Made in Houston

Rare Gems Come Alive for Jill Reno

Need some Valentine's Day sparkle? Just ask Houstonian Jill Reno.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen February 12, 2015

An opal necklace from the Jill Reno Collection

"Do you mind if I geek out on you?" asks Jill Reno when I ask her about her favorite gemstone.

Jill Reno Trunk Show & Personal Appearance
Feb. 12 & 13, 10am-7pm
2601 Westheimer Rd.

The Texas Hill Country native and current Houstonian has artistry in her genes—her grandfather was renowned Western Art sculptor Jim Reno, and she was an accomplished ballerina and sculptor before launching her jewelry line over a decade ago. But when it comes to gems, her passion is both creative and intellectual.

"It's the Paraiba Tourmaline from Brazil," says Reno. "I think it's the most exciting stone. The colors are some of the most gorgeous, exotic greens and blues—it's like kryptonite, just otherworldly. The prices keep going up on them year after year because the mine where they were found is depleted so there are no more. That particular place has magnesium, copper and gold in the soil, that's what gives it the colors. If you pair South America with Africa (as when the continents were united as Pangaea) there's a pocket in Africa that would line up that has the tourmalines with the same magnesium-copper properties, but they're not quite as beautiful."

Reno travels the world to find rare and unusual gems—Peru for opals and Argentina for hot pink rhodochrosite, to name a few—and her designs are inspired both buy the natural beauty of the stones and the cultures she encounters on the way. 

"I design so that the gem is center stage, not lost in the design," says Reno. "But there are other design elements as well. One time in Thailand I was sitting on the floor in this palace sketching and I came back with a whole collection inspired by the shapes of the palace and the colors."

Her knack for creating statement pieces has earned her a reputation among celebrity stylists—her work has adorned celebrities like Kristen Bell, Courteney Cox, and Glenn Close—and in her Rice Village-area studio she's seeing an increasing number of couples looking for custom engagements rings that offer something a little more original than the traditional white diamonds.

"I’m doing a number of engagement rings with black diamonds, which are less expensive even though a really good black diamond has tons of lustrous fire in it, and a number of colored gems. Women are wanting to express their individuality instead of choosing another diamond ring that looks the same."

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I asked Reno what her favorite stories of jewelry given and received on were, and in addition to her custom engagement rings—like one this week for couple that features a canary diamond in an Algerian love knot basket to represent that their love is both endless and important—Reno says some of the most meaningful work is for clients who are buying for themselves.

"I have clients whose husbands have died that would buy them something special every Christmas who choose to keep that tradition alive and come in and shop for themselves. Or they'll come in with their grandmother's diamond setting they'd never wear that they want to redesign because they feel emotional about it. Sometimes it's the only connection to someone that’s died," says Reno. "I make it their story, no longer just their mom's or grandmother's, but I know even a piece that looks new will never lose its significance."



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