Alumni Association

Grads Offer Career Advice to Students

From left, Matthew Coleman, Nicolette Kovacevich, Jeremy Dunn and Sonny Blaze. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA.
Stay relevant. Network. Make your presence known. Keep learning.
These are some of the topics four GIA graduates touched on as they talked about how they built successful and fulfilling careers at a recent student presentation. Each shared a little bit of their background, including their experiences before and after attending GIA, and how they use what they learned on the job every day.
Take advantage of GIA resources while you are a student. 
“Get involved with the Student Body Council (SBC),” urged Matthew Coleman, a Graduate Jeweler Gemologist, sales executive and watch advisor at Harry Winston, at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, California. 
Coleman, president of the SBC while he attended GIA in Carlsbad, said the experience gave him not only the opportunity to go on field trips to the Pala Mines and other student activities, but the chance to network with students and staff. Those relationships yielded two very positive outcomes: help opening doors at Harry Winston and the chance to attend a classmate’s wedding in India. 
Sonny Blaze, who has a GG and many design-related diplomas from GIA, has extensive experience in the industry, including high-end retail and grading diamonds for GIA. He is the in-house CAD designer for Eichberg Jewelers in Los Angeles and designs his own line for Sonny Blaze, Inc.  He encouraged students to take advantage of the resources they have while in school.
“Never stop learning, take advantage of what you have here,” he said, listing the GIA job search engine, staff and classmates. “Always surround yourself with brilliant minds and people who are successful. Learn from them. Let yourself be nourished by the knowledge of people who have been there, people with experience.”
He also encouraged them to stay on top of new technologies and techniques. “Always keep learning,” he said. “Whatever you decide to be – be a good one and you will succeed.”
Trust yourself and act with confidence.
Nicolette Kovacevich, GG and manager of the fine jewelry division of Omi Privé in Los Angeles, told students that, from her perspective, the gem and jewelry industry runs on two things: relationships and trust.
“If you have trust and confidence in your own knowledge, other people you work with or come in contact with will see that and trust you as well. That will only build your relationships more,” she said. “You have to soak up everything you can … and not just while you’re at GIA, but throughout your career.”
Coleman reiterated her message by sharing his experience jumping from $700 price points to $25,000 price points and higher.
“When my customers come in the door, it’s not about price, it’s about passion for what I’m doing and confidence in myself to be able to show the value of what I’m selling ‒ and for people to understand it,” he said. “I don’t have to sell Harry Winston jewelry – I have to sell why it costs so much, why the value is there, what our history is and why they should trust me. You need to be able to be confident and to be knowledgeable so the person who is spending the money with you trusts you.”
Kovacevich also offered advice as a young female in a male-dominated industry.
“Stand your ground, be firm, don’t take things personally. Have confidence and faith in yourself,” she said. “It will help you move forward and grow as a person, too.”
Learn to court people who can help you.
“It’s important to not just have the education, but to realize that all of the relationships you have – whether it be at GIA or the people you meet after – is a courtship process that lets people know who you are, what you stand for and what you represent,” said Jeremy Dunn, GG, a designer, gold/platinum smith, hand engraver and the gemstone director for Green Lake Jewelry Works in Seattle, Washington.
Dunn told students how he was able to get a bench jeweler to take him on as an apprentice by offering to sweep the floor of his shop. From that point forward he did whatever he could to help him and eventually worked side-by-side with him at the bench.
He said it can be challenging to win over a reluctant teacher.
“People think you are going to take the lessons they taught you and you’re going to walk,” he said. “You need to show them that you not only care about learning the craft, but potentially care about them or are interested in caring about them. Get to know them, let them know you are interested, ask them questions about themselves.”
Kovacevich stressed the importance of humility.
“Don’t be above anything or anyone,” she said. “You have to humble yourself in this industry and make it known you want to learn. Give back and show you have respect for the person teaching you.”
Network. Network. Network. 
“You can’t keep to yourself when you are working, you have to communicate with people,” Coleman stressed. “Practice while you’re here at school. Be open, introduce yourself to everybody. It’s worth getting involved with and meeting these incredible people.”
Blaze advised students to talk about what they are passionate about when they are trying to network. “I’m not really social, but when I’m nervous, I talk about jewelry, and it always helps,” he said.
“No matter where you are, you have to continually strive forward and network and meet people in our industry,” Dunn said, who is also the president of GIA's Seattle alumni chapter.
Be the best you. 
All of the grads acknowledged that they didn’t always know what was around the corner for them, but said that if you love what you do and work hard, respect others, focus and be open to meeting new people, you will end up where you need to be.
 “If you’re worried about what your next step is, just put your head down, get into your work and stay focused until you can be the best you are,” Dunn said. “When the time comes, recognition will happen.”