Elements of Style

Jill Reno: Jewelry Designer, Houstonian, Rock Star

Reno's colorful pieces have quite a fan club: Felicity Huffman, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere and Olivia Munn all have worn them on the red carpet.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen April 28, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Todd Spoth

Houstonian Jill Reno’s daughter was 4 years old when she sketched her first chandelier earrings. It must run in the family: Reno, who’s been designing jewelry for 15 years, started out in the fourth grade by making countless friendship bracelets. Today she makes jewelry out of gemstones, not string, creating designs that showcase each stone’s natural beauty, whether she’s working with a surprisingly pretty piece of simple rutilated quartz or a jaw-dropping Colombian emerald. These colorful, eye-catching pieces have quite a fan club: Felicity Huffman, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere and Olivia Munn all have worn them on the red carpet.

How did you decide to become a jewelry designer?

My grandfather [Jim Reno] is a famous sculptor, and we shared that love of art. I started sculpting with him after college and went to art school in San Miguel de Allende. Before that, I danced ballet for 12 years. So I’ve always been drawn to the arts. … One thing about art is, we can stand here in this spot and look at this Dalí and enjoy it, but you have to be here. The wonderful thing about jewelry is, it’s wearable art, so wherever you go it’s there with you.

How did you go from Houston to seeing your designs on the red carpet?

It started with the Hope & Faith show, with Faith Ford and Kelly Ripa and Megan Fox. They were the first to wear my jewelry. A girl who was a producer for America’s Most Wanted had moved to Kerrville, where I was living at the time, and she fell in love with my jewelry, and she was like, “I want to help you get your name out there—I’m going to send a box to Faith Ford.” And it just started there.

Is it fun to be a part of the awards-show circuit?

It’s a blast! It’s neat because you’re meeting with celebrities, but meanwhile they appear to be equally excited to be meeting with a jewelry designer, talking jewelry and talking gems. … Glenn Close had an onyx ring with a diamond in the middle very similar to one of my great-grandmother’s, so we had a really interesting conversation about it. It’s really fascinating talking with creative people, especially if you share a passion.

Do you have any particular gemstone that you’re drawn to?

I’m absolutely crazy about the Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline. That is my absolute passion. It’s the color. I love to be able to see the copper, magnesium and gold that’s mixed into the tourmaline—it gives it this beautiful hue that’s just otherworldly. There’s nothing out there like it.

Any rules you follow about how to wear jewelry?

I think if you’re wearing a necklace that’s long, you can wear a bigger earring, but if you’re wearing something that falls closer to your neck, you want a smaller earring. Also, if you’re stacking bracelets or rings, I like to do it in threes. You want to keep it balanced.

When you get dressed, do you think about the clothes first or the jewelry first?

It depends on where I’m going! When Eva Longoria invited us to an event she did with Ricky Martin in December, I had jewelry picked out. That was the main thing before the dress. I have clients who will do the same thing; they’ll come in and pick out a great statement piece, and then they’ll go shopping for the outfit to go with it.

What’s your favorite thing in your closet?

I was doing an event in L.A., and they were going to interview me on the red carpet, so I went to Rodeo Drive to Dolce & Gabbana and ended up buying this gorgeous, gorgeous dress. It was at the very beginning of my career, so it really was like the Pretty Woman experience.

Are there any places in Houston that you’re inspired by?

I do like Tootsies. Even their bathroom is beautiful! As far as design goes, I like the museums. I did a whole collection called Starry Night—I was at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and we were going to the planetarium, and they had a picture of the night sky through the Hubble Telescope. And all the gases create all these different colors. So I came back and designed the whole collection based on that picture from the museum, with all different-colored diamonds with oxidized sterling silver as the black night sky.

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