Experienced jeweler and designer, Lauryn Volovar, talks about her job with Earth’s Treasury, Montana sapphires, her podcast Gemology Worldwide, and the future of her career (be sure to watch all the way to the end for the big surprise!) in this video interview with Jewels of the Trade.
You can also read about her podcast in a previous article, JOTT’s Favorite Jewelry Podcasts.
JOTT: Hey everyone, you may have heard Lauryn on the Gemology Worldwide podcast. She is going to talk to us today about her jewelry journey.
Lauryn: Hi, my name is Lauryn Volovar and my day-to-day job is as a jewelry designer for Earth’s Treasury. If you haven’t heard of our company, we are a colored gemstone company primarily. That’s how the business started, it was started by a man named Jeff Hapeman. [Jeff] is an entrepreneur and lapidary and man of many talents. This is basically a culmination of everything he loves: gemstones, photography, science, running a business. He began the company in 2012 and was just selling colored gemstones with the main focus on North American gemstones, mostly Montana Sapphires, they are our biggest seller. He saw the natural progression for the company as selling jewelry, and that’s when he brought me on.
JOTT: How long have you been working for Earth’s Treasury?
Lauryn: It was two years ago this past Thursday. I totally love my job so much.
JOTT: How did you get into the jewelry industry?
Lauryn: I’m a first-generation jeweler. I was a quirky kid who was obsessed with rocks and gems. I went to art school not really knowing what I wanted to do. I was creative, I knew I had to go to college so that’s what I did. And then I found the jewelry design program there my sophomore year when I had to declare a concentration for art practice. Tyler School of Art has a fantastic program for CAD design. They have a traditional metalsmithing program as well, so you’re required to learn both. They are really future-focused on CAD design. Their professors were some of the first people to use CAD design in jewelry. It’s still an art school, so it’s very contemporary-focused and not really applicable to the jewelry industry itself. So I started working at a jewelry store while I was in college, part-time, to learn about the industry. After I graduated, I took a full-time job there. While I was in retail, I got to know what the industry itself was like not just being a jewelry artist. I realized the value of gemology and furthering my education and decided to get my GG. I applied for a scholarship and got a full ride to get my GG, which I did over the course of 2 years. While I was doing all this, I was designing for friends and family on the side. I had my CAD program at home and I would sneak into the jewelry shops at whichever store I was working at and would make pieces of jewelry when I could, afternoons and on the weekend. While I was making pieces for people on the side, I realized I didn’t have enough metalsmithing training. So I went from working in retail to a bench job which I did for 4 1/2 years. During that transition, I was finishing my GG. So right as I was starting as a bench jeweler, I had just taken my 20 stone exam and passed and was like “Well now I’m on the bench, and I need to use my gemology education.” I wasn’t in retail so I didn’t really need to use it as much, so I started doing appraisals. All of this knowledge came together and made me feel like I was actually ready to be a CAD designer. Anyone who designs jewelry should know that there are so many different components that go into CAD design. You need to know how it should be constructed. If you’re designing for a softer, less durable gemstone it can only go in certain types of stone settings. Working in retail, on the bench, as an appraiser, and getting my GG all came together to get me ready to be a CAD designer. Then I started doing the podcast with Josh and I met Jeff because he was our first interview. I was ready to move on from my bench job but not in any rush. I met Jeff, we clicked right away.
JOTT: How do you know Josh? How did you two connect for the podcast?
Lauryn: Facebook. He has an awesome group called Gemology Worldwide. I joined it, not realizing that Josh was also a Philly native. Right after I joined, he set up a mentor match program to help people connect more. I had reached out and was super excited, and he forgot me. He ended up being my mentor. We met up a couple times to talk about my career and I mentioned that I loved listening to podcasts and couldn’t find a lot of jewelry ones to listen to. So we decided to make one. I was really fortunate that my husband is a graphic designer and really great with computers. So we had a tech guy already and a producer. Josh and I structured [the podcast] like a mentor-mentee thing. He has four generations worth of experience in the industry and a ton of knowledge. At the end [of the podcast], we interview a true expert on the specific topic we’re talking about. It’s a good way for me to continue my gemological education after GIA and learn as a first-generation jeweler. If you enter the industry without any family connections, you don’t have as many resources.
JOTT: You’re also involved with WJA, right?
Lauryn: Yeah, I’m currently the president of the WJA (Women’s Jewelry Association) chapter [in Philadelphia]. I was the event planner for the first two years. If you are a woman in the industry or you identify as a woman, you should absolutely consider joining the organization. It’s been huge for me and connecting with other women in my area. It’s like this great social network that I have. We have meetings once a month and they’re all structured differently. I can’t say enough good things about the organization.
JOTT: You have a really unique experience and expertise with Montana sapphires. I think a lot of people would be very interested to learn about that.
Lauryn: Montana sapphires are incredible. They’re the main thing that Earth’s Treasury focuses on. I’ve just fallen in love with them! They are incredible because they’re from the US which is really important, I think, to Millenials and the younger generation. They want to know exactly where [their] products are coming from. With Montana Sapphires, we can trace them directly from mine to market. We work with a mining company called Potentate. We source rough from them every year and have them cut. If they have to be heated, they’re heated in the US and the majority of our stones are actually cut in the US.
JOTT: Does Jeff do the cutting?
