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Columbia Gem House: From Mine to Design

Trigem Designs is part of Columbia Gem House, Inc., a vertically-integrated gemstone mining, cutting, and marketing company founded by Eric Braunwart in 1977. Trigem Designs creates designer jewelry featuring gemstones, manufacturing each piece in the company's U.S. headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. This makes Colombia Gem House one of the few companies in the world that can take a gemstone from the mine to the finished jewelry design.

Brand Leader

Columbia Gem House is perhaps best known as the world's largest supplier of brand-name exotic gemstones including Tashmarine®, Grape Garnet®, Fire Citrine®, Spice Pearls®, Imperial Diopside®, Royal Kings Plain Sapphire®, Purple Sage® Chalcedony, Seafoam Tourmaline® and new Nyala™ ruby and sapphire. Each brand is limited to the cream of each mine's production: high quality rough gemstone material cut with precision for maximum brilliance.

Direct from the Mine

A gemstone's journey begins within the earth. Columbia Gem House is often there when rough gems are first brought to light at mines around the world. The company has exclusive agreements with many mines, including the new mine in Malawi that produces Nyala™ ruby and sapphire and the Tashmarine® mine in China.

In addition, the company developed the innovative GemAmerica™ program for gemstones mined in the United States, working closely with small miners across the American West.

A Cut Above

After the rough gems are mined and carefully sorted into quality categories at Columbia Gem House head office in Vancouver, Washington, the best qualities are sent for cutting to the company's cutting factory in China.

This factory is a model workplace, with wages that are three times the minimum wage. Benefits for workers include: room and board, paid vacation, overtime pay, medical, disability and unemployment insurance, and an annual bonus.

All gemstones are cut with precision and polished with diamond powder for crisp, clean facets that reflect maximum brilliance.

This cutting factory doesn't just meet international standards: it sets them. Three years ago, Columbia Gem House began developing equipment and techniques to cut curved, concave facets to increase brilliance. This technique, first pioneered by master cutter Richard Homer of the United States, uses facets like lenses to focus light back to the viewer's eye. It had never been tried before in a large volume production setting.

The result of years of work: the branded Radial Cut™, which uses concave faceting to increase the brilliance of cut gemstones. Today, 20 percent of Columbia Gem House cut gemstone production is Radial Cut™ gemstones.

Design Time

Trigem Designs jewelry showcases the colorful gems produced by Columbia Gem House in classic styles with a contemporary twist designed by Kathe Mai. Offering a designer look and quality at affordable price points, the company's styles have been able to compete with Italian jewelry by offering an unrivalled gem palette.

"As a designer I have the advantage of the entire production of a major gemstone supplier as my palette," Mai explains. "It's so cool to have the first chance to design a piece of jewelry featuring a new gem."

"Right now I am working with a brand new find: fabulous black cultured pearls from the Bay of Cortez in Mexico. They have the size and luster of cultured Tahitian pearls but some luscious new colors, including a sky blue that is stunning. And all naturally occuring colors! I am setting it in 18-karat white gold with aquamarine accents. All of the pearls are unique and each piece is one of a kind."

Made in America

When Kathe Mai is satisfied with a new design, a production mold is made from the final model. Then the piece is cast, polished, assembled in the Trigem Designs workshop in Vancouver, Washington. Trigem Designs uses just-in-time manufacturing to create each piece to order.

The final step is to set the design with the company's trademark exotic gemstones, cut for maximum brilliance. The company's setters are particularly skilled: they have to be because they work with a huge spectrum of gem materials, from emerald to fire opal.

Customers have a dizzying array of gemstone varieties to choose from in each jewelry style. For example, one ring will be available set in your choice of 23 gemstones.

"I wish people had the chance to see what I see: the whole journey of a gem, from a rock that comes out of the ground thousands of miles away across the ocean to the cutters wheel to the brilliant centerpiece of a piece of fine jewelry," Braunwart says. "Every Trigem Designs style is one of a kind because it features a unique fine gemstone: a gift from the earth."

Co-Op America

Columbia Gem House is proud to supply fair trade gems: beautiful natural gemstones and jewelry produced with respect for the environment and fair conditions for the workers who mine the gems and craft the jewelry. We are proud to be a member of Co-op America, which also supports responsible consumer choices.