An Expert in all that sparkles.
The most important gems in the colored-stone market, rubies are a symbol of wealth, success and passion. They’re also a favorite of Amanda Moreno, 30, a role model for all those assets.
A face you’ll see daily at Peñaloza & Sons Jewelers in San Antonio, Moreno recently earned the industry’s most prestigious credential — a graduate gemology degree from the Gemological Institute of America — an accomplishment that required four years of study for her to learn 500 stones, inside and out, then ace a final exam by identifying 20 gems correctly.
“That course was the most fun, but the most stressful,” Moreno says. “I passed that exam on May 3, 2016. Gemology was definitely harder than my bachelor’s degree, much harder.”
The Harlingen native attended Texas A&M Corpus Christi and worked in several internships before moving to San Antonio and starting her career with Peñaloza & Sons eight years ago. “I love helping customers find that special piece of jewelry that makes their eyes light up or reminds them of something special,” she says.
Peñaloza & Sons Jewelers opened on the San Antonio River Walk in 1958 and later relocated to its current location on N.W. Military Highway. Owned by Paul and Alice Peñaloza, it is a “manufacturing” jewelry store, where customers have been coming for generations seeking services that include everything from engraving and watch repair to appraisals and custom design.
“I’ve always loved jewelry. I mean, who doesn’t?” Moreno says. “I walked into this store looking for a pair of earrings one day, and I asked if they were hiring and they were. I’ve been with them ever since.”
Soon after landing the job as a sales associate, Moreno became more curious about the stones and diamonds she worked with every day — where they came from, how they are formed, why one stone is more valuable than another. “I wanted to know all of that,” she says. And so began her four-year journey to earn the prestigious gemology degree through distance learning courses before she eventually traveled to California for required lab course work.
It’s given her the experience and knowledge she needs to accurately grade diamonds and other gemstones and provide insurance and estate appraisals. And it gives her confidence: “Instead of just telling a customer, ‘This is a blue stone,’ I can tell him what it is and how to take care of it, what the cost is and why it’s more or less than another one. I’m just able to answer questions with more clarity.”
Serving customers in this way is still her favorite part of the job, especially when it comes to young clientele. “People assume we’re out of their price range when, in fact, we’re not,” Moreno says. “We do have big pieces. But I want people with any size budget to feel comfortable walking in.”
A pair of freshwater pearl stud earrings or a sterling silver bracelet is as much in inventory at Peñaloza & Sons as a range of pieces with higher price tags, such as the fancy yellow diamond mounted in platinum.
Though Moreno herself has always had a penchant for the “king of gems,” rubies, and hopes to own one someday, her appreciation for all stones has grown since earning her gemology degree.
“I love everything, really. Every stone has its own personality,” she says. “I love watermelon tourmaline and, of course, diamonds and pearls — they are so classic. But I love color.”
Favorite pastime in San Antonio:
I enjoy working out and staying active. I like to go to the gym. I also love running or hiking at all of our beautiful parks around San Antonio. Walking around our River Walk is really fun.
Her role models:
I’ve always looked up to my mother as an example and role model because she is a strong woman. She has worked for Whataburger in Harlingen for 35 years and hardly ever missed a day at work. She has always strived to be the best at what she does, and she is admired and respected by her co-workers. She taught me to work hard for everything I want and never need to depend on anyone.
Mrs. Alice Peñaloza is another person I look up to. She’s a very elegant and patient woman. She’s such a respected jeweler and gemologist that customers come in just to get her opinion or to help them with designing a piece of jewelry. I hope to be as successful in the same way. I’ve learned a lot about jewelry and the industry from her.
A personal goal:
I would like to own a jewelry store someday.
Phrase she lives by:
“God will never give you more than what you can handle.” I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason.
By SHARI BIEDIGER
Photography by JANET ROGERS