About the Designer
There’s a Hebrew phrase tossed around NYC’s diamond district for that most unlikely, universally prized “unicorn” of diamonds: a booba means a single stone that manages to capture all the exceptional qualities so eagerly sought after by stone dealers (immaculate clarity and color; pristine “crystal” faceting & maximum light refraction) -- all embodying an extraordinary find. Like encountering an elusive booba amidst the largest diamond cutting center in the world, NYC-based designer H. Israel Bien (or as he’s known, “Is”; pronounced “IZ”) and his custom design house Eternal Fine Jewels represents that rarest of human qualities: humility.
“Let’s just face it: it’s a highly materialistic context,” Israel laughs. “Nobody really needs a piece of diamond jewelry. But at the same time, something like an engagement ring can have a huge emotional value to someone. So I feel a sense of gratitude that someone has come to me, to be included in something that’s so important to them.”
Eternal Fine Jewels has become known for its impeccably executed, one-of-a-kind custom design work, however most don’t realize how precarious the custom design process can be -- since it can go disastrously wrong in non-expert hands. Unlike commercial, mass manufactured jewelry mountings (where a factory might make many iterations of the same design to get it right), in the custom design process, a designer typically only gets one chance to nail a totally finished design. -- Israel’s approach? To let his clients guide the process as much as possible. “The custom design process is a bit like an interview,” he explains. “We sit down and just start talking. -- What styles they have seen that they like? Maybe they’ve seen something that inspires them, or maybe it’s just a style. We start discussing their specific likes and dislikes, so I can get a sense of what they mean visually when they say “vintage” or “modern.” Sometimes I’ll sketch out designs right then and there for clients; other clients might already know what they want, but may not be able to express it clearly in terms of design. So I really try to listen: then it becomes my job to actualize it.” He grins. “I love to dream with them!”
It’s the formidable combination of Israel’s custom design experience and Eternal Fine Jewels’ diamond factory resources that makes Israel’s brand unique: because Eternal Fine Jewels specializes in trading loose diamonds as well as finished custom fine jewelry, Israel’s clients are treated to a firsthand look at the famously guarded wholesale diamond trade. Wth diamond dealers, setters and other industry folks constantly hustling throughout Israel’s office at all times, Eternal Fine Jewels represents a microcosm of the diamond trade itself. “I think our clients get a very real sense of what happens ‘behind the scenes,’ since they’re able to observe the many industry steps involved in custom design work,” Israel remarks. “For example, a client might not realize that our diamond factory is actually recutting a stone to make it more brilliant; or that we can reposition a prong, in our jewelry shop, just a bit further south, to match a diagonal facet. -- These are all production and trade aspects that someone just doesn’t see when they shop in a retail store; I think our clients become kind of charmed by being able to glimpse what is really involved in making a piece of custom fine jewelry.”
As a second-generation diamond dealer himself, Israel had the enormous advantage of training directly under one of the diamond industry’s most iconic gem cutters -- who also happens to be his own dad. Nathan Bienstock has cut and faceted gemstones for international jewelry collectors from Elizabeth Taylor to Imelda Marcos; and with a lifetime’s worth of industry experience that pre-dates the industry’s dependence on the world renowned GIA Laboratory, Bienstock remains one of the only diamond cutters in the world today who is regularly trusted to facet and advise on the cutting and polishing of rough diamonds in the 100+ carat range. “It was like the Fort Knox of training -- more solid and many times more nuanced than any possible course I could have taken,” recalls Israel. “I had to learn what other diamond dealers were looking for: the real finesse of the trade that you can only understand by working within the industry itself. For example, ‘no one’ wants to buy an I color/ VVS1 clarity diamond. -- But who would know that, except for working with other dealers? You quickly learn how to scrutinize stones for the best possible return on investment -- for both you and for your clients.”
Israel has also been instrumental in opening up a traditionally industry-exclusive investment market to the non-diamond trading public: that most rarefied commodity of vivid colored diamonds. “Most people simply aren’t aware of the crazy investment return on colored diamonds,” Israel says. “But if you look at historical market trends, if you were able to purchase an important fancy color diamond today -- and it must be the right stone -- within 20 years, that same stone will improve by over 90% in value,” he explains. “For example, if you have a 2 or 3 carat vivid blue diamond, that could easily cost from $1.2 million to $2.5 million per carat, wholesale!! I remember in the mid 90’s that a similar diamond would cost between $150-250,000 per carat. So while it’s true that this is a more pricey investment item, collectors and investors understand that the very strong return on investment makes these colored diamonds a very special commodity.”
It’s Israel’s ability to deftly navigate the temperamental relationships of the diamond industry that enables Eternal Fine Jewels to offer finer goods to their clientele that aren’t otherwise available for purchase. “The colored diamonds market, for example, represents an inventory that most dealers don’t have access to -- simply because it’s such a rare inventory, so there’s only a select few dealers who cut these types of diamonds -- let alone give others access to them,” Israel explains. “The availability of these types of goods is something that can only come out of years of having cultivated, trusted relationships in place -- precisely because there’s so much trust required in these extreme high-value transactions,” he continues. “At Eternal, we get dealers all the time leaving multi-million-dollar diamonds with us on nothing but a quick memo. That simply doesn’t happen unless you’ve been in the diamond industry for a long time, and you have proven yourself to your colleagues. It’s having those kinds of historic relationships firmly in place that gives you access to the finest, most premium-cut goods.”
Ultimately, it’s Israel’s personal interest in building new relationships -- not just in the diamond industry, but across all sectors -- that enriches his own work as a designer. One of Israel’s ongoing passions has been his continued work with a sweeping spectrum of non-profit organizations: Israel’s charity work has included designing emblem jewelry for the Parents of Autistic Children, to working with A-list celebs such as Sean Connery to create customized pins and logos for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. It’s Israel’s passion for working directly with all walks of life that have built his glittering clientele list, which includes bejeweling TONY Award nominees for the red carpet; film, TV and Broadway stars; professional athletes; fine art luminaries; dignitaries; and the broad gamut of musical talent, from the hip-hop elite to rock ‘n roll artists. As an established singer-songwriter himself for over 20 years, Israel draws upon his experience as a composer for his work in fine jewelry design. “Every new jewelry piece is like writing a song,” he muses. “I must have written several hundred songs over the years, and the same elements go into each song’s structure; but in terms of the inspiration and feeling behind it, each time it’s as exciting and fresh and new as that very first song. That’s why I love custom design work so much: every single piece feels fresh, since it feels new to me, every single time.”
To those who know his quick smile and disarming friendliness -- itself a kind of booba in the prickly surroundings of NYC’s highly secretive diamond district -- it’s Israel’s welcoming approach that enables a warm familiarity with his clients to bloom. “My best memories from this business come from the trust our clients have in me,” he recalls fondly. “I’ve had clients propose in my office! Because our relationship was that comfortable, where my office felt like the right time and place to do such an important thing!” he muses. “I always feel so honored to be included in people’s most personal moments.”
“ It’s all karma, and it comes back around,” he says earnestly, with the confidence that only decades of working directly with other people can bring. “This life is about so much more than just money or diamonds. It’s how you are as a person, here and now -- and I really believe that it will always, always come back to you.”
- as told to Janet Tzou
Israel Bien of Eternal Fine Jewels is a New York City custom designer specializing in fine engagement, wedding and anniversary jewelry in the NYC Diamond District, throughout the USA and internationally including but not limited to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.