Today we’re chatting all things recycled gemstones with the incredibly knowledgeable Jared Holstein, Gem Dealer and Founder of D'Amadeo - a company who specializes in post-consumer recycled diamonds & colored gems and known-source gemstones.
Jared’s our favorite source for antique and old cut gemstones and has an unparalleled eye for the unique and memorable. He’s also a strong advocate for transparency and accountability in the murky world of diamonds and colored gemstones.
How did you become a Gem Dealer?
I followed the path of my art scholar parents and majored in Art History. I was always interested in the physical and material world and how objects related to the human experience.
This material fascination coupled with my love of rocks led me to jewelry and gemstones. It seemed like a perfect union of all my passions. After working for several years at a magazine after college, I had a quarter-life crisis and went to school for goldsmithing. Not long after, I got a job at BBC Worldwide Americas, so my goldsmith schooling went unused for a while.
Eventually, alongside my day job, I started buying and selling antique diamonds and jewelry with a former business partner. The first ring we bought was a stunning platinum Edwardian ring with an Old European Cut diamond.
Not long after, my significant other and I started a family while I was commuting between Los Angeles and San Francisco for a TV job. I knew I needed something more flexible that would keep me close to home, so I started to pursue the gem business full-time.
What are Post-consumer recycled diamonds, recycled diamonds, and antique diamonds?
Recycled diamonds are diamonds that have been set in jewelry and removed for reuse. There are also recycled diamonds which were used by a consumer and thus are considered 'post-consumer'.
Post-consumer recycled diamonds are stones previously owned by a consumer that have reentered the diamond supply chain – they can be 300 years old or 3 months old, technically.
Antique diamonds are at least a hundred years old. The word ‘antique’ has a legal, FTC definition. Technically, stones from the 30s and 40s should be considered ‘vintage’.
Old mine cut diamond
How did you decide to focus on post-consumer and recycled gemstones?
I was quite surprised the first time I attended an industry gem and diamond show that so little information was available about where the stones came from (even from which continent), what hands they’d passed through, who had cut them and where, etc.
While I wasn’t necessarily an activist, I had expectations around transparency that were not reflected in what was available for purchase. I knew if I wanted to be involved as a vendor, it would mean doing things differently.
Around 80% of colored stones are mined artisanally or by small scale miners, so it’s more possible to have a direct connection to a producer and understand a particular stone’s journey. With diamonds, however, that’s nearly impossible.
With my first company, we chose to certify our goods against a post-consumer recycled standard created by SCS Global Services, a third-party certifier of environmental and sustainability claims. We were the only gemstone company certified at the time.
Why are post-consumer recycled diamonds the most environmentally sustainable choice?
Post-consumer recycled diamonds have the smallest environmental footprint of any purchasable diamond option as no new mining or production is required.
Large scale commercial diamond mines use prodigious amounts of fossil fuels and can leave a large literal footprint on the earth, in addition to water use/pollution, dust, and other issues.
Synthetic diamonds (also called lab grown, man-made or created diamonds) also carry significant carbon footprints as tremendous energy is used to produce them whether via CVD or HPHT. If that energy comes from coal, as is often the case overseas, that impact is outsized. Mined diamonds and synthetic diamonds vary in the size of their carbon footprints, meaning one isn’t “worse” than the other across the board.
Not many ethical claims (I feel) can be made about post-consumer or recycled diamonds (I choose to make none), but I would also ask how many of the ethical claims about newly-mined or synthetic diamonds are evidence-based and would withstand serious scrutiny.
Old Emerald Cut Diamond
Have the social issues of gemstone mining also steered you towards post-consumer recycled gemstones?
Relative to something like gold mining which has both massive environmental and social issues, most issues with diamonds and gemstones are on the social side. Generally, there’s a lack of equity in the distribution of wealth with diamond mining, and a mind-boggling lack of transparency in the supply chain. Many companies make claims such as ‘ethical’, ‘conflict-free’, or ‘sustainable’ but many of these claims are unsubstantiated, and in some cases, impossible.
You can prove, empirically, that a given stone is a diamond, and you can differentiate between naturally-produced and synthetic diamonds with empirical testing, but anything beyond that is a claim – where it’s from, that it’s recycled, where it was cut, that it’s ‘ethically-sourced’, etc.
People use gemstones as tokens of love and commitment, in ceremony and commemoration. They should be able to feel confident that at the very least, the stone on their finger didn’t contribute to bad social or environmental realities during its extraction, trading, or cutting, which often happen in disadvantaged parts of the world.
If you’re going to make a claim, show us, don’t tell us. Prove it. Words matter, and they matter not at all - reality is what matters. Prove it with good 3rd party validation, prove it with documentation (by which I do not mean, explicitly, a signed piece of paper), prove it with transparency, or prove it otherwise. No one, no system, and no thing is perfect, but we must start somewhere and every stone we source, every time we buy is an opportunity to ask questions and to try to do better.
Where do you find your recycled diamonds and colored stones?
All the diamonds mined in the past thousand years wind up somewhere – being the hardest naturally occurring material on earth, they tend to stick around. I find most of my post-consumer diamonds and colored stones from the antique, vintage, and estate jewelry market.
