What you’ll learn in this episode:
- How Nicolas made the jump from the corporate world to jewelry
- Why there is unlimited potential for the art jewelry market
- How Nicolas finds the artists he showcases in his series of jewelry books
- Why art jewelers should focus on finding customers who love beauty, and not just customers with expendable income
About Nicolas Estrada
Nicolas Estrada (Medellín, 1972) discovered his artistic pathway in Barcelona, a city that he had come to for entirely different reasons. Until that point, he had been an inhabitant of the business world, where he was involved in marketing. His destiny, however, was to follow another path: creating one-off jewelry artworks that were meaningful, unique and infused with stories that speak to the senses.
At Barcelona’s Llotja and Massana schools, he came into contact with the jewelry world for the first time, where he discovered that his efforts opened up infinite possibilities for expression to him. He has studied widely, learning the techniques of gemology, setting and engraving. Nicolas has given lectures and workshops at universities and art centers in England, Germany and the United States. In 2019, he was invited to represent his homeland, Colombia, at World Art Tokyo in Japan, where he also had the opportunity to give a lecture and lead a workshop at the Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo, Japan’s most highly regarded jewelry school.
Nicolas is the author of the five books in the series on jewelry that has been published by Promopress in several languages and distributed worldwide.
Nicolas lives in Barcelona, the city that allowed him to be who he wanted to be and to do what he wanted to do. He has his own studio, where he shares his craft and experiences with other jewelers who also live in or are passing through this wonderful cosmopolitan city.
· Linktr.ee: https://linktr.ee/NEJ
· Instagram: @nicolasestradajeweler
· Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicolasestradajeweler
· Video about his books: https://youtu.be/Ph8aoK8Vg4I
· Video about his studio & work: https://youtu.be/SxwJYAPZfJQ
Earrings 1: hand-carved rock crystal, gold
Earrings 2: trapiche emeralds, diamonds, silver
Brooch: agates with intaglio, silver, steel
Ring 1: rock crystal with intaglio, silver, pearls
Ring 2: wood, copper, silver, paint
Although Nicolas Estrada entered the jewelry field later in life, he has as much enthusiasm for the industry as any newcomer. Coming from a background in the business world, he brings a wealth of creativity and keen insight to his work as a maker, researcher, and author. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about why he thinks art jewelry will explode if makers tap into the right market, how he compiled his series of jewelry books, and why he finds more meaning in art jewelry than traditional jewelry. Read the episode transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, speaking with us from Barcelona is my guest, Nicolas Estrada. Nicolas is a maker, entrepreneur and creator of five books featuring art jewelers from around the world. Each book focuses on a different type of jewelry such as necklaces or bracelets, and I’m sure many of you have his books on your shelves. We’ll hear more about his jewelry journey today. Nicolas, welcome to the program.
Nicolas: Thank you very much for inviting me, Sharon. I am very happy to talk to you today.
Sharon: It’s great to talk with you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Were you creative as a child?
Nicolas: My journey in jewelry started in 2000 exactly, I think around the same month. I was a very creative child. My parents and my sister thought I was going to study design. In Colombia at that time, if you were very creative, you could go to architecture school maybe, but I went into engineering because I wanted to be like my father. So, I went to electrical engineering, but I crashed against a wall in the first semester.
Then I went into business administration. The situation at that time in Colombia was extremely dangerous. All the things you see in the Narcos series, this was my city; this is how I grew up. I think my father was very worried that I was living in the city at that time, so without saying anything, he sent me to Boston to study business. So, the creativity went into a parenthesis for a while. I was always making gifts for my girlfriends, for my friends, but I was going to be an executive. When I came to Barcelona, it exploded. I became a jeweler with many, many things happening in between. If you want, I can tell them, but this is a long story. I don’t know if you want me to share it with you.
Sharon: I’m curious why Barcelona. How did you go from Boston at Babson College, I think I read, to Barcelona? How did you make that leap? What was the catalyst?
Nicolas: In Boston, I had a great time in the university. Babson was a great school. They’re international, so I had many friends during the first time in my life by myself. But the winter was so hard, and it was the first time in my life when night arrived at 4:00 and the day started at 9:00. So, at the end of Boston, I went back to Medellín. I worked in a bank for six months. Then I went into a multinational company knitting garments for one or two years, then I went into another consumer goods multinational for another two years and I burned out completely. This corporate world was very hard for me. I was very successful, but the only thing I was getting from this corporate world was money, nothing else. I decided to quit. I started to apply for an MBA at all these Ivy League schools, but I didn’t get the GMAT score I needed. So, I was thinking, “O.K., what am I going to do?”
