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Artisan Spotlight: Tara Gray Jewelry

Artisan Spotlight: Tara Gray Jewelry

Tara Gray is a renowned jeweler known for specializing in the finest and rarest gemstones. She has been featured on TLC’s the Good Buy Girls, The Daily Buzz, Life Love Shopping, and Right This Minute as a product and fashion expert.

Obanj got the chance to catch up with the jeweler to learn a bit more about her unconventional foray into jewelry, diamond mines and why she broke molds for customers.

Obanj: Your journey into designing jewelry is really fascinating and sort of unconventional. Can you tell us how you became a jewelry designer?

Tara: I began my career as an entertainment television reporter in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. After a few years of honing my TV chops, I decided it was time to go for it, so I saved enough money for six months of living expenses, packed my entire life into a few suitcases and moved to Los Angeles. After three months of endless entertainment reporter auditions, I find myself at a casting call with about 500 other ladies and realize it’s for a home-shopping network and for the audition I’ll be selling a gemstone I can’t even pronounce. As a wave of panic washed over me, I stood up to flee the scene when the casting director called my name. Weak in the knees, I fumbled my way through the audition, left the casting director’s office knowing with solid certainty that there was absolutely no way I was getting that job, and promptly made my way for the wine when I got home. The next day I get a call from the casting director telling me that out of thousands of people nationwide that auditioned for this network, I was one of only two they were going to hire, and my response was, “are you sure you called the right person?” She told me I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to gemstones and jewelry, but that I was great on TV and they would send me to the Gemological Institute of America so I could learn everything I needed to know in order to sell high-end fine jewelry with the rarest gemstones and colored diamonds in the world. As they say, the rest is history. I’ve now hosted over 10,000 hours of LIVE national television selling the world’s elite gemstones and natural diamonds and now have my own company, Tara Gray Jewelry, where I custom design pieces for my private clientele.

Obanj: That’s an amazing story! How does being a Gemological Institute of America certified inform your jewelry making?

Tara: I believe that knowledge is a key aspect of any profession, especially the jewelry industry, because buying jewelry can be intimidating for clients. My degree from GIA has has been integral in giving my clients the information they need so that they feel comfortable and relaxed with their decision. This is especially true when it comes to diamond engagement rings because of all the little details that can make a big impact on quality and price. Before I even begin a piece, I take the time to really educate my client on their options, whether it be a diamond or colored gemstone, and they always tell me they are so surprised at how easy and effortless I make the entire process. My knowledge and training from the GIA makes jewelry design enjoyable for my clientele and I believe that is key for any fine jewelry designer.

Obanj: What materials do you tend to use in your pieces?

Tara: Only the best! Rare gemstones, natural fancy colored diamonds set in 14KT gold, 18KT gold or platinum accented with only the finest colorless VS accent diamonds money can buy. I love designing fine jewelry because of its ability to endure a lot of wear and tear. When you look at a piece of jewelry you remember where you were when you got it, who gave it to you, what was the occasion etc. By using high-quality materials, my pieces and the memories that go with them can be passed on from generation to generation.

Obanj: How do you source your gemstones?

Tara: I am blessed to have cultivated relationships with people who have direct access to the mines, whether it be diamonds or colored gemstones. This cuts out all of the middlemen usually associated with gemstone and diamond buying which has two huge benefits. Number one, I know that the mining practices are being followed for the particular country where the mine hails and number two, I can keep my pricing incredibly low. Forget about retail, my prices are even better than wholesale!

Obanj: You also designed a piece of jewelry for former President George W. Bush. Can you tell us about that piece?

