Throughout his career spanning a quarter century, Todd Reed has leapt from the craft-show circuit to the fine jewelry case. We caught up with him at his studio in Boulder, Colo., about how he champions personalized pieces and was able to make people think differently about diamonds.

You come from a highly creative family. What are their fields?

My mom’s a multidisciplinary artist from sculpture to cartoons, and dad built wood boats in the old craft tradition. My maternal grandparents painted, and my other grandma designed floral arrangements as works of art—she was the one who taught me how to make something out of nothing.

Where did you grow up, and why did you choose to make Boulder your home and headquarters?

I was born in North Carolina, and moved around a lot from eastern Maryland to Phoenix to remote Durango, where I lived 17 years. A romantic relationship and proximity to a major airport eventually brought me to Boulder.

How does living there affect your designs?

It’s very integrative. You can’t help but soak up the city’s beautiful natural landscape and outdoor lifestyle even if you aren't the hiking and canoeing type. There’s also an organic, entrepreneurial spirit here versus a big business mind-set from microbrews to fine jewelry.

You’re recognized for pioneering raw diamonds in the late Eighties. How has the jewelry scene evolved?

My niche was considered art instead of jewelry into the Nineties, so I showed at craft shows rather than stores. Upscale departments stores started carrying craft jewelry made with materials like ceramic and wood, but they kept it separate from the fine assortment. Today my pieces are shown in the fine section as luxury has quieted and transitioned into items that are unique, personal and truly well made. Fine jewelry mirrors what’s going on in fashion and art that people want to make an individual statement.

todd reed portraitWhen was your aha! moment to incorporate raw diamonds?
During geology class in high school, we studied rock crystals and I fell in love with their shapes, texture and sparkle. I liked how a diamond left just as it’s found in nature can dictate the architecture of a piece of jewelry. In 1994, I met one of the top collectors of raw diamonds who also loved these gems for their unique qualities over any monetary value. Early in my career, I sold 75 rings in one day at a craft show in Michigan, and knew I’d found my niche. Now they've become my trademark and appear on every piece even if a tiny stone on the side.

Where do you source them?

I bought my mentor’s lifelong stash before he died, and I work with one dealer who searches parcels every day for our specifications.

Has the traditional marketing of diamonds been a challenge?

So much emphasis has been placed on the perfect cut and rules like how much of a man’s income should go toward an engagement ring. People laughed when I struck a chord with customers who see imperfection as a positive metaphor, yet now all the big players in the diamond business are jumping on board. Raw diamonds are the perfect voice for contrarian luxury.

What are your other signatures?

Our fabrication style and quality since every piece from a simple band to an architectural brooch is handmade without using molds even if it takes 1,000 hours. Rather than only the stones being the star, our mountings are overstated and opulent. They angle and taper for architectural integrity and really are integral to the overall design. We specialize in custom looks, which account for 60 percent of our business.

How about materials?

My favorite is recycled yellow gold because it’s royal, elegant and can be masculine or feminine. We’re also known for developing alloys whose patina stays due to heat rather than chemical treatments. For example, our palladium silver keeps its dark hue if someone wants a cool piece of black jewelry. Black jewelry has grown in popularity. I prefer black silver to black rhodium. We also use a ton of colored gems. Lately I’m into pink and red tones of garnets, sapphires and tourmalines for their luscious, sexy traits, as well as gray and silver diamonds for their watery effect.

What styles and materials are you introducing for 2014?

I’m using leather and three colors of jade, black, green and white, for a men’s collection of belts, buckles and bold chain-link necklaces.

How many jewelers are on your team, and are pieces made by one or many?

One of 20 jewelers makes the entire piece beginning with pouring gold in the morning. That way there’s no disconnect. Each has his strengths, too, and is assigned projects accordingly.

Many people don’t know you attended culinary school and have a passion for pastry. Do you still have time to bake?

Every Thanksgiving we close our studio for a week and the team bakes thousands of sweets to distribute to clients and homeless people. I’m also curating a food as art experience at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Are you working on other collaborations?

With a group of architects for the Denver Art Museum, I’m creating a sculpture of black concrete and gold foil that opens to reveal a magical interior like a geode.