with Tamara to find out how she made her giant career transition, what lessons learned she can share with other entrepreneurs and about her experience in Bolivia.
How did you make the transition from Corporate Lawyer to Jeweller?
I made the transition by taking courses at George Brown College, first a year of Gemmology, then 3 years in the Jewellery Arts Program. I was lucky in that my Jewellery Design teacher for three years was a two-time International HRD Diamond award winner and someone I really admired and clicked with. She taught me a ton, and I was proud that I was exhibiting jewellery and winning awards for my work even before I graduated. I did some consulting during school, but at some point had to have enough faith in myself to stop and invest fully in myself as a goldsmith and jewellery designer. I've never looked back and never had any regrets about that path I've chosen. It's tremendously fulfilling to help people celebrate the happy occasions in their lives.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
When I graduated from the 3-year goldsmithing program at George Brown College, I looked at the market and saw a hole. Stores like Tiffany and Birks sell beautiful jewellery but they don't really do custom work and their sales people are not goldsmiths. A lot of independent jewellers are old-school, family businesses with huge inventories and the kids who take over the businesses are increasingly not goldsmiths either. I believed that there was a place for a local fine jewellery business that provides the same quality of jewellery as a Birks or a Tiffany's but still does custom work in a timeless, elegant style. Every single person who works with me in the studio has studied goldsmithing at some level, and no one stands behind a counter. Our benches are right in the studio and you can walk right up to someone while they are working and ask them about what they are making.
How would you describe your business?
My business has three parts:
Custom fine jewellery and restyling: This is the custom, personalized end of the business. Clients come to us with a direction and a budget, and we come up with a design and materials that meet all of their design aspirations, and works within the budget. We custom make unique engagement rings, wedding rings, anniversary and birthday gifts, and restyle old jewellery within this part of the business. We work in platinum, gold and silver, with and without diamonds, sapphires and other gemstones.
Studio1098 collections: This is our ready-to-wear jewellery that is available in the studio and online. Because we make everything we sell, all of this jewellery can be personalized and customized as well. For example, any of our pieces can be made in any metal and gemstone colours can be changed. Some pieces in our production collection are made to be personalized, like our stamped name necklaces. Others, like the notch band, are personalized - all notches are included, so I get to see those clients every year.
Repairs: we fix fine jewellery for our clients. One of the interesting services that we offer is to help clients who have inherited jewellery go through what they have to help determine what is real and what isn't, what they want to keep, what they want to sell or restyle. I have contacts with estate jewellers and auction houses that are useful.
What are you known for?
My business is dedicated to helping clients make thoughtful informed choices about their jewellery. I am happy to spend as much time as it takes to answer as many questions as my clients need to help them make decisions, and will often go back to my suppliers to get more information from them to help me do that. There is also no limit to design time - I'm happy to spend as much time as it takes to get the design right and check in with clients through the production process, because I never want a client to come to pick up a finished piece of jewellery and think "That's not what I expected". My husband jokes that working with me is "an experience that comes with a piece of jewellery", but that's because the customer experience, specifically a great customer experience, is paramount in my business.
You recently visited Bolivia to help jewellers with designs and exporting to other markets. What did you learn from that experience?
I learned a lot, much of it about how lucky we are in North America. Goldsmiths in Bolivia have to alloy their own metal without the help from the refineries and expert casting houses we have access to here in North America, and even in Toronto. They don't have easy access to tools, and even if they did, there isn't anyone to tell them what to buy or to really teach them how to use them well. The only jewellery school in La Paz was shuttered for quite a while because of internal and political problems. There are virtually no international brands in Bolivia, so no Tiffany or Cartier to build demand for jewellery in general through advertising or to learn merchandising and other tips from. Bolivia is also the poorest country in South America, which doesn't help when you're selling a luxury good. They run up against technical problems, design challenges, and market barriers.
My experience there was terrific. In two weeks, I was able to teach them some new skills, leave them with some new tools that they can make for themselves out of things like charcoal and sandpaper (one of the women I worked with compared me to MacGyver), and help them with design. As these things go, I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of as a teacher and mentor. I brushed up on some basic skills and toolmaking that I didn't really appreciate when I was in school because we could just call and order things, and I find that I approach some goldsmithing projects and technical challenges in a different way than I used to. It helped build my confidence and my appreciation for what we have here in Canada.
What is your number 1 hot marketing tip for other entrepreneurs?
If what you do is visual, pay attention to Pinterest. It's 4 years old now, and it's not going away. 80% of users are women, but one of my guy clients just set up a Pinterest page to pin engagement rings he liked so his girlfriend could comment on them. We just added a "Pin it" button to all of our online photos so people could share them and it's velocitized our online presence.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Never miss a party. You never know who you might meet.
What do you love most about your industry or being an entrepreneur?
About my industry: I love that it's still built on trust, and that suppliers will loan me hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds to show to clients on the basis of a handshake.
About being an entrepreneur: I love my clients and the relationships I've developed and am constantly developing with interesting, dynamic people from all walks of life. Everybody has something to celebrate at some time in their lives, I love that my business is helping them with that!