Section: Features

A future as bright as a diamond

A future as bright as a diamond

Photo by Barbara Kempton

With a small gem and a big dream, Matthew Milstead ’19 turned his childhood fascination with gemstones into his own business, in which he works with dealers and traders from around the world.

“The first gemstone I ever bought was a tiny little emerald that the dealer had pity on me and gave to me for five dollars, and I turned around and traded that for something that was listed for $200 at another store,” Milstead said. “And I just went from there.”

Milstead has been learning about different gems and their properties since age seven. He began by collecting gemstones and mineral specimens and trading them with local dealers, as well as starting his training as a lapidary ­— someone who processes stones from their rough natural state to the final product. Young Milstead became close with the owner of a gem and mineral store near his home in Canefield, Ohio, and through him became connected with other people in the market.

In the past year, Milstead decided to expand his trade in the gemstone market by founding his own business, Milstead Gems, LLC. He declined to specify how much money he has made through his business. 

Milstead is committed to his studies during the week, but on weekends he frequently goes home, a two-hour drive away, to ship out orders to national and international customers. As the business’s owner, he has the freedom to determine how much time to devote to it each week, depending on how busy he is with schoolwork. Milstead looks forward to breaks and summers because they give him more time to devote to his business.

“Most of the things I have here are pretty pathetic,” Milstead said as he produced a handful of glittering, gold-colored Imperial Topaz gemstones — the most sought-after form of natural topaz on the market. “I’m embarrassed by these,” he said. Beryls, which include aquamarine, morganite and heliodor, are Milstead’s preferred gems of trade.

Obtaining and dealing gems requires research and dedication. At times, Milstead relies on other dealers with “inside knowledge.” Other times, he researches people who sell gemstones online, contacts them, identifies their suppliers and contacts the mines himself. “It’s very indirect and messy, but eventually you usually do get in touch with people at the source,” Milstead said.

Milstead buys from about 20 regular dealers and traders, most of whom are based in Afghanistan and Brazil. He is selective about his suppliers, only buying and trading gemstones that have not undergone any enhancements, such as heat treatments or beryllium treatments that improve their clarity. Untreated stones are rarer than treated stones, making them more valuable and desirable to collectors and high-end traders.

Milstead had always wanted to start a gemstone-related business. He made his trade an official business within the past year to improve his ability to buy a stone at one price and sell it for much more.

“I’d be like, ‘I can’t believe I just got this stone for $500. It’s worth at least $2,800.’ And people would say, ‘It’s worth what you paid for it,’” Milstead said. “Ridiculous things. So just to prove everyone wrong, I sold that stone the next day for $2,800.”

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