The surest way to ensure a diamond or colored gemstone is reused is to buy a used/vintage/estate piece of jewelry and remove the stone. Buying loose stones is trickier – it’s more difficult to prove that the stone is indeed recycled.
Why is it so tough to tell if loose stones are recycled - both with older cutting styles and modern cuts?
In response to consumer demand for older cutting styles like rose cut and antique cushion, stones are being cut in the antique style from newly-mined material. Looking old doesn’t make it old. You could mine a stone yesterday, cut it today to the parameters GIA considers an Old Mine Brilliant, and that’s what they’ll print on the lab report. They only specify what the cut style is, not the origin, the provenance, or the age.
Step Nouveau Elongated Hexagon Cut Diamonds
With modern-cut stones, for some consumers, recycled is a negative; some people emotionally don’t want “used” diamonds, so many (or likely most) recycled diamonds re-enter the market without disclosure and are mixed with non-recycled stones. Again, recycled is a claim and hopefully a supplier will be able to back up that claim.
What do you love aesthetically about antique and vintage stones?
The goal with most modern diamonds is to approach a mathematical ideal – cut, symmetry, polish all must fall within certain parameters. Basically, it’s a celebration of homogeneity – an agreement that there’s only one vision of beauty. That doesn’t interest me at all.
I love old stones because they’re unique – every single one looks different. I love how they sparkle – they were designed to perform better under dimmer light conditions like gas and early electric light, and in the 18th and 17th centuries, under oil lamps and candlelight. They give off larger pops of color and light than modern cut diamonds. I specialize in Antique (pre-WWII) material which varies immensely and exists in a different art historical context – that’s what makes them interesting to me.
Old European Cut Diamond
How do you choose gems – what are your criteria?
Knowing that I made a good sourcing decision is the starting point for me. After that, I focus on buying ‘love’ not ‘like’.
I gravitate towards stones that are unusual, whether it's color combinations, locales, or shapes. There needs to be a baseline of non-evil in the sourcing, cutting, etc. If there’s a super bitchin bi-colored stunner from somewhere I don’t want to give my money to, I don’t buy it.
I, like others, support the idea of continuous improvement - perhaps buying a stone from a location I’m not entirely comfortable with if it means I can continue the conversation with the supplier, learning from and sharing information with them. Montana and Australian-origin sapphires are “easy” from a vetting perspective, but economic benefit is needed more in places with much more complicated realities. And always: being entirely transparent with my customers about what I know and what I don’t know about each stone.
Asscher and Step-cut Montana Sapphires
Do you buy any newly-mined stones?
I do buy some newly-mined colored gemstones. Whereas so-called mine-to-market sourcing is almost impossible with diamonds, it’s entirely possible with colored stones.
Colored gemstones are found almost everywhere on Earth and likely at least 80% are artisanally mined (mined by hand). As a result, you can source somecolored stones directly from the people who are producing them or count on a couple of fingers the number of hands they’ve passed through.
How did you and Catherine (Gem Breakfast Founder) meet?
We met via the Women’s Jewelry Association in San Francisco. It’s a fantastic organization that I’m proud to be a part of, and the jewelry community in the Bay area is very inclusive and supportive.
What types of stones do you provide for Gem Breakfast?
Mostly old-cut diamonds and some colored stones.
You’re a part of The Jewelry Glossary Project – can you tell us about that?
In order to have meaningful conversations about responsible jewelry practices, we need to share an understanding of key terms. This is why the Jewelry Glossary Project is so important – we’re defining terms like ‘ethical’, ‘recycled’, and ‘conflict-free diamond’ from the broad and varied perspective of jewelry designers, gemstone wholesalers, goldsmiths, educators, and sustainability experts.
We created the Jewelry Glossary Project to increase transparency throughout the supply chain, by building consensus on definitions for key terms and creating accountability for their usage.
We published our first 10 definitions and we’re working on expanding the list.
Post-Consumer Recycled French Cut Diamond
Is the demand for post-consumer gemstones growing? Why do you think?
Demand is growing as people understand the realities associated with jewelry materials. They're trying to make choices more in line with their environmental and social beliefs.
Also, some people choose antique or vintage stones simply because they’re different and beautiful. Some people love that they’re recycled, and some people don’t care either way. It’s always a mix of intentions and preferences.
How do you give back to mining communities?
Since recycled stones don’t directly support mining communities, I financially support organizations including Partners in Health and others who work in places like Sierra Leone to support the health of local miners and their families. The COVID pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable artisanal mining communities can be, both from a healthcare delivery perspective and also to financial disruption, which for many means food insecurity, etc. Building long-term resilience in these communities is key.
What’s your ultimate vision for the jewelry industry?
To see the world made better through jewelry - to have every step in the journey of jewelry materials be net positive and minimally harmful.
If you'd like to create a custom piece with post-consumer recycled diamonds (or just want to learn more) book a free virtual consultation with us! We'll work with Jared to find the sustainable recycled stone of your dreams!
All gemstone images Courtesy of Jared via his glittering, gem-filled Instagram damadeo_