Industry / Weddings

Designer Ashley Thorne on Why Salt-and-Pepper Diamonds Are a Bride’s Best Friend


In a strange way, both the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 pandemic brought unexpected blessings to Ashley Thorne. After graduating from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a BFA in graphic design in 2009, the budding designer had a hard time finding steady work. “That’s what led me to jewelry—because I wanted to find a creative outlet,” says the designer behind A.M. Thorne Jewelry.

Thorne (pictured) originally hails from Washington, D.C., and is largely based there now, but after living in New York City for more than a dozen years, and having most of her jewelry made there, she is equally at home in both cities. She officially opened her business in 2014. But until last year, Thorne always had a part-time job “to make ends meet.”

Salt and pepper diamond engagement ring by A.M. Thorne
Ring with 0.77 ct. salt-and-pepper pear-shape diamond solitaire in 14k yellow gold

Since last spring, however, Thorne has seen record-breaking sales and a dramatic uptick in interest in her custom engagement rings. Last year “was a pivotal moment, but it was also a really bittersweet time,” says the jeweler, who attributes some of the increased attention she’s received over the past eight months to a profile of her that appeared on The Adventurine last June. “Everything that went on with George Floyd and the protests.”

“When the pandemic hit, I was still doing some social media work for a boutique, and I decided to put all my energy into my jewelry business because I had the time for it,” Thorne tells JCK. “Mother’s Day was approaching. Before that, I was too scared to push jewelry sales, but then felt I had to take this leap of faith. My jewelry business was all I had.”

Kelsey Ring by A.M. Thorne
Custom-made Kelsey ring in 14k yellow gold with 0.53 ct. center dark gray pear-shape diamond and 0.5 ct. t.w. outer light gray pear-shape diamonds

Below, Thorne tells JCK why salt-and-pepper diamonds have become a staple of her custom bridal line and how interest in her clean, modern settings paired with the alternative stones—which feature a combination of white and black inclusions, are more affordable than comparably sized white diamonds, and require fewer resources to mine—has taken off since last June.

You’re known for making engagement rings featuring salt-and-pepper diamonds. How did you discover these offbeat stones?

When I first started to make jewelry, I was really shy about working with stones and I specifically wanted to use conflict-free diamonds so was seeking that out. I came across a company around 2016 that specialized in salt-and-pepper diamonds. Early on, I decided I wanted to use them. I liked them better than black diamonds as an alternative to white. My jewelry is really clean, simple, and elegant—I like using the salt-and-pepper diamonds because they’re a little more edgy. A lot of people have approached me for using those diamonds in their engagement rings.

Custom salt and pepper diamond options by A.M. Thorne
A.M. Thorne’s custom-made engagement rings featuring salt-and-pepper diamonds range from $900 to $2,500.

What, specifically, do you like about them?

You can look at white diamonds with the naked eye and once you’ve seen one, you know what to expect. It doesn’t work like that with salt-and-pepper diamonds. When I realized these were parts of the diamond that were typically discarded, I felt like more people needed to see them. They are beautiful because of their clarity characteristics. It’s almost like looking at art or a painting—they have value because of those inclusions.

Have you had to talk customers into using them or help people understand why they are a good choice?

No. Most of the time, I’m not sourcing the diamonds for engagement rings. People have them from heirloom pieces they want to reconstruct. If I’m sourcing diamonds for people, it’s typically the salt-and-pepper diamonds, because people come to me for that. When people are talking to me about their budget, I will push the salt-and-pepper because it’s a little more in line with people’s budget for what they have in mind for size.

There’s a client I’m working with right now. He gave me his budget, and I suggested a salt-and-pepper diamond. He loved the idea; he said it resonated with him because he felt his girlfriend was classic but had a little edge to her, so that would be the perfect stone to represent her. It’s this contrast of elegance and edge.

Are any particular stone shapes rising to the fore for you?

Salt-and-pepper pear-shape diamonds seem to be pretty popular. I feel like what’s making the solitaire band feel fresh and updated are the stone colors and shapes that can be used.

What other bridal styles do you see trending?

A lot of people have come to me about cluster rings. All the cluster rings I’ve done are typically someone coming to me. I’ve never decided to do one on my own. I think it’s coming from people who have loose stones and want to use a few of them—it becomes this organic shape of a cluster. It’s a little bit of an alternative style that keeps showing up as a trend right now.

Molly Ring by A.M. Thorne
Custom-made Molly ring in 14k yellow gold featuring client’s own stones in a cluster design

What’s next for A.M. Thorne in the bridal category?

I feel nice and steady with everything right now, but I have a yearning to make new pieces and also more one-of-a-kind pieces. I would also like to have more of a cohesive bridal collection. It’s always been an overwhelming idea to do that—maybe because of the cost or just committing to something—but I do envision having that, something that’s more of a signature look that’s my own. I’m starting to figure out what that is because of all the custom work I’ve done, and what’s popular, and how I could bring something different to the collection.

Carleen ring by A.M. Thorne
Custom-made Carleen ring in 14k yellow gold with 1.01 ct. old European–cut pear-shape diamond 

Safe to assume your collection would include salt-and-pepper diamonds?


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By: Victoria Gomelsky

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