Island-born jeweler’s designs generate red-carpet buzz
John Ford took a shine to the jewelry business as a 19-year-old student at Texas A&M University at College Station. He began buying gold as a student, and in 1984, after graduation, he took an interest in the Houston-area flea market scene, where he began selling $500 worth of gold chains.
In 1987, the fifth-generation Galvestonian opened John Ford Jewelers in his hometown. Soon, he began brainstorming designs for jewelry featuring colored gemstones and diamonds, which lured customers from Galveston and around Texas.
“After befriending some Australian jewelers at the Tuscon Gem and Mineral Show, I learned that they were the biggest exporters of opals in the world — but not just any opals,” Ford said. “Black opals.”
The rest, as they say, would become Hollywood red-carpet history.
“I was told I could become the biggest importer of rare, black opals in America, so I decided to act on that,” Ford said. “I created the Lightning Ridge Collection in 2010 to showcase my designs in black opals and diamonds.”
After many journeys to Lightning Ridge, Australia, home to the mines that yield the world’s finest black opals, Ford learned the process of mining and selling these unusual stones known for their intensity and fire. He began creating glittering jewelry designs, ultimately catching the eye of a British magazine that called him an up-and-coming designer in 2012.
“Being mentioned in that magazine got me a lot of phone calls, including from a leading critic in the jewelry business,” Ford said. “He told me my next Spectrum Award entry should be in platinum instead of gold, and I took his advice.”
Ford entered an exquisite black opal, platinum and diamond design for judging at the American Gem Trade Association Spectrum Awards and in 2014 won the “jeweler’s Oscar.”
“Then, a major New York jewelry critic said she’d voted for my piece and blogged about me,” Ford said. “Winning that award made me launch the Lightning Ridge Collection nationally.”
Major newspapers began picking up on Ford’s designs. Variety magazine mentioned Ford as a “coveted brand” and the momentum toward the red carpet on Oscar night increased.
The next call was from Michael O’Connor, a celebrity stylist and TV personality in Los Angeles. O’Connor presented some of Ford’s Lightning Ridge pieces to some celebrity clients he was dressing for the Oscars. Ford also learned that his pieces would be worn to some pre-Oscar events and that two pieces would be worn to the actual Academy Awards, which took place in February.
“But the most amazing shot was of ‘Access Hollywood’ star Shaun Robinson on the red carpet wearing a brilliant 4.07-carat black opal ring accented by 1.78 carats of diamonds set in 18 karat white gold,” Ford said. “Director Alejandro González Iñarritu, who won three Oscars for ‘Birdman,’ was beside her and that’s the photo that went around the world.”
Winning the Spectrum Award and having that Oscar photo circle the globe has brought Ford plenty of accolades.
“I’ll try to do the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Oscars again next year,” Ford said. “But I don’t believe in luck. I believe in hard work and being in the right place at the right time.”
To see John Ford’s award-winning black opal and diamond designs, visit www.lightningridgecollection.com.