For Nikollë Radi, making jewelry is akin to solving a puzzle. “What I love most about the process is making something surprisingly new and unpredictable,” says the Kosovo-born, New York-based designer, known for his intricate handmade platinum and gold pieces. “I always try to make pieces that I haven’t seen before, which usually means I don’t have a roadmap for how to create them.”
Chalk it up to Radi’s sense of curiosity, which has fueled his artistic sensibilities for as long as he can remember. Growing up as the son of jewelry shop owners on the Croatian coast in former Yugoslavia, his formative years were spent in his parents’ workshop, surrounded by handmade silver jewelry.
“My first teacher was my father,” says Radi, who was already manipulating and forming precious metals at an early age. “From him, I learned and understood the jewelry techniques very early and was seriously involved in producing jewelry in my parents’ shop since I was very young—younger than you would expect.”
Bored with the repetition of making the same thing over and over, Radi began to dabble in new techniques at the jeweler’s bench. “I am always naturally curious how anything is made, not just jewelry,” he explains. “I was always taking things apart to learn how they were constructed—jewelry, radios, even bullets.”
To that end, he started making his own tools to push the boundaries of his creativity. “To me, it is very important that I enjoy the process of making just as much as the finished piece,” says Radi, who continued his jewelry education both as an apprentice and at school in Zagreb.
That same desire for constant challenge prompted Radi to launch his namesake line in 2014. “My process of designing and making a piece always starts with the metal,” explains the designer, who not only invented techniques but also crafted many of the tools used to achieve the signature patterns found in his jewelry, from detailed lace designs to delicate lattice motifs. “Making everything from scratch—I begin forming and building and I allow the idea to change and develop in the process.”
Upon moving to New York from Croatia in 2006, Radi was introduced to platinum, now a hallmark of his designs and chosen in part “for the possibilities of what you can do with it,” he says. “It has great characteristics that are unlike any other precious metals—it’s somewhat soft, but it’s very dense, so it doesn’t wear out.”
What’s more, New York also opened the artisan up to new sources of inspiration. “Growing up in areas where everything around you is ancient and historical and then moving to New York, I began to see things from new perspective,” he says. “In my mind, the old world contrasted with the new world, and the way the ancient gave way to modern really influenced me. Today that inspiration comes from a myriad of places, from architecture, to textiles, cars and watches. “Really anything that I find catches my eye as different,” he says.