Anup Jogani is the owner of a gem trading company in Los Angeles, California. His business curates highly unique antique gemstones as well as high-end jewelry. The main focus, however, is curating, restoring, and reviving the full life of extraordinary antique gems and diamonds. Some gemstones of primary interest include Burmese rubies; sapphires of Sri Lankan, Burmese, and Kashmir origin; ancient Colombian emeralds; and of course, the ubiquitous diamond. Even the diamonds his company seeks, however, embody the same ethos as the rest of his gems, featuring the utmost charm and unique characteristics that his company is known for.
What first got you interested in the gem trading industry?
Growing up, I was always interested in science - anything from physics and chemistry to mineralogy. I read a lot of books on rocks and minerals, but I also gained some firsthand exposure when I visited my uncle and cousins in Antwerp during the summers of my formative years. My uncle dealt mostly in smaller diamonds, what we call melee, but it was definitely an exciting business.
Traders would throw packets of thousands of carats of diamonds across the table. The consequences were high, the money was big, and diamonds have always held that panache. Interesting characters from all over the world, from all walks of life, and jewelry manufacturing operators in Instanbul or Lebanon or Russia or India would intersect at this marketplace.
Out of college, I took the first job I could, working as a door-to-door salesman for a shipping company. One of the most valuable lessons from that experience was gaining an understanding of how small businesses operate.
After leaving my job at the shipping company, I approached my father, who was a doctor, about asking his friends or colleagues if they were interested in buying diamonds.
I knew a few industry players, who helped me source some inventory, and my wonderful father spread the word about my budding business. So that’s really where I got my start - brokering diamonds to doctors, selling them their engagement rings, stones, match carat earrings, and anything that was fun and interesting in the world of diamonds.
What is your specialty in the industry, and why do you think specialization within the gem trade is important?
I think, in anything that you do in life, the more you specialize, the more laser-focused your knowledge is and the greater value you bring to the table. One of the first rules you learn in business school is to niche out. It’s tough to start out in a more specialized vein, but once you’re established in a niche, people think of you first for that area of expertise.
When I first got started, I didn’t have a pure niche. I was making engagement rings and attempting to buy and curate whichever stones consumers wanted, but today, fifteen years later, I’m focused on antique gemstones and diamonds of exceptional quality and character.
I strive to stay laser-focused on what I believe in, which is that every gemstone should be unique. They shouldn’t all look the same. I believe they shouldn’t be cut to machine-like specifications in order to cater to commoditization. Gemstones are as unique as fingerprints. They have historical characteristics, and they have inclusions in them that are billions, if not hundreds of millions, of years old. There are tectonic processes that are so rare that it’s even hard to explain why a Burma ruby exists.
For example, identifying antique emeralds requires the use of color zoning, facet structure, and traditional shapes. Emeralds were historically cut across a hexagonal plane, whereas they’re cut across a vertical plane in modern manufacturing to save weight. Sawing off large portions of the gemstone also wasn’t common with more historical techniques.
So those are the types of things that I look for - history, provenance, and superb aesthetic characteristics; the stones have to glow.
How did you amass the education about gemstones that you have today?
While I did have cousins and uncles in the business, I didn’t actually end up getting my education from my family because I went in a different direction from their businesses.
I took a couple of short courses really early on in my career, and recently I took the SSEF course, which is a week-long course in advanced gemstone grading, but most of my experience and education is from trading, buying, selling, and talking to gem cutters. The gem cutters are the most knowledgeable people in this industry, and having close relationships with the heads of labs and premiere gemologists has taught me a lot of what I know.
The exchange of knowledge with gem cutters, buying and selling gems, reading books and studying stones myself constitute the bulk of how I’ve acquired my industry education.
Do you have a favorite gemstone in your inventory or that you’ve worked on over the years?
I gravitate toward stones that point to my heritage as someone of Indian origin. India has always been historically known as a haven and a treasure chest for jewels. A vast array of mines operated in the region, and more specifically, the famed Golconda mine operated there. India had the type of wealth from the 15th to 18th centuries to amass quite valuable jewelry, and Indian princes and royalty acquired incredible jewels, probably the best in the world. Those jewels are known as the Mughal jewels, and I have some wonderful examples of those gemstones.
One gemstone that comes to mind that really embodies the characteristics of a Mughal jewel is a fluted emerald drop, or bead, of 92 carats. I bought this piece from an auction of a prominent Middle Eastern collector’s inventory. The stone has a beautiful, deep emerald green, and the carving is very iconic for the the time.
The craftsmen created a carving from a rough gem without feeling the need to add facet, cut the gem into smaller stones, nor try to add sparkle to something that was already beautiful. Great gemstones glow when they’re in the ground, and this Mughal emerald is an example of
that very concept. They made a carved bead, a useful piece out of the rough gem, and by doing so, flew in the face of what was traditionally done with gemstones. That kind of history and respect to the quality of the rough, the material, and the history of the gemstone is what I look for.