Tara: Last year, The Turner Foundation in Santa Barbara celebrated 60 years of service to the community with The Turner Legacy Event, “An Evening with President George W. Bush.” My company, Tara Gray Jewelry, was given the honor of designing a piece of jewelry to be auctioned off during the dinner with the President to raise money for this incredible organization. When beginning my design, I drew inspiration from the Presidential Seal which features an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 olives that represent the original 13 colonies and is also a symbol of peace. I decided to create a necklace and call it The Branches of Peace. The diamond tennis necklace boasts over 4 carats of diamonds as well as an olive branch in the center with 13 diamond-encrusted leaves and 13 Colombian emeralds representing the olives. This is one of my all-time favorite designs because it challenged me to create something that was inclusive of everyone because no matter your race, religion, country or creed, peace is a universal hope that unites us all. It was such a success, that each year I will create the Turner Legacy Piece based on the guest of honor. The 2020 speaker hasn’t been announced publicly yet, but I can tell you they are one of the most recognizable names in sports history! Stay tuned!

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The Branches of Peace Legacy Necklace
Designed for the Turner Legacy Event, “An Evening with President George W. Bush. This piece boasts over four carats of diamonds as well as an olive branch in the center with 1 diamond encrusted leaves and 13 Colombian emeralds representing the olives.

Obanj: Incredible! You were also chosen as the creator and designer of the first polo championship ring in the history of the sport. Can you tell us about your design process for the 2018 and 2019 PCO Championship rings?

Tara: I love designing the Pacific Coast Open Championship Rings, because it allows me to let my imagination run wild! For the 2018 ring, I drew inspiration from the awe-inspiring PCO trophy and decided to create the majestic piece in 14KT white gold. The ornate leaf work that drapes the trophy also drapes the shoulders of the ring and outlines a hand-carved logo of the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club to represent the location of the PCO. The mighty eagle that sits atop the trophy is also hand-carved into the front and back of the ring's mounting to symbolize the strength and perseverance it takes to conquer the PCO championship. The ring also boasts 109 hand-set natural fancy black diamonds and white VS diamonds to reflect the 109-year history of the Pacific Coast Open. One of the most creative details of the ring is the hand-carved polo pony under gallery which is the part of the ring that touches the top of your finger when wearing it. Under galleries can’t be seen while wearing a ring and are added for comfort, which is why they are usually only seen in fine jewelry like the PCO Championship Ring. The 2019 PCO Championship Ring features a completely new face design but maintains certain aspects of the 2018 ring in order to create cohesiveness from year to year. The new round face features a hand carved polo horse wearing an Argentine braided halter among a bed of natural fancy black diamonds. I also changed the under gallery carving to a horseshoe as another way to distinguish the rings from year to year. It’s quite an honor to design a history-making piece for such stellar athletes.

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Obanj: With your experience, what is something special you know about gemstones that most people don’t?

Tara: I could nerd out on you about gemstones and diamonds and crystallization processes for as long as you’re willing to sit and listen, but that might bore you to tears! As a designer and TV host who sells pieces from $500 to $500,000 I am constantly researching the current mining environment for stones all over the world and educating myself on their particular issues and productivity which can affect supply, demand and ultimately the price. For example, the Argyle mine in Australia is finally officially closing at the end of this year due to productivity losses. A lot of people may not know that 95% of the world’s fancy pink diamonds and 90% of the world’s other fancy colored diamonds come from that one source. So it’s my job to inform my clients and television customers on events like this so when they see prices sky rocket they know why.

Obanj: Tell us about a time you designed a piece and felt you outdid yourself. What about that piece makes you proud?

Tara: As a designer I’ve been very blessed to design some incredible pieces for some incredible people and even make history, but sometimes it’s not about all the glitz and glamour but more about the meaning behind a piece. I had a client whose mother was battling a fatal illness and had been given only a couple of weeks to live. Even in the end stages of her life, my client’s mother was only thinking of others and had decided she wanted her daughters to have a piece of jewelry to remember her by. When I got the call from my client conveying her mother’s wishes, I knew the piece had to be true perfection. I usually take about 2-3 weeks to design and deliver a piece, but I knew time was of the essence in this situation and was able to create the piece in just one week. I’ve never been so emotional about a piece of jewelry before, and decided that since it was such a personal piece for my client and her family, that I would never recreate it or release any images publicly, and so we broke the mold after the pieces were complete. Every piece of jewelry I create has a degree of meaning behind it, but some pieces are so special and meaningful that I think they should be treasured privately and worn in honor of the person or event they’re meant to represent.

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