By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
When Nomad’s Lapidary Co. (dba Gems by Nomads) formed in the early 1990s in Ukraine, its founders—Mikola Kukharuk, Maxsym Stepanov, and Sviatoslav Grygorenko—were recent graduates of Odessa National University with a shared love of travel and outdoorsmanship. These passions collided in gemstones at the same time the Iron Curtain fell, and the friends opened a company cutting Topaz and Heliodor from the Volodarsk-Volynskii mine in their home country.
Without mentors or lapidary tools, they had to be super creative to get the business off the ground. So they dug into “Gem Cutting: A Lapidary’s Manual” by John Sinkankas, learning how to cut locally sourced Quartz, Topaz, and Beryl for beauty not weight. For cutting tools, they leaned on a former weapons factory in Kiev, ultimately designing and building their own gem-cutting machines. Once operational, they cut gemstones and took them on the road for sales throughout Europe, eventually sourcing rough from Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and southeast Asia. Final steps in their formative years included sales in the U.S. and Hong Kong and realizing the next natural move would be to leave Ukraine to grow.
The founders dispersed to all corners of the globe, including Asia and other parts of Europe. Today, buying and cutting take place from an office in Thailand, and sales offices exist in New York City and Milan. Tracy Lindwall met the trio during her studies at GIA in Bangkok, eventually joining the team as their Sales and Office Manager in New York. Strict quality controls within the company ensure each gemstone has “perfect symmetry, facet points that meet cleanly, and an enhanced polish to make each piece glow to its highest potential,” she explains.
“Nomads is known for high-quality cutting of beautiful material,” she continues. “Over the years our buying team has gained experience in selecting rough material which yields not only the cleanest stones possible but also vibrant colors. This is usually only possible by painstakingly sorting parcels of rough that come through the office. It takes more time, but the result is a collection that we are proud of.”
While Nomads doesn’t own any mines, it does have partnerships with select ones. In the Erongo region of Namibia it works directly with a miner to cut and sell Tourmalines and supports the operation financially as needs arise. Nomads also works closely with a Brazilian miner who produces precious and Imperial Topaz from Boa Vista, Minas Gerais state.
“It is wonderful to have a trusted relationship with someone so knowledgeable about the area and has access to a lot of the incredible stones that Brazil has to offer,” says Lindwall. “Nomads is excited to work with Topaz and Espirito Santo Aquamarines from Brazil thanks to this partnership.”
Given these relationships and Nomads’ roots, it’s easy to understand why Tourmaline, Garnet, and Aquamarine are its best sellers. Other gems for sale include Tanzanite, Spinel, blue Zircon, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, precious Topaz, Morganite, and Peridot.
Traceability is another important focus for the team, which is why Nomads developed Provenance Reports. Components of the report include information about mining areas and traceability, and there are four levels of traceability that a gemstone could have. For mining details, Nomads gathers historical research and conducts interviews with the rough sellers, and a traceability report reveals “how close or removed we are from the people mining each stone,” says Lindwall. “Stones come to us from a variety of different ways, either in the open market or through mining partnerships.”
Levels of traceability include Level 1 – Mining Partnership, Level 2 – On-site Contact, Level 3 – Trusted Dealer, and Level 4 – Open Market. Anyone in the trade who buys a gemstone from Nomads can request a Provenance Report for their purchase.
In the first level of traceability, Nomads has an established partnership with the miner, direct insight into its production practices, and has visited the site on many occasions. In the second level, Nomads has purchased gemstones from a contact with direct access to a mine and with whom Nomads has maintained a long and trusted business relationship. In level three, Nomads has purchased gemstones from a dealer with whom the company has developed a business relationship. Nomads’ contact functions as a middleman between the miner or a local broker and Nomads, and as far as Nomads knows, the gem traveled from the mine to a larger nearby city where the contact purchased. In level four, the level with the most distance between Nomads and the mine source, Nomads purchases gems from a dealer and supplies its buyers with any information given to them by that dealer.
“All of us at Nomads have a passion not just for gemstones but also the world from which they came, both from an environmental and humanitarian level,” explains Lindwall. “We know that most of our customers feel the same way and wanted to share with them the knowledge we have about our gemstones. I think they really appreciate the transparency of the reports. In today’s sales world, it is a bonus to have as much information as possible about the gems which will one day turn into heirlooms.”
Considering the brand’s Eastern European roots, it’s not surprising to learn that the company is passionate about helping the people of Ukraine survive the ongoing war. To wit, Nomads felt it was important to give back to those suffering on the ground while Nomads founders remained safe outside the borders of their country of birth.
“Starting the week after the war began, Nomads sent 100% of its b2b Instagram sales and online sales to relief efforts,” explains Lindwall. “Later that year we launched a charity auction where again, 100% of the sale price was donated.”
Most recently, Nomads sent donations to United24 to aid medical needs. This is a foundation established by President Zelenski, and funds go directly to projects on the ground like buying ambulances and medical equipment.
“Nomads is proud to have raised enough money to help humanitarian effort and the people affected by war,” continues Lindwall. “This conflict is ongoing, so we will be planning more events and contributions in the future.”
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