Ruben Manuel’s forty-year career in the tech industry never seemed to scratch an itch he had since he was a young boy growing up in Colorado. His spark of creativity was always there as he recalls judging the Gabor Sisters’ styling choices on TV as a kid, but his tech roles never allowed him to kindle that spark. He thought his desire to design was something most people felt. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s when he designed a piece of jewelry for his daughter that he started to explore his creative side. Although much later in his life, this leads him on a path to designing a fine diamond jewelry collection and participating in the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative with the Natural Diamond Council and famed jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz.
Around the time Ruben made his first piece of jewelry, his interest in his background began to grow. His design instinct was tied to a genetic identity to culture and heritage that was suppressed most of his life. He had to work at the exposure and knowledge of his heritage, which would eventually inspire his design work.
Ruben was born the youngest of nine children, ten years apart from his closest sibling. His Grandfather, a Pima Native American, left the Reservation for work in Colorado, where he met his Grandmother, a Mexican immigrant. The two never left Colorado. The melding of Native American and Mexican cultures can be a treasure trove of history and tradition. However, growing up in 1960s America wasn’t always kind to those of culturally diverse backgrounds. Before Ruben was in school, his siblings’ troubled experiences as “cultural outsiders” pushed his parents to a more assimilated upbringing, even refraining from speaking their native language of Spanish.
Ruben says of his work, “As a first-generation, self-taught designer, I had very few resources. But, what I did have was generations of inspiration. My heritage has often colored my most important life intentions. Obviously, being of Native American and Mexican American descent greatly influences my design aesthetic. My designs are bold, colorful, and joyful, qualities that epitomize Mexican culture. Native American symbolism is rich in tradition with beautiful shapes, which I interpret in a modern, wearable, happy way.”
A gallery in Colorado Springs saw the few pieces of jewelry Ruben had designed and asked him to create a small collection, his first collection. This exposure led to private shows and custom jewelry pieces that Ruben made as a side project from his job in tech. His signature was bold pieces with large colored stones accented with diamonds. After retiring from the tech world, in 2020, with little movement caused by the pandemic, Ruben decided to also retire from designing jewelry. His jewelry retirement didn’t last long; shortly after, Ruben read about the first group of EDDI designers and their successes and decided to apply. Fast forward to today, his debut collection of fine diamond jewelry proves that it is never too late to embrace your background and follow your passion.
The EDDI program allowed Ruben to work more with natural diamonds than ever before. He says, “working in diamonds really helped me refine my designs.” For Ruben, “design is about telling a story.” His new collection subtly draws lines back to his heritage and represents each of the four seasons. His approach allows for a diverse collection of white gold and diamonds, yellow gold with diamonds, and pops of color, and black diamonds that all come together in one cohesive story.
“As for the future, my design intention is to delve into my ancestry and mine the jewels of that legacy to create jewelry (for men and women) that’s borne in tradition but lives intentionally with joy in the 21st century and beyond.”