May 16, 2020

Personal Space | Greg Yuna

Pete Forester

Pete is a writer, host, and producer based in New York City. He is the Editorial Director of StockX.

The Diamond District in New York represents only a few blocks in midtown Manhattan, but during normal business hours, the entire street is mobbed. Everyone is trying to find the next deal or make the next sale, doing business with glass cases between them, packed edge to edge with precious metal and rare stones. The trade in this part of New York City is nearly a century old, representing generations of tradition and in the middle of it, there’s Greg Yuna. Yuna is part of a new generation of jewelers who have created a new path for what that career means. One thing remains constant: a lot of glittering diamonds.

For this edition of Personal Space, we met up with Yuna before the onset of Covid-19 to find out why he became a jeweler, what it was like to appear in the critical darling Uncut Gems, how he creates art out of horrific history, and where he draws satisfaction in the diamond trade.

*Please note: this interview has been edited for clarity and length.

StockX: Do you want to introduce yourself?

Greg Yuna: My name is Greg Yuna, and I am… I don’t want to say “jeweler.”

StockX: What do you want to say?

Greg Yuna: I’m an artist.

StockX: What is it about jewelry that attracted you to the profession?

Greg Yuna: I always liked the hustle. I liked the hustle, I like new shiny shit all of the time.
When I got into the business, I really didn’t care too much for jewelry. I just wasn’t really into it. Then being in front of it all day, every day, you kind of appreciate what it is.

StockX: So was it the artistry and the details that ultimately outweighed other options for careers?

Greg Yuna: I mean, as a kid, I was an animal lover, still am an animal lover. So going to college for six years, and then doing all of that, I wasn’t really trying to do that [to be a veterinarian]. You know? Not saying I took the easy way out, but I always try to take the easy way out. When I got into the industry, I just fell in love with the high of creating pieces, and then watching them actually unfold and come to life. I think I hustled just as hard as a doctor would. Does that make sense?

StockX: Yes. What is it specifically about jewelry and making jewelry that allows you to express yourself, that no other form would permit?

Greg Yuna: I just like to deliver clean, you know what I mean? It’s all in presentation, right? When you give someone something, you want it to be like, “Ah!” So I feel like when I deliver a clean product, that’s how I’m able to show off and express myself. So the untrained eye probably won’t see the things that I see.
But I’m like OCD when it comes down to it. A lot of people don’t understand that. You see things on Instagram, you’re like, “Okay, that looks shiny and cool.” A lot of people hide the bullshit with the glitz. But, it’s all in the detail.

StockX: Jewelry is inherently really big and flashy, whereas the construction of the pieces requires real specificity and really fine work. Do you see a tension between those two things?

Greg Yuna: I feel like a lot of the times, these kids don’t know what they’re putting around their necks. They don’t realize the work. It’s all precious. I play with precious metals. We’re literally whipping up some art for you to wear. This is man-hours. This is people sit there and slave over this stuff. Then they get it, it’s pretty, but I don’t think they really understand what it is. It’s just a price.

StockX: What’s the story with the really small Jesus piece?

Greg Yuna: I like to do is work with small canvases. So anyone could make a Jesus piece the size of a fist or a shoe. But how small can we make it without losing detail? That’s where I like to play. I know no one can come near me with the details. It was a lot of man-hours, a lot of tedious computer work, a lot of polishing, and sandblasting, and… It’s a lot. It’s a lot of labor. You get a piece this small, that’s the size of a Tic Tac, and when you look at it, it looks like it’s worthless. It’s like, “Why am I paying so much money for this?” But they don’t see the work behind that. It’s not about the weight of the gold anymore, it’s about the man-hours that were put into it and the actual work. A lot of people don’t understand that.

StockX: How often do you have to let something go when it’s not perfect?

Greg Yuna: If it’s not perfect, I don’t put it out.

StockX: Can you describe your workplace?

Greg Yuna: I mean, so the Diamond District is one of the craziest blocks in New York City. You can’t walk down the street without feeling like a piece of meat, male or female. You know? Everyone is just harassing you, and really trying to scheme. There is always something going on. My office is really, I wanted to create a vibe where people could come in and feel comfortable with just creating a piece, brainstorming on bringing things to life. Not just a desk, and “All right, what do you want?” You know? I wanted to create a good, smooth, homey, vibe.

