Entity interviews artisan jewelry designer, Nan Fusco.

Nan Fusco’s jewelry line is handcrafted with mystery, a rebellious attitude and historical significance. From her “perfectly mismatched earrings” to the ancient coral and baroque pearl necklaces, Fusco’s artistry defies the homogenized styles you see in department stores.

Although making the leap from graphic to jewelry design was risky, Fusco has spent the past years dedicated to her passion while developing her craft and solidifying her style within the industry. For her, it’s about creating jewelry that is infused with personality, movement and stories.

As a jewelry “composer,” Nan Fusco bases the success of her business on the importance of individuality. “You want jewelry as unique as you are,” she says. “You’re one of a kind, so why wouldn’t you want a piece that reflects your distinct individuality?”

ENTITY sat down with Nan Fusco to learn about her unique collection, her motivations and her advice for aspiring jewelry designers.

ENTITY: Why don’t you sell in department stores?

NAN FUSCO: That venue really isn’t my customer. I’m not sitting here mass-producing pieces that can go in 20 Neiman stores. The pieces are intricate and most are one-of-a-kind. That business model doesn’t work for department stores.

For many other jewelry collections, you can just lay them out and what you see is what you get. You get a small pendant on a chain and say, ‘Oh that’s pretty. I think I like that.’ That’s the end of it. With my pieces, the components and the convertibility make them uniquely mine.

Also, the boutiques I’m in are very discriminatory. They want something a little avant-garde, edgy and different but still very wearable and feminine. That’s my niche. That’s my customer.

ENTITY: Your necklaces, like “The Hook,” can be worn multiple ways. Why did you design these pieces this way?

NF: It takes jewelry to another level and allows you to get creative with your own pieces. The fact that you can literally make a hundred pieces out of one piece is so fabulous, as opposed to static bib necklaces that literally look like dinner plates on your chest. Why wouldn’t you want that versatility? Depending on your mood, outfit or neckline, it gives you so many possibilities. I call it, ‘jewelry with options.’

Why wouldn’t you want that versatility? Depending on your mood, outfit or neckline, it gives you so many possibilities. I call it, ‘Jewelry with options.’

One day I was playing with a scarf and said, ‘Wow, look at all the different the ways you can wear this; you can double wrap it, hang it in half, loop it, tie it or throw it behind you. I thought, why shouldn’t your  jewelry be just as versatile? With that concept, my brain went into overdrive and I started utilizing pieces with loops, hooks, pulleys and ties for ultimate convertibility. It allows you to be creative and have fun with your own jewelry.

Hinged diamond marquis that can be opened to convert into choker, lariat, long necklace, layered short necklace.

Hinged diamond marquis that can be opened to convert into choker, lariat, long necklace or layered short necklace.

ENTITY: Many of your designs feature lots of blue and green, very cool tones. Are these the only colors you use?

NF: Typically it will change. I incorporate the trends in fashion with pieces I make. For summer, I’m always drawn to things that have an ocean feel to it – the blues, the crystal-like greens. And in the fall, I’ll do neutral grays or deeper-hued gem tones, such as deep purples, rubies and emeralds because that’s what the season dictates. Personally, though, I think colors are timeless. I think that in the wintertime, why not wear a stunning black dress with a pop of turquoise? Anything goes nowadays and color can transition through any season. A neutral outfit presents the perfect backdrop to my pieces with extraordinary, unexpected color. It can literally transform an ensemble.

ENTITY: Some of the materials you use include Japanese Akoya, Kasumi and Tahitian pearls, Siberian tundra fossilized ivory and antler rosettes. Obviously, these are all very exotic materials. Why did you decide to use these and how do you acquire them?

NF: First of all, let me say that the juxtaposition of finding something so old and making it look so ‘au courant’ is just so thrilling to me. The mammoth ivory, for instance, has been buried for at least 10,000 years. The walrus ivory has been buried at least 500 years and during the short summer thaw when these gems are unearthed, it actually helps support the Yukipa Eskimo’s economy in Alaska. Worth mentioning, too, is that all the materials I use are completely legal and unrestricted. No animals have ever been harmed to resource these materials.

Some of these things, however, I just sort of stumble upon. At the Tucson gem show, I found a Switzerland vendor who made beads out of the paving stones that were in front of Albert Einstein’s home in Bern, Switzerland, where he lived over 100 years ago. Through the direct and continuous contact he had with these stones, I believe these pieces, across time and space, build a bridge between the spirit of this greatest genius and the person wearing them.

