Here’s the thing: the diamond industry has had a very old-school, hush-hush, behind-glass-cabinet, closed-door vibe for a lonnng time. We are not about that life. Diamonds and jewelry should be fun, hands-on, and completely transparent from setting to stone!
And the truth is: a lot of skilled and talented people play a part in creating the gorgeous one-of-a-kind jewels we stock at Gem Breakfast. Miners, cutters, polishers, dealers, designers, and of course – us the curators (and often custom designers ourselves). We can learn so much from these artisans, and we're so happy to share their knowledge with you! In this meet-our-vendors series, we’ll be sitting down with the makers, miners, and suppliers who help create the magical pieces at Gem Breakfast.
Today, in Part 1, we’re sitting down with Ashkan Asgari, Owner of Misfit Diamonds, who is so not your parents’ diamond dealer. We’re learning where he sources his diamonds from, his favourite stones, the process from mine to jewelry, and more!
How did you get into the diamond/jewelry industry?
I am the son of a fifth-generation Goldsmith, so like any child of an entrepreneur, I was helping out at the shop as a kid. My dad did custom design work for jewelry stores in Toronto and had a small retail operation on the weekends. I learned the trade from him when I was about 9, and started working with him on holidays and weekends.
I took a break from the jewelry world in my twenties, and came back to the industry when I was 27. And now here I am, an entrepreneur myself – running my own diamond sourcing business, Misfit Diamonds.
What is your day-to-day life like as a diamond dealer?
I’m not your traditional diamond dealer. I did grow up on the traditional side of the industry, but after going out on my own, I shifted the way I do business. I focus a lot of my efforts on social media. A lot of my day is geared towards playing with shiny stones on the gram!
What's the diamond process like from mine to finished piece?
The first step is exploration – locating the areas where diamond deposits can be found. Then the mining process begins – the biggest mines are in Africa, Russia, and Canada. Once mined, the diamonds are sold to wholesalers, who sort the rough diamonds based on shape, color, size, and carat weight. Next comes the highly skilled and crucial step of cutting and polishing. This is where the rough stones become the glistening, multifaceted gems you see in your finished jewels.
Once the stone is cut and polished, the diamonds reach me, a diamond dealer, where I find a home for the finished gem. That home is either a designer or retailer who finds or creates a setting for that stone.
Where do you buy your diamonds from?
I’ve cultivated strong relationships with cutting facilities and buyers from all around the world. A good percentage come from Surat, India where most diamonds are cut. And we also work with buyers and wholesalers in Antwerp, New York, Hong Kong, Israel, and Los Angeles.
Do you mostly buy already-cut diamonds or work with cutters to have diamonds cut to your specifications?
80% of our diamonds are cut to our specifications – we specify the quality and size ranges we’re looking for and the manufacturers source, cut, and polish diamonds to meet that criteria.
The other 20-25% of diamonds we purchase just because we think they’re stunning or interesting. In these cases, we buy first, and find the right homes later.
We’re fortunate to have great relationships with suppliers who know what we’re looking for – they call us up when stones arise that align with our style and specifications.
How do you vet suppliers? Are all your diamonds ethically sourced/conflict-free?
To ensure that stones are conflict free, they’re sourced through UN approved Kimberly processchannels (the Kimberly Process is a commitment to eradicate conflict diamonds from the industry - so far it has stemmed 99.8% of all conflict diamond production).
The truth is though, there’s still a lot of work to be done – the industry needs to continue to evolve. We’re always researching to ensure we have the most transparency for our customers from the rough cut to final polished stone.
I only work with people I can trust, whether it’s a long-held relationship or a new vendor, that trust and transparency is essential.
Who are your clients? Has this changed with e-commerce jewelry?
Growing up in the industry I’ve seen a lot of shifts in the markets. When I was young, all jewelry was sold through traditional jewelry retailers. By the early 2000’s, e-commerce jewelry came into the market and created a big shift in the industry. Jewelers stopped buying large quantities of stones as stock and suppliers started selling directly to consumers.
This meant small jewelers were getting cut out of the supply chain. So, I decided as a business to only work with members of the jewelry industry – retailers, designers, only those directly involved in the trade. These artisans and retailers are the lifeblood of our business so we direct all consumer inquiries to them. This means we all grow together.
