From Prism Volume II 2024: Firm Member Profile, Samuel Sylvio Designs

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Paraíba Dreamer

Sam Sulimanov of Samuel Sylvio Designs started his business selling Big Three gems, but the beauty of the Mediterranean-blue Tourmaline from Brazil and Mozambique inspired him to specialize in it.

Israeli-born Sam Sulimanov got his start in the industry when he followed an uncle to New York City to sell gems. The year was 1982, and he and his uncle set up shop on 47th Street to sell Rubies, Emeralds, and Sapphires—the “Big Three,” as they’re widely known. After five years of experience, Sulimanov and a peer in the city teamed up with a shared desire to strike out on their own, still selling the traditional colored gemstones that the U.S. market loved.

For many years, Sulimanov and his partner had well-known colored gemstones cut and polished in India and Thailand for resale stateside. Sulimanov first heard about Paraíba Tourmaline from a Borsheims manager.

“That was when Paraíba cost just a few hundred dollars a carat,” he recalls. Then he saw the material in his office in 2010, and that meeting made an impact; he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I didn’t know anyone who had a specialty in it, so I wanted to because I had a passion for the stone,” he adds.

By 2015, Sulimanov and his now wife, Sylvia—he met her during that partnership—were ready for a change and decided to establish their own business. The pair hung a shingle under their own moniker—Samuel Sylvio Designs, a combination of both their names. She, too, had an industry background and experience in many aspects of it, from bookkeeping to inventory to sales.

Another reason for spreading their wings? The couple wanted to dive into sales of Caribbean Sea-colored Paraíba Tourmaline.

“We recognized the beauty and rarity of the stones at a time when many didn’t know what it was,” explains Sulimanov. “Some even called it ‘junk’—they just didn’t understand it. But five years later, the auction houses were selling it for big sums.”

All in on Paraiba

As the Sulimanovs invested in the uncommon Paraíba inventory from Brazil and Mozambique, they had to put signs in cases at trade shows to explain what it was. “It was so rare and expensive!” he says.

Because of the nature of the gems, they also sold Sapphires, Rubies, and Emeralds, and eventually some finished jewelry. About 20% of their inventory is Paraíba. Meanwhile, loose gems account for the bulk of their sales year-round but come fourth quarter, jewelry takes the lead. “Nobody has time to mount the stones then,” he observes.

They’re not picky about origin; Brazilian or African goods are both fine to acquire. However, they do end up recutting most of their purchases—about 80%. “We recut here in New York and in Thailand to give gems a more perfect look,” says Sulimanov.

And while it was understandably nerve racking to invest in such specialty stones, the Sulimanovs’ gamble and instinct has paid off. The moment they knew they were on the right track? It was in 2016, a year after their firm’s debut and two weeks before the AGTA GemFair Tucson. Some big houses visited him in his New York City office to inspect Paraíba. They came a few times to see gems, and by the time the Sulimanovs needed to leave for Tucson, the houses had pulled the trigger on some purchases.

The feeling was incredible—like I was an expert and that I was doing the right thing in specializing,” he reveals. “It gave me confidence to continue in that direction.

Sam's Mini Me, Debbie

While the Sulimanovs were building up this new business, their daughter Debbie was finding her place in the world. She studied for and became a certified ultrasound technician, spending two years in that field. Most of her working hours were on weekends, leaving her weekdays free. She spent many of them with her parents in their office, helping them in the business. She juggled both positions on a part-time status until 2021 when her father asked her to join him on a business trip to Thailand. That was a turning point.

“My boss at the clinic said he couldn’t have me out for so long, so I had to make a choice,” says Cohen. “I chose my parents’ business.”

Now, Cohen and her proud papa make most business decisions together. From sorting through gems for purchase to sketching new designs to sharing opinions on how to recut gems, the pair are virtually inseparable and like-minded.

“I don’t make mistakes, and I passed on that trait to Debbie,” laughs Sulimanov. “No other two people in the world are so synchronized on their decisions. When we select parcels, we choose the same gems, and when we need to recut stones, we almost always see eye to eye. It’s such a joy to work with her.”

Fast Facts on Samuel Sylvio Designs

Contact: Sam and Sylvia Sulimanov and Debbie Cohen

Year Opened for Business: 2015

Headquarters: New York City

Phone: 212-921-2800

Email: [email protected]


Best Sellers: Sapphires and Paraíba Tourmaline

Instagram Account: @samuelsylviodesigns

Years an AGTA Member: 38

Trade Shows: AGTA GemFair Tucson, AGTA GemFair Las Vegas

Booth in Las Vegas: AGTA #A33079

Getting Personal with Sam Sulimanov

What is your favorite gem and why? Paraíba Tourmaline because it is so beautiful and rare. You also don’t need to sell it—it sells itself! There are also few people who specialize in it. We sell Sapphires more than anything else, but with Sapphires there is more competition, and they are less rare.

State one fact that people generally don’t know or realize about the gems you sell. Our cut gemstones must have good value in addition to beauty. If a stone is beautiful but too expensive, nobody will own it. And if a stone is not well cut and clean, we won’t have it in our inventory. All our gems are clean, well cut, and are a good value to buyers. Our clients tell us that we have less expensive gems than dealers in Sri Lanka! It’s a compliment and speaks to the value of the gems we sell.

Tell me about a big break for your U.S. business. In the mid-1980s, trillion-shape Diamonds were a new trend. After that, half-moons were popular. I thought, Why not do that in color? So, the next time I traveled to Thailand and India, I had cutting partners there cut some Sapphires, Rubies, and Emeralds into trillions. No one else had sold them before. I sold a lot, mainly to other dealers, but the move opened a lot of doors for me.

What was the most special loose gem you ever sold? In 2022, I sold an oval-shape 12 ct. flawless Paraíba. It came to me from a third party and sold to an overseas client. They knew it was a specialty item, so they sought me out. Paraíba is a niche market.

Who were your mentors and what did you learn from them? My uncle taught me how to select good stones, and my mentor in Thailand—one of the biggest Sapphire cutters in Thailand—taught me the art of cutting and recutting gemstones. We got close and I learned a lot from him. Today, I theoretically know how to cut stones, but I don’t practice. However, I’m good with cutters because I know their language. They listen to me and sometimes I even teach them some new techniques.

“We met the Sulimanov family in 2023 when we were looking for Brazilian Paraíba Tourmaline. They have a wide inventory, are honest, and have become like family to us in just a year.”

“I buy Paraíba Tourmaline and Sapphires from Sam. He has a great selection to choose from and is super easy to work with.”

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This article originally ran in Prism Volume II. See the flippingbook by clicking here.