nikki designer of revive jewelry and some charitable jewelry that gives back

About Nikki and Revive Jewelry

I realized recently that I’ve never written a post about my background and how Revive got started. There are bits and pieces of the story strung throughout every blog, product and page of the website, but I wanted to create a go-to place for everything about me, and the who, what, where, when and how of Revive jewelry including the design process.

Nikki Zazzali designer of Revive Jewelry

That's me, Nikki! It's nice to meet you :) 

I’ll start with my story- told in depth- from questions I get asked all the time. Then move on to Revive, although once I started writing this, I realized it’s hard not to intertwine the two because I really do feel like Revive was a part of me from the moment I started using cell images in my designs, but I’ve done my best to tell the story linearly and coherently.

It keeps getting longer- maybe I should write a book. Haha!

About Me

When did I start making jewelry?

Nikki as a baby with lots of necklaces on

Proof that I've been obsessed with jewelry for a VERY long time!

Some of my earliest memories are of what I called, “making my beads,” or creating little beaded bracelets or woven friendship bracelets. I was borderline obsessed with anything that had to do with jewelry. If I had a free minute, I was making bracelets. I made a little travel kit and took my supplies with me everywhere. My mom can attest to me working on my bracelets in the back seat of her car. It was my favorite thing to do. I absolutely loved it. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I could make it a career though.

I grew up in an upper middle-class neighborhood where college and career was a very big deal. There was a lot of pressure to pick a “sensible” focus; art was definitely something most parents balked at. Luckily for me, my mom was an artist at heart (she didn’t do it for a job, but rather as a hobby. She always wanted it to be her real job and she’s really good at it, better than me even), so I knew she’d be supportive of whatever I wanted to do.

Nikki and grandpa Mike at high school graduation

Me & Grandpa Mike at my high school graduation. Yes, they made us wear those god awful yellow gowns!

Right after high school, I went to California State University Long Beach. Still not realizing I could major in jewelry design, and folding under the pressure to pick a “real” major, I decided to go for creative writing. I also loved books and writing, so this seemed like the best safe choice for a solid career to come out of it.

Life Gets in the Way 

Now, this is where the story gets sticky. I started to make some really terrible decisions and ended up getting overwhelmed by life. I’m not going to go into details (maybe I will in another post some time), but it was serious enough that I took an indefinite hiatus from school.

Fast forward 3 years, and I realized I needed to be doing more with my life if I wanted to actually achieve the things I wanted- marriage, kids, own a home, have a nice career. It was time to go back to school. But I wasn’t really into writing, I was actually into art. Like really into it. So I decided to ease back into school by taking all art classes at a junior college in Santa Monica. My schedule consisted of glassblowing, 2D design, Drawing 1 and Jewelry Design.

Cancer Awareness Jewelry

ovarian and skin cancer awareness necklaces give back to charity

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Inspiration Strikes

I’ll never forget the moment when I realized I could be a jewelry designer for my career. I was standing in the hallway outside of the jewelry classroom. There were some cases displaying student work and I looked at it, thinking how I wanted my pieces to be in there, and because I was making jewelry now, they might actually be in there at some point. And then, like I was finally seeing the hidden image in the magic eye I’ve been staring at for the past 21 years, it struck me with the most clarity I’ve ever had in my entire life:

“I can be a jewelry designer!”

It was an amazing revelation! I wanted to scream it. I wanted to run up and down the halls, yelling, “I’m gonna be a jewelry designer you guys. I figured it out. This is what I should do!” I didn’t because no one was around to appreciate it. But, I’ll never forget that feeling. It was amazing, like pure adrenaline and happiness surging through my veins.

 

nikki at her college art jewelry show

My solo art jewelry show I put together my final semester of college. You can see a lot of the different jewelry pieces I was making- all based on diseases.

Back on Track

After that, I was fully committed to school and actually got really good grades too. I completed my AA degree and transferred to California State University Fullerton (CSUF). I decided to do the BFA program which added an extra year, so 3 instead of 2, but I wanted to focus on jewelry design. My department head, Christina Smith, is a well known silversmith who makes mostly whimsical tea sets as well as jewelry. It was a wonderful experience learning from her.

nikki and her mentor christina smith at college graduation

Christina Smith & me at the Honors Ceremony the night before my college graduation from CSUF. 

