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Grit + Grace: A Conversation With Graduate Gemologist Nikki Swift On Her Journey From Elite Athlete To Jewelry Artist, And Why Every Step Of Your Story Matters
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Grit + Grace: A Conversation With Graduate Gemologist Nikki Swift On Her Journey From Elite Athlete To Jewelry Artist, And Why Every Step Of Your Story Matters

Getting to Know Nikki, her luxury jewelry brand Nicole Mera, and how she discovered her inner artist.

I’ve known Nikki for a long time. We grew up in school together and I always looked up to her. She was kind, she was a leader, and she was legendary on the volleyball court. Her reputation always preceded her as her athletic accomplishments were often announced in assemblies and school-wide events. It’s no surprise that she went on to play at the collegiate level, and was successful on the courts there too. Never did I know, however, that she truly was an artist. Now that she is back in San Antonio, I have loved reconnecting with her and watching from the sidelines as she applies her characteristics and life experiences to build her luxury gemology brand and business. I am thrilled to introduce her to you as proof that everyone’s journey is beautiful, and there is much to discover along the way.

Where did you go to college, what did you study, and what was your first job when you graduated?

I attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and graduated in May of 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies and a minor in Studio Art. My first job when I graduated was working for my family business, Texas MedClinic, in San Antonio. I worked in the property management department. Although I loved this experience, it wasn’t a job I could see myself doing forever. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I really needed a job where I could have a creative outlet.

I didn’t discover what I truly wanted to do until my college roommate, Natalie, told me about GIA (Gemological Institute of America). Her father had a retail jewelry store in Jacksonville, Florida, and wanted her to take the online Graduate program to learn about Diamonds. She jokingly asked me to take the course with her. When she shared the information with me I thought, “YOU CAN LEARN ABOUT DIAMONDS?!?!? SIGN ME UP!!” I was so excited. I always had a love for costume jewelry, and in college I used to let everyone borrow all of my pieces. I just really didn’t think that there was a career path that involved jewelry and gems other than working a traditional retail job.  After researching GIA and learning they offered various programs, I knew this is what I needed to do. A few months later I was in California attending GIA in Carlsbad.

I later attended the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California again in June of 2011 where I obtained my Graduate Gemologist degree. I also took the Applied Jewelry Arts program which focuses on Jewelry Manufacturing (wax carving techniques, casting, and CAD/CAM.), and the Graduate Pearls program. The Graduate Gemologist program focuses 6 months straight on Diamonds & Diamond Grading and Colored Stones & Colored Stone Identification. The Graduate Gemologist program was key in my career. It not only gave me the foundation to become a professional in the jewelry industry but it gave me such confidence to be able to educate & help consumers, including my family & friends. It is the most prestigious credential in the jewelry & gem industry and I am truly proud to be a Graduate Gemologist and to be able to share my knowledge with others.

In high school, what was the future dream career you envisioned for yourself?

To be completely honest, I wasn’t focused on any career per say. In high school, I was so focused on sports that I thought I’d go on to one day have a career in something related in Sports Management. I didn’t start exploring my creative and artistic side until senior year of high school and college through my art classes. Art was something that came so naturally to me, but I just hadn’t really tapped into yet. However, what I realized later on (and what I am so thankful for), is that sports allowed me to develop useful habits & skills that I would one day use as a business owner.

A few of those attributes are working well with others, having perseverance, and being a leader. These skills were so important for each sports team I was on, but now they have been as instrumental in my growth as a woman and as a business owner. Nicole Mera wouldn’t be the brand that it is today and I know I wouldn’t be the same woman that I am today without these skills. In high school I could have never imagined I would be designing jewelry and giving my expert opinions on diamonds and gemstones, but I think that’s what is so fun about life’s journey. I love my life, my career, and I have so much ahead of me… who knows what will change and what lies ahead!

How did you get your start designing jewelry? Did you fall into your career, or was it something you planned?

I wouldn’t say I “fell” into it, but it did develop and evolve over time. I was working for a fine jewelry manufacturer in Los Angeles, working with the rare gemstones and diamonds and creating fine jewelry for brand names and top retail stores around the nation. I was picky when I selected this job because I knew I wanted to work for a family business that was looking for a lot of help, and one where quality was their hallmark.

I wanted to get my hands dirty and I was willing to start from the bottom. I knew I had to put in the time and work hard to work my way up, so that’s what I did. Since I worked for a small family business, I was able to wear different hats each and every day. While I was in LA, I learned a tremendous amount about diamond buying, diamond melee sorting and buying, jewelry manufacturing/production, shipping, insurance, tradeshows and so much more.

