I first met Debra Navarro at a Metal + Smith jewelry event in New York. Our interests intersected over sustainability issues in gemstone mining, so I was eager to learn more from her about her inspirations, process, and business model.
Let’s face it, we aren’t always sure the person who made our shirts were treated and paid fairly, but we liked them so bought them anyway. Times are changing, however, and beauty standards are changing with it. Glossier democratized beauty. Ashley Graham, and shattered the supermodel stereotype. And now, the jewelry industry is changing its standards of perfection and beauty. Debra Navarro jewelry is just one example of a brand doing it right.
From communications major, to marketing and promotions director at a country radio station, to gemstone appraiser, Debra Navarro made her way into the jewelry industry by a circuitous path that involved leaps of faith and an ethical vision.
“I was doing commercials for a jewelry store when the owner asked if I wanted to work part time through the holidays. I knew nothing about jewelry, but went ahead and said yes.” That risk-taking and sense of adventure paid off: “Then boom! A whole new world of art and science opened up for me!” Her relentless curiosity drove her work ethic and sense of purpose. “I felt a passion for jewelry and wanted to learn everything I could.”
Navarro decided to complete the distance Graduate Gemology program through GIA and became a certified gemologist appraiser through AGS. Then, nine weeks after viewing the documentary Sharing The Rough , which follows the path of a gemstone from Mine to Market, she took to the road, determined to learn first hand from workers and dealers on the ground. After 15 years of working as an appraiser, she embarked on “what was my first and life-changing trip to the beautiful countries of Tanzania and Kenya.” In Africa, she met Roger and Ginger Dery, the stars of the film and now “dear friends of mine.”
Navarro had essentially re-designed her career and her life and her collection reflect this. Navarro has three main collections the Barefoot Collection, the Watu Collection and a Bridal collection. “I started by designing the path that brought me up to this point.” Her early pieces included “a pair of hoops I called Stepping Stones, then a ring called Leap of Faith.” Her debut, the Barefoot Collection, reflects peace and her sense of being “connected to the world around me. My style is earthy, organic, and luxurious, but still made up of classic pieces that are made to be worn every day.”
Her second collection, Watu, is “inspired by the beautiful gemstones and people I’ve met in East Africa. These pieces are named after very special people I’ve had the privilege to know and do business with. They inspire me every day and I wish to give homage to through my jewelry.” The gemstones are crafted and sit in the gold as if it was still embedded in the land that it came from.
Navarro’s travels and relationships showed her “another side of jewelry, before It gets into a jewelry case. It was here that I felt the heart and soul of where every beautiful piece of jewelry begins.” This radically changed her thinking about her own career.
She was positive that she could never go back to doing what she was before and had to come back and tell the story of the people who work so hard against so many odds to unearth the miracles that gemstones are from the earth.
For her Watu Collection, she went “straight to the source in East Africa every year to visit the mines and see the gems available at that time. I never know what they’ll show me so it’s an adrenaline rush everytime I come to sit at the table.”
This is not only wonderfully exciting for her, but also has a positive impact on stone sourcing. Focusing on what the mines are able to provide promotes safety, whereas the relentless quest for perfection can encourage egregious methods that damage the environment.
Navarro + The Colored Gemstone Mine
Navarro’s current designs, platform and story are the result of her cumulative experiences and encounters. Her jewelry goes beyond sustainability and long-distance travel to reflect a true internal journey. The result is an intimate an revolutionary approach to stone sourcing. Instead of retrieving stones after they have been passed through dozens of hands, she participates in ongoing and enduring relationships with the people who are in charge of sourcing her material.
At the moment, Navarro is energized by the raw gemstone trend. “I love using gemstones in their rough or raw form. It’s taking a gemstone out of a traditional faceted realm and appreciating it’s beauty in a new way.”
In her Watu Collection she features natural gemstones the way they came out of the ground, but often gives them “a special facet I call a Tenda Cut. Tenda means “to do” in Swahili. It carries a meaning of doing something good to someone even though you don’t see it.” She hopes her customers will keep in mind that the purchase of a Watu piece “has a direct impact to those living in the artisanal mining communities the gems are found in.”
The owner of such a piece “may not be there to see the impact personally, but they can know of the good their purchase is doing through Gem Legacy.” Five percent of proceeds from every purchase is set aside to “support the efforts of the people on the ground.” Learn more at Gem Legacy: Home
Debra Navarro creates wearable works of art. Each piece is a timeless emblem of a new era of jewelry sourcing and relationship building in supply chains. This level of investment not only makes the jewelry beautiful but also very meaningful.
Stepping Stone Hinged Bracelet
Pia Stud Earrings Featuring Malaya Garnet
Gee Aquamarine Solitaire Ring
Textured Cable Chain With Colored Diamond Accent
Purchase through her site Debra Navarro.