This article was republished by The FilAm, a content partner of GMA News Online, with permission from Bakasyon Inflight magazine.
Reagan Rada, 31, is the technical jewelry designer of Piranesi in New York, the largest Italian jewelry company in the U.S., with a client list including royalties and heads of states. Before Piranesi, he was in an enviable job as director of design at the House of Taylor, a jewelry company owned by the late Elizabeth Taylor.
This is all rather impressive but even more so placed in the context of Rada’s humble beginnings. It’s a kitchen floor to the jewelry corporate world story, the stuff rags-to-riches fables are made of.
Eleven years ago, Rada left the Philippines for the United States with only $1,500 in his pocket, hoping for work to send money back home to help out his family.
“I didn’t have any plans at all of going to the U.S., but my mom begged me… So I told my mom, this will be a one-time application. Fortunately, I got the visa. A week later, I was in Los Angeles.”
He arrived in West Hollywood and stayed with his sister-in-law. “We were seven people in a small one-bedroom apartment. It was tough starting out in LA but it was also exciting,” he said.
“I was jobless for two months before I got hired as a reliever caregiver and housemaid. I worked two days a week, earning $600 a month.” Rada says. “My boss was very grouchy, honestly. I had to sleep on the floor, eat at the kitchen sink, change her baby’s diaper six to seven times a day. I was working 24 hours round-the-clock.”
Rada holds a bachelor of science degree in computer education from AMA Computer College, and was a substitute computer instructor at the Makati High School before he left the country.
During his stay in the U.S., Rada’s father suffered a stroke, forcing him to look for another job to augment his income and help his family more. RJM Jewelry hired him as a janitor/errand boy.
Two months later he quit his first job to work more hours at RJM. Rada says, “My employer considered me as the ‘lucky child’ that time — RJM was starting to grow and we did projects for Celine Dion in her concert in Las Vegas then afterwards we worked with Sir Elton John.”
“In 2005, RJM grew and got the attention of the management of Elizabeth Taylor and Kathy Ireland. They bought our company and that was when RJM became the House of Taylor Jewelry.”
Rada’s skills in designing jewelry had caught the eye of Dame Elizabeth Taylor. From an errand boy, he became part of the assembly (people who do the metal work), then became a design assistant. In 2007, he took the post of director of fulfillment and design.
The first time he met the famous actress, Rada admitted to being star-struck. “I first met her in her house in Bel Air. She invited me for dinner to discuss her ideas for her latest line of jewelry. I was so nervous! But when I got to her house, she made me feel so welcome. It was a wonderful feeling.
You gaze into her eyes — you’d notice her eyes were a light shade of purple — and you feel that when she talks to you, her focus is on you. I was stunned!”
“As director of fulfillment and design,” Rada explains, “I go to Dame Elizabeth’s house to study her creative and visual ideas, then make sure that all her designs are properly converted into the actual jewelry.”
Part of his job was also to make sure that all orders are produced. “All the pieces go through me and I study their value, wearability, design and function.”
So how was the pay like?
“When I started at RJM, I got paid $18,000 a year. In 2008, my income reached six-digit figures!”
Unfortunately, House of Taylor Jewelry had to close its doors due to the massive U.S. recession. So he flew to Asia thinking of taking a breather for six months.
On his third week in Bangkok, he received an email from Italian jewelry maker Piranesi, the largest in the U.S., offering him a job as technical jewelry designer in New York City. He immediately flew back to Los Angeles to meet with the executives of Piranesi.
“I accepted the job, sold everything I had in LA, including my cars, and flew to New York with only two suitcases,” Rada says.
At Piranesi, Rada makes what he calls couture jewelry. “I guide the jeweler on what stones to use, where to put them based on the design. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds are my specialties. Pearls are my secondary passion.”
Piranesi’s client list includes royalties and heads of states, as well as a lot of private labels. It supplies one-of-a-kind jewelry to SAKS Fifth Avenue stores.
Rada is currently working on Piranesi’s spring 2012 collection. “I think green is the in thing next year. Yellow gold will be big too, I think. In summer, I think back-to-basic jewelry will be strong. Diamond studs and simple rings will be in,” he says.
Rada has also been traveling across the country to educate jewelers and partly sell their pieces. He has been named Piranesi’s brand ambassador to all SAKS stores.
From here, Rada considers on starting his own jewelry business. He sees himself working until he’s 45 before he comes back to the Philippines and starts a foundation to help the less fortunate.
“I have no regrets becoming an OFW and I am happy for what it has made me,” he says. “My work is very easy now. I play volleyball, I dance Zumba, I travel every now and then. I live with my boyfriend here in Manhattan. I don’t have to work as much as before.” - The FilAm