How did it start?
I believe it all started before I was born, actually. My mother has always loved exquisite fine jewellery but it’s always been out of her reach. She even had a book about gemstones at home which I liked a lot as a little girl. As a professional artist she would paint daily looking at her hands and imagining that there were beautiful rings on her fingers. Eventually she bought a few rings, earrings, and necklaces, however, not exactly what she wanted, the gems were quite small and not prime quality. Even if she ever had the money to buy the jewellery of her dreams she just could never justify the purchase. The most beautiful set of jewellery she ever bought was not for herself but for me. At the time I was 19, I was about to graduate from the University and started reading a psychological book called “Secret”. The book was discovering for the first time and explaining the law of attraction, or in other words, how we can make things happen with the power of your thoughts. My mother went on a trip for a couple of weeks and while she was away I was visualising a beautiful ring hoping it would appear in my life one day. I didn’t share it with her because she has always been sceptical about this type of “magic”. When she came back, she surprised me with a pair of earrings and a ring with emeralds and diamonds. I couldn’t believe it, I was excited of course. But I also got a bit scared of this law of attraction for a while, to be honest, and gave it up. I didn’t want to feel almighty or arrogant, or anything like that, especially at such tender age. It felt a bit dangerous to me.
The story goes on. In my mid twenties I’d been through a lot in life and I really mean it, I got depressed and was going through a deep crisis. Not surprisingly, I lost one emerald earring (my mother’s graduation gift) in the sea just to make things worse. I tried to search for it even with the help of freelance divers, but everything was in vain. The one earring that was left was later turned into a beautiful ring which I gave to my mother, but the other one was gone forever and with that left a scar on my soul. Only women given jewellery by their loved ones know the true sentimental value of such gifts. Because I was grieving so much, I refused to wear any earrings for years, even the little pierced holes in my ear lobes started to regrow. However, the very fact that they were regrowing probably made me think that it was time for a change. So, one day, out of the blue I decided that I wanted simple yet stunning and elegant diamond stud earrings.
At the time I lived in L’Example area of Barcelona which was conveniently located near Passeig de Gràcia, the best shopping street filled with all sorts of shops including local and international jewellery brands. I found out that regardless of the brand, the earrings I liked cost at least 5-10K and I was shocked. Even if I could find the money it just didn’t seem reasonable at all to spend that much on a pair of simple earrings which, as I knew from bitter experience, could be lost one day regardless of their sentimental value or actual price. I did not want to compromise on quality though. I did not want gold-plated or silver earrings with non-gem crystals that did not have the look and feel of the real thing. It would not make me feel complete or satisfied to wear that. And what would be the point then? I didn't care about the brand but I cared about the look, the quality, and the price.
What was the solution?
After I’d done, frankly speaking, quite a lot of research (I was doing a PhD in Linguistics at the time, so I knew how to do research), I found out that the most affordable earrings that would not make me compromise on quality or appearance would be solid gold earrings with lab-grown diamonds or moissanites. I learned that lab-grown gemstones are the same thing as mined gemstones with the only difference that they are much more ethical and often with better characteristics. There’s no need for digging the surface of the earth, exploding it with dynamite or intoxicating it with chemicals, there’s no underpaid workers risking their lives involved, and lab-grown gems are often clearer and better in colour and cut. Since gemstones are crystals, they can be easily grown under man-made conditions replicating nature. A crystal of salt can be grown at home by a school pupil, for example. In fact, I was given this very task when I was in secondary school and I still remember how easy and fun it was. It requires more heat and pressure to grow crystals of gemstones than a crystal of salt, of course, therefore it is not quite possible to grow them at home. When chemicals necessary for creation of each crystal are put together under the right conditions for the magic to happen - a resulting diamond is a diamond, an emerald is an emerald, and so on. They can be indistinguishable from mined gems not only by non-gem experts like most wearers of jewellery are, but even by gem-experts (for example, identifying lab-grown diamonds requires using expensive and rare equipment but even that does not give you a 100% guarantee of the origin of the gem). Digging into this world of gemmology and jewellery was a mind blowing experience, I had to learn so much and everything was so exciting, I had proper eureka moments every week at the beginning and I still have them from time to time!
So, I decided to go for moissanite stud earrings in solid gold. After looking at similar diamond studs in local jewellery shops, I thought that classic 2ctw / 6.5mm earrings would be perfect. Since it's really hard to find moissanite jewellery on the high street in Europe, I ordered a pair online from a Chinese brand for about 300 EUR. When they arrived, however, I was disappointed. The earrings looked too big and there was something off about the design. I guess, because of cultural differences, Chinese designers didn't quite catch the aesthetics, elegance and simplicity of De Beers and Tiffany studs. To be honest, at that point I became angry. I spent 300 EUR and ended up with the earrings I did not like after doing all the research. Surely, I was a bit fussy not liking the earrings I ordered, they were certainly alright for the price I paid. But I guess, I knew all too well what I wanted and I didn’t feel like settling for anything less.
What was the next best solution?
