Endless talk of all things sparkly.

Q & A with GIA’s Exhibit Developer McKenzie Santimer

MCK mug

The Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad is my happy place.  If I am ever feeling down or having a rough day, I just think of my time spent there and I am truly happy!  So imagine if you worked there everyday?!  I can’t seem to fathom a bad day!  Lucky for McKenzie Santimer, she calls GIA her place of employment where she is the Exhibit Developer and has quite the interesting job!  If you’ve ever visited, not only is GIA a wonderful school but it has the coolest displays year-round with them changing frequently. Whether you’re a gemstone lover or jewelry history enthusiast, McKenzie has you covered!  I need to visit more often just to keep up.  If you’d like more information about the current exhibits on display, check out GIA’s website. Meanwhile, let’s catch up with McKenzie and learn more about her role as Exhibit Developer:







My love for jewelry began when I was a high school student in Hawaii apprenticing for a local jeweler. This ultimately led me on the path to becoming a gemologist, jewelry designer and exhibit developer. After completing college, I attended GIA where I acquired my GJG, and went on to work with couture jeweler K. Brunini Jewels and the San Diego Natural History Museum. For the last eight years, I have used my hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge to produce GIA’s museum, tradeshow and public exhibits as the Institute’s exhibit development manager. 

Photo of K. Brunini at work



As GIA’s exhibit development manager, I help create exhibits – whether they’re at the Institute’s Carlsbad or New York locations or at the Tucson or JCK Las Vegas shows – from conceptualization to the finishing touches. My work involves sourcing feature items, finding pieces from the archives to showcase, designing the layout of each case, creating color schemes, and mounting the items.  

When I’m not working on an exhibit, I’m cultivating relationships with the Institute’s lenders and donors, and coordinating details with insurance companies, graphic designers, editors, docents and many more who come into contact with our exhibits.



I’m currently working on GIA’s exhibit for the February 2015 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which will give the mineral world a taste of their gem and jewelry counterpart. I’m also in the planning stages of a very exciting July 2015 exhibit at GIA’s Carlsbad world headquarters entitled “Variations on a Theme: 25 Years of Design at the American Jewelry Design Council.”  



I‘m particularly proud of the “More is More: Tony Duquette Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry” exhibit, which debuted at GIA in Carlsbad in October 2013. Tony Duquette was a critically acclaimed movie and interior designer who created bold and theatrical jewelry alongside business partner and design collaborator Hutton Wilkinson.  Their designs reflected Duquette’s work as an award-winning costume and set designer during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  It was important for me to create an exhibit that captured the aesthetic and storied history of Duquette and Wilkinson. From live spider plants and 20 foot malachite fabric curtains lined with cheetah print to gold gilded lobsters and deer antlers, I was able to transform the space into a wonderland that I feel the design duo would be proud of too. 


 photo by: ©GIA Kevin Schumacher

KSS_DSC5300_Tony Duquette Rotunda


I own two rings worn in tandem that K. Brunini Jewels designed just for me. They are made of 18K gold, a rose cut diamond, a moonstone cabochon and accent diamonds. The rings are highly symbolic. The twig branch encourages me to stand tall and be strong. The rose cut diamond is a reminder to stop and smell the roses. The antlers signify being grounded to earth, the source of all.  And the moonstone evokes mystery and the unknown. It’s my daily talisman!

Phot by: © GIA Orasa Weldon

Moonstone and rose cut diamond rings