“I wish the jewelry industry were more transparent,” jeweler Micah Blank said during a recent interview. “‘Ethical’ gets thrown around a lot in this day and age, but why not have your jewelry be the same thing? People are constantly looking for fair trade goods, fair trade chocolate, but I think certain things people overlook, like, ‘Oh, it’s a luxury item, it almost doesn’t need to be ethical.’”
Blank and his fiancee, Katya Amchentseva, co-own a jewelry shop, Micah Blank Jewelry, which opened this summer in the Basement—the shopping center in the old post office building at 50 S. Virginia St.
“I’ve always wanted to own a jewelry store,” Blank said. For a decade, he worked in the manufacturing side of the jewelry industry. “I’ve made a lot of other people’s jewelry.”
But he wanted to create his own designs. He grew up in Reno, but studied jewelry-making in San Francisco and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. He moved back to Reno last November and soon made plans to open the shop.
“I try to be the best jeweler that I can be,” he said. “I set all my own stones. I make all my own jewelry, so that way it’s not being outsourced.”
His jewelry has a classic look: a bit rugged, a bit Art Deco.
“Aesthetically, I like simple, clean,” he said. “I don’t like busy stuff. I like to make simple, clean and sleek. Not a lot of components. Not heavy jewelry. Not too light. Modern, but something that stands the test of time. Classic minimalist.”
Tony Ashworth, a local chef and musician, recently proposed to his now-fiancee with a ring he purchased from Blank.
“He looks intimidating,” said Ashworth. “He looks like he should be in Cannibal Corpse or something, but he’s got super nice clothes on. … He was super, super nice.”
“I’ve noticed that a lot of my clients are younger, and I think it’s because of my appearance,” Blank said. (He has a lot of tattoos.)
For Blank, being an ethical jeweler has a few components. “Everything that I do is recycled gold—one hundred percent recycled gold, ethically sourced gemstones, post-consumer diamonds,” he said.
“Post-consumer” is basically a fancy way of saying “used.” For ethically-sourced stones, he primarily purchases jewels mined in the U.S., like Montana sapphires.
“In America, we have labor laws,” he said. “We have minimum wage, so you know if you get a gemstone that’s mined here in America, child labor wasn’t used. So, to me, Montana sapphires are a great alternative to your standard diamond engagement ring. And they’re not these huge open pits. They do dig, but it’s not a thousand-foot-long, deep hole.”
The jewelry industry has a long and sordid history that’s fraught with ethical abuses—like slavery, child labor and environmental damage.
“I think people should really take a look at what their jewelry buying contributes to, especially when it comes to gold mining and diamond mining,” Blank said. “If you look at the photos—there’s a big diamond mine in Russia and a big diamond mine in Canada—and the size of the hole in the Earth, you wouldn’t even believe it. It’s massive. So, we’re trying to get away from that. So my jewelry doesn’t contribute to that hole in the Earth.”