King of bling

Mahmud Sharif


Mahmud Sharif has been in the jewelry business for more than 30 years, but the occupation has run in his Jordanian family for generations. Sharif Jewelers has won several of SN&R’s Best of Sacramento awards, but this is his first interview for the paper. His employees are currently boxing up the jewels to move to a bigger space next door to his store’s current location on Howe Avenue. Sharif buzzed me into his store with a wireless remote that unlocked the door for a few seconds. Then, with a warm handshake and a thick accent, he offered me a delicious Turkish coffee.

The Turkish coffee is pretty interesting.

Yes. It’s a tradition we’ve had since we opened the store. I remember one of my first [mentions] we had on KFBK: Kitty O’Neal came in and she had the coffee, and she mentioned it on the radio. People called not to ask about the jewelry, but about the recipe for the coffee. It’s really good.

Did your grandfather start the business? How does someone decide something like “I want to be a jeweler”?

My grandfather’s father was into [the] business of metal. My grandfather upgraded, so he went into the finer jewelry, established himself. He was one of the first, I believe, well-known jewelers in the town.

Can you really tell the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia?

Of course. Experience makes a difference. I mean, I could spot people when they walk in [who] have, for example, a jewelry piece in their hand. They say, “I’m here to do the free appraisal. I want to check and see if this is real or not.” I can tell while they’re holding it in their hand. I can tell without even touching it. Diamonds all have uniqueness: the little sparkle, the brilliance, the way it deals with light. (Laughs.)

What’s the difference between a synthetic and a natural diamond?

It’s really the value. A natural diamond is always the first-class, or the most desirable. People created the nondiamond, or the simulant diamond, to save money. A one-carat diamond on average can cost $3,500, let’s say. But the Moissanite, or the synthetic diamond, it could be the best imitation one right now, but it could be a couple hundred. There is the glass one, like the [cubic zirconia] that could be a couple dollars.

What’s your security system like?

We have a live guard at the door and a good security system. Jewelry and security goes really well together. We’re vulnerable. We have to protect ourselves. Security [is a] must.

Have you ever had to deal with the theft of any diamond?

Many. Of course. You name it, it happens to us—from breaking in to grab and run to robbery in daytime. I mean, everything you’ve heard of, it’s happened through the years. But thank God nobody [was] hurt.

If you could steal any diamond in the world and get away with it, which one would it be?

(Laughs.) The most famous diamond still today is the Hope Diamond. It’s a blue diamond. Diamonds come in many colors, natural color, from blue to green to reddish. The most expensive is pink. You remember Kobe Bryant, when he bribed his wife with a pink diamond? Pink is the most desirable. But the Hope Diamond is the most well-known.

The diamonds that originate from your store, that you sell here, where do most of them come from?

We buy them from site holders in the United States. They get it from the main source. The site holders certify that they’re nonconflict diamonds. They guarantee us and give us a certificate. It’s, I think, a fact that 97 percent of the diamonds sold in the United States [are] conflict-free. Most of the diamonds come [from] Africa. Where they cut it and process it could be a different country. They take the diamond and cut them, and then they market it. Everybody starts calling the cuts names, like the Leo cut, the heart and arrow cut, the love mart cut, the tycoon cut—branding them to their needs. (Laughs.)

What jewelry do you wear?

I wear really nice watches. I’m into watches. Mostly Rolex, but I do other nice watches, and of course, some nice rings.

I noticed you have a lot of celebrities or famous people’s pictures on the walls. A popular thing now is for rappers to get custom jewelry. Have you made any of those?

Through the years, yes. We’ve made a lot of rappers’ emblems, chains and rings. In fact, we have a beautiful piece we just made. Just say: “Yes. Sharif through the years made beautiful custom pieces for famous rappers.” In town, who did we do? [Members of the] Goodfella [record label].