Jewellery Mavericks: An Interview with Sonia Esther Soltani
In this installment of the Jewellery Mavericks series, we’re talking with Sonia Esther Soltani, a multi-hyphenate who has established herself as a discerning eye within the fine jewellery industry. Sonia is the editor-in-chief of Rapaport, managing their monthly print magazine, The Jewelry Connoisseur, the Rapaport online blog, as well as overseeing news on Diamonds.net and hosting a podcast on antique and vintage jewellery. She is certified as an Applied Jewellery Professional under the GIA and has a particular interest in responsibly sourced jewels and innovative design.
In this interview, Sonia explains the importance of craftsmanship and personality when it comes to fine jewellery and why sustainable sourcing is crucial not just for the future of the industry, but for our very relationship with our most meaningful fine pieces.
Who was your greatest influence in shaping your jewellery taste? Do you remember when and how your passion was kindled?
My mum and grandmother didn’t have much jewellery but I learned something from both of them: the sentimental value of jewels and the importance of good craft. My mum inherited a beautiful diamond ring from a great aunt and a simple gold signet ring from another great aunt. She always wears the simpler ring because she had a greater connection with its former owner.
As for my grandmother, her motto was less is more, but less had to be well crafted and high quality.
I’ve always loved classic Hollywood movies—anything with Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly—so I have a soft spot for glamorous, feminine styles.
I started writing about the jewellery industry four years ago (I’m still a newbie), and since then I’ve discovered a fascinating creative universe. I would say the jewels that really get me excited are the ones which reveal their creator’s personality and vision, where you can really feel that the artisan/artist put their heart in it as my grandmother would say.
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If you could only wear one piece of jewellery for the rest of your life, what piece would you choose and why?
I would go for a cocktail ring, a statement making piece that would be associated with a particularly happy moment, a celebration of a milestone. It would need to be a conversation starter. If it were a Belperron ring, I’d happily live without wearing anything else because I’d admire the craftsmanship, use of stones and modernist lines for a lifetime.
Is there an item which you consider both a simple accessory and a piece of art, both everyday and statement?
The first thing that comes to my mind is a wood clutch by Silvia Furmanovich. It’s exquisitely made, with 18-karat gold and gemstone accents. I love the floral, nature-inspired motifs featured on her clutches, along with the delicate marquetry that crosses the bridge between accessory and art work. It’s a modern take on the vanity cases of the 1920s, a jewel in itself, with the added benefit that it can fit your lipstick, mirror and tissues inside.
What is your favourite coloured gemstone?
I’m obsessed with emeralds. To me they evoke the magnificence of Cleopatra, the treasures of the Mughals, and the glamour of Elizabeth Taylor. Whether it’s a ring set with a step-cut stone to let the power of the emerald colour emanate fully or mixed with diamonds in a pair of earrings, I’m drawn to the gem’s energy. Even designs that might not be my style, if they feature emeralds, are likely to get my attention.
What are the biggest trends you’re currently seeing in the jewellery industry?
Personalisation and bespoke designs seem to be ruling the scene, especially as jewellery collectors are looking for pieces that completely reflect their style and personality. And if it’s not bespoke, it should at least be personal, like a letter pendant or a symbolic motif that they can relate to.
Meanwhile, the quest for sustainability is not a trend, it’s here to stay and that’s something to celebrate. Gen Z and Millennials, and anyone who has a more conscientious approach to luxury, are asking key questions: where is my jewellery from? Who made it? And what impact did it have?
Finally, vintage jewellery or vintage-inspired styles are having an increasing appeal for consumers. As someone who loves jewellery with stories, I can only rejoice.
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What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m naturally very curious so learning something new every single day is extremely fulfilling. I enjoy the scope we cover at Rapaport—literally the whole pipeline from mining to retail. I cherish the connections I’ve made with people from the industry, who are some of the most passionate and creative individuals I’ve ever met in two decades of working in publishing.
Is custom designed jewellery a passing trend or is it here to stay? What are the advantages of custom pieces to off-the-shelf ones?
As I said earlier jewellery buyers want something more personal and specifically designed for them so custom is definitely not a fad. Custom used to be defined as merely putting a specific stone dutifully chosen according to the 4Cs on a specific mounting and voilà! End of the story.
Thankfully people are understanding that custom can be much more creative than this. They can include heirloom stones, creating a connection to the past; they can upcycle a piece of jewellery they don’t love anymore; they can add personal touches known only to them and their jeweller. No one wants a cookie-cutter approach to their jewellery when they know tailor-made options are available within their budget.
Are there any rules to follow when designing the dream engagement ring or should it be led by imagination only?
I love the idea of imagination taking you to exciting places and since you’re going to wear this ring, hopefully, every day for as long as possible, you should really feel utterly in love with it. Two of my best friends have rubies as centre stones for their engagement rings and I like the fact they followed their heart back when coloured gemstones were not as popular in bridal jewellery. That being said, it’s a jeweller’s responsibility to guide the client to make sure their expectations are compatible with their budget. To wear a pearl or emerald set ring every day might not be the best idea, even if in my wildest dreams, my engagement ring is a large emerald.
What are the most common misconceptions of the jewellery industry you believe first time buyers have?
Prices. Everyone has access to the Internet and everyone thinks they understand what jewellery really costs. There are so many sources of information out there that it can get confusing for first-time buyers. No one wants to feel cheated, even less so when the purchase represents a considerable amount of money. Most first time buyers will buy an engagement ring which adds another layer of emotions to the purchase. I can see that retailers and jewellers that invest time in educating their customers build the strongest trust.
When you think about customisation of a ring or jewellery piece, what gets you excited?
I love the fact this will be something that will get a “this is so you” reaction, whether the person who says it likes the jewel or not. To have an ornament that reflects my personality and life story is the biggest luxury.
Thanks to Sonia for sharing her insights with us. Her approach to bespoke design and vintage craftsmanship is an asset to the whole jewellery industry, and we can’t wait to see what priceless treasures she’ll come across next. Keep up with her work in Rapaport and the The Jewelry Connoisseur here.