My sister was living in Barcelona. I had never been to Spain before, so I decided to go visit her, maybe take the summer for myself, think about life a little bit and decide what to do. I came to Barcelona, and in September I went to a jewelry school because there was professor who was a friend of a boyfriend that my sister was dating at the time. I started to do some jewelry because I wanted to express myself, take a break from the corporate world. It was the first time I had time for myself in five years, because I was always going from one work to another without any holidays in between. I remember in that school, I went to an exhibition and saw work from McClure in Canada and another artist here in Barcelona; it was a museum. I said to myself, “This is the kind of work I want to do for the rest of my life.” I saw that most of the people who were exhibiting in that museum were from the Massana School, former students or professors. I went to talk to Ramón at Massana and he said, “Yeah, transfer and I will receive you here,” and I got into Massana.
Sharon: When you say Ramon–
Nicolas: He was my sister’s friend. I went to talk to Ramón. He was so friendly, and he said, “Well, yeah, transfer and you will get into Massana. I will make sure you get into it this year.” So, I transferred, he accepted me and I started at Massana. My father was freaked out because, imagine, he had paid so much money for education. I was so successful in Colombia. I was doing extremely well in the corporate world. I was starting to change a little bit, so he was like, “O.K., why don’t do jewelry as a hobby and maybe you’ll come back to the corporate world.” I said, “Dad, give me a little time and let me decide.”
I think putting all these oceans between Colombia and my life was also very helpful, because in Medellín you don’t do what you want; you do what people want you to do. If you are a man, you are supposed to play a certain role in society: not artistic, not cooking, nothing like that, no creativity. You just go into business, or you become a doctor or something like that. Here in Barcelona, nobody knew who I was; nobody cared about me. I’ve said many times that in Barcelona, it was the first time in my life that I had time for myself and the opportunity to be exactly what I wanted to be. This was also very difficult because I had this background and the commitment with my father. I needed to retribute all the effort he made for paying for my university. When I graduated from Massana, I won a prize. I went to Marseilles as a representative from Massana and I won a prize and went to Germany—
Sharon: You’re talking about Galerie Marseilles?
Nicolas: Exactly. At Massana School, I won the prize for one of the best graduation works. The best works went to Galerie Marseille. I won a prize in Marseille at Galerie Marseille, all the ones who won the prize went to Germany. I won the first prize in Germany. There was a woman here called Pilar Garrigosa. She was a woman—I don’t know how you say the word in English, but the woman who supports artists a lot.
Sharon: A sponsor, sort of?
Nicolas: Yeah, a sponsor, exactly. She’s also a jeweler, but she was always sponsoring people she liked. She liked my work, so she invited me to exhibit in her house. My parents were here during that time of the year, and when they saw this exhibition, they realized this is what I was going to do. People were amazed; I was very happy. I saw a lot of work. It was fantastic. So, my father relaxed, and I continued with jewelry. I was with jewelry for a while. This was, what, 2000, 2003, 2004? And it was fantastic.
I was working for a very important jeweler here, not artistic at all, very commercial. I was doing a lot of his pieces and I was earning my livelihood. I liked the craft; I liked working with my hands. I was learning technique, because in jewelry most of the good technicians, they start at 14 in the studio, or at 12 or 16. I started very old in the craft. I took advantage of all this time to go to technical schools, to learn from masters, but most was commercial jewelry.
Sharon: When you say commercial jewelry, were you working in what we think of as traditional jewelry, as opposed to art jewelry, where you’re working with gemstones?
Nicolas: Exactly, yeah. Traditional is a more appropriate word. I needed to earn my livelihood; I needed to pay the mortgage. I needed to bring some money into the house. Artistic jewelry is fantastic for the soul, but very bad for the pocket. I was doing some artistic jewelry, but I was mostly making my life working for this known jeweler here in Barcelona.
Sharon: Who was the sponsor you named? I don’t know the name.
Nicolas: Her name is Pilar Garrigosa. She’s a very important woman here. She’s from the family of one of the most important mayors of the city. She had a jewelry gallery a long time ago, and she’s a fantastic woman. She also opened the door for me to the jewelry institutions, to many people. I went with her to Munich for the first time. She’s still a very good friend of mine, and she was my collector in the beginning. She was buying a lot of pieces from me. She’s a woman I am very grateful for.
Sharon: What attracted you to art jewelry as opposed to, say, traditional jewelry? What was it that you liked?
Nicolas: Traditional jewelry gave me the technique, but I think traditional jewelry sometimes is a little boring because it doesn’t speak to the person; it’s just gold and gemstones. It’s fantastic to know how to do these, but I think the jewelry that speaks, that tells a story, this is the artistic jewelry. This is the jewelry I like to do now. I also try to do some traditional jewelry that has a more artistic look. I am not a professor; I earn my living from jewelry and artistic jewelry. The public is very narrow, so it’s difficult to approach a lot of people with artistic jewelry. I like to make more commercial pieces, more traditional jewelry to appeal to a broader audience.
