We chat with diamond expert and jewelry designer Raju Mehta, owner of El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert, about his one-of-a-kind pieces and passion for the business.
Story by Emily Chavous
Photography courtesy of El Paseo Jewelers
On a sunny afternoon at El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert, store owner Raju Mehta stands beside a case of sparkling diamond necklaces and statement pendants. Chatting with a customer, he reaches for his loop to inspect three diamonds on an heirloom ring.
“These are pre-1920s,” Mehta says without skipping a beat. Like an archaeologist identifying the time period of an ancient tool by sight — a skill gleaned from decades of experience — this fine jeweler knows his stuff and, since opening El Paseo Jewelers in 1998, has developed a reputation as a diamond expert. No surprise for someone who got his start in the industry when he was only 15. Originally from Navsari, India, about 150 miles north of Mumbai, Mehta has eight siblings, some of whom are also involved in the diamond business.
“My brother wanted me to find a job outside [of India] and learn the ways of the United States,” Mehta shares. “I came to the United States in December 1982. … I could speak very little English in those days, so they made me do all the work, cleaning the jewelry, cleaning the floor, cleaning the bathroom.” Of course, working his way up through so many positions in the industry has made Mehta a better store owner.
He lived on the East Coast then. After a brief stint working with an Indian travel agency, Mehta moved to Los Angeles, where one of his brothers lived and sold diamonds. Working together, they grew the business, carving their niche as diamond wholesalers and jewelry manufacturers. That ultimately led to Mehta opening a store on El Paseo in Palm Desert where he could present his own designs to the public. The jewelry in store is, with few exceptions, exclusively designed by him.
A resident of Los Angeles, Mehta drives into Palm Desert almost daily to work in store and provide personalized service to clients. The 120-mile cruise (each way) on Interstate-10 beats downtown city traffic any day, he reports. “If you drove from my home to downtown L.A., 29 miles, you’d gladly come over to Palm Desert,” he says, chuckling.
As for working in the same trade as some of his siblings, Mehta says, the benefits trickle down to customers. His family has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and India, which means he can source stones quickly and manufacture custom pieces faster than the average jeweler. Manufacturing happens at a factory in Los Angeles.
See the latest collection from El Paseo Jewelers this month during the 15th annual Fashion Week El Paseo. Mehta will present his designs alongside more than 10 other El Paseo boutiques during “The Buzz on El Paseo,” March 21. The fashionable evening kicks off with a cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the runway show at 8 p.m.
For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit fashionweekelpaseo.com
How do you describe your design aesthetic at El Paseo Jewelers?
We create beautiful jewelry. Any style, whether it’s a bracelet, whether it’s a ring, whether it’s an earring pendant. We have about 4,000 pieces in store, and we can work with you at any price point.
Let’s talk about your specialty — custom diamond jewelry.
We manufacture 80 percent of our jewelry at a small factory in Los Angeles, so I can do things very quickly. People come to me especially for custom jewelry. They have an idea in their mind, and we try to bring that to fruition. We bring their imagination to their body. And with a factory of our own, we can do that quickly. While other people might take four to six weeks, we can finish most of the orders in two weeks.
What sort of stones are you using?
The diamond is our number one. Being from a diamond family, I love selling diamonds. But we have beautiful emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pink sapphires — all colors of sapphires. We have different colors of tourmaline. You name it, everything.
What is your favorite thing to design?
My favorite thing to design is the last thing that went out of the store. I love to design jewelry. I love to do different things. Especially when we take customers’ jewelry and make it to their satisfaction, that gives me the most pleasure — watching a customer walk out happy.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I look at new handbags all the time to figure out what’s coming. The color gold starts with purses — if you [pay attention], white gold, yellow gold, and rose gold start with handbags. I also go to jewelry shows and look at new merchandise because we want our pieces to be unique.
Any advice for jewelry shoppers?
I always say one thing: If you don’t trust your jeweler, don’t buy from him or her. Your gut feeling is always right. If you don’t have a comfort level with your jeweler, don’t buy there.