Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and reentering our “normal” lives, both professionally and personally—during the COVID-19 crisis.
Today we hear from Oliver Smith, founder of Oliver Smith Jeweler, which is based at in Scottsdale, Ariz., but also operates two locations in Aspen, Colo.
JCK: Hi, Oliver! Where are you based right now, and how are you doing?
Oliver Smith: I’m based in Scottsdale, and we are all good!
How has the pandemic changed the way you run your business, design, or think about your collection?
It made me focus on my inventory, which led to me creating my COVID-19 Auctions on Zoom, which continue to be a big hit.
What’s happening with your store? Are you fully open? How’s business?
Yes, we are fully open. Business is excellent—people are eager to buy something and feel a need to support their local merchants.
How do you find your clients right now—eager to spend?
They are not traveling internationally yet, so all that money [that they would have spent on travel] is going to buy things they have put off buying for the last 5 to 10 years.
Color is making a comeback from the ’80s. People don’t want to buy more diamonds, don’t want to be too showy. We sell fine quality and that’s become more recognizable by our clients; that’s why good jewelers last for many generations. Always take the high road—eventually your clientele will appreciate your integrity and refer people, and you’ll continue to grow.
How do you divide your time between your store and your collection? And how has that split changed in the last year and a half?
My staff has gotten stronger through the pandemic. We were able to find some key employees who were not happy at their previous jobs. This has allowed me to focus on some new designs and collections. My focus is now more on inventory. I’m on the floor every day now tweaking pieces that haven’t moved. Example: I’ll take a pair of earrings and make them into a ring and a pendant.
Buying for our Prism collection [of fancy colored sapphire jewelry] takes time. Sourcing fancy colored sapphires overseas from my desk has its challenges. Importing, wire transfers, WhatsApp, and trust in sourcing partners have never been more important.
Tell me about your new Cairn diamond collection (see pieces below)—it’s gorgeous!
Over the past 10 years we’ve been buying estate jewelry that we would tear apart because it’s not selling. The odd-shape diamonds were starting to pile up on my desk. I was at Rincon Point [Calif.] one day watching a guy stack rock cairns [human-made stacks, mounds, or piles of rocks] on the beach. It was really cool. I had followed rock cairns for years on my hiking trips, but this was the first time I thought to bring the design into jewelry. Many of the pieces in the collection are unique because the stones are all unique cuts. People started to buy the pieces up, so I expanded it into a collection.
In what way does Cairn speak to or reflect your 40 years in the business?
I think it speaks to the old business quote “How do you turn lemons into lemonade?” It also speaks to the way I design, which is backward. First I find a beautiful stone and then I design the piece around it.
In what big ways has the business changed since you’ve been in it?
Wow, so much. When I started, watches were dead! Quartz was killing the business. Now watches are the growth segment of our industry. Jewelry distribution has changed so much, too—many designers are taking their collections straight to the consumer.
Opening up retail stores, which seemed like a good idea 20 years ago when every business school was teaching vertical integration, is [also more rare]. Now business schools are preaching that you stay in your lane; if you are a manufacturer, then just be a manufacturer. “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” The wholesale distributor has disappeared as a victim of the market.
What’s been the silver lining of the pandemic for you?
Understanding how important family is. Spending time, putting down the phone, picking up a deck of cards, and having some quality time with a relative or a friend. Do you play cribbage?
I wish! How have you been relaxing these past 18 months?
Stress was the first emotion 18 months ago, but we figured out how to get through the panic. I now spend more time talking to my people, not rushing through the day. I’m listening more and delegating to these young people that impress me every day.
Top: Oliver Smith in his Scottsdale boutique (all photos courtesy of Oliver Smith)
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