Three and a half years ago, Debra Navarro took a leap of faith, and today stands with her feet firmly planted in a successful career as fine jewelry designer and a world-changer with a heart of gold.
In her office, she sees those famous three words every day that started it all: CHASE YOUR DREAMS. “Someone said, ‘If you can conceive it, and believe it, you can achieve it,” says Navarro who did just that. “Some days I almost can’t believe this, but it is just what I dreamed and envisioned all along.” Navarro is modest, as in this very short time, she has already achieved numerous accolades, including the 2019 JCK Tucson Industry Choice Award, INSTORE magazine Design Award for Colored Gemstones under $10,000 and the coveted Cindy Edelstein Emerging Designer Award.
“I’m honored and grateful that taking a chance on these rough gems and combining them with a couture-type of attention is being well received. We have a greater story to tell, and this attention will help to get the mission of the brand out,” she says.
I'm honored and grateful that taking a chance on these rough gems and combining them with a couture-type of attention is being well received.
It all started when Navarro, a 15-year industry professional, discovered her desire to design jewelry, but felt unprepared. She studied gemology, got her GIA Graduate Gemologist degree and was certified as an appraiser. “I loved the work I was doing, but something was always missing. I could always see designs in my head, but the idea of starting a business seemed like a longshot. I was actually stuck in my life right at that point,” she says. Then she saw a documentary called “Sharing the Rough,” about the journey of a gemstone from mine to market while attending AGS Conclave in 2015, which literally changed her life.
“I thought I would just see a documentary on gemstones, but it was very different and very much about the human spirit. Instantly I felt compelled to go to and learn more about the mining process and this other side of jewelry that I had never been exposed to before.” Within two months, she was on a plane to East Africa on a trip lead by Roger Dery, the award-winning gem cutter who’s featured in the film.
She credits Dery with introducing her to what is really happening on the ground regarding mining and gemstones, and the needs of the local people. “I came home from that trip a changed person with a new purpose,” says Navarro. “After seeing the miners do what they do with so little, I was asking myself, how could I be stopping myself from doing what I’m passionate about? I took that lesson from them and made the leap of faith that I can and will do this; that I can make these images in my mind into jewelry, and that’s what I did. I love that,” she says.
That was 2015 when she declared her path, and her path seemed to provide an invisible string of connections that brought her to today. One of those powerful mentors was Cindy Edelstein, who Navarro called out of the blue and gained sage advice. Sadly, Edelstein passed away shortly after that, but Navarro took her message and carried on…today to be named the recipient of an award in her name.
“As long as I trust my intuition, I feel like I am doing what I should be doing now. I am using my talents and pulling together the best team that I can assemble, and we’re being heard,” says Navarro.
And heard she is. Her designs are resonating with the industry and with customers. She launched with Barefoot Collection, which is and will be the foundation of the brand.
“I knew that it would be strong, modern, and luxurious, but with an earthy, organic feel to it. When sketching, I slip into a peaceful state, recalling memories of my favorite places like sandy beaches, rocky trails, and meandering rivers. I call this the ‘barefoot state of mind’ and hope this serenity comes through in my designs.
Stepping Stones Hoop Earrings
With my sketchpad, I started mindfully reflecting on the detours, roadblocks and crossroads along my journey; that are all represented in the Barefoot Collection. I may not have appreciated them at the time, but they’ve led me exactly where I need to be,” she says. With pieces named Leap of Faith, Stepping Stones, Pebble, and Crossroads, the very personal connection to her journey is clear, and isn’t it possibly our journey as well?
" When sketching, I slip into a peaceful state, recalling memories of my favorite places like sandy beaches, rocky trails, and meandering rivers."
Ester featuring Pink Tourmaline
That very personal journey that represented all it took for her to get to this place in her life, next led her to Africa, which began the story of the Watu Collection. “All I kept thinking about was the people; the joy I got from each person that I met and just connecting so deeply with the same things that are going on in their lives— family, love, loyalty, the risk of being an entrepreneur and their hopes and dreams. I wanted to honor each person,” she says. The pieces in this collection are named for the special people she’s met on her journey. The collection features rough, unfaceted colored gemstones. “When I started designing, I started playing and moving them around on a piece of paper. I couldn’t bring myself to facet these gems in a traditional way. They needed to be in jewelry, but in their rough shape, which is so beautiful,” she says.
You will find one or two carefully placed facets which Debra calls a Tenda cut. Tenda means “to do” in Swahili, reminding the wearer that even though they can’t see it, their purchase leads to exponential growth for the people living and working in mining communities.
The people she met inspired another initiative, the concept for a non-profit that would be supportive to the mining communities she visited. The man who introduced her to this community, Roger Dery and his wife Ginger and daughter Rachel give their time and resources to provide for the most important needs of the community—maybe it’s a guitar for the church. She and others wanted to honor what they were doing and encouraged a more formal way for all of them to give back. At that point, Gem Legacy was born.
“I am so happy that I was there for the seed of an idea for this. And then to grow with the Dery’s and see the impact of the giving is a really fulfilling part of what we’re doing,” says Navarro proud that 100 percent of the donations are given back to the community.
Gem Legacy was founded in the belief that gems have a remarkable power to change lives and impact the world, transforming the world one gem at a time. Gem Legacy supports education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities, supporting kids, education and entrepreneurship. One hundred percent of donations return directly to the communities where gems are mined, changing lives, bringing hope and creating legacies.
What’s next for Navarro? “We want to just extend our reach to the consumer and share what these gems are doing. I hope we’re able to gain lots of collectors and to help share the stories of the growth that is happening and will continue to happen over the years.”
Mwatate Children’s Home
Mwatate Children’s Home
Debra is passionate about providing education and vocational training for the children in the mining community where she sources her gemstones. “I love these kids. Now we’re going on five years, I’ve seen them grow. They are precious individuals, and they deserve a good life,” she says. Navarro is committed to supporting the Mwatate Children’s Home, and her fundraising efforts are focused there right now.
“Part of my mission is to work with individuals or organizations that share similar ethos—social responsibility, ethical work and sustainability. It’s more than making pretty jewelry, it’s about doing more,” says Navarro who is currenting engaging in some interesting conversations about the future.
So, you could say that with every day, Navarro lives what she believes and yes, every day, she is chasing her dreams.
ICONIC LIFE is proud to partner with Debra Navarro in ICONIC JEWELS, our highly curated, luxury fine jewelry shopping experience where you can see what we are loving this month and complete a purchase. You’ll find Debra’s collection at ICONIC LIFE. For Debra Navarro’s complete collection, visit her site.
Mwatate Children’s Home
The Mwatate Children’s Home provides a safe, nurturing place for children to live, learn and play. Their mission is to raise $15,400 per year to support up to 30 children. A portion of proceeds from the purchase of Debra’s Watu Collection goes back to Gem Legacy that supports the home. And you can learn more about the organization here.