You can find my stones in many of the designers’ work on the Gem Breakfast site. Search the site for Emily Gill Design, Attic Gold, Army of Rokosz, and Gardens of The Sun to see designs we’ve supplied stones for!
Why have you chosen to focus on unconventional colors, cuts, and shapes? Does it play into your name, 'Misfit Diamonds'?
I grew up in the traditional diamond market, and while there’s always a beauty to sparkling white diamonds, they can get a little boring when that’s all you see day in and day out. The stones all begin to look the same.
The Misfit name - all my life, I was kind of an oddball. When I first started out in the diamond trade, we would sometimes receive a few off-kilter stones from our Head Office in Israel that were classified as “rejection quality”.
Some were a really cool grey color, or had an opalescent shine, and some diamonds just had really rad inclusions. Being an artsy theatre kid, I always saw the uniqueness and beauty in these alternative stones. I looked at them differently, recognizing their interesting coloration, and the depth and character their inclusions created.
Back in the 70s and 80s, these stones (salt and pepper, ice diamonds, champagne/grey diamonds) were seen as literal garbage – they were swept off the cutting room floor and thrown in the dumpster. But now, years later, perception is shifting and people are specifically asking for these unique cuts and colors. Even people with $15k budgets are approaching designers asking for a spectacular salt & pepper diamond over a traditional white diamond.
It’s so great to see this shift – it brings a definite pizazz to the industry. Not to mention accessibility - now regular people can afford a gorgeous, unique, sizeable diamond without taking out an astronomical loan.
What are some cool new diamond trends you're loving?
Recycled and reclaimed diamonds! I love that we’re celebrating the history of these stones and choosing a more sustainable option. And Old European Cut diamonds – they have this magical vintage, antique charm to them. They have a larger table (top) than modern round brilliant cuts, and give off a distinctive, alternative sparkle and shine. They’re really coming back to life and are even being remade now by some modern diamond cutters.
What's it like working with Catherine and Gem Breakfast? How did you meet?
I met Cat (Gem Breakfast Founder) through Instagram! It was back in 2015, I had just started using IG, and Cat was running a jewellery blog called Gem Hunt. We quickly became fans of each other, commenting on each other’s posts and chatting jewels.
Then in 2016, we starting talking about doing a collaboration event together. We took 7 gorgeous stones and 7 talented designers and did a collaborative pop-up shop with 7 one-of-a-kind pieces that would only be offered at this event. It was a massive success – people loved what we had created.
And now here we are today in 2020 - Catherine’s business has really taken off, her magic is being spread all over the world, and we’re all growing alongside her.
I really respect Cat, she loves this industry, she gives so much to designers and clients – she really just works magic in everything she does. I supply stones to her directly for her custom pieces and work with the talented artisans and designers that she stocks on her site.
What's the most memorable Gem Breakfast ring created from your diamonds?
This ring designed by Attic Gold - it had an absolutely exquisite white rose cut marquis diamond that had an almost opalescent look with subtle champagne tones to it – I’ve always remembered that one.
You seem to truly enjoy connecting with people - is that the secret to your success?
I’ve always been a people person, I love connecting with, learning about, and building relationships with people. Growing up in the jewelry trade though, it was always a bit of a curmudgeonly industry - very old school/old boys club – not a lot of connecting and communicating for a young kid like me.
When I returned to the industry in my twenties, I was the industry misfit. I would stroll into meetings in my jeans and t-shirts, everyone else in suits and Rolexes. And at the time, all diamond trading was based purely on numbers and stats - you rarely even looked at the stones. These impersonal interactions took a lot of the magic out of it for me.
Then I moved to Vancouver and shifted gears – I focused on working with independents and artists who, like me, were passionate about the industry and the diamonds themselves. We really connected over cool new stones, we gushed, we discussed - it really brought the joy and magic back to diamonds for me.
What's your personal favorite diamond color, cut, and shape?
I’ve always loved marquis cut, so I really love movals – it’s a slender, elongated oval crossed with a marquis.
Also, fancy grey diamonds (naturally grey colored diamonds), and fancy white diamonds (opaque white colored diamonds – almost milky looking) will definitely have me gushing hyperbolic and waxing poetic.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I love seeing my diamonds turned into stunning complete pieces. And now with Instagram, I often hear directly from the end clients which is amazing. They post their new jewels and send messages saying how much they love their new piece.
Jewelry is all about the story and I’m grateful to play a small part in many magical moments in people’s lives. That never gets old for me.