To walk around Manhattan’s diamond district, the interconnected stores or “booths” lined along 47th street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, is an aggressive and intimidating experience. Store owners, mostly men, work to entice customers to purchase their diamonds and gemstones. But Sheryl Jones is different. As the only Black woman to own and operate a business within the diamond district, she's been described as a "rare phenomenon."
After a 10-year career in public relations in the entertainment industry, first as a film and television publicist and later as vice president of communications at MTV, Jones decided to change careers. In 1999, she got her start working with Belgian diamond manufacturer Grunberger Diamonds; its president, David Grunberger, would become her mentor, teaching her the ropes of a hard-t0-break-into, niche, and quite insular community. "After checking the job board I found an opening with a Belgian man who was opening a family office in Antwerp," she told Essence in 2011. "I offered to do publicity for his brand if he would teach me how to sort diamonds. He agreed and my apprenticeship began. I learned how to sort diamonds and helped bring in new clients."
Selling diamonds is a hard business to break into, Jones tells Refinery29. First, the industry is particularly parochial, filled with people who are third and fourth generation diamond dealers. Second, “you have to have the inventory and ability to create and sell and stock goods,” she says. “It's not a field that we've [Black people] traditionally access too. Third, for her business to be successful, Jones must create relationships with diamond dealers and convince them to trust her. While all industries depend on trust and the concept of people delivering a return on investment, the diamond industry takes it to a new, and very literal, level. At times, Jones says, she can have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds on memo. The gemstone dealers have to trust you are going to return the diamonds and that you are going to pay what you get for them.
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After years of overseeing diamond production for Ozuro Jewelry, in 2002, Jones opened Sheryl Jones Designs, which, according to its website "is known for a connoisseur’s level of craftsmanship, quality, and detail." In fact, Jones’ client roster now includes singer Andra Day, who wore a diamond necklace Jones created to the Grammys and during her performance at the 2018 Oscars. Recently, Jones partnered with her friend and jewelry designer Christine Vasan on a collection of engagement and wedding rings called C&S. And if you aren’t in the market for an engagement ring, Jones is hoping to add a bit of luxury to her clients' everyday lives with her own line, launching in the coming months on HSN.
The true beauty of Jones’ appeal as a jewelry designer — nay, jewelry mogul — however, is her understanding of what women want — and that isn’t walking through the main hub, known as Diamond Jewelry Way, of the diamond district. “One of the reasons why I'm so happy to be on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th street is because I don't believe that my clients would necessarily want to walk through that either,” she says. The diamond industry isn't just run by men, but it's built around men as the consumers, too. The main part of the diamond district is made up of men inviting shoppers up rickety stairs into small rooms a few flights up old buildings. This environment is not always inviting for women. Jones instead wants to make sure women feel safe and informed when they are buying jewelry.
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“You're in an environment that sometimes can feel like, it's a heavy on the bargaining and discount in terms of the interim. But I think that the item itself, the way that I produce it and the way that I inform my clients and talk to them about it and keep them involved in the process, that adds to the luxury of it You really feel like you are getting something special and amazing, and that's what you should feel like when you put it on. It's like 'wow, I really love this piece,'” Jones says of what makes her work so special. “That's the best thing that could ever happen to me when I make a piece of jewelry. I want someone to walk out and say I put this piece on because it makes me feel good. I love it.”
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.