Alumni spotlight

Science Opened Doors to Art for Gemmologist-Designer

Loretta Castoro
Loretta Castoro found the moonstones in these platinum earrings on a trip to Myanmar with Bill Larson, president of Pala International Inc.. “We saw them at the same time and wanted them,” she says. Larson conceded the purchase to Castoro, who says she surrounded them with cascades of diamonds and Montana sapphire. “I was inspired by the many Tiffany & Co. pieces I had seen designed in the turn of the 19th century,” she says. Left: Courtesy of Loretta Castoro. Right: Photo by Jeff Scovil © Loretta Castoro
Loretta Castoro remembers feeling a growing sense of wonder as she huddled with her elementary school class over a crystal grown during a science experiment. That sense of curiosity and excitement would stay with the Oyster Bay, Long Island student far beyond her grade school experience.

Fast forward a decade to Castoro’s high school graduation, when her great uncle, New York-based jewellery designer and manufacturer William Emmons, confirmed that attending GIA would be a smart way to begin her career.

“I had been interested in crystal growth since the fourth grade and had a strong background in maths and science, so when I heard there was a school that specialised in the study of gemstones, I really wanted to learn more,” Castoro says. “I wanted to explore this passion I had from a young age and see if there was a future in it.”

She enrolled at the Institute’s New York City campus and studied under the encouraging eye of faculty and staff. Among those was longtime GIA employee Eunice Miles, who once told Castoro, “I love these gemstones so much, I eventually wanted to design jewellery to show them off.”

The sentiment surprised Castoro at the time, because she couldn’t understand the impulse to design jewellery.

“I wanted to learn the science, understand their structure, their makeup,” she says. 

Castoro, who completed her GG diploma in 1984, says her studies helped establish credibility when she began her career at H. Stern Jewellers’ Fifth Avenue store.

“I started very young in the industry and my GIA education gave me the platform of knowledge that allowed me to intelligently and confidently discuss gemmological issues with clients and other members of the industry,” she says.

From H. Stern, where the Northeastern native had the opportunity to travel to Brazil to learn firsthand about coloured stone sourcing, Castoro’s international career and education took flight. She next spent a decade at Tiffany & Co. in several capacities, including as director of gemstone acquisitions for coloured stones, then moved to Bangkok to serve as the chief merchandising officer for GemsTV.

  Castoro, in 2009 in Bangkok, has travelled around the world with her career. Photo courtesy of Loretta Castoro  
Castoro, in 2009 in Bangkok, has travelled around the world with her career. Photo courtesy of Loretta Castoro
During those years, Castoro earned two more credentials in gemmology – a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, and a certificate in Advanced Scientific Gemmology from Basel’s Swiss Gemmological Institute – as well as a comprehensive manufacturing degree from New York’s Studio Jewellers, and a certified gemmologist appraiser designation from the American Gem Society.

As Castoro’s career unfolded, so did the realisation that her professional interests were evolving. She began lecturing at gemmological workshops and eventually designing jewellery of her own.

"Years later, I understand what Eunice Miles was saying – at some point, the science of gemmology melds with the art,” she says. “It surprised me at how natural designing for beautiful gemstones became after years of studying them. You love them so much you want to champion them to achieve their ultimate goal: to be the centre of attention and show off their unique ‘talents’.”

Castoro, who lives in Los Angeles, launched her self-named line of luxury jewellery in 2010. She creates custom pieces for clients in her downtown studio, as well as entire collections including “Love Doves”, “Imperia” and “KissMe”.

Last autumn, Castoro joined Carl K. Gumpert Inc. as vice president of Merchandising and Gemstone Acquisition. She sources gemstones for the company and builds product collections for their retail distribution, and says the position challenges her “to be innovative and forward-thinking with design and materials”.

She still lectures on gemmology and sourcing, and offers a series of presentations for retailers that focuses on broadening their “scope of knowledge” about gemstones. “There is a wide range of gemstones that are very collectible and virtually unknown to most jewellery buyers,” she says.

Castoro is grateful for the many paths she has been able to explore throughout her career.

“A GIA education opened the door to my life’s study and the joy of learning about the fascinating world we live in,” she says. “I’m challenged and learn something new – every day. There is never a dull moment in the world of business and gemstones.” 
This 18K yellow gold necklace from Castoro’s “Love Doves” collection features a 104 carat kunzite from Afghanistan.

Jaime Kautsky, a contributing writer, is a GIA Diamonds Graduate and GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and was an associate editor of The Loupe magazine for several years.