StockX: So when you’re working on a piece or just brainstorming and creating, do you prefer more quiet or do you want to have more of a vibe?

Greg Yuna: It depends on what it is. Like we just finished up the Kobe Bryant piece… The details that went into that, you need to be in a quiet place to talk about these things. But then when we’re creating a piece and we don’t know what we’re creating yet, we’ll just bounce off ideas. Music is on, and we have a cool little vibe going on.

StockX: If you could choose only one of those, forever, which one would you prefer?

Greg Yuna: Between the vibe and the quiet? Definitely the vibe. I just feel like I work better when I can bounce ideas off of my people, some music. We get inspired by music.

StockX: What is the community of jewelers like in New York City?

Greg Yuna: The community of jewelers in New York City. Shit. It’s all shit. We just have a stigma, and I try to separate myself from that.

StockX: Why is that?

Greg Yuna: It’s just everyone is on some fuck shit. You seen any Uncut Gems? Basically that’s what it is. I try to separate myself from that. Because 90% of jewelers are on that type of time. I think. There are some decent jewelers out there, but for the most part, everyone is just grimy.

StockX: So where do you fit in?

Greg Yuna: I don’t fit in. I always separate myself from them. I never wanted to fit in, I never… I always did my own thing. I don’t call too many people, I don’t watch what they’re doing. I always started and created my own wave.

StockX: Since the beginning?

Greg Yuna: Yeah. It was always the way I wanted to do things.

StockX: What did that look like when you were a kid?

Greg Yuna: I mean, me not giving a fuck always helped me fit in, I feel like, it always worked for me. You know what I mean? Does that make sense? As a kid, we all have our insecurities, and we’re always trying to fit in somewhere. But I feel like I didn’t care too much about that. I felt like it puts you in a category of cool. Middle school was easy because I used to live across the street from a park. I knew all of the older kids, younger kids, whatever. By the time I got to middle school, it was like, I was basically home. So I didn’t really have any issues with fitting in there. I was already in.

StockX: Got you. So how did your inclusion in Uncut Gems come about?

Greg Yuna: I used to do Snapchat stories with a bunch of characters that I deal with, David, Joe, Wendy, and Director Josh [Safdie], and C-Bo, they used to watch my stuff and I bumped into them on the street one day, walking out of Blue Ribbon. They’re like, “Dude, we love your stuff. You’re so funny. We have a movie coming out, so we’re writing everything up, but when it’s ready, we’ll reach out.” So I was like, “All right. Let’s see what happens.” Five years later, I’m like, “All right, this movie is never coming out, this is bullshit.” Then they hit me last year. Like, “Listen, we’re finished writing the movie, and you’re going to be playing with Adam Sandler, and voila.”

StockX: What did that feel like?

Greg Yuna: I mean, it’s almost surreal, you know? Growing up, Adam Sandler is my fucking idol. To be able to be in a movie and then watch yourself on screen, I think it’s cool.

StockX: There is this dichotomy between not giving a fuck and the affirmation of being chosen. What is that like for you?

Greg Yuna: I feel like I’m starting to get places, you know what I mean? I’m starting to feel it now. I appreciate every moment that I get like that.
I feel like sometimes people are fucking crazy. I’m always doing my own thing, and not taking myself too seriously, I feel like that. I feel like I stood out from the rest of the people in this industry. I’m not scared to make fun of myself. I like it when it’s raw. I think they saw that, and I think there is a talent behind that.

StockX: I wonder if it’s because everything feels really high stakes when it comes to jewelry.

Greg Yuna: Right. I feel like I’m not just a jeweler, you know what I mean? I feel like I have many facets. That sounds crazy, I hate that.

StockX: Why?

Greg Yuna: I never really considered myself a jeweler, you know? It was always like… I feel like I’m an artist. I like certain things the way I like it. That’s the way I like it.

StockX: Yeah, for sure. One of the pieces that I found most impactful is the Patch of Pride, a gold pendant in the shape of the patches European Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Can you describe how what you do allows you to speak specifically to your communities?

