Founder of Nallik & Atelier Nallik
NALLIK was founded in 2010 by Jean Linda Balke in New York City and has since, moved its headquarters to London.
Balke’s specialty is her extensive knowledge of stones plus her experience and excellent intuition on which stone is the perfect one for each customer. Atelier Nallik is the new made-to-order line of the brand. Focusing on limited editions of the brand’s signature necklaces, Atelier Nallik stands for one-of-a-kind pieces made from raw mineral stones set in either pure 18k gold, 925 sterling silver or brass.
All the stones -sapphire, opal, kunzite, tanzanite and many more, are personally collected by the designer herself during her various journeys to different parts of the world. All pieces are hand-made and carry the story of the place where Balke discovered them. In this interview, founder and designer Jean Linda Balke, tells us all about the journey that took her from a career in Art Direction to a successful jewellery business with a twist of alchemy.
I-M: The concept of Nallik draws from basic elements from earth (cyclosilicates) and from the core of Inuit culture (nurture, affection, peace). Why did you choose it this way?
J.L.B: I’ve always felt very connected to nature, and somehow to the Inuit culture. I love how they do everything in full circle and for me that is just perfect. When I founded this company, I took my time to choose the name, because I really wanted to make it right and I really wanted to find something that truly expressed
the value I connect to the stones. I always had this nomadic lifestyle in my mind and
I simply put together the right values: adventure, integrity, transparency. I see myself building a community around the brand and its values. I have customers who have a collection of my pieces and wear them as much for their properties as they do for their beauty.
I-M: When did you first become interested in stones and why?
J.L.B: I have a degree in Communication Design and actually started silver smithing when I was an art director. I did it in the evenings, in Hatton Garden, just to work with my hands and get my mind off things. As an Art Director, I had to travel a lot and always collected stones on my travel. So at some point, I thought of combining my two passions together and make pieces of jewellery.
I didn’t collect the stones as souvenirs, but for themselves. I like sculpture as well. As a child, I really liked when I found something that reminded me of something else -the form of it or the material it was made of. Then when I started working in New York,
I started to work a lot with raw stones; I liked their texture more than the polished ones. From there, I went on to work with a wider variety of stones, and found precious one, but in a raw form, which I found interesting, like for instance, emerald embedded in a stone.
I-M: You say that it is possible to match a person with his/hers perfect stone. What do you look at when trying to do this?
J.L.B: The best way is to meet the client one on one, because that way we can talk and I get a feeling for the person, take in their aura or just take in the feeling for the whole person. Actually, I’ve been told that sometimes, when I meet new people I stare at them; it might sound strange but what I am trying to do is to take in the whole person. I do it subconsciously. But suddenly, I find myself thinking “Oh! This stone would perfect for her.” It often happens that when the client finally tells me what she is looking for, the stone I had thought of matches what she wants.
I-M: Do you think that the stones can have an effect on the person wearing them?
J.L.B: I think so. All minerals have an electrical frequency and I believe this is the basis of it. You can go really deep into the properties of each stone. I try to combine my heartfelt feeling of somebody with my knowledge of the stones properties to match them to a person.
I’ll give you an example. Once, I was with a client who was a very rational person and knew what she wanted. She looked at a few pieces, but was hesitant about which one to choose; then I showed her a piece which she immediately wanted to try on and know more about. I told her it was a stone for the heart and she said that what she needed was something for clear thinking, so she was a bit reluctant to take it. However, once on her, it looked fabulous and even matched her whole outfit. She said, “I feel really good wearing this,” and a few weeks later she sent me an email saying she was very grateful and that she never took her necklace off because it felt amazing. I do receive a lot of thank you emails and even notes in the mail, which is lovely.
I-M: Where do you go to source your stones?
J.L.B: I like to travel everywhere. I’ve been to India, Indonesia, Africa and a lot to the US to source opals from the desert. I am planning to go to Brazil next. I also go to trade shows and mineral shows to get stones from places where it is difficult to go right to where the stones are extracted from. I know a few dealers, who I trust and know that they do not colour or heat-treat the stones to enhance their look. I know about the tricks of the trade! I try to meet them in person. If there is something that excites me, I trust my gut and I work on building a relationship with that dealer.
I-M: When does a raw stone become an Atelier NALLIK stone?
J.L.B: Well, I’m very visual and tactile. I look many times at a stone before buying it and I touch everything. I have a lot of stones by now. A few of them I have had for years and they just offer themselves when they want to be set and until then, they kind of hide.
I realise it sounds strange, but that is how it feels. For instance, it happens often that I have a stone for a while and I am not sure what to do with it and then one day it just becomes really obvious.
The settings are not very different. I try to follow the form of the stones. Recently I have been working much with gold, but when I first started and because of the price I was trying out a lot of different metals. I used brass and liked its very organic look, but I love gold and very much go in that direction now. At the moment, I use yellow gold, 18ct or 14ct, sometimes even 9ct, as it has a rose feel to it.
I-M: Do your customers enquiry about the source and quality of the stones you use?
J.L.B: Customers often ask me for certificates of the stones, but this is not always possible, because some of them are just by-products, not precious enough, and these are the ones that I normally
buy. I am going for the beauty of the raw stones. At first, they look like nothing much, but with the help of the gold settings we transform them into stunning pieces. This is the alchemist way. For the environment’s sake, for beauty’s sake, we turn something unwanted, the ugly duckling, into something beautiful.
I-M: Where do your customers mostly come from?
J.L.B: I started here in the UK, so I am re-launching the brand here, since the
UK is keeping up with Germany, which is currently my biggest market. I was based in New York for a long time and I still have quite a reliable client base there, but thanks to e-commerce, we now have clients everywhere, as far as Japan, New Zealand and Germany. I am also keen to grow our market in the UAE. I had a store in a very touristy area of Berlin, so people would come in and say that they didn’t really
like gemstones but that they loved mine and felt a connection to the brand. This connection is important to me and I would like to make it more accessible worldwide. For that purpose I am developing my website, working on videos of the products and focusing on the sensorial process.
I-M: What is next for Atelier NALLIK and Jean Linda Balke?
J.L.B: I have a lot of different product ideas, I am going more into a luxury direction.
On the other hand, I am very interested in social media, the whole digital age and the possibilities they are opening. I feel we are flying out of the children’s shoes digitally wise and this is why I want to focus on selling online and work on multi-sensorial experiences. For example, on my next trip
I am going to have a video conferencing facility with me, so wherever I go and buy stones, the client can be with me and share the journey. I believe that as a jeweller and artist, it is finally time for me to go into the spotlight.