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Meet the GIA Alumni Shaping SD’s Jewelry Scene

Carlsbad’s headquarters serves as the beating heart of the county’s small-but-mighty jewelry industry
Adelaide Niketas.jpg

Jeweler Adelaide Niketas

Walk into any high-end jewelry store in the US and you can emerge with a diamond as pedigreed as a Westminster winner. With grades in color, cut, clarity, and carat weight, your gem’s report card proves it’s worth the paycheck or five you dropped on it. But before the 1950s, there was no reliable way to guarantee you weren’t walking away with a pricy piece of glass.

Jeweler Robert M. Shipley launched the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 1931 in a bid to introduce more rigorous standards to the Wild West–esque state of the gem industry. The institute created its diamond grading system 22 years later.

Headquartered in Carlsbad, GIA now produces reports evaluating diamonds and other stones, develops new gem-identification technology, and trains budding jewelers and gemologists—including now-major players like Cartier’s deputy chief commercial officer, Mercedes Abramo, and Tacori CEO Paul Tacorian.

Graduates have access to industry contacts, career fairs, and a deeply supportive alumni network, many of whom have set up shop nearby their alma mater.

Meet the GIA alums putting their shine on San Diego’s growing jewelry industry.

Kasia Jewelry

Kasia Jewelry

Photo Credit: Aja Hitomi Photography

Kasía Jewelry

“I was pretty much giving my jewelry away,” Kasia Zygnerska Rosales recalls of her early days in the industry. Nowadays, with diamond expertise from GIA and nearly a decade of business experience, she’s got the entrepreneurial acumen to price her pieces at their worth—while still making her brand approachable.

Determined to shake off fine jewelry’s stuffy reputation from the platinum and princess-cut days of the ’80s, Rosales embraces interesting textures and colored stones, offering thoughtful custom designs and ready-made pieces at price points ranging from the low hundreds to five figures.

Adelaide Niketas Designs

Adelaide Niketas Designs

Adelaide Niketas Designs

Adelaide Niketas knows you can love your great-aunt without loving the bracelet she passed on. A stash of unworn vintage pieces from her antique-dealer grandparents inspired her to start reworking old gems into modern baubles.

Armed with GIA degrees in graduate diamonds and jewelry design, the Birmingham-born San Diego transplant (she moved here with her husband, who is a Marine) cut her teeth working with fellow local entrepreneur Julez Bryant while growing her own business on the side.

Whether it’s a reimagined heirloom or a brand new engagement ring, each of Niketas’ custom pieces comes with a hand-painted design, plus a thank you note—“because I’m Southern,” she adds.

Megan Cochran Jewelry Design

“My [work] doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously,” says Megan Cochran, who took courses in digital design software as well as graduate jewelry at GIA. Her playful approach applies both to her own Oceanside-based brand and to the designs and renders she creates for small jewelry businesses nationwide.

One thing Cochran is serious about? Inclusivity. She’s co-president of the San Diego chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association and dedicated to building community with fellow women and LGBTQ designers. “A lot of people who don’t necessarily feel like they fit a certain model are going into business for themselves,” she reflects. “I want to lend my creativity to [them].”

Niki Grandics

Niki Grandics

Enji Studio Jewelry

“It was love at first solder,” Niki Grandics says of discovering jewelry design at San Diego State. She went on to study graduate jewelry at GIA, then founded Enji Studio in 2014 with a focus on recycled and ethically mined materials.

Certified by the Alliance for Responsible Mining, the metals Grandics uses to craft her artful, rough-hewn pieces come from sources committed to decreasing negative environmental impacts and bolstering the communities around the mines. Customers who purchase an Enji ring can trace exactly where their stone came from. “I’m investing in a better standard for the future,” Grandics emphasizes.

By Amelia Rodriguez

Amelia Rodriguez is San Diego Magazine’s Associate Editor. The 2023 winner of the San Diego Press Club's Rising Star Award, she’s covered music, food, arts & culture, fashion, and design for Rolling Stone, Palm Springs Life, and other national and regional publications. After work, you can find her hunting down San Diego’s best pastries and maintaining her three-year Duolingo streak.

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