First couple’s jewelry for inaugural events designed by city native

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Sue Nasif Gragg, a Vicksburg native, has designed the jewelry that President-elect Bush will wear during his inauguration and the ruby and diamond necklace and earrings Laura Bush will wear during the inaugural balls. The gown was featured last week on a cover of the fashion-industry newspaper Women’s Wear Daily. In her photo, Gragg is wearing a necklace she designed.

[01/10/01] When Laura Bush celebrates her husband’s presidency at inaugural balls next week, America’s 43rd first lady will be wearing a touch of Vicksburg.

City native Sue Nasif Gragg, a jewelry designer who lives in Dallas, created the ruby and diamond necklace and earrings Bush has chosen to wear.

“Besides getting your name out, it’s a great honor to put something around the first lady’s neck,” Gragg, 49, said in a telephone interview from her office at Sue Gragg Precious Jewels. “Other jewelers made presentations to them. … They could have gone to anybody.”

Bush made her selections when she met with her clothing designer, Michael Faircloth of the Lilly Dodson boutique in Dallas. “That’s where they had all of the jewelry,” Gragg said, adding that once she learned Bush was interested in her pieces, “I got nervous, really nervous.”

The two have met before Bush is charming, Gragg said and on Thursday will discuss which of two necklaces Laura Bush will wear on Jan. 20.

“They’re both ruby and diamond,” Gragg said. “They range from 40 carats of rubies down to 30 carats of rubies and from 30 carats of diamonds to 16 carats of diamonds. They both have oval-shaped Burmese rubies.”

The earrings have about five carats of rubies and three carats of diamonds.

Gragg would not tell the jewelry’s worth. “I wish I could, but I can’t,” she said, adding that she is also prohibited by the Bushes from providing a photograph. Still, “They are quite valuable.”

Laura Bush may also wear other Gragg creations to inaugural events.

“Actually, I sold her jewelry right before the campaign,” Gragg said, describing a South Sea pearl and diamond brooch and a pair of diamond earrings. “Then she got as a gift from someone another brooch, a yellow gold camellia that has a pearl in the center.”

Gragg, a Republican “entrenched in the campaign,” also designed the cufflinks to be worn by George W. Bush during his swearing-in ceremony and possibly for the ball. Intended as a gift for the former Texas governor from his wife, the cufflinks are made of 18K yellow gold, will be monogrammed and will be engraved with a personal message, Gragg said, adding that she was paid for the cufflinks.

On the other hand, “The pieces for the inaugural ball will be on loan,” Gragg said, a common practice among jewelry designers for people attending upscale events such as the Academy Awards and benefits for charity.

Since word got out about Gragg’s presidential connection, things have been “crazy,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls. Newsweek has interviewed me. Newsday has interviewed me, and of course there’s Women’s Wear Daily.”

The fashion industry newspaper, in its Jan. 4 edition, featured a sketch of the red Chantilly lace gown Bush will wear to the ball and mentioned the name of Gragg’s company.

The long-sleeved, formfitting dress, hand-beaded with Austrian crystals, was designed by Faircloth, who also created the peacock blue tunic, skirt and matching wool single-breasted coat Bush will wear for her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.

For her designs, Gragg may also be mentioned in Vogue and In Style magazines, as well as in national jewelry publications. “I have had attention before, but definitely not to this extent,” said Gragg, who is used to having celebrity customers.

“I’ve got a lot of high-profile clients,” she said, among them the CEO of American Airlines and Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Gragg has also designed jewelry worn by several members of the NFL team, including running back Emmitt Smith, wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail and offensive lineman Mark Stepnoski.

Gragg, a graduate of H.V. Cooper High School and the University of Southern Mississippi, was a fourth-grade teacher at Grove Street Elementary when she got started in the jewelry business. “When I was teaching school in Mississippi I was selling diamonds on the side, just for my passion for jewelry,” she said. “I used to do trunk shows right there in Vicksburg at The Collection.”

Her husband of 22 years, Jimmy Gragg, encouraged her to pursue her interest full-time. “He got me to focus on it,” she said. “It was something I wanted to do. It was something I knew I could do.”

And she’s done well, but don’t call her famous. “I guess I am, but it’s awful to think that,” she said.

Her family, still in Vicksburg, doesn’t think Gragg should be so modest.

“We’re very proud of her,” said her mother, Pauline Nasif, whom Gragg credits as her inspiration. “She deserves every bit of this.”

After all, “She works hard,” said one of Gragg’s three sisters, Donna Thornton. “Sue and her husband are good people.”

One of the things Thornton remembers from childhood is that her younger sister’s wardrobe was always coordinated. “And when we were little and we played dress-up, she always had the most jewelry on.”