One of the most memorable stones I ever had the pleasure of cutting and improving was a 16- carat ancient stone diamond from the mine of Golconda. It had some fairly significant chips and a deep feather, which needed to be removed without compromising the antiquity of the shape, the model of the stone, and the character of the girdle.
We also had to open up the crystal (let it breathe) so that the orange fluorescence, the intensity of which had faded from medium to faint, would be more evenly dispersed. The only place in the world where orange fluorescent stones can be found is from this mine, and it’s one of the greatest indicators of a true Golconda. Where the girdle was chipped and rough, we were able to thin it out and create wonderful light play that allowed for better translucency of the stone.
Color was a hugely important consideration when repairing this stone, and it’s a factor that is a combination of a couple of other elements. Of course, there is inherent color, whether it’s nitrogen molecules, or for example, a type 2A would be more of a twist within the crystal structure that imparts color. Another element to consider is the way light bounces off a stone to create color. If light is bouncing off of too many surfaces or has to travel through a thicker spot in the stone, then it can affect the color of the gem.
What are the most important tools you use on a regular basis?
The 10x loupe is the most important tool we have in our arsenal. 95% of stones can be identified with the loupe. I also use a fluorescent light, which measures UV reactivity within the crystal structure, and I use a tweezer occasionally. But I’m a little old school. I like to handle the gems with my hands. I look at the stones in daylight, using a color card.
Generally speaking, every stone, in order to be sold, requires a lab testing. Just like a signature or a valuable piece of art, a precious stone requires a certificate of authenticity. Whenever there is value in an industry, people are going to try to fake the object of value.
The camera is also a great tool. We take several photos of every stone, not necessarily for identifying, but for selling. Having a great camera is so important for selling and creating value on the marketing end.
Who are some of the other industry players you work with?
I’m constantly working with auction houses because they often source the public’s jewelry wealth due to the transparent process. I also work with estate buyers, places where jewelry wealth is brought in for evaluation, and appraisal houses.
Those are some of the places where jewelry gets brought back into the industry from the consumer world. My specialty is working on gems, cutting them, improving them, and restoring them. That’s where I shine (no pun intended), so I frequently work with gems cutters. I love the knowledge base that they bring to the table, and we’re always dealing amongst each other. It’s the nature of the business.
There are also occasions where I work with designers. Sometimes a designer wants a special or marquee piece in their collection, and they’ll reach out to me. Sometimes they want to fill a
custom order requested by a client, and they want the design to include one of my stones. Collectors will also seek a special piece from me for their inventory or collection.
Finally, I do my best to work with craftspeople who hand-forge. Hand-forging is a very difficult task, but at my company, we create minimalistic, antique-inspired rings and earrings based on the gemstones that I purchase.
How does your trade differ according to varying international markets? In other words, how does your work change when you’re working in different parts of the world?
The entire industry is built on trying to answer this question. The long and the short of it is that different localities, whether it’s China, Vietnam, India, the United States, parts of Europe, or Russia, are local consuming communities, or local collector communities. These various local communities always have different tastes, whether those distinctions are slight or significant.
For example, a Burmese ruby that’s desired in, say, the old world of Europe, will have a pinkish tone to it. That community is not as worried about color and clarity as it is worried about the brightness of the crystal and the charm of the cut.
In China or Hong Kong, however, the consumers are incredibly stringent about the color. They desire a Burmese ruby that has a very deep red known as pigeon’s blood. Even the definition of pigeon’s blood has changed over the years in order to accommodate the markets and changing consumers’ preferences.
That’s an example of how different markets can have vastly different preferences for the same stone. Certification labs grade based on metrics, but they don’t grade based on beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder; it’s very subjective. Even humans don’t want perfection. We want the stone to retain a natural element in order to consider it truly beautiful. Those elements are lost when gems are cut as if they were made in a factory. A lot of modern stones are cut to exacting specifications, which don’t actually preserve the natural beauty.
How has the industry changed in recent years or decades?
Before the 1950s, jewelry was always handmade, crafted by the finest craftsmen money could buy simply because it was pretty much the most expensive thing you could buy with your money that was small and portable.
That began to change with mass manufacturing in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and especially with the 80s and 90s. Jewelry has had a heavy downturn with the push of mass manufacturing in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, and people have lost the knowledge and art of jewelry. Master craftsmen are very few and far between. By far the greatest bottleneck in our industry is finding great craftsmen. It’s a dying art.
For the past 5-10 years, however, there has been a resurgence in consumers wanting great jewels and really well-made pieces of art. People want metal that’s been formed around the stones, carefully calibrated, and worked in with precision. Consumers are interested in greater use of larger stones, even if they’re precious, as opposed to copious amounts of tiny diamonds, rubies, or sapphires.
Even when markets do demand pieces with an abundance of smaller stones, one of the greatest jewelers in the world, Joel Arthur Rosenthal, chooses stones so that they flow beautifully in a gradient of colors.
Taking a note from these types of thought leaders, art leaders, and design leaders who began to emerge in the late 90s and early 2000s, the industry is starting to prize craftsmanship over mass manufacturing, and that’s what I want to educate the end-user on.