Sharon: There is a real market for art jewelry, but it’s a lot narrower than regular jewelry. Do you see any changes in that marketplace? Do you see it growing? Do you see it declining? You travel all over the world and talk to art jewelers. Do you see any changes or hot spots, let’s say?
Nicolas: The thing is that, apart from us, nobody knows what art jewelry is, so the potential for growth is 1000% if we manage to arrive to people. People don’t know who we are; they don’t even know that this exists. When they see a ring from Niessing, they are overwhelmed, and this ring is from the 40s, 50s. People still believe that jewelry from the 60s is extremely creative. We are not doing a good job at all in showing to the world what we do. The image that people have of jewelry is from Cartier, Bulgari, a diamond from De Beers, the engagement ring they buy in the most traditional store. There’s all the potential in the world because people don’t know what we do. They have no idea there is another kind of jewelry.
Sharon: Every art jeweler has to be a businessperson and market their own things, but you have such a strong business and entrepreneurial background. Do you think that gives you an edge or makes you see things differently in how you sell your stuff or make art jewelry more known? Does this give you more edge?
Nicolas: The marketing is very good when you are using somebody else’s budget.
Sharon: Somebody else’s money?
Nicolas: Budget, the money from somebody else. If you are a corporation and you get $1 million to invest in advertisement, you do it all perfectly, but when you have to sell yourself, this is extremely difficult. Also, I think nothing prepares you in life for rejection when people say, “This is too ugly,” or you have things in red, blue or white, but they want it in yellow, the color that you don’t have. You have variety, but people want exactly what you don’t have. For me, no matter how well you are trained, rejection and negativity and these things are very difficult to take. The business world prepares you maybe to manage money, to invest, to be organized, but it doesn’t prepare you for the artistic world, because the artistic world is extremely difficult. As you said before, it’s not that we are not only the owners of our business. We have to be the photographer; we have to write; we have to deal with social media; we have to teach and we have to speak, so we are all in one. We need to be very well prepared.
Sharon: That’s so true. Nothing prepares you for the rejection when it’s your own work. Maybe somebody has been out in the world as a salesperson, but they’re not selling their own things. It’s so personal when somebody says, “It’s too expensive,” or “Do you have it in yellow?” How was it that you started compiling books? Why don’t you tell everybody about them?
Nicolas: Since I started in the artistic world, I tried to be receptive to all the doors that open in life. You have to be very careful of what you ask for, because usually what you ask for is going to arrive. I try to be prepared every time a door opens. Usually for me, it’s very difficult to say no to things.
When I mentioned to you before that I got this prize here in Barcelona, there was a guy in the exhibition of the winners. He liked my piece, so he made me do one piece for his girlfriend and we kept in touch. He’s a little bit older than I am, maybe two or three years older, so we were seeing each other in all of our exhibitions, in the art scene in the city. One day our friend said, “I have a friend who is a publisher and he would love to publish a book about jewelry. I will tell him to call you.” This was in 2005. In 2010, I got the phone call from this guy, five years later when I had totally forgotten about it. He told me he was selling the books from the Lark Books publisher, like the “1,000 Rings” books that are fantastic, and that opened the door for all of us. So, I said yeah, but I want to make a book for my house. I said, “Look, I don’t copy things, but we can start talking about different languages, different artists, stuff like that.” We started to talk about it. This was in 2009 maybe. I started to do some research, to look at all the books, and we started with “Rings.” We were calling at that time; this was by email and calling and by regular mail. We published the “Rings” book in 2010 and it was a total success.
Then we did “Earrings.” It was also very successful. After “Earrings,” we did “Necklaces.” “Necklaces” is one of my favorite books because it allowed me to show for the first time the people who wear the kind of jewelry we make. In “Rings” and “Earrings,” you don’t see much of the face or the body, but in “Necklaces,” I was able show the people. The British publisher who buys most of the books from the catalogue publisher didn’t like some of the bodies, so this was the big heat. The catalogue publisher said, “No, we’ll go with the book anyway.” This was also a very difficult book. Now we have five books. It’s like one book every two years.
Sharon: They are so fabulous. I have a hard time looking at some of them because the jewelry is so beautiful. It’s so creative and fantastic, and it’s also a great way to learn about other artists, too. There are a lot of names I’m sure a lot of people don’t know or aren’t familiar with. Do you search these people out? I’m sure they come to you also. How do you find them? It’s such a variety and so global. How do you find them all?
