New York-based jewelry designer Nina Runsdorf has been passionate about jewelry from an early age – she designed her first collection when she was only 12. After an early career in fashion, Runsdorf launched her eponymous jewelry line in 2005. Runsdorf’s debut piece – the ‘Flip’ ring – is synonymous with her brand. The American designer is also well-known for her innovative use of slice diamonds – laser-cut pieces of diamonds.
To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of her label, Runsdorf has launched a special ‘Tree of Life’ collection. In an interview with Savoir Flair, Nina Runsdorf discusses her new collection, her favorite pieces of jewelry, and the one piece of jewelry she believes every woman should invest in.
What inspired you to get into the jewelry business? Can you describe the moment when you realized that you were ready to start your own brand? Do you recall any particular moment, or was it always a part of the plan?
I actually remember the moment it happened – I had just designed the ‘Flip’ ring. I was working for my father-in-law at the time; learning about the diamond business. A woman I knew was representing some other designers and was due to visit Stanley Korshak in Dallas, Texas.
She asked to take a few of my rings to show the buyer. As she was showing the rings to the buyer, a woman was standing at the counter buying another piece of jewelry. She started selling my ‘Flip’ rings. That was when I decided it was time to start my own company. It was 2005.
Can you please walk us through the core concept of your brand?
The core concept of my brand is ‘Never too precious to wear.’ You have to enjoy your jewelry. Whether you wear it with jeans and a t-shirt or a ball gown, you should feel comfortable with your jewelry anywhere, at any time.
It is a reflection of the modern lifestyle of a woman who can go to the office, work all day, change her shoes, and then go out to dinner, while the jewelry remains the same.
What would you say is your biggest source of inspiration when it comes to designing?
My biggest inspiration is always the stones. I usually know what the trends are for color, in art, in fashion, and what’s going on around the world. I have this innate feeling of what’s coming next and also what I want to wear. So that’s how I design.
What was the inspiration behind the ‘Flip’ Ring?
I love rose-cut diamonds. I always feel like they flicker like candlelight. They feel a little more old-school and I love things that move. And so, I thought it would be really interesting to take a rose-cut diamond and make it into a ring that flips back and forth, catches the light, and becomes a conversation piece.
Does your design process revolve around the gemstones?
We are a stone-driven company. So, the stones speak for themselves. I then envision what I want them to look like once I see the stones.
My design process is closely related to how I live my life – I’m a big art collector, I love traveling and discovering new cultures, and I strongly believe clothing is the canvas for your accessories. So, when the stones come in, it breathes a collective life into these separate inspirations.
Could you kindly walk us through your new ‘Tree of Life collection? What inspired it, and does it hold any special significance?
The ‘Tree of Life’ collection embodies the journey of my brand over the past 15 years, so it’s incredibly special.
When the pandemic hit, I was already working on ‘Tree of Life.’ Then over the summer, I looked at the collection and it felt like it was going back to my roots, going back to my childhood. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York. I was always around nature. I have a great love for brown diamonds, diamond beads, rose-cut diamonds, and rose gold.
The core of the collection is these amazing Tree Opals, which are these incredible browns and greens and blues, and extraordinary Yawah opals, which I love, too. So, this beautiful collection became organically the one to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the brand. We also came up with a new ‘Flip’ Ring, which I’d had made 13 or 14 years ago, bringing that back as our special 15th anniversary of the ring.
Do you have a favorite piece out of all of your designs and if so, which one is it?
I would say my diamond ‘Flip’ ring, which was my original design. I wear it every day and it is probably my favorite piece that I’ve ever made.
Although it’s a tie with my very, very large slice diamond earrings, because I feel like slice diamonds, in the years that we started, was something that no one had ever seen. I have a pair that looks like the African continent that is so incredibly beautiful, so I oscillate between the flip ring and a large pair of sliced diamond earrings in gray.
What is the one piece of jewelry that you never take off?
I would say my ‘Flip’ ring; I wear it all the time. I mean I take off all my jewelry when I sleep, but I wear my ring all the time. I’ve been wearing it for over 15 years.
What, according to you, is the one piece of jewelry that every woman should invest in?
A great pinky ring!
And what is the most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing fine jewelry?
The most important thing is how it makes you feel.
Jewelry is undeniably an intimate, timeless, and very precious gift. Which piece of jewelry, according to you, makes the best gift?
I think it depends on who the client is and what they’re looking for. However, my new collection [‘All that Is’] is I think a great gift because you can wear it all the time. It’s yellow gold and diamonds, and the properties of gold are also very calming and very important. I’d say it’s the one for right now.
What does sustainability mean in the business of jewelry?
We’re working diligently to try to make our business more sustainable because as we know in the world, sustainability is so important. One of the things that we find can be a sustainable process is to take some of the older jewelry that people have and remake it. So, we’re reusing the gold and reusing the diamonds. It’s a process, but it’s incredibly important.
The pandemic has given birth to a consumer demand shift. Have you observed any difference in demand for jewelry?
I think that that a few things have happened with the pandemic. One is it has become even more personal than it was before. A few years ago, I left the big department stores and opened my own atelier on the Upper East side. Nowadays, I only work with a few places, where I know the owners of the stores, the salespeople, and their clients. I think that being client-facing has become even more important, even though they’re buying on Zoom or buying after seeing our pieces on Instagram. Often it’s because they are repeat customers, or they know the brand and they trust it, and they know me.