Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but for Zenobia Morrow diamonds are her business. Well, diamonds and all sorts of gems. Morrow is a gemologist, meaning she identifies and evaluates gems. In other words, she knows her rocks.
Jewelry is not a bad business to be in. In fact, the jewelry market is a $70 billion dollar industry, according to the Huffington Post.
Morrow is actually a Graduate Gemologist specializing in the grading and procurement of fine diamonds and gemstones. She currently works with a New York City-based diamond house to manage loose diamond, custom design, and fine jewelry sales. Atlanta native Morrow earned her B.F.A. in Design at Howard University before studying gemology at the Gemological Institute of America in New York. Morrow is also a member of the Women’s Jewelry Association and GIA Alumni Association, as well as a painter and fine artist who will showcase her work in 2017.
Recently, Morrow schooled MadameNoire on how to pick a great gem–and what makes good engagement ring.
MadameNoire (MN): What prompted you to start in the jewelry business?
Zenobia Morrow (ZW): When I was young, my mother and I would go antique shopping on the weekends, my first stop was always the jewelry displays. I was obsessed with the jewelry that harkened back to old Hollywood and seemed so glamorous even though it was just paste and rhinestones! I grew and learned more about fine jewelry and saw some people from my community making what I thought were poor choices in respect to their jewelry purchases. I wanted to be the one to help them make better decisions. After college, I found out about the Graduate Gemologist program at Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and enrolled. I love how the industry blends artistry, business, and science together and allows people to express themselves and capture special memories in stone.
MN: What have been some of the challenges you faced in the industry?
ZM: Being a woman in a male-dominated field has had its challenges. Some people just saw me as a silly girl who was better off behind the jewelry counter than in the room with serious buyers, but I took the opportunity to learn from some of the toughest and shrewdest in the industry.
MN: What has been your biggest business lesson?
ZM: My biggest business lesson is that you have to find your niche. You have to be able to access your talents and effectiveness in the field and be realistic about where you are strongest. For me, that area is working directly with clients on custom projects whether it is an engagement ring or building out a jewelry collection, being able to work one-on-one and build that relationship is where I am most effective and have the most fun!
MN: Let’s talk gems. What are some of the trends for engagement rings this year?
ZM: By definition an engagement ring should not be “trendy” but you do see some styles gain popularity. Right now I’m seeing more movement away from traditional halo styles in favor of more unique halos made with baguettes, enamel, or colored diamonds. Lots of ladies will be accessorizing their solitaires with interchangeable stacked bands. It’s an inexpensive way to switch up your look whenever you like. You will also see a rise in alternative center stones like sapphires, black diamonds, rose cuts, etc. in the traditional shapes: cushions, ovals, and emerald cuts remain strong.
MN: How much should a man should spend on an engagement ring?
ZW: A man should spend what his budget allows. There is no magic formula. He really needs to sit down and think about what he can spend comfortably, knowing that this is something she will be wearing for many years through different phases of life. The engagement ring is part of their personal legacy, an item that can one day be passed down to children and grandchildren, he should do what he can to make it special and important. If you’re working with a limited budget it’s crucial to select a jeweler that can get creative. Re-worked vintage pieces, alternative center stones, and optimal measurements on traditional diamonds can help a guy to get more look for the budget.
MN: What qualities should one look for in an engagement ring?
ZM: With traditional diamonds the first must-have is a lab report from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) certifying the color, clarity, and other details of the diamond. Beyond that, it’s important to get the best quality combinations within the budget. For example, in emerald cuts you need a higher clarity because the large open facets show every imperfection, but those large facets also leak color so you can go to a lower color. Cushion cuts, in contrast, have concentrated facets that enhance the color of the diamond but also hide internal flaws, so you can go with a lower clarity but need a higher color. Every shape has little tips and tricks; I always work with my clients identify the best combination of elements for the shape that they want.