Nature is certainly the most important muse of human kind. Some are more articulate about it than others. In the heart of the one of the most urban environments on Earth, emerging designer, Ayaka Nishi creates fine jewelry inspired by the natural world right in her studio. I really loved some of her key pieces like the spine bracelet which almost looks like the remains of an animal, primal yet sophisticated cast in silver. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Ayaka one afternoon, to find out more about how she works…
Ayaka Nishi: I started making jewelry when I was 21 yrs old and I was not sure if I wanted to be a jewelry designer or not so I became a graphic designer and I worked for four or five years. But I was still making jewelry besides my graphic design.
Jennine Jacob: Like a hobby?
AN: Not as a hobby—I started to sell some pieces in Japan. I think it’s almost like a hobby. But I thought I really like making jewelry more than doing graphic so I decided to study more art world and I came to New York. But my first stay in New York was only half a year and I was going to study in Florence in Italy because there are many good jewelry schools. But then I really liked living in New York and I decided to stay longer and I decided to enter FIT. I took jewelry design course at FIT and because I graduated university in Japan I could transfer like a short term program at FIT to have degree so I studied there for one year and after that I did intern for Philip Crangi and then I worked for Subversive jewelry. I’m not sure if you know them?
JJ: I think so?
AN: Subversive Jewelry and Philip Crangi jewelry are good—they won the CFDA award 2 and 3 years ago
JJ: That’s so great you were in the right time at the right place.
AN: Right yea good timing. After I enter Subversive he just got the CFDA award so it was really exciting. It was an exciting experience to me because he won that big award
JJ: And you got to see what was really possible with jewelry design!
AN: I could learn a lot of things from them.
JJ: Can you tell me about your first memory about jewelry?
AN: Memory? Like when I entered college– university in Japan, my mother said she wants to give a present, jewelry, so one of her friends is a jewelry designer so she said I can design jewelry and her friend can make the jewelry for me. So it was the first experience to design. At that time I was 18 yrs old and I was so happy to design. It was the first experience and I enjoyed it a lot.
JJ: What did it look like?
AN: It was like a dollop shape. And actually I designed a lot because it was so exciting and after I got the jewelry with my design I was so impressed and I thought maybe if I can make jewelry by myself I can design a lot and it must be so interesting. So it was a lot of opportunity to study jewelry design
JJ: Were you immediately in love with it?
AN: Actually in art university I studied art history — like the philosophy of art so at the time I wasn’t sure what I want to do. I really liked art but I’m not sure if I want to do painting or sculpture so I was still figuring it out and I tried to do many kinds of stuff. But eventually I thought maybe I like jewelry making.
JJ: Were you also an art student– did you also paint or draw? And you also said graphic design but was there anything…
AN: Yea so I do paintings and graphics. When I was a college student in Japan I joined a movie club so we shoot movies and I liked composing the music. I love doing music too. But now I’m not doing music or movie shoots.
JJ: You’re creative in all kinds of ways!
AN: But now I focus on making jewelry.
JJ: Yes very, very focused! What inspired you to—a lot of your work is very kind of natural—bringing the natural world into fine materials like gold or silver. What inspired—and it’s actually quite literal in a sense, like using the actual bones and honeycombs and things like that. Is there a story behind that?
AN: My mother is a floral designer– so she is an artist. So when I was a child I have a lot of chances to see flowers and nature. And my home town– it’s Kagoshima– my hometown and it’s small part of Japan and it’s full of nature so I think that environment influenced me. And I think a reason why I’m interested in anatomic design is my father is a surgeon and… actually my grandfather too. So when I was a child I think I used to see his medical book and I was interested in bones or anatomic image.
JJ: My mother had this– she’s a nurse– she had this big book and it was all just the bones and they had to color the bones to learn the different ones and color coordinate. And when I was a kid I would just take a page and go “I’m coloring them in too!” I was just fascinated with those books.
AN: Yea it’s really interesting for children. I think I got some inspiration from that kind of background.