-world elegance, Nicole Whisenhunt is as timeless as the pieces she crafts.
Discover Whisenhunt’s creations at the Whisenhunt Fine Jewelry Boutique, located at the R2 Level, Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Center, Makati City.
Photos by JT Fernandez.
Creative Direction by Julia Elaine Lim, assisted by Colleen Cosme.