Lauryn: We cut Jeff’s gem designs, he is a lapidary. He came up with all these specific gem designs that are unique and specifically tailored to sapphires RI. So they all have angles that make the gemstone perform as well as they can. Most of our gems are rounds or ovals because that’s the best shape to be cut in. By the time they get to us, at least 3-4 hands have touched the gem, that’s incredible traceability. I’m working with materials that are ethically mined and pretty eco-friendly too. The mine will eventually stop producing and their plan is to restore the earth back to its natural state once the mine is dried up. That’s another big thing that is important to Millenials. It’s very eco-friendly and will leave a very low impact on the environment when it’s all said and done. We also note that working in the US the miners are all treated well and everyone involved is compensated how they should be.
Jeff used to cut all the gems, but now we have thousands of gemstones in our inventory so we work with a company that facets our gems in his designs here in the US.
JOTT: Would you say that Millenials are your main market for Montana sapphires?
Lauryn: For sure. Of course, we sell to all ages and we have all different types of clients, but the majority of people who want to buy a Montana sapphire are coming to us because they’re planning on getting engaged and they want something unique. Montana sapphires are the perfect candidate if you ask me. They’re sapphires so they’re durable, they can be worn every day. They’re second only to basically diamonds in terms of durability. They also come in a huge variety of colors. I think another thing that people are looking for now when they get engaged is a really custom experience. No two Montana sapphires really look alike and on top of that, the ones that we sell are all specially cut in these specific gem designs.
JOTT: There is a belief that Montana sapphires don’t appear in real life as they do in photography.
Lauryn: Another thing that people say too is they appear grey-ish in real life. It’s absolutely true that under different lighting environments, Montana sapphires will look different.
JOTT: If people have only seen them at trade shows, the trade show lighting is not the same.
Lauryn: It’s not the best, actually. My favorite environment to look at a Montana sapphire is outside overcast lighting. It makes the gems look really bright and I think it’s the truest representation of their color. Almost all of them have a bluish-green pleochroism so under LED lighting they’ll look really green which is why there is a lot of shots on Instagram that were taken in LED photography boxes. People will see them and ask for us the super green almost-emerald-green color and we have to tell them it doesn’t actually look like that. We work really hard to make all of our photos represent the gem as if it’s in daylight. When a client wants to purchase a gem from us, we’ll take a video and we’ll also take a video outside and inside under LED or incandescent lighting to show them the gem will look different. We also have a review and return policy, we tell people to have the gem for at least 7 days and look at it under all different types of lighting to make sure they love the gem. It’s what makes them so special and beautiful, the most important thing to do is make sure it’s disclosed.
JOTT: I hope that the customer understands they need to ask questions and see different angles and lighting, don’t just trust one picture. Anything that plays with light the way a gemstone does, it’s easy to keep secrets.
Lauryn: We want full disclosure. We want clients to see if there are inclusions in the gems, we show a really magnified version of it.
JOTT: Is it common to have inclusions in Montana sapphire?
Lauryn: It can be! They can be extremely clean, but they’re a sapphire. Corundum material is typically a gemstone that has inclusions which is another thing that makes them really beautiful. If they’re unheated, they can have beautiful rutile silk which can give them a glow. They can have little crystal inclusions within them that can help you identify your gem. Some are almost flawless, it really just depends.
JOTT: When you sell Montana sapphires, do you work with a lot of retail stores or mostly people online?
Lauryn: We work with a ton of wholesalers. We have wholesalers who want to sell Montana sapphires to their clients and the rest of our clients are retail from all over the world.
JOTT: Are people having their sapphires set in white gold?
Lauryn: We make rings in 14k white gold, we just prefer platinum if possible and are noticing a trend of yellow and rose.
We really push platinum. Usually, we let people know that white gold is a little less expensive upfront but has to be replated. Platinum is more expensive upfront but doesn’t have to be plated. We prefer to work with it. I’ve been seeing a ton of people get yellow gold and rose gold. Trends probably go faster now with the Internet. If someone makes a list of trendy engagement rings, everyone will want that style.
JOTT: How do you feel that your Graduate Gemologist certification has helped you in your career?
Lauryn: So much. Sometimes I’ll have a client want an engagement ring set with an emerald and we tell them it’s not a great idea. So my GG is helping because I’m preventing a future tragedy, haha.
Having this extensive knowledge, I can explain to my clients better why [sapphires are] such a great choice for an engagement ring.
Having the logic and problem-solving that comes with being able to identify gemstones is applicable in so many other areas of the industry.
Having my GG demonstrates that I know what I’m talking about.
We’re a really small business so everyone wears many hats. Jewelry design is as much about selling as it is about being an artist.
JOTT: Lauryn, tell me about the future of your career!
Lauryn: I’m pregnant! I’m in my 2nd trimester and I’m due at the end of June. We’re having a boy. So I think the next year will be me navigating being a mom. I have no intention of ending my career. I will definitely be a working mom. It’s going to be challenging but I’m sure I’ll fall into a groove. Personally, I love jewelry history. I’m a huge Tudor nerd, and really all history in general so I would love to explore that and explore the history of jewelry and design a collection based on different time periods. Eventually, the Gemology Worldwide podcast will pick back up again. We prefer to record in person, I can’t wait to do that. I can’t wait to travel again, I love Tucson. I’m going to Tucson [next year]. That is happening.
I don’t want to put any pressure on myself, but education is so important. I would love to do Gem-A and become an FGA.
I’ve done so much to get where I am now that I’m really enjoying not feeling like I need to do more. I want to do a lot within my job that I have but I feel like I’m in a really good place in my career.
JOTT: How can people reach you?
Lauryn: Obviously, if you want to get in touch with me for Montana sapphire you can go to earthstreasury.com. Whether it be a retail client or wholesale.