What Nak Armstrong Did Next: CFDA-winning Designer Launches Affordable Fine Jewelry Line Inspired By Mosaics

by Freya Drohan

Veteran jewelry purveyor Nak Armstrong has launched a new brand, Nakard, to bring his trademark designs to a whole new audience. Nakard offers his fans the ability to secure their own gemstone piece at a more accessible price point, and the soon-to-sell-out collection—inspired by square-tile mosaics—has already gone down a treat. The Daily caught up with the innovative designer to hear more about what makes him tick and to get the lowdown on his stunning Austin-based flagship store, opening next month in the Soho House hotel. 

What’s your earliest memory involving jewelry? 
When I was little, my mother had a beautiful 18k gold watch with massive links and an Australian boulder opal face. I was struck by the weight of the piece and the colors that radiated out of that opal. My fascination for gemstones continues to this day.

Nak Armstrong (courtesy)

What path did you take to launch your own jewelry brand nine years ago?
I’ve actually been in the business for 20+ years. Prior to launching Nak Armstrong in 2011, I was the designer and co-owner of Anthony Nak, which was also a fine jewelry brand. When my previous business partner and I decided to go our separate ways in 2009, I spent two years developing my eponymous brand, consciously deciding to go in an entirely new direction. It afforded me the unusual opportunity to reinvent myself.

You often invent and innovate your own techniques, what’s one that you’re most proud of?
A technique I have coined as ’stone plissé’ which, loosely translated, means pleated stones. It involves the undulating settings of straight and tapered baguettes to create the look of ruching, ruffling, or pleated fabric. But it also gave rise to the Florapiega collection, where I was able to create pixelated and pleated looking botanicals.

What was the impetus for launching Nakard? 
I wanted the opportunity to create pieces that were larger in scale. In the Nak Armstrong signature collection, since all the pieces are 18k and 20k gold, cost and weight are always the biggest considerations when trying to create a larger scale piece. Earrings above a certain size are simply not possible because they become too heavy to wear comfortably. Nakard allows me to explore the broader jewelry design palette, as it were, including chandelier earrings, large stone drop earrings, opera length necklaces, and chunky stone tennis bracelets.


Was there a reason for choosing the stones that you did? 
I’m drawn to any stone that has variety and nuance of color such as tourmalines, opals, labradorite, moonstone, sapphires… I don’t like to be limited, and I don’t think in terms of traditional combinations of stones, but instead use a variety of gemstones to create mosaics or ombrés of color. The Nakard pieces are simple in that they are a repetition of shapes in unexpected geometric silhouettes and nuanced and varied gemstones only enhance the pieces.

What kind of person do you imagine wearing these pieces? 
I had the same woman in mind as my current Nak Armstrong client. Namely, someone who’s an individualist, informed about a variety of niche brands, and has access to everything but is drawn to pieces that are thoughtful and modern. Having said that, Nakard is available at a more accessible price point and is meant to be more everyday, so I’ve seen that open up a wider audience, including younger women who maybe could not afford Nak Armstrong Signature. But also, the Nak Armstrong Signature client is purchasing both lines and wearing them together since the price point and wearability of
Nakard allows them to buy multiple pieces at a time.

We see some of the styles are already sold out, which is exciting!
It’s very exciting and a bit overwhelming. The collection has sold at a pace we never anticipated. I think the modern client wants versatility in their jewelry wardrobe, and not everything can be a dainty gold pendant or a stud earring or ear climber. They like to mix metals and scale, have gemmy chandeliers, wear long Opera-style necklaces, or stack tennis bracelets, and Nakard offers them that opportunity, without compromising quality and craftsmanship.

I love your ‘ruched’ pieces; what influenced you to create and originate this style that you’ve become known for? Is it inspired by your fashion background?
Yes definitely. I was inspired to create something in jewelry had the same movement and dimension as pleating or ruching fabric. I think some of the most interesting and fresh ideas come from design trades other than jewelry.

Tell us about your new flagship store in Austin, when will it open and what can we expect? 
It’s located in the SoCo district of Austin, which is the midst of a radical transformation from a strictly bohemian enclave to more of a high street luxury vibe.  It’s actually a great mix of the two. Our store is next to a new Soho House hotel that will open next year. Our store is slated to open by the end of November. The design inspiration for our store is mid-century Milan meets Austin. There are many unexpected uses of color, including the custom-designed and cut slate, terra cotta, and
marble mosaic floor, the light pink and gray marble and plaster walls, the forest green lacquered and walnut jewelry cabinets, and the sphene-colored velvet room that houses a service bar. Every detail is meant to reflect the nuanced jewel toned color palette and luxurious details of the brand. The seating area at the back is framed by 14ft floor-to-ceiling windows with a kidney-shaped Italian sofa, overlooking the historic Travis Heights neighborhood below.

What lessons are you taking away from 2020, on a personal and brand level?
2020 has taught us all that being nimble and flexible is the key to survival in this business. A brand needs to have a variety of sales and distribution channels and to maintain strong relationships with key retail partners, especially those that have a robust online presence. Also, a brand needs control over its own destiny, including a direct-to-consumer business with both social media and e-commerce components. Finally, stick to what makes you unique and identifiable—as the more brands compete for the same customers, the greater chance you have to survive and thrive if what you offer can’t be found from anyone else.

What’s next for you? 
2021 is an exciting year for the brand, with the opening of our first flagship store and the launch of new collections under both Nak Armstrong Signature and Nakard. Specifically for Nakard, we’re launching a new collection of gemstone and enamel pieces before holiday and we are expanding our reach internationally.

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