Several of my pieces feature staurolites, or fairy crosses. This mineral occurs naturally as a twinned cross and can be found in Santa Fe, Georgia and Russia. But I’ve never seen anyone combine it with diamonds and fringe the way I do.

Lavender shaded elk antler, fringe, rose cut diamonds and Santa Fe staurolite.

Lavender shaded elk antler, fringe, rose cut diamonds and Santa Fe staurolite.

And although it looks like a beautiful piece of jewelry, it’s intensely more interesting because of the history behind it. There are two stories connected to this mystical component. The ancient legend dictates that when the fairies heard of the crucifixion, they cried and when their tears fell to the earth, they formed perfect crosses. In more modern times, the staurolite was considered a protective power stone and there are four presidents that we know of, including Roosevelt and Wilson, who carried the minerals in their pockets.

When you put the two aspects of history and jewelry together, it’s no longer just a necklace. It tells a story that you can carry with you and that is what sets my pieces apart from the others.

ENTITY: Have you ever wanted to give up?

NF: When I first started making jewelry, I decided to host a party. I sent out about 75 invitations and got 50 replies. I was so excited to ‘debut’. But it rained that day and when it rains in California you may as well have a 10-foot blizzard. Two people came and they didn’t even buy anything.

After they left, I literally sat down and cried and felt so defeated. I had worked so hard, thinking, ‘This was it. This was going to be the start of something huge.’  I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to disappoint my kids or husband. But I got the opposite reaction. My kids said, ‘Mom we’re so proud of you.’  And my husband said to me, ‘What are you going to do, give up? If you give up the dream is over.’

Those words were immensely powerful. They resonated with me and propelled me to keep going. After I got over my little pity party, I pushed on and kept going, trying, creating. You can’t give up. You just can’t. If you believe in what you’re doing, you’re passionate about it and you know you have something worthy and different, you just can’t give up. 

You can’t give up. You just can’t. If you believe in what you’re doing, you’re passionate about it and you know you have something worthy and different, you just can’t give up.

ENTITY: When you feel uninspired, what do you do?

NF: I patiently wait for it to pass. Honestly, it doesn’t happen that often. And when it does, I just take a break. I go to the ocean, go to dinner, go to Fashion Island – just somewhere to get away. I look at windows, stores and things where I see different colors and textures. I try not to get too hung up on it. If it does happen I know it will pass. I literally have a million ideas in my head and not enough time. I think that just comes from the passion of making the pieces.

1
Woolly mammoth ivory, pinned green tourmaline, moose antler bangle with inlaid champagne and white diamonds.
2
Fossilized dinosaur bone, 100 million years in the making.
3
Hundred million year old fossilized palm wood with woolly mammoth ivory and diamonds.

ENTITY: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

NF: The accolades for not only the jewelry, but for me as a person. And I don’t say this to brag or be obnoxious. I’m just saying that it is so gratifying to hear from boutiques and customers that I’m the kind of person they enjoy dealing with. As I’ve gone through this journey, I’ve met so many incredible people and made new and long-lasting friendships. It’s hard to put into words. It’s just really heartwarming to know people have respect not just for the product, but also for me as a person.

ENTITY: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a jewelry designer or start their own business?

NF: In a sea of mediocrity – and I say that with conviction – you really need to find something within that sets you apart from everyone else. You can’t just look at someone else’s things and think, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ You have to find your own style that sets you apart from everyone else. And if you have a great idea, are inspired and you know what you have is good, just do it.

In a sea of mediocrity – and I say that with conviction – you really need to find something within that sets you apart from everyone else.

If you’re going to copy or look like someone else, don’t bother. There is so much competition that it’s just not going to work. You need something completely different and unique. The comment I hear most often is, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” That’s the ticket. And don’t give up. It takes years to be an overnight success.

Also, going back to my advice to women … the thing that still blows me away is that after being in the advertising/graphic design world for more than 35 years, I took a huge leap of faith and switched careers. That’s nuts. But really, it doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are in your career. If there’s something you really believe you’re meant to do and have the passion – no matter when it happens in your life – just do it. 

Because I love it so much, I’ll be 90 with my needle nose pliers frozen in my arthritic hands, but I’ll keep going.

Edited by Ellena Kilgallon

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