The jewelry program required us to make a seemingly endless amount of projects. At one point, I was assigned a brooch- or pin- and I needed some inspiration. At the time, the H1N1 virus or Swine Flu, was going around and people were very worried about it. I was perplexed by the idea of a virus making people so crazed (hindsight’s twenty-twenty now though, no pun intended). So, I decided to google it, and this picture of a virus popped up.

 

h1n1 virus image and finished sterling silver brooch based on it

My first cell based design! On the left is the cell image of the H1N1 virus that inspired the finished sterling silver brooch on the right.

And I thought it was so cool looking. I designed my project after it and got a lot of positive feedback- this idea was fresh and exciting. Now, I was hooked on making all my projects in this way- incorporating cell images as the basis of my designs. Being in an art program you’re constantly around other brilliant artists and you always want to be different and stand out. This was definitely different and it definitely made me stand out- I had found my artistic voice. 

In 2012, I graduated summa cum laude (the first & possibly only crafts and metal smithing student to ever do so), and received my BFA degree. It was the best thing I’d done in my life. I’m still so proud.

What Now?

I knew I wanted to have my own jewelry line. But like any other artist, finding my niche was difficult. Especially in a saturated market like jewelry, you really need to have a very unique signature style to stand out. When I found these histology or cell images in college, I knew I was on to something special. To this day, I’ve only seen a few other artists using these types of images as inspiration and most of them are painters, no one is using them for jewelry- except me.

nikki and family at college graduation

Me with my brothers & mom at my college graduation.

So, I knew I wanted to keep making these designs because they were so exciting and different. But I wasn’t sure if it would be a viable company- how would people respond to wearing diseases? Was I just totally bizarre? Plus going out on your own is scary and with no real world experience in the field, I decided to get a job that would show me the ropes.

Let’s Get Professional

While I was in the program at CSUF, I was lucky enough to get a job as a designer’s assistant for Kande, of French Kande. At the time I started there, the company was only a year old, so I wore a lot of different hats; customer service, making jewelry, shipping orders, even doing sales. Since I was working there and concurrently getting my degree, as soon as I graduated I started to look for full time positions at other companies. Like any naive twenty something, I thought I would easily move up in life now that I had a proper education.

I truly never expected to get it, but I was hired on as the production manager for Dana Kellin Jewelry, a Los Angeles based brand that had been around for 19 years. I was so excited. I had a REAL and very respectable job working in my preferred industry- what could go wrong? 

various revive jewelry pieces that give back to charity

Trial by Fire

Boy, did I get a true trial by fire. I was thrown into this position I had no business doing, and no one trained me. I had to figure it out for myself. I was in charge of 10 jewelry makers, producing all orders on time and shipping on schedule, quality control of raw materials and finished jewelry. I was working all the time- literally 80 hour weeks sometimes. It was my dream, but it was a lot. And I got burned out. But I was determined to stay a year before finding something new.

As fate would have it, right at the one year mark my first employer, French Kande contacted me to see if I was interested in coming back. They had grown to a place where they needed a full time person and I decided, for various reasons, to go back and become their production manager. It was a lateral move, but it made me much happier. I grew with the company by creating systems and hiring & managing all the jewelry assemblers as well as taking every order from start to finish. It was still a small company so I was doing a lot; sales rep, customer service, shipping department, assembler, quality control, inventory management, hiring manager, HR, Accounting, Office manager, even janitorial.

After about 6 years back at FK, I started to realize I was dedicating so much time to making other people’s dreams come true, why wasn’t I working this hard for my dream?

Let’s go back in time a bit now

nikki and zack as kids

My brother Zack & me. I'm 15 months older, but everyone thought we were twins. Do you think so?

In 2012, my brother was diagnosed with lupus, which was incredibly difficult to watch. Flare ups are especially painful, and it takes a long time for them to figure out what’s wrong with you. I learned that there’s very little known about what causes it, how to treat it and there is no cure. It was eye-opening to say the least.

In 2014, my grandpa, who was like a father to me, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and passed away within a month. I was devastated. My family was devastated. I saw the pain we were all going through and I desperately wanted to do something to help.

grandpa mike

My Grandpa Mike.

At some point between 2012 and 2016 I realized that I should pair my cell-based designs with giving back to finding a cure and it finally all made sense. But, I was still scared to take the big step to put myself out there. 

Disease Awareness Jewelry

multiple sclerosis earrings and Alzheimer's awareness necklace

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Meanwhile I had been working for those two companies in 3 different positions, for a total of 8 years. And I’m talking 40 plus hours per week, for 8 years. I was more than a little burned out and I realized it was time to stop working so hard for other people’s dreams and give mine a real shot.

