I first laid eyes on Johnny Ninos‘ incredible designs when I visited Love Adorned earlier this year in New York City. His barnacle collection stands out for its unique out-of-this-world look, and I had to know more about the designer! I enjoyed learning about Johnny and his approach, and how this sculptor turned into a jewelry designer. The best surprise was finding out we both were born in the same small town in upstate New York, small world!
His use of recycled metals and conflict-free black and white diamonds is as organic as his technique and style. Each ring looks as though The Little Mermaid would wear them all stacked, one on every finger. And they all pair so well together! Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this talented designer, but first I had to catch up with him:
I’ve been building a new workbench that I’m excited about. I built my first bench before I really knew what I needed and I’m ready for an upgrade! I will probably want to build another one up in a few years but I’m treating this one as though it is my one and only and totally geeking out on the whole thing.
I grew up surrounded by makers in Alfred, a small college town in western NY. It’s intoxicating atmosphere of creativity led me to stay for my BFA where I focused in Sculpture. I started working in clay and eventually wood and metal followed. It was at Alfred that I learned how to work and think about materials. The metalwork I was creating was at a much larger scale. I was casting steel and bronze using 200 lb. crucibles, welding and cutting large sheets of metal and hammering away at the forge. Soon after graduating I accepted a teaching job at a small private boarding school in CA. The curriculum had jewelry and small metals and at the time those practices were completely new to me. To keep a step ahead of my students I spent a lot of time learning through books and youtube. At the bench I focused on building from the basics and found my background in sculpture translated well and quickly grew comfortable taking risks. A few years later my wife Ashleigh and I got engaged and I took on making the rings which gave me my first experience working with gold and diamonds. From there I was hooked. My first gallery representation came from taking a wrong turn while walking in San Francisco which led me past Love & Luxe. It was there that I met owner and jeweler Betsy Barron. We hit it off and when I left, I took with me a new friend, a commission for a custom display case, and an agreement for my work to be represented in her gallery. That moment where I was able to show my work along side jewelers I admired and respected was a huge confidence booster and gave me a lot of forward momentum.
I spend as much time as I can by water, not only for the visuals, but for the smell and sounds. Much of my recent work in my barnacle series is a result of time spent along the coast here in CA. However when I create a piece it’s not always representative of a particular event or finding, but a result of the drive to create which for me often comes from being outside.
I have a lot of ideas that keep me up at night. Necklaces, earrings and new bridal sets are in the works. I’m also looking forward to getting some pieces out that are more delicate than than my current work. I’m playing around with flush and prong settings and see a lot of potential. I’m also really looking forward to the mystery of the future. I have a lot to learn and I look forward to how that will influence my work.
My favorite piece is my wedding band and my wife’s wedding set. I will always remember creating these rings and the timidness for the way I approached the material that was significantly more precious than I was used to. Mine is a no frills band made in 14k white. Ashleigh’s is a bit more special. The day we got engaged we ventured out with our kayaks and found a small beach stone from a great little secluded spot we love. Her set is a three ring stack, one with the beach stone as the setting. I look at these rings now and see so much growth in my knowledge of the material from when I created them. For me they are a time machine of good memories.