Nak Armstrong saw himself designing buildings long before he ever imagined being at the helm of his own eponymous fine jewelry line, best known for its laid-back yet glamorous sensibility. But, like everything in Armstrong's illustrious career, making jewelry “just sort of happened,” says the Austin native.
After studying architecture at University of Texas Austin, Armstrong took a left turn, and landed his first big break working for a fashion firm in New York City creating designs and patterns for fashion houses. “I learned how to run a business from top to bottom, which has definitely informed how I run my jewelry business," he says, "It gave me the confidence to know that I could do that on my own.”
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Armed with that knowledge, Armstrong returned to Austin, and together with a business partner, launched his own textile design company. After a labor-intensive year and a half, Armstrong and his business partner decided to turn their attention to a business that they could scale up: making jewelry
“We were young, and necessity breeds invention,” explains Armstrong, who began observing a jewelry designer friend at work and creating his own “kitchen table” designs. Within four months, he began landing accounts, and two years in, the now-shuttered Barneys New York took notice.
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“I saw jewelry as one of those opportunities to start where you start, and keep building,” says Armstrong, who drew motivation from his formal schooling in architecture. “Especially in the first couple of years in architecture school, it’s all about expressing your voice and finding your creativity, and its less about the technical side of things. Having that training can kind of guide you in any creative endeavor,” he says.
Unfettered by the constraints of traditional jewelry design and taking cues from this architecture and fashion backgrounds, Armstrong quickly positioned himself as an out-of-the box thinker. That quickly became evident in his untraditional stone pairings, and the development of his own design techniques including stone plissé -- Armstrong’s signature stone setting that mimics the ruffling of fabric. “The baguettes and the tapered baguettes are set so they undulate down,” explains the artist, whose pleated works are carried at August. “It gives us more expressiveness in our designs.” Another signature of Armstrong’s designs: the use of 20k rose gold, which is a “little warmer, and works better against the skin.”
When it comes to stones, “I love using every crayon in the coloring box,” says Armstrong. He's often drawn to “non-color stones,” such as labradorite and Ethiopian opal which, when sitting together, “bleed into a tapestry of color,” he says. “That sort of nuanced effect really turns me on.”
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The design process often starts out like “a dream sequence." Armstrong points to the brand’s geometric rose-and-stem silhouette at August as an example. It was inspired by his vision for an abstract flower created from a mosaic of stones that would appear like individual brush strokes in a work of art. The painterly concept became the anchor of the brand's Florapiega collection which encompasses all things botanical, from Monstera earrings rendered in emeralds or rubies, to Iris ear cuffs fashioned from green and blue tourmaline, paired with black spinel.
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“I think people respond to things that are authentic and original,” he says. “As a designer, I’ve always lived by the idea you have to design things you really love first, and people will respond to it. If you design one piece that you love, there’s at least one person that loves it too.”