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Nina Pugliese prepared to be a designer with years of buying for Shadyside jeweler

Sunday, May 19, 2002

By LaMont Jones, Post-Gazette Fashion Editor

As a buyer at Henne Jewelers, Nina Pugliese inspects all sorts of jewelry and helps decide which designs the family-owned Shadyside business will offer customers.

Jewelry designer Nina Pugliese wears on of her own creations: a turquoise-and-pearl choker that sells for $2,125 at Henne Jewelers. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette photos)

Now, Pugliese has herself joined the ranks of jewelry designers. The necklaces, bracelets and earrings of turquoise, coral and other stones and gems in her "Nina" line are selling as fast as she can make them.

Next month, she plans to launch "Little Nina," a jewelry collection geared to girls ages 1 through 12. It will include necklaces and bracelets of pearls, tanzanite, pink tourmaline, aquamarine and 18-carat gold flowers signed "Nina."

"Shortly after I was doing the designs for the ladies," she said, "I thought to myself, 'Wouldn't it be a sweet thing to do for little girls?' So they wouldn't be left out. Little girls like jewelry. I did when I was a little girl."

Pugliese, 42, got interested in jewelry design at Fox Chapel Area High School, where she took a jewelry-making class for three years. The October after her graduation, Jack Henne hired her as a salesperson when the store relocated from East Liberty to Shadyside 23 years ago.

Eventually, Pugliese began considering a new direction, and Henne suggested that she try her hand at buying. She started with giftware and costume jewelry.

"From there it just branched and grew," said Pugliese, of Sharpsburg. "Jack was a great boss. He gave me much more confidence."

She designed a few necklaces and bracelets during the summers of 2000 and 2001. Recently, she was allowed to adjust her work schedule at Henne so she could work on her jewelry designs at home. The first collection is about 50 pieces, each different, most colorful, all fun.

Necklaces and bracelets have toggle clasps, for ease of putting on and removing. Many of the necklaces can be worn several ways.

"Just like anything that you can convert, it's nice to be able to change them," Pugliese says. "I think it's very important for women to be able to have more than just one look from a piece. Some of the pieces can go from jeans to evening gowns."

On buying trips to New York and Las Vegas, she hand-picks every precious and semiprecious stone and gem, choosing only those of superior quality to place in settings of 18- or 20-karat yellow gold or 14-karat white gold. One piece incorporates white freshwater pearls, another seven strands of garnets and pink tourmaline, another an 80-carat faceted ruby from India.

"One benefit of being a buyer is knowing the prices of materials," says Pugliese. "So many lines are overpriced."

Attention to detail: Pugliese's necklace of peridot, freshwater pearls and 20-karat gold beads.

Her prices range from $85 for a freshwater pearl bracelet with sterling silver daisies to $2,500 for a turquoise rope. The rope, on display in the store's Walnut Street window, was bought several weeks ago by a customer who had seen "Today" show host Katie Couric wearing a similar one a few days earlier.

Anne Henne said Pugliese's pieces are popular not just because they're pretty, but also because of their versatility and ease of wear. "Nina's been buying a long time -- plus, being a woman ..." Henne said.

One customer who has bought several pieces for herself and others praised Pugliese as "innovative and versatile."

"She really looks to the customer. Everybody's a little different as to what their needs or styles are. She works with the person and kind of alters the design to something they're looking for. A lot of people just design their pieces and then you buy them."

Pugliese doesn't regret not having ventured into jewelry design sooner.

"I'm satisfied," she said. "I'm happy to be doing it right now. I just feel really blessed to be in this place because the Hennes have been so generous to me with time and opportunities. They've given me the opportunity, and the Lord has given me the ability."

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