I first noticed these sumptuous, roguish jewels on a few fashionable ladies … then on a few more. Who was this jeweler who could imagine a rakish emerald and yellow diamond dragon brooch clutching a moonstone in its golden claws, a pagoda-like ring topped with a gob-smacker pearl or fireworks of sapphires and diamonds cascading into a brooch. I found her name, Nini Hale, and to my astonishment, she works two miles from my Houston office. This very impish third-generation designer follows in the footsteps of her Thai grandmother who, more than a hundred years ago, created her vividly hued, hand-painted clothing and jewelry to satisfy her love for fashion. Soon the Thai Royal Family came calling. Today, Nini designs at a small Galleria-area studio, reinterpreting many of those fantastical pieces, adding her own modern flourish and selling to Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in sun-bright cities such as Beverly Hills, Palm Beach and Boca Raton. We put a few questions to her, simply to listen to her musical voice.
Your inspiration? My own history. I love fashion. And youth. I feel like even when I’m 80, I want to feel 60; I want to feel 40. But not to chase after a young man!
Which of your grandmother’s designs is your favorite? The Birdcage. I still wear it. I still love it. With lots of diamonds, it’s very evening to me, but with emeralds and pearls, it’s more fun. And if the thief came, he won’t rob me. He’ll think it’s jade or costume. And that’s what I tell my customers: If you wear big, you are not in danger.
“My grandmother was not the diamond lady. She thought the diamond was the most boring on earth. She loved the vivid colors of Thai silk, and so do I.” — Nini Hale
Designer Nini Hale. Photo by Jenny Antill.
Diamond necklace $67,000, with carved sapphire and cabochon emerald drop pendant $53,300.
Bird Cage ring with South Sea pearl and diamonds $22,000.
Dragon bracelet with topaz, ruby, sapphire, tsavorite and diamonds $89,900.
Natural ivory cuff bracelet set with tsavorites and sapphires $90,900.
South Sea pearl, sapphire and diamond ring $38,500
Cuff bracelets $84,700 to $128,300 each.
Cabochon emerald and diamond brooch $121,000.