Star of Texas: Jeweler Jo Latham Brings Major Jewelry Style to a Midsize Market

When born-and-bred Texan Joanna Latham relocated to Brooklyn from Amarillo last year, she left a piece of her heart—and a pile of jewelry—behind. So the 40-year-old mother of three opened Jo Latham, a fine jewelry shop-in-shop in October 2012 inside high-end Amarillo gift store Et Cetera. The tiny outpost, which is composed of two 5-foot display cases and a corner showcase, spotlights pieces from upscale designers including Todd Reed and Nak Armstrong—brands that would otherwise be unavailable in a midsize retail ­market like Amarillo. “There’s such a talented pool of designers out there,” says Latham. “And there’s a sophisticated buyer in the area who loves having this unique offering at their ­fingertips. They don’t have to go to a bigger city and they don’t have to order from a catalog.”

How did the idea for Jo Latham materialize?

In 2008, out of a love of gemstones, I went to GIA to get my gemology certificate. I ended up falling in love with everything that entailed. My [business] started very organically. I started doing some private sales in 2010, working with ­jewelers and cultivating clients. I was buying one piece at a time and placing pieces with individual clients. Then I invited my first designer to Texas for a trunk show and built a client list from there. It was coming to a point where I really did want a space, and wanted to be able to invest and expand in the offerings and designers I could bring.

How did the partnership with Et Cetera happen?

I know the owner, and when I knew I was moving but wasn’t exactly sure what direction I was going to take, we had a conversation. She said, “I’d really love to have a fine ­jewelry department in the store.” I said, “I would really love to have a fine jewelry department, but I really don’t want the overhead of a store.” She had some cases and space in the store. My end was to seek out designers, find the inventory, stock the cases, and manage all designer relationships, trunk shows, and special events. [Et Cetera] handles the point of sale and we have a percentage split on sales. It’s been very easy to facilitate.

What types of designers and brands have been a good fit so far?

I really wanted to find designers that people weren’t familiar with. That part has been really fun. We have Todd Reed, ­Atelier Minyon, Nak Armstrong, Ron Hami, Etho Jewels, Meredith Marks. And I have a few KC Designs and ­Diamonds by the Yard pieces in the case—more traditional things. I’ve made a decision that I don’t want to buy anything I don’t like, and I only want to work with people I have a personal connection with. I don’t ever want to buy things I just want to sell. I want to buy things that are personal and that people fall in love with.

How has business been since launching?

In a very small footprint, [Jo Latham] adds a significant profit center to Et Cetera. We had a really good holiday season and the store was just thrilled. It’s really just money in their pocket. It’s been very profitable.

What are the benefits of being a retailer-at-large?

I go back once or twice a month [to Amarillo] and get to keep servicing those clients. I think people are becoming a lot more at ease with buying fine jewelry pieces not in a traditional place. High-end lifestyle boutiques are really viable outlets. Some don’t have that expertise or the capital to get a fine jewelry department going. But really, you can outsource that—it’s a win-win for the store, for myself, and for the consumer.

What’s down the road for Jo Latham?

I’m hoping to duplicate the concept in other places. I first wanted to see how it was received, how it ­actually worked. Ideally, more Jo Latham boutique offerings will happen. Then I will have more buying power and can really move things around. There are other midsize towns in Texas that definitely feel good to me.

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