In 2016, I officially filed the paperwork to become an LLC in the state of CA, and in 2018 I left my full time job and took my rightful place as the Designer & Owner of Revive Jewelry.

Revive Jewelry

awareness earrings for multiple sclerosis, prostate cancer and heart disease

Revive: the word conjures images of breathing life back into something that has perished. This is a core concept in my life and I incorporate it into the artistry of Revive Jewelry.

Revive is a metaphor for what my jewelry is intended to do. I want my jewelry to breathe life back into those who may feel deflated or downtrodden. To empower you or your loved ones against disease by making it beautiful. And by giving back to charity, you’re creating positive change for a disease-free future.

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revive jewelry gives back to charity

Science Inspired Jewelry

Revive is more than just jewelry; it’s hope, strength, awareness, charity & cures. Each design is based on a cell image of disease, and when you buy, 10% is donated to finding a cure for that specific illness.

What do you mean- a “cell image”?

These cell images are technically called histology slides. “Histology is the study of the microanatomy of cells, tissues, and organs as seen through a microscope.” (source) Scientists, doctors and researchers use them to identify microscopic aspects of parts of the body, including the function of its parts. They are also used to diagnose and study diseases.

Simply put, histology slides are a group of cells containing dye to better see the different structures present in the sample. They are created to study the correlation between structure and function. When there are abnormalities found, doctors use that specific change to make an appropriate diagnosis.

histology slide collage of lung cancer, Alzheimer's, breast cancer, skin cancer and ovarian cancer

Various examples of histology slides. From left to right; lung cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer's, ovarian cancer, & melanoma or skin cancer.

But when I look at the slides, what I see are gorgeously organic, brightly colored masterpieces that illustrate our divine nature. Don’t you agree?

All of the cell images, or histology slides, I use come from reputable sources like scientific journals and government research labs.

Ok, now that the science talk is out of the way, let’s talk about how it’s made!

How is it made?

how the cell images become jewelry

High Quality Promise

I hand make every piece of jewelry for you with love in my Redondo Beach, CA home studio. I only use the best materials; sterling silver, 14k gold filled and semi-precious stones. All of my jewelry is hypoallergenic, so you won’t find any nickel, copper or lead here! I pride myself in creating a high quality product that mirrors the high quality of life I desire for you. That’s why I guarantee all my pieces for life- I’m confident that they’ll last you a lifetime.

Here’s how my design process works: 

I use the cell images to create my pendants in 3 different ways: resin casting, 3D modeling, and cut outs.

Resin Casting

From the histology slide, I use masks to select an interesting portion of the image and cut it out to fit a pre-made bezel cup shape. Now I use resin to preserve the image. The resin process happens in 2 steps, over 2 days with additional curing time until it’s completely finished. That’s why it takes me 3-5 days after receiving an order to make it & ship it to you.

finished resin pendants for various disease, illness and cancer causes

Most people don’t know this, but resin is very particular and it takes a lot of practice. If you mix it incorrectly or don’t have the right temperature in the room, disaster will strike. I still sometimes get it wrong and end up with oopsies (but that’s just more for my personal collection ;).

It’s definitely harder than you think, but worth it for the gorgeous stone-like quality that comes from getting it right. The colorful histology slides are transformed into shiny gems that preserve the unsuspected beauty underneath for a lifetime.

Want to see my pendant creation process in action? Check out my behind the scenes video, Design Process. 

 

3D Modeling

For some pendants, I use the cell images as a template and digitally draw on top of them with special software to create a 3D model. I can then use CAD to resize the design or add in additional details, like rings. Once the model is complete, I send it to a 3d printer to have it made in a moldable wax that can be used to create re-usable molds for metal casting. Those moldable waxes get sent to my caster, who is a small family run business located in Colorado. They hand make and finish each sterling silver casting before sending them back to me. 

Because it’s not possible to cast in 14k gold filled, all of the cast pendants you see in gold are plated. But they have a very high level of gold plating and should not tarnish. These are the only elements of the line that are plated, and that’s because it’s impossible to get them in gold fill and too expensive to do 14k solid gold. (Unless you’re interested in 14k Gold, let me know, here).

