Jenine Lepera Izzi, creative director of the New York Jewelry Design Institute, did not start her career imagining that she would one day operate a school for budding jewelry designers. Armed with a business degree, the Boston native spent the initial part of her career in lucrative corporate sales positions in the biotech and finance industries, building a loyal client base along the East Coast from Boston to Miami. But she also maintained a passion for art, quality design, as well as living and working in New York City.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Izzi decided to change the direction of her life. “Our firm lost many people as well as clients,” she says. “Things would never be the same. It was very difficult decision to walk away from my career and go back to school. But I felt it was something I needed to do – to explore my other passions for art and design.”
Izzi initially decided to study interior design in New York and Florence, Italy. In Florence, she learned to design in CAD, which was newly being used by architects and interior designers there. But she soon realized that she actually had a greater passion for jewelry design – much on display in the ancient Italian city. Applying her acquired design skills anew, she studied jewelry design and trained as a bench jeweler.
Returning to the U.S. as a jewelry designer, Izzi realized she was ahead of her time on the CAD front, especially where the jewelry trade was concerned. In addition, she had been trained on a CAD design program called 3Design. “Everyone in the U.S. jewelry trade seemed to be using another system, but I found 3Design to be a more intuitive and truly design-oriented system.” Meeting young designers, Izzi also observed how little many of them knew about business. “They were classic artists – creative but not operations-oriented,” she realized. “My business training told me that they would have trouble building and sustaining businesses.”
Then, a light bulb went off. What if she combined her sales and business acumen with her jewelry design skills to teach what she knew? Izzi began offering classes to the new entrepreneurial generation that she saw coming to life, as the Great Recession took hold. Her natural people skills and one-on-one warmth soon brought her a following as a teacher, and the New York Jewelry Design Institute was born.
Now, the city’s leading boutique jewelry design institute, located in the center of the Diamond District on 45th St., NYJDI offers workshops and classes in beginning hand rendering of jewelry and gems; CAD design using the 3Design program; basic Adobe Illustrator jewelry design skills; Adobe Photoshop jewelry design skills; and traditional European watercolor jewelry drawing techniques – among other specialized design courses.
Izzi, who teaches the beginning hand rendering courses, has also brought in an array of talented instructors with deep industry experience to teach her other classes. “My instructors, like me, spent time working in industry, and we’re able to inject a realism into our courses about how the business of design works – along with teaching the design skills.” A separate class, actually entitled “The Business of Design,” also goes into far more detail on the business skills that new jewelry design entrepreneurs must acquire to be successful. It is also taught by an experienced jewelry designer in the field.
Izzi’s path from super saleswoman to training institute founder and director also informs the school’s philosophy of skills training. “The breadth and depth of my lifelong journey is the most valuable thing I can pass onto my students,” she says. “I take great pride in nurturing them and helping them succeed in the amazing world of jewelry design. And I get tremendous gratification assisting them with the daunting task of navigating the business obstacles that torment most creative people. I’ve done it, and I know that with the training they get from my institute, they can too.
“When I look back,” says Izzi, “I realize that it may not seem as if each step I took built on the one before it,” she continued, “but they all helped me understand and meet the needs of each and every student at the New York Jewelry Design Institute, students whose backgrounds are as varied as the pieces of jewelry they design.”