Nicolas: Well, Sharon, after so many years in the field—the first book was extremely difficult. I had to invite every single person in that book because nobody knew me. Many people didn’t trust me. There were even some people in Argentina trying to bring the book down because they thought I was going to steal all the images. This was so difficult to make. Now, after so many trips to Munich, so many trips all around the world looking at nice jewelry, I have my database. I also make huge calls everywhere. I think I reach a big jewelry audience with this call. For example, in the “Bracelet” book, I was surprised because 60% of the people who are in this book—it’s the last book—I didn’t know anything about. I was very afraid of this book because it was going to be the end of a collection in a way, so I wanted this book to be beautiful. But not too many people make bracelets, so I was always in fear, “Am I going to fail? This is not going to be good enough.” But at the end, I got all this information from people I didn’t know anything about. To answer your question, in the first book, I had to invite every single participant. In the last book, the attention was so nice that I was bombarded by applications of many people I didn’t know anything about and has surprisingly beautiful work.
Sharon: What kept you going if the first book was so difficult? Was it that the publisher said, “O.K., we’re past the worst. Now, let’s get to the second book”? What kept you going?
Nicolas: For me, as I said before, we have huge potential because mostly nobody knows what we do. This is the seed I give. This is my way of contributing to the field to show to a broader audience that rings are not only from Cartier; there are many more rings. If you want to adorn yourself, you don’t have to go Bulgari; you don’t have to go Fifth Avenue in New York. You can look for people, crazy guys, crazy girls, who make things in an atelier and get dirty and cut themselves. There’s a very beautiful way to adorn yourself if you go away from the most traditional sources. This is how I want to contribute to the field that has given me so much. Jewelry is my life. Jewelry makes me a happy man because I love the field; I love my work; I admire my colleagues very much. This is a way for me to give back.
Also, to be very honest, books give me a little bit of a reputation in the field. The artistic world is so hard most of the time. This reputation is a little fuel to my ego to keep going after rejection, after failing to sell, after not doing well in the gallery. I get the messages of people who are in the book, “Oh, I love your work. My pieces look fantastic.” I get back a little bit. I get very nice feedback and it makes very happy. So, I want to contribute to the field. I get a reputation. It’s a balance. It helps me a lot.
Sharon: They’re beautiful books. Do you think it’s opened some people’s eyes, people who didn’t know about this kind of jewelry? It’s certainly a great way to do it. It’s a great introduction if somebody doesn’t know anything about the field. Do you think it’s opened people’s eyes?
Nicolas: Totally, yeah. To give you a personal example, my mother didn’t know this kind of jewelry existed, and now she’s sharing these with all her friends. If we give a book like this to friends, if we open their eyes, little by little we’re going to create a broader audience. That is what we need. I think the luxury world is not our world. The luxury world for me is very boring. If you are a man, you go to Armani, you buy off the mannequin, so you dress like the mannequin, same tie, same suit, same belt. You go to Rolex and buy the watch because in the luxury world, you want to show how much money you have and how much you are worth. I think we are never going to reach the luxury world because we don’t sell prestige, but we sell a story. I think we have to look for the people who go to museums, who are more responsive to a storm or a sunset or the beautiful things in life, not only money. These are the people I try to target because these are the people who want to invest in the things that make them happy, not in the things that show others how much money they have. These are the people I want to target with the books, with my jewelry, with our approach. There are so many people like this in the world. Millionaires, there are a few, but I think there are many more people who are responsive to beauty, and these are the people who we want to approach.
Sharon: Do you have another book in the hopper or in mind? Is there another one, or do you feel like you’ve covered the gamut?
Nicolas: “Bracelets” was delayed one year because of the pandemic. It was supposed to be released in 2020, but it just got released in January of this year. I am taking my time to enjoy the book, to enjoy the comments, to make sure all the participants get their copies. I think there is going to be another book in the very near future, but I don’t know exactly what it is going to be. The thing with these books, Sharon, is that they cannot only be beautiful books; they also need to be commercial books because they are business for the publisher. Many books you see are exploring beauty and everything, but they are targeted to a certain audience. The books I make, they need to sell out. They need to get everywhere; they need to have a second edition, otherwise the publisher is not going to be interested. I have to talk to him and see what is going to be beneficial for him and beneficial for me. We have to get together maybe later this year, during the second semester, and start deciding what are we going to do next, because this is exacting work. It’s not that I go to the publisher and tell him what to do. This is a work; I am the author and I make compilations for them, but they are the ones who sell and they are the ones who invest. They are the ones who need to get back their investment.
Sharon: Right, I understand. They have to make money. Well, it’s a good thing they sell because it’s a great series. Thank you so much for being here today. Hopefully when the next book comes out, we’ll have you back. Thank you so much, and good luck with everything. We’ll be talking with you.
Nicolas: It was a fantastic invitation. Thank you very much, and I hope we can have a reality again without all the virtuality. Virtuality is amazing, the way we manage to discover the spiritual world that connects to many people, but I think we miss the hug; we miss touching; we miss seeing; we miss saying hello, having a drink. I hope to see you again very soon here in Barcelona, in Munich or somewhere else in the world, Sharon.
Sharon: I look forward to it.
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