Another transformative technology for the industry is Instagram. It’s a tool that lends itself so well to the marketing of jewels. I love that smaller craftspeople who are uniquely talented and do brilliant work have access to a platform that allows them to gain mass exposure.
On that note, who are some of the world-renowned designers, and what makes them top-notch?
JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) is definitely at the top of my list. He’s largely considered by collectors around the world to be the best.
Hemmerle is doing some incredibly ground-breaking work in our industry. What I love about their operation is that it’s homegrown. All of their craftsmen are housed in one beautiful, four- story townhome in Munich, and they’re trained to do some amazing work and use different materials and techniques that are novel to the industry, which is certainly a feat.
Viren Bhagat is an excellent example of a jeweler who takes antique Indian styles and brings them into the modern age. His style could almost be described as neoclassical Mughal.
James de Givenchy does a great job in the States and certainly has an iconic style.
In terms of what makes a top-notch gemologist, designer, cutter, or anyone else in the industry, knowledge and effort are absolutely essential for success. With anything else, excellence is derived from unyielding passion and thirst for knowledge. Anyone can be excellent at almost anything if they’re willing to put their entirety into it.
Miseducation is a big issue in the industry. Many individuals want to take part in the trade for the money, but they don’t take the time to acquire the in-depth knowledge and tools to practice this craft.
For example, knowing what type of oil that’s in an emerald is very important. A 1,500-year-old process of soaking an emerald in cedar wood oil offers a completely different price than a modern, molecular formulation of a slightly more viscous fluid in an emerald. The two emeralds are distinctly different products, with one intended for collecting and the other meant for consumerism.
Another determination of great work and successful players in the industry is natural taste, which can be very difficult to teach. Some people simply want to buy and sell a product, and others really want to know what they’re buying and selling, why they’re doing it, and what motivates them.
What are some of the most significant industry lessons you’ve learned along the way?
1. Be deliberate. Invest and work on projects you truly love. Don’t just do something to make money, and don’t buy a stone simply because you can make a profit from it. In our industry, our inventory is our marketing, so what we own is who we are, and people know us for what we own.
2. Don’t dwell on the mistakes. Mistakes are expensive, but they’re an important part of the learning process. For every mistake you make on one stone, it means you won’t make that same mistake on a hundred others.
3. Education is key. There are a lot of people in this business who don’t know what they’re doing, especially when they’re trying to sell high-end stones, but the educated seller, the very knowledgeable seller, the seller who has done his or her homework and has steeped themselves in the tradition of this business, will deliver far greater value to their consumer. At the end of the day, this business is about beauty, but buying the right stones also dictates a story of value, and we have to respect that value and teach consumers exactly what to buy.
How is diamond cutting (and dealing) different from other gem cutting (and dealing)?
Gemstones are technically more difficult to cut but physically easier to cut, whereas diamonds are the opposite.
Gemstones are physically easier to cut because they’re not as hard as diamonds A diamond is about ten times harder than the next hardest gem. When I talk about the physical difficulty of cutting, that means a diamond loses weight more slowly than other gems, therefore making a diamond much more difficult to polish.
Technically, it is not easier to cut a gemstone for a myriad of reasons. When you put a diamond on a wheel, generally you know what’s going to happen. You’re putting a facet on, and it takes about eight to ten times as long to run a facet on a diamond because you’re putting a diamond against a diamond wheel. The work is all done through angles and refractive and reflective measures. The crystal itself is very transparent, so you can see where the inclusions are, which is essential when considering the refractive index.
Alternatively, when you’re cutting a Kashmir sapphire, for example, you’re really worried about color zoning, or where the meat of the color lies within the stone. The goal is to orient the color properly so that in the case of a Kashmir sapphire, you’re seeing a pure royal blue in the face rather than greenish-grayish undertones, which can change the value of the stone by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With Burmese rubies, for example, there are negative inclusions, which are pockets of air within the stone. If you open those up, or if you polish off a little bit too much, you can create a cavity within the stone. But that’s what’s so exciting! You’re working with natural material. It’s earthy and real, and you have to account for all of these beautiful imperfections, subtleties, and differences within the stone.
In terms of differences where dealing is concerned, diamonds have been more commoditized, so many diamond dealers reference the metrics afforded to them by the GIA and certain price lists that have traditionally been used for the past 25-30 years.
If you’re a gemstone dealer, on the other hand, you need to understand color and zoning and how those elements perform in different lights, longitudes, and latitudes. You need to decide what’s charming and what’s not so charming. That’s where good taste comes in, and you can’t do that without understanding gems on a very deep level.
I never under-appreciate diamonds, however, because whether old stones achieve their character via cut or color or beautiful natural inclusions, each antique stone offers a unique history and sentiment.
Anup Jogani is on Instagram (@joganijewelry) and is always available to answer any questions through direct messaging. More information about his business can be found on www.jogani.com. To hear from more key players in the industry, navigate to the interview series home page.