Paloma Sanchez: Globetrotter and Gem Artist
Paloma Sanchez is a world traveler. Through her passion for gems and mining, she has delved into the practices and cultures of Sri Lanka and Madagascar, alongside other countries central to the trade. Sanchez crafts beautiful pieces, where local aesthetic is celebrated, while giving back to communities through education and humanitarian support. In this interview, Paloma discusses her journey.
Paloma, you specialize in the art of gem hunting. Can you explain what you enjoy the most about being at the source of the gemstones that you fashion?
I enjoy going to mines to source my gemstones because of the people I interact with there. It helps me better understand a gem and its spirit. Every miner that I have had the pleasure of meeting is very passionate and determined about finding a gemstone that will change their life. In Colombia for example, miners believe that emeralds have special powers, bringing them good energy and protecting them from bad spirits.
In Australia [and Ethiopia], miners are totally hypnotized by their opals.
Going to the source of every gemstone, and being in contact with the land and the people helps me understand and appreciate the beauty of the stone. I design jewelry only to reveal the soul of a gem.
You share on your website, stories of your trips to countries where gems are most prominent. To this day, which trip has been the most significant?
Every trip I embark on is very special to me. Each experience has its own unique way of capturing my heart. I can’t choose a favorite trip because every experience is very peculiar and unique. In Colombia, the nature is very captivating. The land is verdant and hilly, and the tree-covered landscape was like a painting. Mines are in the mountains. Home of not only the most amazing landscape, but also land of the “esmeralderos–“the emerald miners, land of the military, the FARC, the paramilitars, and Indians. It took us 7 hours to get to the mining area, with only unpaved and rocky roads, but the view was breathtaking. And the people are among the most welcoming and generous in the world. Madagascar, where the world’s finest specimens are found, is blessed with the most incredible minerals and gemstone wealth. Madagascar is an adventure always!
The first time I went to Ethiopia, I felt as if I was in Switzerland. The same countryside landscape –green, and beautiful. That country lives totally under its own time and rules, different from all the rest of the world. Their calendar is totally different, the time is different, the writing characters are different…and they are beautiful! In Sri Lanka, where I have the best friends, I feel like at home. I have found the most beautiful stones usually come from the most rugged terrains.
What pushed you to finally establish your own brand after so many years of working within the industry?
Spending my life in the industry was a great experience, but I had no time to do what I actually love. My time in the big jewelry and watch companies was spent working in the commercial side of the industry, and working only with finished pieces. I never got a position where I could be close to the loose gems. That is where my passion resides and the reason why I became a Gemologist. So I ended [my work] in the jewelry and high end watch business.
I wanted to be able to witness the entire process: from when a gem is mined, how it is cut, to the design process, manufacturing, and lastly to the customer who decides to bring that piece of jewelry home. I love being able to touch the stones from the source, to be inspired by the stone, and to create a design that could give the gemstone life.
For a woman, and for a European woman especially, going to the mining areas was almost impossible when I started in the business. Most gem fields were/are in underdeveloped countries. In some, woman were not even allowed to enter the mines, and it seemed a dangerous adventure for a young European woman.
I opted then for the conventional way for a young lady, and started my career under the secure umbrella of luxury and high end jewelry companies. When I arrived to China, in 2006, that country was full of energy and excitement. You could feel, smell, even touch the vibrant energy and dynamism. Something that was already lost in our old western world. So I decided, after being in Beijing for almost 3 years, that it was the right place and the right time to finally do what I had always wanted to do: be a Gem Hunter. In order to do that, I quit my job in December 2008, and I created my own company and brand. I always believed that it was never too late to follow your passion. I was in my mid 40s, I was raising a 9 year old kid alone, and I was in a country with a totally different culture from mine. But that is the best decision I have ever made in my life.
As a designer I know that you love all of your pieces, but are there any of them that stand out, because of a story or simply because of its beauty?
One of my favorite pieces is a Tanzanite necklace. It is a 150 ct. perfect tanzanite crystal, with a deep blue color. Accented with pear-shape, and round brilliant cut diamonds set in an 18K white gold, “stalactite” shape around the neck. This piece is especially special to me because it was bought on my first trip to Tanzania. I was invited as a guest of the Government to the First International Annual Gem show in Tanzania along with some colleagues from AGTA and GIA. As a way to protect their cutting industry and force the gem industry’s wealth to stay in the country, it was illegal for people to get rough tanzanite out of Tanzania. However as special guests, we were lucky enough to be allowed to take a couple pieces of rough tanzanite with us, and the magnificent tanzanite crystal featured in the necklace was one of the pieces that I had the privilege of taking with me. In Beijing, one of my customers fell in love with it, and I designed that special piece for her, which took 7 months to be manufactured. There are many, many others that I love. It is actually so difficult to chose only one!
Your designing style is very unique, can you tell us anything about the origin of this style?
I guess my style has been shaped by all my experiences in life. From the books I read, the music I listened to, the education I had, the travels I made, the family I had, the friends and the enemies that I have encountered, the moments of happiness and the moments of pain. A lot of people who design jewelry only use faceted or polished gemstones. I have never had a conventional taste, and I have a very clear idea of what “luxury” means– exclusivity which can be recognized only through education.
As I love gems and minerals and I know them, I like to work with rough crystals, mineral specimens, and collector’s pieces. This means that all my jewelry pieces are one of a kind. You can never replicate the same rough crystal twice, and you cannot beat nature’s perfect design and beauty. I like to create unique designs that bring out the natural state of the rough crystal.
What plans do you have that you’d like our readers to be knowledgeable of? Any new collections launching or events taking place?
With my Ethiopian partner, I currently have a gem-cutting factory of opals, emeralds and sapphires in Africa. This project was created to empower woman in Africa that work in gem fields, who have been abandoned by their families or are living under very tough conditions. I wanted to create a safe place for them to work and to give them back their dignity. I provide the necessary education for them to understand gemstones, cut stones and polish. They learn a skill, they come to work every day and are proud to be the sole [provider] responsible of providing an education and a home for their kids. They now know that women do not have to rely on a husband to bring money home or to take care of the family. This simple fact in most cases, is not understood nor even believed. Most women in many societies, have been told since they were born that women are naturally not capable of doing most things and cannot think by their own. Our first job is to show them, through our own example, that that is not true.
On the other hand, and on the other side of the planet, I am proud to say that on the 26th of July 2019, the biennial International Opal Jewelry design Association Award was held in Lightning Ridge, Australia, where the best black opals are mined. I received first place for my piece, “Medusa’s Sting.” This award is most prestigious black carved and free form Opal Jewelry Design Award given in the world.
Visit Paloma Sanchez online here to learn more, and browse her collections.