Drafted By: Shannon Little,
Many children have opted to follow in the paths of their parents’ careers that may also have been the same career as their grandparents. Was this the familial path that led Paloma Sanchez to become a gemologist and one of the 30 best jewelry designers in the world? She was born in the Principality of Andorra, the 6th smallest nation in Europe, located in the Eastern Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. However, Paloma moved to her fathers birthplace of Madrid and spent most of her life growing up there, so has always considered herself more Madridian. Upon finishing high school she was undecided as to what career to follow, so she became an airline hostess. After six months, she quickly realized this was not the career for her. In 1980, she decided to take a trip to Venezuela “to see if she could clear her mind.” Paloma Sanchez. Her Mom’s Uncle was very successful in Venezuela and Paloma had the opportunity to visit a Diamond mine in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. The Diamond mines in Venezuela belong to the Government and the Military and because of her Mom’s Uncle’s Military connection they were able to access the mines via privately owned small planes.
This experience absolutely changed her life, opening up a whole new world, as she decided that she wanted to become a GEMOLOGIST as well as a Gem Hunter. She truly believed that she had found her calling in life. Returning from Venezuela back to Madrid, she advised her father that she wanted to become a GEMOLOGIST and attend the World Renowned Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Los Angeles, California, because the reputation of this school was number one its field. Having come from a family of lawyers (Grandfather, Father and Brother), her father felt that she should have a “normal” career first, and then she could attend GIA, become a Gemologist and pursue her other passion. It takes 5 years to become a lawyer in Madrid. After receiving her law degree, and out of love, respect and meeting her father’s expectations, Paloma smiled as she recalls saying to her Dad, “Ok, now can I go to L.A.? And he couldn’t refuse of course, he had to say, Yes!”
She loved studying Gemology at GIA, as gemstones have been her passion from that very first day she was exposed to the diamonds in the Venezuelan mine. She truly believes it was her destiny to have gone to Venezuela and to have had that experience. However, learning about design and discovering her talent and creativity has opened up a whole new world that she is able to combine together creating a unique combination that few in the world can claim. After graduating from GIA and returning to Madrid, and not having any family connections in the jewelry business, she had to start at the bottom of the industry where she worked as a manager in a jewelry shop. She then worked at one of the larger companies Carrera y Carrera as a Commercial Director for the European Market. She then went to Hublot and after that Patek Philippe. The experience she gained in the retail and business world furthered her drive and passion for the jewelry industry and in 2006 she went to China. Later on in January 2009, Paloma opened her own business in Beijing, China. She and a partner opened a new store in Paris, France, in 2012. Another location in Paris began showcasing Paloma’s creations in 2014. Currently, she is looking to have a distributor in Stuttgart, Germany, which is the 6th largest city in Germany. With the largest percentage of market sales being in China, it is noteworthy that Paloma may possibly be opening another shop in Shanghai. However, her desire remains to become a global business and to be able to showcase her designs around the world.
As Beijing is her home for now, and she will always keep her business there, once her son leaves for University, her love for other countries and traveling will likely keep her globetrotting, especially to some of her favourite places like South and Central America; Chile, Europe; Spain, the Caribbean, Panama, and Honduras. At least two or three times a year, her business travels will take her to Africa, USA, Canada, and other parts of Asia to visit their mines. Her plans are to visit mines in Columbia and Namibia before the end of the year. I wanted to know if she had any suggestions for someone considering this field/profession and the path they should initially follow.
She said, “It is one thing to be a Gemologist, and one thing to be in the jewelry business.” ~ Paloma Sanchez
Having a background in chemistry and math will definitely help a lot if you want to become a Gemologist because you learn about the chemical composition of each gemstone and how the light reacts with the gems. If one wants to succeed in the jewelry design business it is extremely beneficial to have family in the industry, for it is a very small close-knit community, where everybody knows everybody. There are very few gem stone dealers in the world and a lot of business is based solely on trust and whom you know. This was one of Paloma’s greatest challenges upon graduating from GIA. Unlike most of her friends in GIA who had family connections in the jewelry business and entered the field immediately, she had to make a name for herself, prove her talent without any familial connections and continues to do so to this very day. One of the key reasons that she brings her son to the mines, to her office, the factory, and to shows around the world, like Vancouver Fashion Week 2015, is that if he decides one day to follow in his mom’s footsteps and pursue a career in the Gemology/jewelry design industry everyone will know that he is Paloma Sanchez’ son and he will not have to face the same challenges that she did when she first entered the field.
Despite being ranked among the top 30 jewelry designers in the world she faces the challenges of being a woman in a male dominated industry. There are some female designers but all the stone dealers are male. Unfortunately, being taken seriously, gaining their respect, being treated as an equal while doing the same job as a man is a constant struggle in this industry for a woman.
However, “they will respect you once you have proved yourself, and they know you’re hard working, and once you have their trust, they will trust you more than a man.” ~ Paloma Sanchez
Traveling to mines around the world to find these rare, unique gemstones has afforded Paloma a life that few will ever get to experience. She likes to keep most of the gems in their rough, natural shape for she believes that is when they truly are perfect and beautiful, but for those that need to be cut she does have a cutter in Beijing. Each country is so different with strict regulations and laws to follow regarding the extraction and removal of gems from their mines. Some countries like Tanzania and Ethiopia have recently changed their laws regarding the removal of rough stones because they want to promote cutting within their own countries. Despite the processes and steps that occur from getting the gems out of the mines, appraised, weighed, sealed and then delivered for pickup at the airport by Paloma, the one commonality between every gemstone deal is that she must always go through the Ministry of the Mines for whatever country she is visiting. Although she never practiced law I was curious to find out if her studies had ever proved beneficial in her current career. She said, “her years of study definitely were of benefit and helped her to understand contracts, think of questions and things to ask for” while making business deals.
