The rich tapestry of Brazil − from its dances, music and Carnival festivals to its native plants, animals and fruits − finds its way into each piece of designer Karyna Sena’s jewelry.
“I try to explore the Brazilian ‘way’ in my pieces,” says Sena, a GIA GG born in Salvador, capital of the gemstone-rich state of Bahia. “Jewelry must be fun!”
Sena’s joie de vivre, and her enthusiasm for her homeland, reflects a career and life that have, in one way or another, intersected with almost the entire colored stone supply chain of Brazil.
“As the granddaughter of a miner and daughter of a gem dealer, colored gemstones run in my blood,” says Sena, whose father opened a wholesale and retail store, Lasbonfim, in 1967. Sena had a playpen in the store and grew up “crawling the floors of the family store.” She remembers finding rough colored stones mixed up with her dolls, and taking trips to mines with her family.
“I remember clearly the first time my parents took us to an emerald mine in Campo Formoso, in the countryside of Bahia,” she says. “I was the first one to jump in the hole – never afraid of the dark or high temperature. I felt like Indiana Jones looking for treasures!”
Sena was also captivated by her father’s ability to discern an emerald’s origin by analyzing its colors and inclusions. He taught her how to classify the rough and polished stones and made sure she knew the ins and outs of the family business.
“My parents gave us the best education possible and let us choose whatever we wanted to do as a career, but they made sure that we knew our business,” she says. “If we didn’t succeed in whatever career we had chosen, we would always know how to do something else.”
But Sena was “completely in love with Brazilian gemstones” and wanted the family business as her “life’s work.”
She earned bachelor’s degrees in the late 1990s in both geology and business from the Universidade Federal da Bahia and Universidade Salvador, respectively, then moved to Europe to “experience the glamour and trends of the European fashion industry firsthand, and be exposed to a diversity of styles.” She made London her home base and traveled throughout the continent (and many others) for several years.
She returned to Brazil in 2012 to design and market her own jewelry line at Lasbonfim. “Back in the ‘80s, everything available at my parents’ store was very classic,” she says. “I decided to make jewelry with ‘odd’ cuts and with gemstones that were not usually set in jewelry in 18K gold.”
Sena’s “dreams in the form of jewelry” were inspired by “the colors and the happiness of Brazil, meeting the elegance of Europe.” Her first line, Orishas, sold well – and quickly, particularly to North American tourists wanting to take home a piece of Brazil.
She incorporated her design line, Karyna Sena, but even with her success as a designer and as the director of Lasbonfim, she felt like she was missing something – a GIA diploma. She knew about GIA because her parents often helped GIA instructors and gemologists who came to Brazil to teach or do business.
“They would trade gems for gem-testing equipment that we couldn’t find in Brazil,” she says. “I had a chance to meet some of these people and learn the importance of the work that GIA does,” she says.
“I learned a bit of theory by studying geology and lots of experience in the trade, but I wanted the international respect that a GIA gemologist has. I wanted that diploma on my wall.”
Sena moved back to London to study at the Institute’s campus there, and earned her Graduate Gemologist and AJP diplomas in 2011.
“It was a sabbatical year, entirely devoted to GIA. I always joke that I was married to GIA for that time,” she says. “You have to have passion for it. It is only with focus, commitment and passion that you can succeed. It is a hard course, but it completely pays off.”
Along with the “incredible networking opportunities,” Sena appreciates that she uses what she learned at GIA “on a daily basis” – especially as she also does valuations now.
In addition to her many roles at Lasbonfim and Karyna Sena, she is serving as the first female president of the Bahia Association of Producers and Traders of Gems, Jewelry, and Precious Metals; is the youngest board member of the Brazilian Institute of Gems and Precious Metals; and is the vice president for the retail sector of the CIBJO World Jewelry Confederation.
“We are living in a very competitive and professional world – it is smaller and faster, and there is no room for amateurism anymore,” says Sena, who lives in Brazil with her husband, Marcelo Storel. “I truly believe that the only way to be successful and still be in the game is by being creative and professional. And you can only achieve this with education.”