By Diane Welch
The beauty of gemstones — and the thrill of the hunt to unearth them — lured Rancho Santa Fe’s Jacqui Grande to exotic destinations where she not only found buried treasure but forged a new career. In doing so she also mapped out a new life, despite being a lone woman in the male world of mining.
Dredge mining for color gemstones in Asian countries like Sri Lanka was a life far-removed from Grande’s former one as a research biologist with the Salk Institute in La Jolla. But after 25 years, her integrity and knowledge of her materials has led to a top-level career as a gemologist and jewelry designer, and has placed Grande in the private circles of kings, global dignitaries and high level U.S. politicians who purchase her highly sought-after gem-crusted jewelry.
This acclaim recently brought Grande’s company, Radiance International, to the attention of Chinese officials who invited her to join an elite group of 20 international designers to participate in a trade show titled “Gems Cube.”
Organizing the event was Shenzhen MKH Group representing Shenzhen, which is poised to become China’s manufacturing hub for jewelry and now ranks as one of China’s top 10 cities with the largest consumption of luxury products.
One of only two who were spotlighted as the show’s main focus — the other was Alessio Boschi — Grande said it was “quite an honor” to be selected.
China’s marketplace is one that is generally closed to international trade with the government overseeing who is granted trade privileges and what is allowed to be sold, said Grande. “But those that do get in, do very well,” she added.
It was a surprise to be chosen, said Grande, who was formerly on the Board of Directors of the International Color Gemstone Association and has been very active for the past 20 years in promoting gemstones. But she believes that it was her jewelry in Dubai that was most likely brought to the attention of the Chinese.
The event included a fashion show with models adorned with jewelry from Radiance International. Translators were assigned to Grande but it was still very challenging. “It was probably the most difficult place I’ve ever done a show,” she said. “I’ve been digging for gemstones in the dirt but this was a lot more tiring,” she joked.
Guests to the show came from many of the larger cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. “One of the gentlemen I met owns 60 stores in China, and now he is my client,” said Grande, who has also been invited to conduct seminars in China to educate others on color gemstones.
Raised in an Italian Catholic family in Wilmington, Delaware, Grande was a graduate of Purdue University where she received a degree in biology. She was the first woman in her family to attend college. She then came to California for a master’s program at San Diego State University. She credits her success to “great parents” who made her feel very confident but she was also somewhat restricted. “So when I got out there, I went for it. I jumped at opportunity,” she said.
In 1984 Grande began purchasing gems and selling them at U.S.-based trade shows. She eventually turned to the international market. She invested in a dredge mining operation in Sri Lanka, mining and cutting predominately sapphires and rubies. Despite living and working in a man’s world, Grande broke through the gender barrier and soon became known for her keen eye for quality. Many of her gemstones are sold to Tiffany’s and other top-level gem houses.
Grande also owns a successful dressage facility in Rancho Santa Fe and continues to travel extensively with her jewelry business. Her experiences with both have prompted her to collect some of her personal stories for a future book, one that would serve as inspiration for other women.
Her custom jewelry is available from Radiance International’s private design studio in Del Mar, by appointment. Current collections may also be viewed online at
or call (858) 350-1900 for more information.