Earlier this year we met with Pilar Bradley, the dynamic editor and chief of PRIMADONNA ZINE, a New York fashion magazine dedicated to GEN Z. Here is the what Pilar had to say about NYJDI in an article published earlier this week.
“What if I told you there’s a place where learning is about something other than lectures and textbooks?
The New York Jewelry Design Institute (NYJDI), it’s not your typical school; it’s more like a space for those of us who prefer to do it their own way.
In a world drowning in screen time and DIY inspiration hunts, NYJDI caught my eye. I was hunting for something new, something hands-on, and that’s when I stumbled upon this gem. (Pun intended.)
NYJDI stands as a beacon of innovation in jewelry design education. Embracing a philosophy of circular learning, NYJDI revolutionizes traditional linear studies that often mandate prerequisite courses for progression. Instead, the institute pioneers a circular curriculum, affording students the freedom to select courses that align with their individual goals and aspirations, fostering an environment conducive to entrepreneurial growth.
Whether it’s making jewelry, or taking pottery-making class, the tricky thing is getting started. It’s difficult to force yourself out of your comfort zone, difficult to gain access to these things, and difficult without any help—even if that means actually checking out the place you’ve been eyeing to take classes at on TikTok.
You can be someone like me, oblivious to the world of jewelry, or an adept designer and former student at NYJDI like Scarlett Dancer—an incredibly talented visionary—the owner of @byscarlettcdancer. In my conversation with her about NYJDI, she affirmed, “If you needed some sign from the universe that’s telling you to finally take a class like this, this is the time to do it. 2024 is the year to sign up for classes. Make it happen!”
I decided to take Scarlet’s advice and took a trip over to the heart of the diamond district to see what’s happening over at NYJDI.
With a range of classes from rapid or advances rendering, business of jewelry design, wax carving, CAD, traditional watercoloring, and more, there are a range of ways to expand your horizons here.
“We like to keep the classes small—ranging from about two to three hours—we’ll go from 10 at most to 5. For classes like CAD, I’ll usually only do it as a private class because it’s so intense and there’s so much to learn. We usually do group classes if the students know each other,” says NYJDI’s founder and creative director, Jenine Lepera.
When I met the genius behind the school, we spoke about it’s origins, and the surprising lack of access students have to a beneficial education in jewelry design. “Back in 2010 and 2011, we were in the middle of the financial crisis and I was doing interior design work: I had been trained as an interior designer. And of course, the real estate market tanked and everybody was like, ‘run for cover!’ I was just playing around with jewelry.”
As a Boston-native turned New Yorker, Lepera’s intial dream was to own an interior design studio near 5th avenue. Her background in the field significantly helped her pivot her career into jewelry, especially in computer-aided-design (CAD).
Though not interior design, she wasn’t too far off. She said,“I thought, wait a minute, I know this whole process from interior design, so I literally took my interior design process and I applied it to the jewelry industry. We did CAD, traditonal watercoloring, and wax carving. It’s everything that’s in the jewelry industry process—just a different product.”
And what’s most striking is the lack of foundational education for jewelry design—helping Lepera build a space from the ground up.
For Lepera,it all comes down to creating the things you wish were there. “I didn’t fit into corporate, you know, and I was shunned, because at the time, it was the way to go. It’s not for me,” she said.
She adds, “I took a chance not knowing where this was going to leave me. I knew there was going to be a lot of people out there that are like this, that feel this way. And how do I help them with their own hands or their own mind?”
Like many of us creatives, Lepera understands the corporate world isn’t for everyone. This has helped her build an environment catered toward students who think dynamically. She even states, “I think I should have been a Gen Z.” This led her to build an institution and space where conventional isn’t the standard: creativity is.”
As a conduit for modern teaching and learning, Lepera has met a variety of students turned prodigies. Each of which she still checks on, assists, and supports—some, she even works with.
Laura Altybayeva initially moved to New York from Kazakhstan to pursue something bigger; something of her own. “Back home, I owned a creative agency that provided different design services. We designed a jewelry collection for our national company, and I felt like the jewelry industry was attractive to me,” she explained.
Her desire to learn grew as she started researching different schools and classes for it when she came to NYC, she said,“I came here and I found Jenine last January. I took my first class in business of jewelry, and then I learned about the many different classes that I could take here.”
What started as one class turned into another, leading her to build a relationship with Lepera, a fellow entrepreneur. Altybayeva’s eye for innovation quickly allowed her to be a marketing magician at NYJDI. From January 2022 to now, Altybayeva turned from a student into a social media manager for the NYJDI, which she now assists Lepera in managing.
What’s most significant about her time at NYJDI, isn’t just the classes, her relationships with fellow students, or her curriculum, but the real-world experience she’s learned by working with Lepera. Altybayeva said, “I now know what it’s like now to run a business in New York.”
NYJDI not only offers traditional jewelry design but also classes on the many facets you can learn about the subject; you can come in with the intention of building a jewelry empire or someone who just wants to try this out for fun.
“It’s great that you can come here anytime. You can take any class you want. It’s fun. It’s easy. Nobody is giving you marks or degrees—we don’t evaluate you or your skills.” Instead, the students get feedback in real time, allowing them to understand the world of business firsthand.
Altybayeva plans to one day become a jewelry entrepreneur. She attributes a large portion of her mindset to the education she’s received at NYJDI. “I feel like this is the place for people like me, who are in the transition zone and would love to change their career. This is the best place to start,”she said.
Despite where you stand in experience, the beauty of the classes at NYJDI lie within the curriculum’s flexibility. As a fellow former student, Dancer concurs, “This isn’t one of these programs where you have these online courses that are very cookie cutter and don’t really cater to each individual person.” She adds, “It made so many possibilities possible for me.”
For those seeking a fresh start in 2024, NYJDI beckons with an array of captivating new classes. Among the highlights, Lepera shares an exclusive glimpse: “We are offering a new wedding ring workshop with your partner—even friendship rings. You can come in and make it from scratch, learn how to melt the metal, mold it, put it through the whole process and then shape it. You can do it with your own hands.”
As Jenine Lepera envisioned, “I knew there was going to be a lot of people out there that feel this way. And how do I help them with their own hands or their own mind?”