How Designer Nadine Ghosn Creates Lego Brick Rings Out of Diamonds
If there’s a designer whose jewellery pieces are emblematic of the irreverent millennial design sensibility, it’s Nadine Ghosn, who was born in the US, of Lebanese and Brazilian descent and currently based in Singapore. Her eponymous fine jewellery brand is rife with tongue-in-cheek pop-culture motifs—think burgers, sushi, headphones, and Lego—crafted out of precious materials. Her quirky pieces have won fans the world over, including the likes of designer Karl Lagerfeld, fashion influencer Leandra Medine, and superstar Beyonce, who was spotted wearing Ghosn’s ‘Shut Up’ earring cuff.
Global fast-food company McDonald's was so enamoured of one of her designs—an oversized gluten-free burger ring made out of seven stackable layers of rings—that it commissioned a one-of-a-kind ‘Bling Mac’ ring, designed to look like its signature Big Mac burger.
Her latest collection, called Building Blocks, was inspired by the colourful plastic Lego blocks that many of us grew up with. The collection, which took two years to complete, comprises of a series of rings in the shape of the iconic square bricks—and yes, they’re stackable, just like the original building blocks.
Recognition may have come fast for Ghosn, but unexpectedly so. Plus, despite her relative success, jewellery design was likely not what a younger version of herself expected to do. But if she did, these are the five steps that she would have to take to recreate her career.
Step 1: Study art and economics. (Bonus points if it’s at Stanford.) Embark on a career down the well-trodden path. And then start working for one of the biggest luxury brands in the world.
“I always wanted to do something in the fashion industry, but I was definitely pushed in the direction of challenging myself intellectually,” Ghosn muses when starting her story. “So I went to Stanford and double majored in economics and art, which was not something that people did at the time because there was no overlap.”
Further pushing down the well-trodden path of high-achieving intellectuals then led her to do a stint at Boston Consulting Group, in its luxury goods practice. Quickly realising that her passion still lay in the luxury world, Ghosn soon moved to a role at Hermès as part of its then-new Management Rotation Program, which would see her rotating through different parts of the company for two years before landing in a permanent role.
Step 2: Move to Beirut. Walk into a jewellery store that will change your life. Quit your job. (Not in that order.)
A trip to Beirut that changed the trajectory of Ghosn’s life. She was there on a break at the end of her rotational program at Hermès, before her ultimate role was finalised.
There, she walked into a local jewellery store and learned that they had been losing skilled craftsmen because they did not have enough work to keep them employed. So Ghosn, armed with an interest in jewellery sparked at Hermès and a lot of enthusiasm for the conservation of traditional jewellery craftsmanship, decided to start a company to design and manufacture fine jewellery. She was 25 years old.
“I mean it when I say I had no idea what I was doing, which in retrospect was a good thing because I didn’t know the kind of commitment it would take… I was really excited about the opportunity of building something tangible and at least taking the risk. I thought: 'If I don't do it at 25, then when am I going to do it?’”
She left Hermès and moved to Beirut.
Step 3: Design your first collection in a single day. Make headphones out of gold.
She designed her first collection in a single day over the summer. “It was largely influenced by things that were markets of our time. That’s key because jewellery in the past was a placeholder for a culture or a time and helped us understand the culture that we’re living in.”
By that time, she had spent yet another six months in New York getting her certification from the Gemological Institute of America, which she felt would lend her more credibility in the industry. She recalled the (pre-Airpods) headphones that were always dangling around people’s necks and the immutable presence that technology had in people’s lives and became inspired to create beautiful versions of that technological influence.
Her first collection included a pendant necklace in the shape of a battery, complete with baguette-cut diamond power indicators, and a gold-and-diamond sautoir necklace in the form of wired earphones.
Step 4: Hustle. A lot. Get Karl Lagerfeld, and Beyonce to wear your jewellery.
Once she had her pieces, it was time to get the word out to the press and retailers, but who was going to listen to this upstart young designer who had no industry connections? It took a lot of hustling and connections through friends of friends before Ghosn finally got a big break: Colette, the now-defunct but immensely influential Paris boutique, agreed to carry her pieces.
Things skyrocketed from there. A few months down the line, Beyonce would be photographed wearing Ghosn’s Shut Up ear cuffs. “I was just about to board a plane, and I remember thinking ‘dude, what the ****, someone just copied my earring.’” This, because Ghosn couldn’t fathom how Queen Bey could possibly have gotten hold of her jewellery. (It was purchased from Colette.) Later, fashion doyen Karl Lagerfeld would also be seen wearing her Can You Hear Me? earphone sautoir.
She would later go on to win the Innovation prize at the Couture Design Award (the jewellery industry’s premier jewellery awards) for her Hamburger ring, as well as the Vogue Fashion Prize in 2017.
Step 5: Stay frugal. Make Legos out of diamonds and precious stones. Move to Singapore in the middle of a pandemic to do your MBA.
While it seems as though success came fast and hard for Ghosn, it is also clear that she works incredibly hard and remains frugal with her spending. She remains a one-woman team and does all of her PR and social media herself.
She also moved to Singapore in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic to do her MBA at Insead—partially so that she could learn skills that might help her business, and also to build a community and network.
As for her Lego Building Blocks collection, those took a good two years to even begin to make, chiefly because of the technical difficulty of making them. Some of the blocks are carved from a solid piece of precious stone, and a lot of artisans wanted to carve the square and circles separately before sticking them together, so it took a long time for Ghosn to find a workshop that was able to execute monobloc carving. The rings were launched at the end of 2020, and its launch—as with many events these days—was held via Zoom.