Cut Outs

This is similar to the process for the 3D modeling, but more of an analog version. I take the histology slides and find an interesting portion. I outline it with pencil and create a makeshift carbon paper on the back side so I can transfer it to a new piece of paper.  Now I have a stencil that I apply with two sided tape to a piece of sheet metal. I then use a hand saw to cut it out. Once it’s cut, it must be filed and sanded with various grades of sand paper until it’s smooth.

design in progress from sketch to cut out to finished metal pieces ready to solder

This is midway through the cut out process. You can see the different sketches & cut out templates I need to have to create the pendant. On the bottom right you see the two metal cut outs with the pink moonstone that will be set laid on top and the hand shaped bail I created from wire. This is where the chain will pass through. 

Usually, this type of design will incorporate a stone setting. I use hand tools to size and shape the form of the bezel setting for the stone. Then I use a torch and solder to attach the bezel to the cut out. Once the cut out and the bezel have been soldered together, it must go through a series of finishing before the stone can be set.

The last step is to set the stone by hand with lots of care to make sure it’s fitting just right so there’s no movement & any good aspects of the stone, like fire, are highlighted by it’s positioning. I use a bezel pusher to slowly close the bezel around the stone making sure to hit opposite points around the stone as I go. To finish it off, I use the burnisher to shine up the bezel and give it a final round over the stone.

Finishing the Design

Once I have the pendants completed using one of the three methods, I design and build around them by adding in semi-precious stones, crystals and chains. Depending on the design, this could require beading, wire wrapping or simple finishing. 

Nikki working at bench finishing jewelry

I'm hard at work making jewelry at my bench here. I always get such a serious expression because I'm so focused.

Each piece is made especially for you after you order it. Because of the handmade nature of my jewelry, each one is slightly varied in the imagery and stones. Your piece is completely unique, just like you.

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behind the scenes of the nikki and revive jewelry in the design process

Your Jewelry Gives Back

The Charity Aspect

Each product you buy gives back to a disease or illness related charity partner that’s been hand picked to have the best use of every dollar we donate. The particular piece you buy will give back to the specific cause associated with it’s design. So you’ll know what cause you’re supporting right from the get go.

model wearing revive charitable jewelry that gives back

Where does the donation go?

Each cause has a unique charity partner that is dedicated to finding cures, better treatments, and providing patient education & support for that specific cause. You’ll find more information about which charity your donation is going to in the description of each piece. You can also read more information on all of our charity partners and how your purchase makes an impact here

How do you find your charity partners?

revive jewelry charity partners that benefit from our give back program

Just some of the Revive Jewelry charity partners. There are 19 total now!

Transparency in non-profits is required by law and allows us to see where their funds are allocated. You’d be surprised how many big name charities use most of their donations to throw big fundraising balls or pay their staffs hefty salaries over putting the money toward research.

I use charity navigator, which is a website that aggregates all the public information charities must provide the public in an easy to digest charity profile. I use this information to choose the charities that devote most of their funding back to research, programs and support for patients. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, here’s the link: https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Special Charity Partnerships

nikki attending various charity events for PanCAN, Sarcoma Alliance and Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Over the years, I’ve developed some really amazing relationships with some of the charity partners. I’ve been blessed to attend a lot of events, participate in fundraisers and even got to volunteer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (so cool to help those kids!). These partners always have the best staff members, with amazing hearts, willing to help anyone for any reason- the salt of the earth type people. Some of them have even done an interview with me to educate, give tips and advice:

Addie from Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Connor from Cure Alzheimer’s Foundation

Liz from GRIN2B Foundation

Make sure you follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss out on any of these interviews. I release them monthly to coincide with the Cause of the Month.

Cause of the Month

cause of the month program giving back to 12 different charities over the year

Each month I highlight a different cause to help raise money & awareness. There’s a new jewelry style released based on the cell imagery of the cause. Then I post weekly blogs about topics related to the cause like prevention, early detection, statistics & breakthroughs, our charity partner spotlight, and even fun stuff like how to style your new jewelry or what the stones mean

Usually the causes coincide with the awareness month, but not always. Make sure you join the Change Maker’s Club so you don’t miss out on any of the new releases or helpful blog posts.

Whew, you made it!

Thanks for reading this extremely long post! Now you see why it’s so important to me that you’re able to connect with your loved ones, feel your strength restored, take your power back from disease and create a better future with your Revive Jewelry. I’m the creator, but you’re my motivation. 

We are all in this together, so let's fight disease and look fabulous while doing it.

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give the best gift ever jewelry that gives back to charity, keep loved ones close even when you're apart

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