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By Diana S. Zimmerman 

“Real beauty is intangible. We see it with our eyes, but we feel it in our heart. There’s almost no language to describe it. That’s the level of beauty we strive for in every piece of jewelry we create.” – Philip Zahm

There is nothing ordinary about Philip Zahm Designs. But then there is nothing ordinary about Philip Zahm, either. From his childhood dream of becoming a guitar maker to his grown-up passion for making spectacular jewelry, Zahm’s cutting-edge sense of color and beauty is as sophisticated as it is daring.

    “I’m passionate about colored stones,” he says. “They are our hallmark. Every piece we create is designed to evoke an emotion—a sense of joy, of fun, sophistication, and elegance. We use color to create highly personal journeys of self-discovery. When you feel happy, you want to wear something bright such as orange and yellow. When you’re feeling serious, maybe blue or deep red. Green is generous and earthy. Colors reflect the spectrum of emotions we feel. Why shouldn’t we express them in the jewelry we wear?”

     Indeed, Zahm’s highly collectable and award-winning pieces do just that. Not only with emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, but enticing color palettes such as the neon blue green of Paraiba tourmaline, the fiery orange-reds of Spessarite, the intense greens of Tsavorite, and the glowing prisms of Opal. “There are so many beautiful gems,” he says, “in every color of the rainbow. We let each stone’s unique personality guide our inspiration, and then set them in 18K gold, platinum, or palladium.”

     Philip Zahm’s Sainte Chapelle collection is just one example. It was named after a church in Paris. “My wife, Bonnie, and I were mesmerized by the extraordinary beauty of its stained glass—the way light dances off its windows. I knew I wanted to capture that extraordinary beauty in a very special collection.”

     “We designed several one-off Art pieces, including a stained glass ring,” he continues, “before creating the consumer line. We searched for just the right stones, and, of course, cut them in ways that both compliment and contrast the vividness of their colors.” Fortunately, because of Zahm’s 30-plus years as a gem dealer, he has a vast inventory to choose from.

     The results were so stunning that AGTA awarded the ring top honors with its Spectrum Award for Best Use of Color. JCK then featured it on its magazine cover. Margarita, the innovative consumer version of the ring, won the 2014 JCK Jewelers’ Choice Award for Best Ring Design. And the awards keep coming—the Sainte Chapelle bracelet is a 2015 JCK Jewelers’ Choice Award finalist. Zahm is also a former Administrative Chair of the AGTA Board of Directors.

     To celebrate the success of these spectacular gems, Philip and Bonnie recently published a delightful book honoring The Sainte Chapelle Collection.

     He works closely with his wife Bonnie on every design. “We also use many very talented artists such as Judith Evans and Andrew Paetzold. They transform our ideas into three-dimensional drawings. These are further refined, and when we are all happy with each tiny detail, they are sent to our 15-year partner in Bangkok for manufacturing. The workmanship is exceptional, and they are great people to work with. Over the years, we’ve become close friends.”

    Zahm is no stranger to foreign travel. After having journeyed to Spain in his early twenties to study guitar making, he returned home to Northern California to start his own manufacturing business. Destiny intervened when his brother showed up with a bag of raw fire agates that he had just purchased in Mexico. Zahm loved the stones and enjoyed working with his hands, so decided to take a class in gem cutting.

     It was a decision that would forever change his life. His tremendous skills quickly landed a job cutting stones for a local jeweler. “I worked really hard,” he reminisces, “and managed to save $1,000. In 1975, I jumped on a plane and headed to Guadalajara, Mexico. Then drove two hours north to Magdalena to the opal mines.”

    Zahm bought as many stones as he could afford and began cutting them into cabochons. By 1978, he had saved enough for a trip to Rio de Janeiro. It was there that his love for colored stones blossomed. With adventure in his blood, his next trip was to Kenya to purchase tanzanite and tsavorite. “During those years, it was dangerous there,” he explains. “For that reason, almost no gem dealers ventured into that part of the world. Plus, I had to carry large amounts of cash with me, and that added a second layer of danger.”

    For the next two decades, Zahm toured the globe searching for the finest stones. He quickly garnered a reputation as a world-class gem dealer. His creative side, however, wanted more. So, in 2000, he launched Philip Zahm Designs. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he says. “Working with my family, my staff and my amazing clients is the greatest gift in the world.”

    Philip Zahm is, indeed, a man who has found greatness, not by being the largest brand, but in the larger sense of the word—by creating greatness in art. Art that expresses the joy and beauty of color through the intangible magic of his spectacular creations. Philip Zahm Designs does indeed represent The Beauty of Color.

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