Debra Navarro had worked in fine jewelry for decades, but without an endgame when it came to her career. That changed as she approached her 50th birthday and suddenly felt like she “had so much to give, but no real purpose,” she recalls. “I felt like I was at a crossroads. I was searching for something.”
That “something” crystallized for the award-winning jewelry designer when, in 2015, she sat through a screening of Sharing the Rough, a documentary that follows a gemstone’s journey from deep inside an East African mine to its setting in an heirloom-quality jewel.
The following day she met with gem-cutter Roger Dery, who was featured in the documentary (and has since gone on to launch the Gem Legacy nonprofit). And nine weeks later, she traveled with the Dery family to mines in East Africa. On the trip, “My eyes were opened, and my heart was opened,” Navarro recalls. “I knew what I was going to do—I was going to buy these gemstones, and I was going to make jewelry. It was something I’d wanted to do forever and all I did was talk about it.” She adds, “Sometimes you stop and realize that the only thing stopping you is you.”
Navarro’s namesake brand has donated 5% of all its sales to Gem Legacy, which aids the very same miners and mining families that unearth the gemstones she uses in her collection, since its inception. But the brand’s philanthropy doesn’t end there.
Debra Navarro Jewelry is also an official partner to the renowned Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, which rescues and rehabilitates orphaned elephants. And the designer recently cemented that partnership with the debut of a pair of gold pendants, both christened Tusk, that pay homage to elephants. Five percent of the net proceeds from both styles aid the organization’s efforts to rescue and rehab elephants.
“What they do [at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust] is so much more than just rescuing elephants,” Navarro says. “They have aerial units, mobile veterinary units, and canine units, and more. And they’re very transparent, which I love. You can watch their rescues on YouTube.” Navarro also adopted a baby elephant through the organization, and says she’s been delighted by the photos and updates the nonprofit sends her of the thriving gentle giant.
The Tusk Shreger Lines disc pendant, which is available by request and was only recently released, magnifies the pattern you would find in the cross-section of an elephant tusk. “It really addresses the fact that an elephant is killed for ivory every 15 minutes,” Navarro says. “The baby elephant I adopted lost her mom to poaching.”
The second style, the Open Tusk pendant ($4,380), features an 18k yellow gold outline of a tusk set with small colorless diamonds and chunkier colored diamonds, all hand-picked by the designer—who says she’s happy to be aiding the organization, but stresses, “the real heroes in this story are the men and women who work with this operation. I think it’s the most ideal job in the world!”
To donate to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and see a list of baby elephants who need adopters (just $50 a year!), click here
Top: Designer Debra Navarro with baby elephant Mudanda at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya (all photos courtesy of Debra Navarro Jewelry)