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From Beach Combing to Luxury Jewelry Brand Development: Earl Van Senus’ Gemstone Journey

written by Paul Holewa

California’s many beaches produce a lot of water sport enthusiasts, but not for the Van Senus family. As a child, Earl and his father walked the beaches near their California home. During these strolls the rock hound twosome would gather and identify a number of stones, from agate to moonstone. These father-son walks sparked an early interest in gemstones for Earl which spawned a career in these earthly treasures.   

In his current role as the vice president of marketing and development at KHR Jewels, Earl Van Senus is helping the New York-based company leverage its history with quality gemstones and fine jewelry making to promote their own brand of 18-karat gold jewelry named the Chromia Collection.

Chromia is Latin for “all color.” For a rock hound, this meant developing a brand name of fine jewelry set with “unique, one-of-a-kind, rare and exotic gems,” says Earl.

KHR Jewels is best known for producing jewelry for other companies. In recent years the decision was made to create and develop their own line of fine, 18-karat gold jewelry set with one-of-a-kind gemstones. In 2018, the Chromia Collection was born. In three short years KHR Jewels has grown the collection from 100-plus pieces of jewelry set with rare gemstones to now thousands.

Product knowledge and the story behind jewelry (and their collections) help romance sales to customers. But jewelry manufacturers have their own compelling narratives when pitching their collections to jewelry storeowners. That’s where Earl’s combined rock hound history and his on-air personality skills come into play.

Being an on-air personality, however, wasn’t Earl’s first career choice as a young man. When the opportunity presented itself he turned adversity into opportunity. But there are a few chapters in Earl’s gemstone journey to tell first.

The father-son beach trips for Earl and his father went beyond their local beaches on up the Pacific coastline all the way up to British Columbia. Together they even made two trips to Alaska to pan for gold nuggets. “That was the icing on the cake for me,” says Earl.

Earl not only followed his father on the beaches he fully intended on becoming a police officer like his father. During high school Earl was a military cadet. And, after graduation he joined the US Marine Corps. After a few years with the Corps, Earl badly injured his knee which ended the dreams of becoming a policeman. Plan B.

After his honorable discharge Earl needed a job. Having remembered that his father took him too many jewelry stores as a young child, Earl went and applied at JC Penny’s for their fine jewelry department.  

“I would say a bulk of my knowledge came from working at JC Penny,” says Earl. “In the 1990s, JC Penny was the leading retailer of fine jewelry in the US. If you were a top seller in your store they sent you to GIA and De Beers for more education, which I did.”  

After JC Penny, Earl worked for a high-end retailer that specialized in rare color and jade. Earl learned even more about gemstones and jewelry sales at the family retail business before joining an upstart television company in Los Angeles. It was a big step for Earl, but his first day on the job would not only be challenging but fortuitous in its timing.

“On my first day at this TV station their on-air personality didn’t show up for work,” says Earl. “They were in a panic and needed someone to go on air and sell. I was thrust into the role as I was the only one who knew about jewelry and gems. It was there that I got to be more connected to the exotic gemstone industry. And, it took off quickly.”

Earl absorbed a wealth of knowledge gemstone knowledge over the next two years while sharpening the showmanship needed to sell to a mass television audience. In 2006, he decided to take a similar on-air talent position with the Gem Shopping Network based in Georgia. In-depth product knowledge gave Earl a natural enthusiasm for sharing stories about gemstones; however, being an on-air talent had its challenges.

“I enjoyed being an on air talent most of the days, but it was not easy,” says Earl. “My shows on GSN were anywhere from five to six hours in length. Imagine talking to a mirror for six hours about something and trying not to say ‘uh’ or repeat yourself. I was always looking at refining and expanding my on-air approach. However, most importantly, maintaining integrity. There are many hosts [past and present] that are not as honest as they should be just because they want to make a sale.”

Given Earl’s exposure to many companies working with fine gems and jewelry, he’d known of KHR Jewels for many years. A gemstone and gemology history coupled with retail sales and on-air television caught KHR Jewels’ attention when looking for a point man to launch their jewelry line.

Given the nature of the Chromia Collection, assuming the position of vice president of marketing entailed not just sales and promotions but product development. Being a “Gem Picker” for the Chromia Collection appealed to his rock hound nature.

“My skills as a ‘Gem Picker’ come into play sourcing unique and rare color such as sphene, rare garnets – a personal favorite – old 1990s D Block tanzanite, and one of our newest [gemstones], Plum Diaspore,” says Earl.

One of Earl’s favorite aspects of his job with KHR Jewels is creating the story behind the gems. “A great example is our Ethiopian Opal which is trademarked as Orion Opal in regards to its vast color spectrum like a nebula,” says Earl.

The Chromia Collection is primarily rings with coordinating pendants and earrings. “Bracelets can be a little tougher as in certain gems, we may not always have that many of a gem rarity to make something, but it doesn’t mean we are not sourcing trying to make it happen,” says Earl.  

In his executive position, Earl’s main goal is to get jewelry storeowners to think of KHR Jewels and the company’s Chromia Collection when they think of color for their customers. In the formative years of the Chromia Collection, reaction from jewelry storeowners at trade shows and social media platforms has been very favorable.

“Retailers have been blown away at the quality we are providing for the cost,” says Earl.  “The fact we are providing rare and high quality gems in 18-karat [gold] for the price of what others provide in 14 karat. Customers also love the quality and feel of our pieces. Everything is hand polished with full under galleries. Each gem has precision cutting. And, every piece is created with it being an heirloom in mind.”