Greg Yuna: I mean, for one, I’m Jewish. So I’m able to touch on that. It’s touching. Some people don’t agree with the piece that I made. This was something they put on Jews to shame them. So me, seeing that, I was trying to figure out a way to flip it, and make it a prideful situation because it’s history; that’s what we’ve been through. I took it into my own hands to try to put on, for my people, and say, “Listen, it’s okay. You don’t have to agree with me, but this is how I feel about it.” I want to take that shame and turn it into pride. It’s scar, it’s a beautiful scar. It’s deep. But some people may not agree with me. I had people writing me, like, “It’s fucked up, it’s not right.” I get where they’re coming from. But you also have to understand where I’m coming from. It’s another way of expressing myself. That’s me expressing myself. So that’s another question answered, within a question, you know? But that’s really that was my taking something and bringing it to life. How do we make something so touchy like that, and change the way people feel about it? It’s not an easy thing to do. I got a lot of shit for it. But I feel good, I was passionate about it, and I feel strong about it.

StockX: When you get shit for something, how do you maintain what it is that you want to be doing? How do you stand up to the shit?

Greg Yuna: I mean, everybody is going to have an opinion. Right? But this is my opinion, in gold. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to buy it, they don’t have to agree with me.

StockX: Has Instagram or just being online changed your business?

Greg Yuna: Absolutely.
I remember before Instagram, I was still making some cool things, and people weren’t seeing it. So it’s like, what does having a cool piece do for you if you can’t even display it or show it to anyone? You know? So it gave me a channel to kind of get it out into the world. You never know where it ends up. It changed a lot for me.

StockX: What is the tipping point for you? When do you know that an idea is worth pursuing?

Greg Yuna: I don’t like going into where it gets crazy. I like to keep things simple. I think simplicity is key. I think that’s pretty much it. I don’t like taking it to where it’s going to cause me a problem. I try to avoid problems. It already comes with problems, when you make a piece, you’re always running into problems, and how to… All right, what’s the solution to the diamonds don’t fit this way, let me put them in this way. We put them in that way here. You know? It’s just… It’s constant attention on this one piece, and it’s not…

StockX: How are you sharing designs? Do you prefer clients to come into the office, or do you do business strictly online?

Greg Yuna: So someone came in one day with an anchor. A small little anchor that they were selling on the street. I sent Lil Yachty a picture of it. He FaceTimed me. I was like, “Should we do this, but bigger? Let me do it my style.” He was like, “All right, let’s do it.” So he didn’t necessarily come in. We were just FaceTiming the whole time until it was time to pick it up. Usually, people know what they want when they come in, or it’s as simple as a phone call. This is what I want, can you put it together? Absolutely.

StockX: What do you do if they have a bad idea?

Greg Yuna: I don’t do it. I turn down a lot of business because sometimes I just don’t want to do it. I just don’t see it. I don’t want to put my name on that. People come in all the time, like, “Hey, can you make me this piece, but for this price?” I can. I can. That means I have to cut corners and bring down the quality that I’m used to. I don’t want to do that. The piece speaks for me when I’m not there. So I need everything to be A1.

StockX: When you get home, how do you know you’ve done a good job for the day?

Greg Yuna: I never feel like I’ve done a good job for the day. That’s why I feel like I’m always hustling onto the next. I don’t feel like I feel satisfied. I’m always looking for the bigger and better thing. It’s just also a gift and a curse. A gift, because I’m always onto the next, and a curse, because I’m never satisfied. So I don’t know. But I like it. It keeps me… I don’t know. That sounds depressing. Finishing a piece is definitely satisfaction, especially something that I like. When it comes out better than I thought it would. I like to watch my team grow. So that makes me happy and satisfied. I’m just always onto the next. But I like that.

StockX: What’s the ultimate –

Greg Yuna: Goal? I don’t know. If I say a “three-car garage and a yacht”, that’d be bullshit. I don’t know. Just to continue doing what I’m doing, and putting smiles on people’s faces, and just having a steady flow of income, so I can survive. I’m cool with that.

StockX: Do you like it?

Greg Yuna: I love it. I love it.