The energy of anger and disappointment from an unfortunate purchase fuelled me to act. I do not remember exactly how this idea came to my mind, but somehow I realised that with the help of tools, the Internet at my fingertips and YouTube I’d be able to make a simple pair of earrings just like I wanted by myself. So, I started searching for and contacting suppliers of gemstones, precious metals, and jewellery making tools online, filtering for the ones who looked trustworthy and were offering what I needed at best prices. I also started watching videos on YouTube about jewellery making to identify the tools I needed. I cannot understand to this day how I managed not to buy a single tool that I would not find useful later and spent around 500 EUR on the entire endeavour all together including gold and gems. I kept this idea a secret from everyone at first because I thought it would appear too mad to anyone. I did not know how to explain myself to others, so I avoided mentioning it altogether. When the tools, metals and gems arrived I was thrilled, it took me a couple of days to make my first pair of earrings and I still remember how scared I was to damage precious materials. It’s unbelievable, but I did not even practise with non-precious metals before I started working with gold. My hands were literally trembling, but somehow I knew I could do it and I overcame the fear.
The earrings I made were stunning, exactly what I wanted: very simple, elegant, understated and looked expensive at the same time, like the ones I tried on in luxury jewellery boutiques on Passeig de Gràcia. Then, I realised that because I invested in tools, I can use them to make more earrings and sell them to others who probably just like me dream of beautiful and elegant jewellery with a luxurious feel to it but cannot or do not want to spend a fortune on it. That’s what I did - I created an Instagram account, started building my own website, and opened an Etsy shop. At first, I had very little if any markup. I wanted to test the water, develop my skills and I was happy to sell fine jewellery at the price of the costs of materials. Gradually, I increased the markup to make the business viable, of course. However, a desire to make a dream available to anyone without sacrificing the quality is at the heart of what I do.
What happened after that?
I started making jewellery in my bedroom, however, my passion for fine jewellery was so expansive that it quickly lead me further to Harrods (London) where I worked for fine jewellery brands such as Bulgari, Mikimoto, Piaget, Pomellato, and Fred. I took up jewellery-making classes taught by the most experienced jewellers in the UK, I attended the biggest and most influential jewellery events in London and met with the most inspirational professionals in the industry. These experiences together with lots of independent learning and reading made me a true jewellery expert and helped me in creating the brand. I believe I've created a perfect fine jewellery brand that I've always dreamed about, where beauty, quality, sustainability, ethics, and affordability meet together. And I'm a jewellery designer, a jeweller, a sole brand creator and owner.
Tell me more about your brand.
I believe that through the brand one can communicate not only one’s values but also one’s mindset and an entire worldview. My brand is truly a representation of who I am, what I stand for and how I believe the world should be.
I come from a family of artists and craftsmen. An appreciation of beauty is in my blood. I see beauty as all-rounded though, I cannot look at a beautiful side of something and turn a blind eye to its not so beautiful sides. For that reason, I cannot stand cheap poorly made jewellery and I also cannot stand the lies behind too expensive jewellery, where prices are not well-justified but made up to create a perception of exclusivity. Every aspect of jewellery can be and should be beautiful in my opinion (the process of creating it, the emotional and ethical side of it, etc.). Unfortunately, not everything about fine jewellery is always beautiful in the world we live in and I want to change that. In a way, I’m a rebel. Through my brand I want to get my message across that jewellery can be truly beautiful only when it’s beautiful inside and out. That every little detail behind the creation of a piece matters from the very beginning till the end. Where the gems come from, who were the miners, who made the piece, what is truly the ethics of the brand - everything matters equally, not only your experience in a boutique or a publicly told story/image of the brand.
Transparency, ethics and sustainability are therefore, at the core of my brand. I only work with recycled solid high carat gold or platinum. Their quality is unmatched and they are the most sustainable choices. They last a lifetime, can be recycled for eternity, and quite importantly, contrary to a common misconception, they do not have to cost a fortune. I’m in love with quality lab-grown gems because they are real gems but more affordable and sustainable. However, I also occasionally use ethically sourced mined or recycled gems. I know suppliers of incredible mined gems who I met on ethical gem fairs. Mined gems are creations of nature, they may have lovely inclusions and some gems simply cannot be grown in labs yet.
Equality is another fundamental pillar of my brand. I want beautiful quality jewellery to be affordable to everyone. Fine jewellery, that many were made to believe is out of their reach and could be only a dream, can actually be theirs. Everyone is good and special enough for my jewellery and that’s the beauty of it. The price does not have to define the quality, and in fact, if you look carefully enough around, you’ll discover that it is often not the case anyway. In order to fully embrace this idea though, we have to shift our mindset. We do not have to sacrifice on quality, beauty, or sustainability when we also want affordability but only if we think right. We can want it all and make it possible.
P.S. I made the earrings similar to the one I lost in the sea for my mother and a few rings of her dreams. As a psychologist, I now understand that regardless of me loving her gift, I also felt pity for her and that it was me wearing the most beautiful jewellery in our family, not her. The uncomfortability of this situation made me unconsciously want to lose the earring to find the solution to the problem later.
When I graduated with a Masters degree in Psychology, I made a graduation gift for myself beyond my own or my mother's boldest imagination - a pair of stunning sapphire earrings with a diamond halo. I believe that dreams should always come true without compromises. Now, with the jewellery brand, I made it my job to help others make their dreams come true without compromises too.
Valeria's Secret - fundamentally different, with love xxx