After I had been working with the company for a few years, I started to share the jewelry and the quality of work that I was able to be a part of with friends and family. It was then that they started to reach out to me to help create custom designs. My first clients were my best friends and my father. As I started to work more and more with family, friends and additional clients, I began to realize how much I loved being part of the story of people creating custom pieces for the ones they love. Jewelry represents so much more than the item itself, and it’s so special for me to be able to create something beautiful while educating about gemstones, diamonds and quality. My clients come to me because they know they will leave enlightened, and they will leave with a gorgeous well-made and timeless piece of wearable art. So, then knowing I wanted to be back in Texas and wanting a business of my own, with hard work and so much support from family, friends and mentors, Nicole Mera was born.

How did the pace of the jewelry business in Los Angeles differ from what you were used to, and how did it prepare you to be a business owner?

It’s definitely a different pace. In LA, I worked in manufacturing and wholesale, so buying and selling was done differently. Well, it was just done very quickly. I loved working in that environment for so long and I think it really helped shape me and help push me to make good decisions for myself and my clients. 

Retail, on the other hand, is a much slower pace. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Good things take time”. Well, that’s retail.  For most people, fine jewelry is a big purchase and requires patience and time, and people want to make the best decision with their purchases. I have had to really adapt to the different pace but honestly, I love it. Working closely with my clients, although a totally different experience than wholesale, is much more fulfilling. I love hearing and seeing the expectations of a piece before we being our process, creating the piece, and experiencing the reaction after the jewelry has been gifted / received. Those moments are unforgettable and so incredibly rewarding. 

What was the turning point in your personal path that steered you toward launching your own private jewelry business and moving back to Texas?

I loved my career in Los Angeles, but I knew I ultimately wanted to move back to my home state of Texas. I wanted to be closer to my family while still being able to do what I love. I had a conversation with my employers in LA and I was completely open and honest with them about my future plans to return back to Texas and wanting to have a business of my own. I have a wonderful relationship with them and they really wanted to see me grow and reach my dreams.

I think it was the moment that I had the support of my employers, my friends, my family and my clients that I realized I could really go out on my own. I have had such an incredible support system and that is my driving force. Not only that, but I have had wonderful mentors: past employers, family friends, jewelry colleagues, my girlfriends and my parents. I have really surrounded myself with smart and hardworking individuals so that has really pushed me to be my best self and to push to achieve my dreams. 

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From what sources do you find yourself currently drawing your creative inspiration?

My clients! Each and every person has their own way of expressing themselves and jewelry is the perfect way to do so. With that being said, each one of my clients has their own style and aesthetic. I enjoy sitting down with them during a one-on-one consultation and really listening and learning to get a better understanding of what they are looking to create. My skills lie in being able to take my clients’ ideas and turn them into wearable art. A lot of time, my clients have GREAT ideas and they just need someone who can help guide them into turning it into a piece of jewelry. By doing this, I feel like my clients enjoy their experience so much more, and it becomes so much more personal.

You just launched your Nicole Mera brand with a beautiful event recently in San Antonio. How significant was it for you to re-introduce yourself and your business in the city you call home again? 

It was really important for me to introduce myself into the San Antonio market. I have so many wonderful family, friends, and colleagues who have supported me from the day I left to attend GIA, so it was so important for me to come back to give everyone a peek at what I have been working on. It was also important for me to introduce the jewelry that I have created.

The diamonds and colored stones are incredible but the craftsmanship of the jewelry is unparalleled and I really wanted a chance to have everything in one room so it could all be seen, felt and worn. The jewelry itself is exceptional and well-made, and I needed the party to also reflect that. I enlisted the help of my friend Lisa Newburn of Lisa Newburn Events to help with my launch. She really understands me, my vision and my goals for Nicole Mera. She turned the Witte Museum into a stunning venue that displayed my diamonds among the dinosaur exhibit, and the evening was unforgettable. It was really the perfect way to re-introduce myself.
What plans do you have for growth of the Nicole Mera brand that you’re excited about?

The launch party was the first step that I was most excited about. It really took me to the next level in my move back to San Antonio. I think for me at this point my goal is for the growth to be in my relationships now that I am back in Texas, and to just keep creating beautiful pieces for my clients. My business is mostly word of mouth, so with that my brand will change and grow over time. I eventually will open a private showroom and office where clients can book an appointment to come see me to explore designs and see any new pieces I have created.

If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I’d love to have lunch with Sophia Amoruso. Not only would the lunch be wildly entertaining, it would be so informative and inspiring. She really has gone through so much with her booming business, bankruptcy, and her comeback. She is the ultimate #GirlBoss and I really appreciate how she keeps it real while she figures things out and makes it all happen. She doesn’t necessarily have every answer and has also made mistakes, but haven’t we all? I think so much can be learned from those moments. I myself am proud to be a #GirlBoss and wish to inspire women and girls around me to push to achieve their dreams. The future is female and don’t let anyone tell you differently!

 

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.
Follow Nikki at @nicole_mera__ on social media for a daily dose of glimmering beauty. More on the brand and on Nikki Swift at nicolemera.com.

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