“Do you want to see what a $300,000 dollar diamond looks like?” Justin Koop asks, eyes wide with excitement. The third-generation jewelry maker has a contagious energy: Whether he’s telling his family’s story, walking you through the custom jewelry process, or showing you a diamond he just purchased, he makes you care like he cares. And Justin Koop cares a lot. The Koops began their journey in jewelry-making shortly after World War II. Justin’s grandfather, Clarence “Whitey” Koop, had polio and could not serve. So instead, he started cutting diamonds. In 1966 he opened his own business, and eventually his son, Butch, brought custom jewelry into the mix.
Each generation of owners has made Koop Diamond Cutters into something new—a standard Justin has embraced whole-heartedly. He briefly considered pursuing another career, but once he realized “rock star” was not likely in his future, he dove headfirst into the family trade. Justin began by creating models: small wax rings and pendants from which the real thing could be cast. Today, as vice president, he’s a designer, gemologist, production manager, and diamond purchaser. He studied at the Gemological Institute of America, in California, to earn the title of Graduate Gemologist—no small task, as it requires getting a 100-percent score on both testing exams. “It was the only kind of school I was ever really good at,” he says.
In the workshop, Koop is always at least a little pumped. He wants to show you everything, from the high-tech Computer Assisted Design program to the cleaning station, which is comprised of a straight-out-of-the-’70s stove that heats metal cans full of green and clear liquids, hooked up like car batteries.
Koop’s favorite type of work: creating custom jewelry. The process, he says, is fairly straightforward. There’s a consultation for clients to discuss what they’re looking for. Next comes the real nuts-and-bolts concept work—which may be one meeting or 20—where he and his team use the Computer Assisted Design program, draw sketches, or alter one of the 10,000 molds at the store to render an image of what the piece will look like, then print out a wax model for casting. Finally, the piece is finished, and it leaves the Koops’ lives to go into someone else’s.
But his favorite part of the job? Creating memories. “Someone once brought in a piece they’d inherited—they wanted it re-set—and I realized it was something I had made in high school. We become a part of people’s lives.”
Photographs by Aaron M. Conway and Anna Jones/OMS
Originally published in the March 2015 issue.