A Gem of a Career
We've all heard the maxim that diamond-buying decisions should be based on“the four c's”: cut, clarity, color, and carat. But for Reema Keswani '96, the founder, designer, and gemologist of the Golconda line, there's an important fifth c: a clear conscience. Keswani travels all over the world several times a year to source the stones for her 13- year-old jewelry line, verifying that the gems she uses are conflict-free and that no child labor was involved in their cutting or polishing.
“All of the jewelry that I manufacture is made in the United States, which is unusual for a lot of jewelers, and all of the metals that I use are 100 percent recycled,” says Keswani, whose pieces are manufactured in a midtown Manhattan workshop near her sales showroom.“It was important for me to hold myself accountable for every step of the process.”
Keswani's travels have taken her from her Brooklyn home to Kenya, where she toured mines with the women owners of a small-scale cooperative; to a private island in the South Pacific, where she dug through a harvest of Tahitian pearls; to Thailand, where she studied advanced gemology with a master cutter; and to Ethiopia, where she sourced opals, a current favorite gem.
“We are the first generation to set eyes on Ethiopian opal, which is so mind-boggling,” says Keswani, who cuts her own stones.“We take it for granted that we have discovered everything, but there is so much that we don't know, so many treasures that are hidden.”
Keswani's passion for her profession is evidentâ€”she calls it her“spiritual calling”â€”but the French and sociology double-major almost wasn't a jeweler. Despite enrolling in a soldering class at a community arts center during her time at Haverford and interning in the jewelry department of famed designer Sonia Rykiel during her year abroad in France, Keswani tried to ignore her growing interest in the jewelry maker's craft. Afraid to disappoint her professional parents with her creative ambitions, she dutifully became a management trainee in California after graduation.
“But one day, my father sat me down and told me, â€˜Reema, you have to work for a long time, so my suggestion would be to do something that you love,' ” she says.“This gave me the courage to tell my parents I would love to become a gemologist and pursue my passion for jewelry design,” she says. After that talk, she moved to New York to study at the Gemological Institute of America.
Keswani has put her knowledge to work at Christie's auction house and in a consultancy with the government of India to coordinate research on the famed Jewels of the Nizam of Hyderabad State (which include the more than 184-carat Jacob Diamond). In 2004, she published Shinde Jewels, her book about the legendary Harry Winston designer Ambaji Shinde, who became a mentor after she spent four years studying design with him.
Keswani started Golconda, which takes its name from the oldest and first known diamond mine in India, in 2001, and she now sells her handmade pieces by appointment from a showroom near Rockefeller Center. Her creations use both gold and platinum settings and range from contemporary to vintage-looking. Keswani's philosophy: Let the gem determine the design.
“I'm obsessed with the conceptual idea of taking away something to reveal beauty,” she says.“That's essentially what stone cutting is all aboutâ€” polishing and taking material away to reveal the stone's beauty.”
Keswani, who speaks five languages (including Chinese, Hindi, and Sindhi), is equally accomplished outside the design studio. She was the youngest person and first woman of color to serve as president of the American Society of Jewelry Historiansâ€”her two-year tenure ended in 2011â€”and she is an in-demand lecturer and consultant. But despite her packed schedule and well-stamped passport, she hasn't forgotten her Haverford roots.
“At Haverford, I took an elective called â€˜The Geometry of Design,' ” she says.“And I still have the textbook and still use it when I design. I think back fondly on that class often.”
For more information: golcondajewelry.com