Alumni spotlight

Designer’s ‘Complex, Eccentric’ Pieces Create Buzz and Find Fans in Hollywood and DC.

The body and legs of the spider palm bracelet rests on top of the hand; the egg and web nest are the ring.
Christina Fandino's kinetic “The Spider & the Egg” ring-palm bracelet took first-place honours in the Metal Arts Society of California’s 2017 Jewelry Challenge. “The body of the spider rotates 360 degrees, the legs move at the ball and socket joints, and the egg gently spins within its web cradle,” she says. The piece features two amethysts and a 1 ct moldavite. Courtesy of Christina Grace/TIN HAUS

Christina Fandino’s career has been nothing short of a whirlwind since 2015.

In that brief span of time, the Los Angeles designer, who also is known as Christina Grace, won a life-changing scholarship, designed a necklace that drew buzz during the presidential elections, and established a company that’s both earning national press coverage and finding fans among Hollywood A-listers.

Fandino, a GIA Graduate Jeweler, is also winning awards, including first-place honours in the Metal Arts Society of California’s 2017 Jewelry Challenge, for a kinetic, ring-palm bracelet called “Spider & Egg”.

“The body of the spider rotates 360 degrees, the legs move at the ball and socket joints, and the egg spins within its web cradle,” explains Fandino, who calls her artistic aesthetic “diverse” and “eccentric”. The piece, along with a painting created by Fandino, was also recently selected as a finalist in the Boone Art Gallery’s Annual Juried Exhibition, and was on display at the gallery in Pasadena until January 2018.

Christina Fandino
TIN HAUS Founder Christina Fandino, GJG, began her career in the fine arts, focusing on painting and acting. She won a scholarship to GIA in 2015 and her jewelry design career has been a whirlwind ever since. Photo by Philipp Harth. Courtesy of Christina Grace/TIN HAUS

Until just a few years ago, Fandino’s career in the fine arts was focused on painting and acting. Her family immigrated to the United States from Manila, Philippines, in the mid-1980s, eventually settling in Oceanside – a coastal city north of San Diego. Fandino describes herself as an artist “from the start”, and entered competitions from a young age.

She continued to sell paintings privately as she grew, though her art took the direction of acting for years – she appeared in TV shows, independent films and feature films, such as Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Love & Other Drugs”. Jewellery was not on her radar as a profession or method of creative expression, even though she knew more about it than the average consumer and enjoyed collecting stones as a child.

“My family did not come from a jewellery background, but my mother was the poster child for jewellery obsession,” she says. “I learned a lot about jewellery because of her influence. By 9, I already knew what the 4Cs were, and what a diamond-cut chain looked like. I was proud to know the difference between ‘carat’ and [gold] ‘carat’. I had an appreciation for metals and was an avid collector of raw crystals and stones.

The caterpillar ring on the left is jointed so it can move and the butterfly ring on the right features dark and light sterling silver: a light butterfly on a dark cocoon.

“I heard about GIA frequently from a young age,” she says, “I grew up informed that it’s where you went to get jewellery training, but didn’t understand how much it would later instrumentally influence my life.”

In 2011, that changed when she had a “chance meeting” with a jewellery store owner who taught her wire-wrapping techniques.

“That’s when I fell in love with the creation of jewellery,” Fandino says. “Once I fell in love with jewellery-making, I knew I had to go to GIA.”

She was finally able to apply to the Institute in 2015, and found out that she would also receive a scholarship.

“I felt like I shot to the moon and back!” she says. “A GIA scholarship afforded me the opportunity to go to the institution I’d looked up to growing up, and gave me the confidence to pursue this new path without holding back. It was truly humbling and an honour.”

A self-described perfectionist, Fandino says she tried to absorb everything she could while studying in Carlsbad. 

“I felt like there was so much to learn,” she says. She spent lots of time talking with her instructors, getting suggestions from librarians at the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center and utilising the resources of Career Services.

Christina Fandino GIA Graduation
Fandino, GJG, at her 2016 GIA graduation in Carlsbad. “The GIA scholarship afforded me the opportunity to go to the institution that I looked up to, growing up,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to pursue this new path without holding back.” Photo by Cedric Jonathan. Courtesy of Christina Grace/TIN HAUS

In the midst of an already-busy year, Fandino also founded TIN HAUS fine arts company with her partner Cedric Jonathan, who still directs the company’s sales and marketing efforts.

“Our drive was led by one goal – to use our gifts and talents for change,” she says. “Through the company, we have been able to donate a portion of the profits towards causes and non-profit organisations we care about and are deeply passionate about.”

One of those causes was the campaign for 2016 U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. While still a student at GIA, Fandino designed and hand-fabricated a pendant featuring Sanders’ iconic hair, glasses and silhouette. The “The Bern Necklace” got Sanders’ wife, Jane’s, attention, and soon orders were coming in to TIN HAUS almost as quickly as Fandino could keep up.

Bernie Sanders' hair and glasses as a pendant to hang from a necklace.
Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane, endorsed then-GIA student Christina Fandino’s “The Bern Necklace,” a hand-fabricated representation of the 2016 presidential candidate’s iconic hair and silhouette. Orders poured in from across the United States and Fandino donated a portion of the profits to support his campaign. Courtesy of Christina Grace/TIN HAUS

Fandino moved back to Los Angeles after her GIA graduation, working as a master jeweller and design consultant for a Beverly Hills firm before she realised she wanted her work to truly be her own.

“I wanted to channel all of my good, artistic energy toward stretching my craft by way of school and expanding TIN HAUS,” says Fandino, who is earning her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Metals at California State University. “And due to the intensive training I received from GIA’s Graduate Jeweler programme, I’ve experienced leaps and bounds creatively and professionally.”

Fandino has since won several more scholarships for her work, and the professional momentum gained with “The Bern Necklace” hasn’t let up.

A black sterling silver pendant of a movie camera and film reels.
Fandino created the "Film, I AM" pendant for the cast and crew of the 2017 Make a Film Foundation’s production, “The Black Ghiandola.” The sterling silver pendant, which features a 3 mm moldavite, will be expanding as a production line in 2018. Courtesy of Christina Grace/TIN HAUS

Her designs have been featured in Maxim and Flaunt magazines, and her acting and jewellery worlds also collided when Fandino was asked to be the official jeweller of the Make a Film Foundation (MAFF), a non-profit organisation that helps terminally ill young people realise their film-making dreams. When MAFF recently helped a 16-year-old cancer patient direct a movie starring Johnny Depp, Laura Dern, David Lynch and J.K. Simmons, Fandino made sterling silver pendants for the cast and crew – including directors Catherine Hardwicke, Sam Raimi and Theodore Melfi – as a thank you for loaning their time and talents.

That pendant, named the “I AM”, is set to be the cornerstone of a larger collection – the first full line – launched by TIN HAUS later in 2018.

“The process of creation is what fuels my fire,” she says. “I’m an artist with complex and eccentric ideas, and I don’t watch what other people are doing. If I was encumbered by that, I wouldn’t get anything done, and my work would start to look like everything else you see out there. Concepts and ideas should come from a deeper place – I believe in creating from the heart first, and the fruits of your labour will follow.”  

Jaime Kautsky, a contributing writer, is a GIA Diamonds Graduate and GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and was an associate editor of The Loupe magazine.