Friends and customers already knew that Encinitas resident Niki Grandics — the 27-year-old owner of ENJI Studio Jewelry — has a successful, socially-responsible business with beautiful handmade merchandise.
Last month, she was officially recognized with the 11th annual Halstead Grant, which is awarded for jewelry design excellence and business strategy acumen amongst enterprising new jewelers.
“I had been debating applying for it,” Grandics told the Encinitas Advocate. “But I met (Halstead President Hilary Halstead Scott) at a conference in Boston … she came over to my booth at a show and bought a pair of earrings and said ‘Hey I really like your stuff.’”
That “stuff,” jewelry Grandics describes as a mix of geometric and minimal elements with a raw edge to it, has been influenced by her interesting life growing up.
Grandics was born in Hungary and moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was 8, living first in L.A. and moving to Carlsbad a year later. After growing up in North County, in 2014 Grandics moved back to Encinitas, close enough to Cardiff Beach to take her dog Dio to run in the surf.
When the family first moved to the U.S., Grandics’ parents still had business in Hungary so she was back there often and spent most summers there until high school. She also took a year off between high school and college at San Diego State, and spent that year in Hungary.
“Especially when I was a kid, it was very much a different world in each place. Southern California was so different than Hungary, which was just getting out of communism. That definitely had an influence … I’m drawn to contrast even in a design sense.”
And throughout that childhood, Grandics was making art, up to and including her college years at San Diego State.
“I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil and then I was also doing glass blowing before I started jewelry,” Grandics said.
While focusing on wearable glass art in her early years at SDSU, she needed to learn jewelry-making techniques to make them truly wearable, and that got her hooked on making jewelry.
“One thing led to the next and then I sat down on the (jewelry-making) bench and said ‘This is where I need to be,’” Grandics explained. “It was always more serious than just something to do for fun.”
Thinking she would continue as an artist, Grandics worked in a few galleries before deciding that wasn’t for her.
After committing to make and sell her own jewelry line for a living, Grandics got her first break when she earned the Windgate Fellowship Award from the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, which recognizes innovative upcoming talent in the fields of jewelry, glass, furniture and textile arts. This honor came right after she graduated from SDSU in 2014 — with degrees in applied design and marketing — and the grant money allowed her to travel to Europe to learn her craft, as well as get her business started when she returned to the U.S.
“I was able to do a workshop with a really well-known Dutch goldsmith and then another internship over there (in the Netherlands),” Grandics said. “Then once I came back, I was able to use the money to set up my shop, go to conferences and exhibit at some trade shows.”
She also went back to school, getting a scholarship to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) graduate jewelry program, completing the preparation she needed for ENJI to take off.
One of the most important parts of Grandics’ business is its commitment to giving back to the community. In addition to using high-quality, nickel-free materials — as well as recycled and sustainable silver, recycled or Fairmined Gold and recycled or lab grown diamonds whenever possible as a member of the Ethical Metalsmiths organization — ENJI works with local charities such as the San Diego Family Justice Center’s Voices program, Camp Hope and Patheways for Hope. Grandics will design pieces that raise money for specific charities and also donates a portion of sales.
It’s all part of an overall business model that Halstead recognized as a finalist in 2015 and the 2016 winner.
“Niki … has all the right tools plus a distinct gift for design,” Halstead Scott said in a news release. “It’s amazing to see how much entries have changed in the decade (plus) that we have been sponsoring the grant. New jewelers are using their social media savvy to learn about their customers and engage with them in exciting ways to grow their businesses.”
The Halstead Grant competition began in 2006 as a way to bring the business plan concept to the jewelry community and encourage makers to establish clear goals and measurable steps towards self-sufficiency, according to a release.
Grandics’ jewelry is available online and in some stores, and her work is on display at www.nikigrandics.com.