Leon Mege: “Even in today’s relatively democratic society, the ultimate status symbol is a diamond”
A Russian born jeweler, immigrated to the USA during the communist period, Leon Mege is now running one of the most noted high-end jewelry houses in Manhattan. The names of his clients remain private, but their impressive orders, like a 89-carat diamond pendant, created by Mege, speak for themselves.
D-Art has met the jeweler to talk about the “American dream”and about the fascinating world for high jewelry.
Born in Russia, immigrated to the USA during the communist years, now the owner of a successful jewelry house in New York. The story of Leon Mege sounds like an American dream. Tell us more about your story?
The American dream involves a lot of grit, tenacity, and hard work. All these years I never worked less than 50 hours a week, more often 60-70. It sounds unreal, but this is what it takes to build a brand and its reputation. New York is a fantastic place for anyone with a dream to start a business and get noticed. New York is a vibrant place that is full of energy and I was lucky to land in this city when I first came to this country.
What made you fancy for a risky choice of working on your own as an exclusive jeweler in America instead of trying some more common immigrant’s path? Did you ever have any doubt? Did you ask yourself “What if it doesn’t work”? Did you ever have a fear of failing?
Working on your own in New York is not risky at all. New York is a huge city with tons of jobs available to a hard working person, so you never run a risk to be left out. The upward mobility is great, the playing field is leveled for those who are willing to invest time and energy into starting a business.
The high-end jewelry is a creative field with the emphasis on a craftsman. Good bench jewelers are always in short supply. Any skilled jeweler capable of doing custom work entirely by hand can always find a job. Experienced, and more importantly, a talented jeweler cannot be easily replaced, the employer is more dependent on his “star” bench jewelers than vice versa.
The moment when I actually asked myself the question “What if it doesn’t work” came when I first realized that I need to start hiring other people.
Until that moment I had no doubt in my success, but once the business growth demanded more manpower I had to learn how to employ others, and that was not easy.
Let’s talk about your work. Leon Mege works with really huge rare stones and diamonds. What is the biggest diamond you have ever made a jewelry piece with? How much may this jewelry cost?
Each collaboration is kept in complete blackout. I cannot mention specific stones otherwise I might infringe on my client’s privacy.
Biggest, most important dealers in diamonds and gemstones are located in New York, so when you work for the trade you work with huge stones.
For example, right now I am making a pair of earrings with cushion diamonds approx 30 carats each. Price – under 3 million USD.
I understand the fascination people have with huge stones, although to me personally, a 50-carat rock does not look as pretty as a well-cut modest 10-carat diamond.
Another example: years back I made a pendant with 89-carat D-flawless diamond worth about $18 million. Holding expensive stones in your hand is nothing special, just business as usual. Actually working with large stones is easier
Recently one hears a lot about artificial synthetic diamonds. Some say their quality is the same as of natural diamonds but the cost is way cheaper. Tell us about the differences between a real and an artificial diamond? How can one who is not a jeweler understand if a diamond is artificial?
Currently only a diamond lab such as GIA can positively separate natural and synthetic stones. There is no physical difference between synthetic and natural stone except minute chemical traces. For a consumer, a synthetic diamond will become a good choice when the prices come down. Currently, the price of synthetics is still too high. A natural diamond is a better choice and a better value.
Platinum Vs White Gold: what do you prefer? Tell us about the differences?
White gold is merely a substitute for platinum. It is not the metal of choice. It is suitable for casting but not recommended for hand fabrication. Platinum is naturally white, it is a dense, non-oxidizing, non-tarnishing, self-burnishing metal of choice for custom work. Platinum is purer – is’s 95% of pure platinum vs. 75% in 750 gold alloy.
What one should pay attention to when acquiring a jewelry piece in a way to distinguish a quality one?
The best way to examine the quality of a piece is to flip it over and carefully examine the back. The crispness and finish of each part are essential. All parts must have a precise fit.
In short – precision, finish and a minimal amount of bare metal is the hallmark of high jewelry – the type of jewelry we specialize in.
Tell us about the fashion tendencies in jewelry?
Trends in jewelry are heavily influenced by celebrities. Unfortunately being a celebrity does not guarantee a fine taste. Regular people trying to emulate kitsch end up with jewelry that literally hurt eyes to look at. It happens a lot.
Luckily the classics that were in retreat are slowly coming back. At the high-end old-style diamond cuts such as the French cut, Asscher and Antique cushion are very popular.
What about the bridal fashion tendencies in jewelry?
Right now, we are seeing less micro pave as consumers are returning to the classic look. There’s an interest in engagement rings that are less ornate and a bit more casual and unpretentious such as classic three- and five-stone rings.
Trapezoids, bullets, and shields are the most common side stones.
Halos are still going strong, but the high end is embracing simple solitaires with just one single stone.
Talking about male jewelry, what are the most requested pieces?
American males rarely wear jewelry these days with the exception of the members of the hip-hop community who favor huge gaudy chains and crosses. We don’t make this kind of jewelry. We make a lot of flexible wedding bands for men and sometimes cufflinks. The flexible band is the most requested piece of jewelry by our male customers.
Your art is based on European jewelry tradition. What is the difference between European and American tradition?
Americans, in general, tend to treat jewelry as something disposable, just like they treat tableware or even houses. Therefore the quality of jewelry is secondary to its cost. It does not mean at all that there are no Americans who value quality and craftsmanship at a premium cost. Otherwise, I would not have any business left.
However, in Europe, the tradition and passing an heirloom to the next generation is given much more weight.
Do you think diamonds are still girls’ best friends?
Yes, absolutely, without any doubt. Even in today’s relatively democratic society, the ultimate status symbol is a diamond and nothing else.
AUTORE: di Veronica Sheynina