Alumni Spotlight

Emerging Designer Wins Grant to Create Ethical Brand

Grandics, wearing black-framed glasses, is behind a bouquet of point-shaped molds.
“I’m really inspired by and drawn to the contrasts in our world,” says Niki Grandics, GIA Graduate Jeweler. Grandics, here working with a point shape found in several of her designs, grew up noticing the many visual and cultural contrasts between her native Hungary and her family’s adopted home of Southern California. Courtesy of Niki Grandics. Photo by Hajnalka Stiblane

The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, designer Niki Grandics’ early life was a study in cultural and visual contrasts.

Her family’s frequent world travels laid a foundation of creative experimentation, design inspiration and social responsibility for Grandics, whose forward-thinking designs and ethical business plan were recently recognized with a Halstead Grant. The award, given by the company to new silver jewelry designers, recognizes excellence in design and business strategy and encourages winners to “establish clear goals and measureable steps toward” running self-sufficient businesses.  

“I come from a family of immigrants and scientists and it impacts the way I design and view the world around me,” says Grandics, a GIA Graduate Jeweler based in San Diego. “I see the contrasts and the differences in the places I’ve lived and traveled – how it’s all part of a larger whole – and I design like a scientist in that everything is an experiment.”

Her “experiments,” including necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings handmade with recycled and sustainable silver when possible, and bridal jewelry created using recycled or Fairmined gold and diamonds, are available exclusively online and at artisanal markets. She plans to move into what she calls more “traditional” retail routes this year with her business, ENJI Studio Jewelry.

“My design philosophy can best be described as minimal with a raw edge,” she says. “I work with a lot of raw stones or slices rather than faceted gems, and combine them with more geometric and angular details in metal.”

Grandics’ young life, particularly the travel between Southern California and Hungary, informs every piece. As a child, she noticed the way that contrasts played out in her two home countries. “It was like they were different worlds, visually and culturally,” she says.

As a designer, Grandics often explores the idea of contrast in the different types of materials she uses.

“In my sculptural work and jewelry designs, I explore these contrasts through the materiality of the components, such as raw stones and precious material,” she says. “Working with glass and stone is almost the polar opposite of working with metals – glass and stone are not particularly forgiving materials and are often quite fragile, while gold and silver can be more easily persuaded to take on different forms. The play between these materials is where this inspiration comes to life in my designs.”

Grandics works with fire and glass in a studio.
Niki Grandics, pictured here in a glassblowing workshop at North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts, won the Windgate Fellowship to study glassblowing and jewelry in the Netherlands after her graduation from San Diego State University. Courtesy of Niki Grandics. Photo by Hajnalka Stiblane

Grandics attended San Diego State University (SDSU), and in 2014 earned degrees in Applied Design (with an emphasis in jewelry) and Marketing.

“My parents wanted me to follow in their footsteps and go to medical school or pursue a scientific career, but I was always drawn to design,” she says. “I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to pick up a pencil, but stumbled into jewelry.”  

Although she was convinced that a graphic design degree was the only way to make a living as an artist, Grandics quickly found that it wasn’t a good fit and began to take sculpture and glassblowing classes.

“I started working on a series of wearable sculptures in glass and took a jewelry and metalsmithing course so I could learn techniques to make these pieces,” she says. “Once I sat down at the bench, I knew I was in the right place.”

Grandics changed her major and when she graduated, won the Windgate Fellowship, which sent her to study glassblowing and jewelry in the Netherlands. An internship at the Galerie Marzee there cemented Grandics’ determination to be a jeweler.

Grandics secured a job as a biotech marketing analyst when she got back to the States, but she was considering how to make her next career move into jewelry. She remembered attending a GIA Career Fair as an SDSU undergraduate, so she decided to apply for a GIA education scholarship.

“At Career Fair, I was blown away by the facilities and the GIA museum pieces on display, but what stood out to me the most was how passionate everyone I talked to was,” she says. “It was really inspiring to be in that kind of setting, and I knew I wanted to continue my studies there.”

Earrings are displayed on a piece of wood and rings sit in the foreground.

Grandics was awarded a scholarship for the Graduate Jeweler (GJ) program and quit her marketing job to attend GIA in Carlsbad. Though she had bench experience, she found there was still a lot to learn.

“I learned so much about stone setting and new techniques like laser welding,” says Grandics, who graduated in 2016. “And I would tell incoming students – the GJ program is going to be challenging, especially if you go into the program with some previous bench experience, like I did. You can’t underestimate it. You have to learn and embrace new ways of doing things. I now have more knowledge, technical skills and a great network of people I was able to meet through GIA.”

A close up of Grandics’ fingers holding a ring that features a rough diamond.
“Once I sat down at the bench, I knew I was in the right place,” says GIA Graduate Jeweler Niki Grandics of discovering her vocation. Grandics was awarded the 11th Annual Halstead Grant after her graduation from GIA in 2016. Grandics, here holding a newly made, rough diamond ring, frequently uses raw materials and Fairmined diamonds in her ENJI Studio Jewelry Designs. Courtesy of Niki Grandics. Photo by Hajnalka Stiblane

Grandics wanted to learn from someone more experienced once she graduated from GIA, so she worked briefly for another San Diego-area designer. After being awarded the Halstead Grant, which included $8,500 in cash and supplies, Grandics is focusing on building ENJI Studio Jewelry full-time.

“Niki took the dream route to prepare for life as a studio artist,” says Hilary Halstead Scott, president of Halstead. “She has a marketing education, a metals degree and a GIA Graduate Jeweler certification. She has all the right tools − plus a distinct gift for design.”

Grandics, who feels “incredibly blessed” to have won the award, says she feels a great responsibility to “give back to the community, and pay it forward” with her business and career.

In addition to her personal volunteer work with a nonprofit that supports young victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking by exposing them to opportunities in higher education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) fields, Grandics aims to build a business that betters the world.

“I hope to build a lasting brand that prides itself on unique, clean design and ethical practice,” she says. “More businesses in jewelry and fashion are moving away from ‘fast fashion’ and adopting more ethical, sustainable models and I’m proud to be a part of that. I hope to influence more designers and consumer to consider where our materials and pieces come from, and to consider how we can create positive change moving forward.”

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