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Conversations with the Inspiring Christine Lopez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Lopez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Christine. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was obsessed with making jewelry as a teenager but I naively assumed I could not be both a scientist and artist, so I chose to pursue science. I had always been drawn to the natural world and spent eight years as a Girl Scout which gave me unparalleled opportunities to explore my curiosities as a child. During those years of Jamboree summer camps and badge collecting, I developed a deep love for learning the stories behind the formation of specific minerals and geologic formations. I found beauty in realizing that even great mountains are temporary and eventually recycled—even if it takes millions of years. To me, this understanding of being so small in relation to the universe is what makes life so precious and valuable.

My passion for geology leads me to UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences where I had opportunities to conduct my own lab and field research. I particularly loved learning about gemstone formation and spent many hours researching and finding local gemstone deposits in Southern California including chrysocolla, opal, quartz, garnets, and tourmaline. I also enrolled in Environmental Science classes and earned a place in our Clumped Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory studying the climate of the last ice age. I was in the process of applying to graduate programs for geochemistry when I first stumbled upon the Gemological Institute of America and my life was changed forever. I loved hiking active lava flows and digging trenches for seismic data but the wonderful world of Gemology was finally within reach.

I started the Graduate Gemologist program at GIA after being awarded the GIA Board of Governors Scholarship on the very day I walked in my graduation for UCLA—it was undeniably meant to be! I earned my Graduate Gemologist accreditation after I received the education needed to feel confident in working with more than rough gemstones and the course sparked a passion for colored gemstones. This new passion inspired me to purchase a faceting machine with no knowledge of faceting and teach myself the art of cutting gemstones. I use my knowledge of optics and trigonometry to design original cuts with optimal color in mind while specializing in unique geometric shapes. It’s magical being able to transform rough into gemstones and in 2015 I launched my first business Facet Force Gems to sell my work to other industry professionals.

I am the type of person who cannot sit still and my brain doesn’t turn off so I looked back to my childhood goals and decided to make another dream come true in 2019 by founding my second company Christini Collection. Christini Collection is very special to me because it allowed me to fully manifest my desire to design and create whole pieces of jewelry beyond the gemstone. I feel like with the birth of this company, I have come full circle and proved to myself that science and art are not exclusive of one another. I chose the name Christini Collection because I like to think of Christini as the more fun and courageous version of myself. The brand sources inspiration from my experiences exploring the ocean off of San Diego while highlighting the ancient art of transparent enameling. The opulence that real transparent enamel brings to designs is incomparable to lesser imitations on the market and instantly recognizable. With our bold colors and easy to wear designs you can say yes I can be bold, yes I can be beautiful, yes I can be smart, yes I can be saucy, yes I can be strong—you don’t have to choose!

If I know how to do anything, I know how to learn and I know how to follow my gut. I plan on continuing to do both for as long as I can and I look forward to what the future has to offer.

My next ambitious goal for 2020 is to finish developing and launch Facet Force Academy where I will teach gemstone faceting and the theories behind faceting remotely online. This intensive class will be the first of its kind and is unlike any ever offered. I strongly believe this intricate art should not be so secretive and I wanted to create a resource to prevent students from struggling as I did.

Has it been a smooth road?
Although I have a passion for science, I struggled to keep up in school when it came to math and spelling from grade school to college. I have failed various calculus courses multiple times and truly believed I was stupid for years but accepted this as a part of who I am. I refused to give up and I re-enrolled in the classes I didn’t pass until I mastered the material because I was not going to let my dream of graduating from UCLA end. It was not until my senior year when I had my engineering professor first talk to me about being dyslexic. It hit me like a bus falling out of the sky. Up to this point, I had fully anticipated a future as an engineer and instantly knew in my heart that I couldn’t be trusted with lives at stake. I think this moment is what allowed me to open up and consider a career in gemology and was one of the most influential moments of my life. I am forever grateful to that professor and the other four faculty members in my department who were also dyslexic and who helped me find ways to cope with it.

Looking back, I think I must like bumpy roads because I chose the most difficult path when it came to starting my businesses. There’s something empowering about teaching yourself a skill but I worked harder than I ever have in school over the last two years teaching myself how to enamel with the rich transparent enamels I have loved since childhood. The best way to describe working with enamel is its a fight between physics and chemistry but you hope you are the winner. I spent hundreds of unpaid hours decoding the work of Faberge and studying enamel works of the early Etruscans to all the way to Shippo Yaki from 19th century Japan to develop my aesthetic.

More recently, I have spent six months working towards making my studio more sustainable and have moved all production of my lines in house to ensure my manufacturing is a green as possible. It wasn’t easy teaching myself everything about CAD, 3-D printing, casting, finishing, and everything in between but I am thankful to have made this choice as it is very important to me personally. Now when you buy a piece from Christini Collection you are supporting American manufacturing, fair labor practices, a green studio, responsible sourcing, and a one-woman business operation.

To other young women out there struggling to manifest your dreams—just don’t give up! There is immense power in tenacity and the world needs more tenacious women. Remember to shine bright and do it unapologetically. In the past, I was overly aware of my wattage when it came to shining and I only regret not embracing myself sooner. Never feel guilty for loving yourself, celebrating your accomplishments, or needing time for yourself. If you do feel over or underwhelmed by your current path, you’re allowed to reanalyze your goals and set a new direction.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Christini Collection & Facet Force Gems story. Tell us more about the business.
I am not your typical jeweler. With degrees from GIA and UCLA my background in gemology and the geosciences deepens my passion for my work. I was working in a lab studying paleoclimatology before discovering the wonderful world of gemstones which is why I care so much about how I manufacture my jewelry and where I source my stones. I feel my past experiences allow me to develop a more intimate relationship with the gemstones and precious metals I now have the opportunity to work with.

Something that sets me apart from others is that I do every step of manufacturing myself when most businesses order merchandise from overseas or contract work from other professionals. I enjoy learning and have taught myself everything I know about jewelry manufacturing, gemstone cutting, and enameling. Being self-taught allowed me to explore beyond convention and tradition to develop a genuine aesthetic sourced with sincere love.

“Ethical” is a vague term so I strive to use the word “responsibility” when it comes to my businesses because I feel that it introduces the concept of accountability beyond emotion. My multifaceted approach includes working in my responsibly curated studio, responsibly sourcing my materials, responsibly creating my products, and responsibly disposing of my waste material. Jewelry manufacturing is surprisingly dirty if not done with care and it is my prerogative to continue lessening my impact as there will always be room for improvement. I am proud to say that the overwhelming majority of my studio is comprised of recycled furniture and equipment. This was not easy as it can be near impossible to find certain tools used but I did it over the course of several months and I am very proud knowing my studio has a minimal carbon footprint in addition to having a rich history. My Jewelers bench has been used by three other jewelers since the 60’s and I hope to pass it on when I retire someday.

In addition to my businesses, I am very proud of the work I do through the Women’s Jewelry Association of San Diego as their current President. We help support women in our industry by providing opportunities for education, networking, and entrepreneurship. I’ll be speaking on ethical sourcing at our first event along with two other presenters from GIA and PACT.

It would be great to hear about any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve used and would recommend to others.
I like books on art history, I recently read an Islamic art history book which gave great inspiration with color and pattern. When I was younger, I read a lot of Jane Austin and was inspired by the reoccurring theme of strong women overcoming unexpected challenges. I often find myself reading about history through google searches and have recently been infatuated with the Ottoman Empire.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Christine Lopez, Steven Ibbotson

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