Romancing the stones

Updated: 2012-06-25 14:49

By Zhang Lei (China Daily)

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Romancing the stones

Romancing the stones

Paloma Sanchez with opal miners in Ethiopia. Photos provided to China Daily

Romancing the stones

Workers at the Tourmaline Mine in Madagascar.

Spaniard uses Beijing store to share her jewelry from across the world, Zhang Lei reports.

At first glance from the outside, Paloma Sanchez's jewelry store might seem like just one of many shops in Beijing's Sanlitun area selling the usual souvenirs of the Chinese capital. But unknown to the first-time visitor, Sanchez's jewelry pieces are actually the result of her adventures to some of the farthest mines and quarries across the globe.

Inside her studio, cobblestone walls also help create a fresh Mediterranean zest that adds to the color of her jewelry displays including sapphire, quartz, obsidian, moonstone and crystal.

The Spaniard, exuding passion for her creations, presents her own definition of what is precious about them.

"I have a profound love and respect for precious stones. Their very name 'precious' relates to how they slowly grow only under specific heat and pressure parameters to become individuals unto themselves," she says.

"It is this unique path in which their atoms align to give them their own fantastic beauty, light and shape that I strive to capture in my jewelry."

Sanchez says that if each stone has already made a great journey to discover itself, she only wants to enhance it as a unique piece of art by using fine metals to accentuate and support it.

Unlike many jewelry designers who buy stones from wholesalers, Sanchez says she begins her journey at the source of her stones all over the world.

She never expects to find the same stone twice and she will never create the same piece.

"Each is as one of a kind as was its journey into a unique stone", she says.

"I like unusual gemstones, and I know where to find them and use them in my designs. Most of the people do not know many of the gemstones I use. Most people know diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald; but everybody is fascinated by the beauty of a gemstone they have never seen before," says Sanchez, who has been in Beijing for the past six years.

Sanchez counts her binoculars, microscope, spectroscope, UV lamp and refract meter as some of her most important equipment. When she travels afar, the most important tool for her is experience.

Her travels to seek out unique stones have taken her to the mines of Montana and Arizona in the United States, as well as to far-flung places in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Morocco, Colombia, Ethiopia, Madagascar and China itself.

In Colombia's Muzo and Chivor regions, Paloma found the world's best emeralds, and in Madagascar miners dug out and cranked up the most beautiful sapphires.

"Sometimes their natural rough form is breathtaking enough to showcase with little interpretation, while others can be polished to reveal their fierce inner light," she says.

It is this inner brilliance that she loves to capture in her jewelry.

Although Sanchez constantly flies around the world, she says her life in Beijing brings a new, sensational flavor to her design.

"I always use 'smooth' rounded shapes with no sharp edges. Chinese design never uses sharp, pointed, aggressive edges. I learned that here in China and I think it's so wise. It feels so much better and beautiful and in harmony," she says.

The hunt for precious gemstones has become a kind of calling for her, Sanchez says.

When she graduated from high school, Sanchez had no idea what she wanted to study. So she decided to go to Venezuela where she had some family. There, she visited the diamond mines in the Venezuelan jungle and was so impressed that she immediately knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: to learn everything about gemstones and design the most beautiful pieces of jewelry.

She likewise has a profound love and respect for her father, and that is why her personal journey began with law school. She had passed both Spanish and French university entrance exams in her hometown of Madrid, Spain, and to meet her father's expectations, she earned a law degree. Only then did her father permit her to resume her journey toward creating jewelry from precious stones.

"When I went back to Spain and after five years at university reading law, I graduated and I went to California. I studied gemology and jewelry design in GIA (The Gemological Institute of America) in Los Angeles, California," she says.

In the following years, she immersed herself in both retail and the business of global luxury brands, including Carrera y Carrera, Hublot, Cuervo y Sobrinos, and Patek Philippe, but not using her skills as a gemologist.

In 2009, Sanchez decided to follow her passion and opened her first shop in Beijing's Sanlitun.

Last year, she made three collections with Colombian emeralds and one with "Sleeping Beauty" turquoise, antique hand-painted British porcelain, pink sapphires and Brazilian rough lemon quartz.

In December, she also created a collection called China-Africa. She used precious stones including opals, tourmalines and sapphires that she brought back from Ethiopia and Madagascar with China-inspired designs.

Sanchez says her inspiration comes from her life all over the world. "I guess I got my inspiration from what I have experienced over the years, since I was a kid, the people I meet, the countries I go to," she says. Design, uniqueness, quality and beauty - all of these make one unique selling point, she says.

In the past, most of her customers were expatriates, but now 80 percent of her clients are Chinese.

"Now the Chinese have got accustomed to my designs. Each piece I design is unique and my customers, who usually have good income, want one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world," she says.

Sanchez is also delighted to see "women of individual character" wearing her unique creations, similar to her jewelry that aspires to be as precious and unique as possible, she says.

The Spaniard continues to pursue that ideal and she is once again on the road to look for gemstones. Her next stop? Tanzania.

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