There are so many fascinating aspects about the Gemology and jewelry design industry, but one thing that resonated with me was something that she does with each design that she creates for every single customer. From the moment that the gemstone is taken out of the mine she begins to document its life so to speak. Photos are taken in the mine, with the miner who mined the gem, and with the owner who sold her the gem. Pictures are taken of her as she designs the jewelry piece, of the wax mold and throughout every single step of the creation process right through to the manufacturing procedure until the final piece is finished and then delivered to the customer. This booklet of photos, documents and certificate of the pedigree, the story behind their one of a kind creation gives the customer the full history of how their beautiful unique, piece of jewelry by PALOMA SANCHEZ literally came to life. Seeing that this is such a personal and hands on profession I asked Paloma what gives her inspiration to create such beautiful and unique designs for her collections of jewelry? She paused briefly, saying she wasn’t quite sure but then smiled and laughed as she listed the following:
“the gemstones themselves give me inspiration, my childhood, where I grew up, the books I read, the movies I watched, my son, my family and friends, the school I went to, the homes I have lived in, the places I have visited, my life experiences, everything I have done…as I have evolved through life they have all made my personality, made my style.” ~ Paloma Sanchez
What is also interesting to note is that sometimes “I will hold onto a piece for a couple of years, then get inspiration, or I will see a piece and know immediately exactly what I’m going to do.” ~ Paloma Sanchez. When asked whom she would like to spend a day with she did not hesitate with her replies. Boris Vian, (March 10, 1920-June 23, 1959) was a French writer, jazz player ~ musician. She enjoyed his books, found him to be very creative, with a strong personality, and she believed he lived a very interesting life. It comes as no surprise that Paloma would love to meet Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR). He is the infamous, reclusive American jewelry designer who moved to Paris in the 1970’s. He does not advertise, there is no display window outside of his shop in Paris and he caters to a select crowd such as the late Elizabeth Taylor, Elle MacPherson, Barbara Walters, and Jo Carole Lauder etc. For over 40 years he has been creating unique pieces with quality gems in their raw natural form. Despite wanting to meet JAR, another designer in her field, Paloma does not want to see other designers work and purposely does not buy jewelry design magazines, for she does not want to be influenced by anyone else and copy their work unintentionally.
After our interview Paloma was off for more meetings and interviews to get ready for her big show during Vancouver Fashion Week (VFW) 2015. Since VFW was founded she was the first jewelry designer to ever participate. I was fortunate enough, with much gratitude and thanks to Angela Krewenchuk (Founder of Metro-Living-Zine), Jamal Abdourahman (Founder of VFW) and Tito Van Chipman (Director, Business Development at VFW), to have a front row seat for this spectacular event. Paloma’s show “Senses” on Thursday, March 19th 2015, was as unique as her jewelry designs. She composed music produced by gemstones: combining the different sounds of pearls rolling on an agate table, diamonds falling into water, and sapphires and rubies being shaken in a hand with a soft melody, and included an amber scent that floated throughout the room which heightened all your senses. The lights were off and photos of her jewelry flashed across the big screen as models began to appear one by one, dressed in all black skintight cat suits wearing jewelry and carrying flashlights to highlight the pieces as they stopped at designated locations along the catwalk. When they reached the end of the catwalk the lights came up so that the photographers could photograph the jewelry. Then the lights would go off and their flashlight walks would repeat.
The finale piece was a complete showstopper. A beautiful drag queen, Lana LoveLace, dressed in a stunning black gown was wearing Paloma’s Tanzanite Crystal with Diamonds necklace from Tanzania. The piece is absolutely breathtaking and after she showcased it off magnificently all the models reappeared and then Lana and Paloma came out for a final walk down the catwalk and bow to the very appreciative audience! As she uses many different materials and textures in her designs, guests also had the opportunity to experience the sense of touch after the catwalk at a private get together as part of the show. And for the sense of taste, each front row guest received as a gift, a necklace, created with sugar crystals wrapped with gold ribbons hanging from gold chains. As Paloma said, Fashion Shows around the world generally do not show case jewelry, but they are starting to change from just focusing on clothes. Realizing that accessories such as handbags, hats, sunglasses and jewelry are becoming a much greater part of fashion and people’s wardrobes. She may possibly attend New York’s Fashion Week in the fall for more exposure.
“My customers and myself choose our jewelry first and then our clothing to match” ~ Paloma Sanchez
A young girl in Madrid, who did not know what to do with her life, until a life altering experience occurred when she had the opportunity to visit a Diamond Mine deep in the Amazon Jungle of Venezuela. She knew right then and there that she would be a Gem Hunter and a Gemologist, as well as eventually becoming a jewelry designer, creating world famous pieces of art found from MINES around the world. Rare, unique gemstones extracted from these mines and then from her creative MIND these special gemstones become PALOMA SANCHEZ designs. Paloma epitomizes the belief that you can do anything that you set your mind to if you work hard and follow your passions and your dreams. Success comes to those who persevere and never give up despite challenges and obstacles that they have to overcome.
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