MJSA. Professional excellence in jewelry making and design.

Striking the Right Note

MJSA Challenge: Responsibly Sourced Designs

By Shawna Kulpa

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Theresa Kwong for winning the 2019 MJSA Design Challenge! Click here to see her winning design.

A young woman dedicating her life to fighting injustice and to help bring attention to those who are marginalized was at the center of this year’s MJSA Challenge: Responsibly Sourced Designs.

Every year we present nine designers with a fictional story and a selection of amazing gemstones; from those elements, they agree to render a piece of jewelry. Every month from January through September, we feature the design of one of our participating designers. Then, it’s your turn to vote for the winning design.

This year’s challenge featured a collection of responsibly sourced gemstones available from the project’s sponsor, Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Washington. The fictional scenario, presented here, focuses on parents who want to give their daughter a special gift to honor her passing of the bar exam as well as the launch of a career dedicated to fighting for human rights around the world. Read the full scenario.

The Designers

Theresa Kwong  |  Lori Kaplan  |  Christine Alaniz  |  Adam Foster  | Brent Neale
Sophia Hu  |  Allison Mack  |  Petra Class  |  Mimi Favre 

MJSA Thanks This Year’s Sponsor, Columbia Gem House

Building a mine-to-market supply chain for ethical gems since 1976, Columbia Gem House works with governments, non-profits, miners, and cutters to ensure safe workplaces, fair wages, ethical sourcing, and environmentally responsible mining. We are the largest supplier of American gems.

Columbia Gem House Logo


The Story

As a child, Sarah Williams always had an acute sense of fairness and justice. Growing up, she enjoyed many of the same interests as her friends—swimming, reading, playing dress up, going horseback riding, or visiting the local mall near her home in New York’s Westchester County, where she especially liked to look at the jewelry store displays. But whether it was making sure her fellow kindergarteners all got the balloon animal of their choosing at her sixth birthday party or, years later, that the two sisters she babysat were each allocated the same number of cookies after dinner, Sarah was always concerned with treating people equally.

That’s why it didn’t come as a surprise to her parents, Mel and Linda, when she announced, after only one year at Columbia University, that she intended to go to law school.

MJSA Challenge 2019 College

She followed through on that intention, enrolling in Yale Law School three years later. Although she initially had visions of focusing on criminal law to prepare for a career as a public defender (and, perhaps, one day as a judge), after taking a course on human rights during her second year, she knew she had found her calling.

After graduating, Sarah accepted a position with a Washington, DC–based non-governmental organization that worked to end human rights abuses in Africa. She had long had an interest in Africa and the various cultures throughout the continent, and she was thrilled to be working as an advocate for its people.

Between work and studying for the bar exam, she didn’t have a lot of free time, but she used what little she had to ex-plore her new home and pursue her other interests—spending part of her weekends immersing herself in the Smithsonian museums or exploring the area waterways in her kayak.

MJSA Challenge 2019 Kayak

Mel and Linda couldn’t have been more proud of her. Confident that Sarah would pass the bar exam on her first try, they wanted to get her a special gift to honor her big achievement. Sarah had always loved jewelry as a child, and Linda thought that having something made for her would be perfect, especially as she was launching her career.

Linda contacted a family friend who was a gemstone dealer about creating a piece of jewelry to mark the occasion. Given Sarah’s concern over the treatment of people in the developing world, Linda wanted to incorporate a selection of gemstones that were responsibly sourced. While perusing her friend’s collection, Linda fell in love with three hexagonal shaped stones—one 5.7 carat blue chalcedony from Mexico and two rubies from Liberia. Sarah had always been drawn to things that were unique looking, and Linda knew that these unusually shaped stones would appeal to her. To complement the hexagons, she also selected four 3 mm round rose-cut blue sapphires from Montana and six mint-green beryl baguettes from Nigeria. She knew that Sarah would be happy that the stones were sourced in a responsible manner that didn’t infringe on the well-being and livelihood of the individuals mining them.

Your mission is to create a special piece of jewelry for Sarah with some or all of the responsibly sourced stones Linda has selected, along with any other responsibly sourced and conflict-free materials you see fit. The cost of additional materials and labor cannot exceed a budget of $8,000.

MJSA Challenge Gemstones


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