• Deborah Finleon, GIA GG

Student Spotlight - Michelle Bland

NAJA's newest Certified Master Appraiser is Michelle Bland. Now an appraiser with Blue Nile, she is proud to be our first African American CMA. Read on to learn more about her and her fascinating career journey, in her own words.



Michelle was born in Toledo, Ohio nine minutes after her twin brother, Michael. Michelle and her family moved to the San Francisco bay area when she was only three years old.


After graduating high school, Michelle went to work for American Airlines, loading airplanes on the weekends and working in the artificial intelligence research department at Stanford University during the week.


Her work for American Airlines eventually landed her in Dallas, Texas. Between loading and unloading aircraft, Michelle studied gemology by distance education from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA.) She worked for Whitehall Jewelers to “practice with the stones in her store” as her studies directed. She also started her own independent jewelry appraisal service while working for an airline and completing her education in gemology.


The tragedies of September 11, 2001 prompted Michelle to leave the airline industry. With her Graduate Gemologist diploma in hand, she began a fifteen year career with Zale Corporation as a Quality Assurance Inspector.


When the economy slowed in 2008 and 2009, Michelle left the jewelry industry to pursue her passion for baking. She attended the famed Le Cordon Bleu and completed an internship at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas. She learned how to make the most amazing desserts from a real French pastry chef and graduated with honors. It was the hardest job and the best job she ever had.


Ultimately, being a Pastry Chef was not what Michelle was destined to have as a career. She was able to return to Zale Corporation and worked there until the corporate office in Irving, Texas closed. Michelle got a new start as a Staff Gemologist/Appraiser with Blue Nile, Inc. in the Seattle area of Washington state.


She practices her baking skills on her team at Blue Nile, Inc. and they don’t seem to mind being her taste testers.