I read that your gemological interest began as a child growing up in New York City. What trips or gemstone locations were the most memorable to you from your childhood Stateside?
Mineral collection was not a typical hobby for people in New York City. But I think having the experience of traveling outside of the comforts of urban life and into remote backcountry locations in search of stones, really was a great experience for me as a child. My parents took me around the United States, camping out and hunting for stones. Some memorable places were in Montana, where we looked for sapphires; upstate New York, in Herkimer, where we went searching for “Herkimer Diamonds” (which are really quartz crystals of exceptional beauty). Also, I have fond memories of being in Kemmerer, Wyoming collecting fossil fish.
So your father was a gemstones dealer?
No actually, he is a Lawyer. Stone were just a hobby for my parents. They actually prefer them in the uncut mineral state. It took me a while to decide on gems and jewelry as a career.
So how did you get into the business side of gems – what was your journey?
I went to New York University, Stern school of business. After graduating I moved to Berlin, Germany to work in project management, on an aerospace engineering project. I think this really help get my design juices flowing and gave me a look at systematized , large scale industrial design. Taking elements from this helped me a lot, when I transitioned into gems and jewelry. The company I was working for eventually closed, and I felt like it was time to do something I had passion for. While in Germany I did some research and saw that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) had a campus in Bangkok. A few days later I was formalizing my application, and a month later I was in Bangkok taking full time classes. A year after that, I had my own office in Bangkok and was buying stones for American manufacturers. I subsequently got more into jewelry making, and decided I needed to be closer to my clients in the USA and moved back to New York.
How much traveling do you do, and where are you mostly traveling?
These days I am traveling just about as much as I am in New York. I need to be on the road and in the field, because I never know when something interesting comes up. I also have my clients with particular requests, and in order to accommodate them I have to always be on the hunt. This past year I have been mostly visiting Myanmar and sourcing there. Normally I'll spend a week or so in Bangkok, then two weeks traveling around Myanmar, and then another week in Bangkok before heading back to New York. Then I'll stay in New York for a few weeks making and designing jewelry pieces from the gems I purchase before heading back out to Asia. Other places I travel are Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Tanzania. I also have spent 6 months in the jungles of Sierra Leone developing a diamond and gold mining site for local miners.
Do you ever feel you're in danger in these places?
I think a healthy dose of fear is always good in this business. There are dangers everywhere, but for the most part I have had more good experiences than bad. I tend to meet good hard working and genuine people in the most unlikely places. It also depends on the culture of the countries I visit. Some are a bit more aggressive than others.
Tell me a little about the jewelry you make. Do you collaborate with the clients for whom you are designing or do you get free rein to create what they want?
Every client is different, but normally it's an interactive process. I always ask them the direction that they would like to go, and try to get as much input from my customers before working. Customers of custom jewelry should have something they really love, so it's important to understand and determine the design or style direction that they want. It's always great when people see the final finished jewelry pieces that they helped design.
Is custom design affordable or is it only for the very wealthy?
It's mostly based around the value of the stones and metals used. So it's not really about having an unlimited budget, just a love for stones, and a desire to have something made to order. It shouldn't be intimidating, and I often find people are surprised when they find out there are many things they can afford. One good thing about custom jewelry is that clients can really go up or down in price depending on their budget and design aesthetic. Things like using silver or 14 karat gold vs. 18 karat gold and platinum do have a big effect on price.
What is the current trend in gemstones?
Green is big this year, and emeralds have been really popular. Also, high value green garnets, known as tsavorite have really been making a big impact, both with my customers, and jewelry designers worldwide. Up and coming gems are the little known Spinel – which is catching traction and is sold very frequently these days by many of the famous houses, including Tiffany's. In Asia, specifically China, Tourmalines have been catching fire as well. Many customers have also been asking about yellow and other colored diamonds.
What advice do you have for aspiring stone shoppers / gem collectors?
There are gems in every color, size and price. Focus on the stones that make you happy.
What is your philosophy on jewelry and gems, and what differentiates you as a gemologist?
My philosophy and motto is that Every Stone has a Story. My focus in this industry goes beyond just making bespoke pieces for clients. What I aim to do, is educate, and connect my clients to their stones, and the stories behind the pieces they wear. Many people don't really understand the value and history of the gems they buy, and for me, it's important to build meaningful pieces for people. So In a sense, I am teaching gemology along with creating beautiful jewelry.
Visit website: www.michaelabrahamgems.com