From A Family Business to Designing Family Heirlooms: Jade Trau’s Diamond Journey
Get to know jewelry designer Jade Trau.By Jane Asher |
Jade Trau and her team have just moved into a brand new space in the heart of NYC’s diamond district. She has a select number of pieces on display for us to play with, new and old designs, each one putting its best facet forward in the bright, natural light.
“I think that necklaces somehow feel most intrinsic to me,” she says of her favorite jewelry to design. “I love designing other categories too, but somehow whenever I pick up a diamond I’m like, ‘What necklace am I going to make this into.’” Trau herself is wearing a few layers of necklaces, each piece showing off her distinct design style.
Trau approaches her pieces diamond-first, something that sets her apart from other jewelry designers. And this outlook might have something to do with her family’s history in the diamond business. “I don’t know if it’s a real story or if it’s folklore, but the story of my family is that my great-great-grandfather developed the rose cut in the early 1900s,” she shares with a smile.
Trau’s Jewish ancestors were in the diamond business in Belgium, which is how they survived the war and the Holocaust. “My grandmother was a seamstress and she sewed diamonds in the lapels of her coats,” she explains. “They fled to a Swiss refugee camp when the war broke out and she traded diamonds in the camp to survive.” And survive they did.
After the war, her family was given a site from De Beers as part of reparations, but her grandfather, who had fled to Tangiers during the war, immigrated to America where he became a Rabbi. “One of his constituents was Sam Kwiat and that’s how we ended up in the diamond business again,” Trau says. “Sam was his biggest client and his favorite client for the entirety of his career.”
“Natural diamonds are why I am alive, it’s how my grandparents survived World War II, it is how we survived post-war, it is why I have been afforded the beautiful upbringing that I had and living in New York City and the education that I’ve had and everything else,” she says, unwavering in her appreciation for all that natural diamonds have afforded her. “And also, there is an energy to the idea that they were grown under the earth for what, a million years?”
Beyond the intrinsic value, Trau cherishes the time and human ingenuity that goes into creating these stunning stones. “It’s like a three-layer cake of creativity,” she says. “The creativity of the human ingenuity of being able to mine them and then polishing them and making these beautiful diamond cuts with them. And then I get to take that and add another layer of artistry and make a piece of jewelry with it.”
Being in the diamond industry and the jewelry design industry are two very different things, and at her core, Trau is a diamond dealer and a diamond lover. Her passion for these gems is clear as her face lights up discussing the diamonds themselves. “There’s so much artistry that goes into cutting a diamond and the fact that someone had to develop this emerald cut, pear shape, oval, and they all look a little different.”
It’s this artistry and appreciation for each of the cuts that led her to her signature Alchemy style in her designs. “I was on vacation, and I made a list of every single diamond cut and if that diamond cut had a personality what would the personality of that diamond cut be, and down to a kite and a half moon,” she recalls. “How do you take something and just honor it, honor its intrinsic beauty?”
Alchemy does just that: The thin gold outline on her diamond pieces accentuates the best parts of the diamond and really lets you see the shape of the gem. “I never understood that ‘as little metal as possible’ thing because ultimately if that’s how jewelry was made a hundred years ago it wouldn’t exist anymore,” she says of some of the more modern styles out there. But, at the same time, Trau feels that a true bezel covers too much of the diamond. Alchemy is the perfect balance of the two.
Her newly-launched Poppy collection, named after her grandfather whom she called Poppy, uses that original Alchemy design, but in cluster form, and has been an incredible success. The clusters are reminiscent of a bouquet of flowers, but the Alchemy edges keep it from looking too feminine.
“I think that’s why [the Poppy collection] is so relatable across the scale,” she says. “If you’re more girly, you see the girly side of it and if you’re more edgy, you see the edgy side of it.” The perfect equilibrium that makes the pieces timeless yet modern, a balance that Trau tries to strike in all of her pieces.
Trau doesn’t consider herself girly or a tomboy. Growing up with all sisters, she craved that masculine energy, which she now gets from her sons, who love wearing her jewelry. It’s another reason perhaps why she was attracted to the male-dominated diamond industry.
“From the diamond side of the business and for all the years that I was going to Antwerp as a diamond buyer, it was kind of gnarly,” she explains. “Nobody took me seriously at all. For the first ten times that I went to Antwerp, they didn’t talk to me.” Now, with a successful decades-long career behind her, Trau is much more confident in who she is as a designer and as a business owner.
Not only does she want to set an example for her boys, but for the women she’s hired to be a part of the Jade Trau brand. “There are my boys, and they’re my girls,” she says with a laugh. “And I am very mindful of wanting to give the full amount of attention to my boys and to my girls.”
“I just want to feel comfortable that I am treating everyone around me, both my clients and my vendors and first and foremost the girls who work for me with respect and with an open line of communication,” she says. Like anyone who owns a business, some days Trau feels like she’s killing it and some days she has less confidence. “I feel like I’m learning every day and I’m trying to figure it out every day.”
One thing that gives her confidence these days is designing. “I can take a sigh of relief that I feel like I have a core collection and that designing doesn’t feel hard.” Trau says she could design for hours, with ideas and concepts flowing and abundant. “I’m designing for all of the jewelry lovers in my office,” she says of creating wearable and stylish pieces for her lines. A good thing as her office is filled with “die-hard jewelry lovers!”
Designing for her line is rewarding of course, but bespoke pieces are where she gets to have the most fun. “The [bespoke pieces] that end up sticking out the most are the ones that are the most challenging.” She shows me a photo of a large marquise diamond ring, a custom piece for a client.
“It was so large,” Trau remembers of the heirloom diamond. “And I was like, how am I going to make this in any way a wearable ring?” In the end, Trau created a triple-satin finished gold band to support the diamond, a gorgeous end product.
Trau loves a marquise cut, as evidenced by one of her own heirloom pieces, a grayish-brown marquise diamond that she discovered sifting through packages of diamonds when she was working for her grandfather in her 20s. “I didn’t know what to do with it and I just left it in the safe,” she shares. “And then for my 40th birthday, I was like, I’m going to make something with it.”
Reading the certificate, she discovered her grandfather received the diamond in August 1980. “I did the math because I know what the manufacturing cycle is, so that came from an April site, which was April 1980, the year I was born.” Trau smiles at the fond memory. “I was just like, I know that there is divine intervention and I was like oh, my grandfather is reminding me and telling me.”
“Someone can hand you something and it’s not about what they handed you, it’s about what you do with it,” she says of going into a family business. “My grandfather gave me diamond knowledge and he empowered me with the world around me, but I chose to completely pivot it and do something else.” And that something else seems to have worked out for her, as both a successful career and fulfilling a lifelong passion: natural diamond jewelry.