Gem Breakfast's Catherine Cason Drops 4 Jewelry Shopping Truth Bombs

Catherine Cason. Photo:  Indu Huynh Photography

Catherine Cason. Photo: Indu Huynh Photography

Fine jewelry wasn’t an obvious field for Gem Breakfast’s Catherine Cason. The former beauty buyer says the high price of raw materials has posed a barrier to entry over the years. Historically, the people who made their mark in the world of gemstones either inherited the business or a pile of money. But the jewelry world is changing: according to Cason, Millennial shoppers in the Bay Area are increasingly gravitating toward more-affordable colored stones and non-traditional designs. That means jewelry startups like Cason’s are thriving.

Cason’s Gem Breakfast focuses on “deliciously unique” designs from independent designers, with an emphasis on salt and pepper diamonds and colored stones. “We support the designer community and everything is ethically sourced. I actually know who I’m getting my diamonds from,” she explained. Since the pieces she sells are one-of-a-kind, her clients aren’t stuck wearing the same mass-produced looks you see coming out of chain jewelers.

Thinking about buying a little bling? Here are four things you should know before you start shopping.

Custom jewelry is not built in a day

When shopping for jewelry, remember that quality takes time. “Jewelry takes about a month to two months to make. We have to go through the stone sourcing process, the design process, and the actual labor manufacturing,” Cason said. While you can walk into a jeweler and purchase a pre-made piece on the spot, rings will still require about a week for sizing. Cason likens ring sizing to major surgery, as opposed to an out-patient procedure. If you’re looking for a gift, either come in armed with the recipient’s ring sizes, or consider a one-size-fits-all option like earrings or a necklace.

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You shouldn’t wear your jewelry 24/7

Cason said the reason we still have vintage jewelry from the 1920s is people didn’t wear their jewels all the time back then. Her rule for gem-care? “If you want it to last for years, you shouldn’t be sleeping in it, you shouldn’t be rock climbing in it, you shouldn’t be swimming in it, you shouldn’t take it to the beach… I know it’s a sign of your everlasting love, but it doesn’t mean it has to be on your hand 24 hours a day.”

The surprise engagement ring is passé

Few couples are just winging it with engagement rings these days. Cason sees a range of involvement in the couples who visit the Gem Breakfast showroom. Some take a fully transparent approach, starting and finishing the purchase process together. Other couples come in to look together, then “pass the baton” when it comes time to make the purchase.

Still, Cason said she has occasional clients—usually dripping in sweat—in search of an engagement ring for a true surprise proposal. “For them, I like to suggest they go with something smaller. We’ll do a promise ring if there’s a deadline,” (i.e. “We’re going on this trip and I want to propose and I need a ring tomorrow.”)

For the client who’s ready to plan ahead and looking to surprise a sweetheart, Cason said she asks to see photos of the recipient. “Sometimes it’s hard for a client to communicate a partner’s style. As a jeweler, I’m able to interpret their aesthetic into jewelry. I’ll also ask for photos of existing jewelry—anything they wear on a daily basis or that they like. It still gives me an idea of their personal taste.”

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You can buy your own damn ring(s)

The latest version of this mantra comes courtesy of Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” but let us not forget when Queen Bey and Destiny’s Child told us 20 years ago, “I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings.” You don’t have to wait for a lover to buy you jewelry; you can select and purchase whatever speaks to you anytime you want.

Cason says she doesn’t label pieces as “engagement rings” or “wedding bands” on her website because she wants clients to feel open to using any piece for any purpose. Got a promotion at work? Finished Whole30? Congratulations! Buy yourself something sparkly to celebrate.

“I really cultivated an awesome audience of women who buy and collect for themselves. It’s probably what I’m most proud of in my business. My business is split between self-purchase and gifts and engagements. It’s not something I say as part of my tagline, but it is how I present myself.”

Perhaps white diamonds were once a girl’s best friends—children of the 80s will remember that they “always brought” Liz Taylor luck—but they’re certainly not the only gem game in town. When it comes to jewelry, Cason believes the real question is whether the color and style speak to you.