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Designer Interview

Ariel Gordon

Ariel Gordon

Highly customisable modern designs honouring traditional craftsmanship

Ariel Gordon knows what women want. That’s a loaded statement, we know, but rather than trying to be a trendsetter, she is giving more of what women want and she does it with the keen eye of an astute cultural observer blessed with an unequivocal design instinct. The fact that Ariel is in over 60 brick and mortar stores in the US alone, attests to the demand for her jewellery and no surprise, we’d like to think that here at Finematter, we’re helping galvanise her on European territory.

Perhaps Ariel’s past as a former Hollywood publicist gave her a front row seat in seeing how celebrities were styled and what jewellery they wore on and off the camera. Or perhaps it's her visceral understanding of the importance of brand building, a subject that when you read on, you will see she could write a thesis on with her eyes closed. No matter, we are so glad Ariel retired from the glitzy world of PR, a world she characterises as “totally morally vapid and hard to reconcile” and entered the jewellery sphere. Ariel has a ton of depth and experience and listening to her is like liquid gold (pardon the pun), she comfortably drops so many truth bombs laced with an LA ‘Eazy Speak’. Colloquialisms abound and words like ‘rad’, ‘dude’, ‘here for it’ and ‘dialed up’ are woven into her sentences as naturally as her solid gold is woven into her heavy chain ‘Medallion’ necklace. But the real thread of gold (pardon the pun again) is her strength in personalisation. All her pieces are customisable and personalisable and she believes watershed moments in one’s own unique history should be immortalised in engraving her jewellery, or a birthstone or initialised pendants. 

Ultimately Ariel Gordon’s jewellery has undisputed decadence and mass appeal, but just like her, the real beauty should have a depth and meaning representing a moment in time, even if it means you just bought yourself a necklace because you liked it. That is something worth personalising and we too are here for it.

We decided to sit down with Ariel and ask her about all manner of things jewellery.

How did you get started?

I launched the collection almost 14 years ago. I went to UCLA majoring in English and Italian. After college I went into PR and Hollywood celebrity event production which I found totally morally vapid and hard to reconcile but I worked with one of the clients who was a jewellery designer on an event, Paige Sargisson. She’s still in NYC and we’re actually very dear friends - but I never made a piece of jewellery in my life. I was in my early 20’s and trying to figure out what my path would be, so I looked at Paige and looked at her life and I thought, ‘that looks like a lovely life. She’s doing something creative, she’s able to start a family, she can reap the financial benefits of her work, she is the master of her own ship.’ So I went back to school and learnt how to make my own jewellery at a place in San Francisco where a lot of west coast jewellery designers went to get their education. 

Because I had a PR background, after I went into jewellery, I emailed every LA jewellery designer I could think of- just cold, because I was used to pitching to people and I said I want to start my own company and that I was eager to learn the business so if they needed an assistant, I would be available. One of the women that got back to me was Maya Brenner, I went on to work for her for 6 years, learning the operations and production. Her business had this meteoric rise whilst I was there so I was able to see what that looked like from a logistical standpoint. I then launched the collection in 2009 just after Lehman Brothers collapsed and the market was terrible. No one was shopping online. I mean for anything. Let alone fine jewellery. I couldn't afford to do trade shoes, I couldn't afford to get a marquee to carry me, I couldn’t afford a sales rep. But again, I knew how to pitch things. So I pitched magazines, publicists and stylists to dress their clients and then I scrapped together a Yahoo ecommerce website - Shopify didn’t exist then and flashforward that was in 2009 and here we are.

I can tell you come from a PR background, you’re a great storyteller! So did you have any transferable skills from being a publicist to making jewellery?

Absolutely! Just branding alone, being able to tell a brand story. That totally applies to starting a jewellery company. When I started, the kind of path to launching a jewellery brand was that you would get Barney’s to carry you, then you would get Vogue to write about you and bada bing bada boom, you have a brand! But that is certainly not the way brands are built now. I have been on the cover of Vogue and not sold one single necklace. Barney’s doesn't even exist anymore. The way that people shop, the way that people learn about brands- those are all totally different. You used to be able to rely on these titans of industry to legitimise you and to build brand trust. Now it’s a totally different story. The onus is on the brand. It’s the brand’s responsibility through social media, through email marketing, through their packaging, through their website, through who their retail partners are to build that brand voice and that brand awareness. There’s so much more work than what it was back in the day! 

So what are your thoughts on social media then?

I mean, It’s a necessary evil!

You’re not the first to say this!

For me personally, I don’t want to be on it but I know that I have to because it’s so much a part of business these days and I have met so many amazing people through it, gotten so many accounts through it, I have connected with celebrities who have since worn my jewellery through it, so there are a lot of benefits of using it. It’s just that social media is so relentless and so nonstop.

"If you are going to wear a piece of jewellery everyday, there should be some personal connection to it"

So what are some of the lessons you have learnt on building a brand vis a vis social media?

I will say that I have done various influencer campaigns and the one’s with millions of followers never really convert (sales) the way you want them to because if someone has millions of followers it's because the followers are looky-loos or they’re perves or they’re just young aspirational girls and let's be honest- how many of those people are actually going to go out and spend their real money on fine jewellery? The people that I found convert the best on social media are the people that have 50,000 or 100,000 followers, smaller followers, but much more dedicated communities where they are much more loyal. They think ‘oh look at this person, she looks so good I want to buy her jewellery!’ or ‘wow, look at her out with her kids, so cute! I kind of like that bracelet she is wearing.’ These sorts of influencers are much more realistic and attainable. The ones with a bloated amount of followers have a full team of stylists and make up behind each photo. Micro influencers feel more authentic.

Yes I can see how that definitely adds appeal. 

Yep. Add to that that LA is ubiquitous with jewellery designers. I feel like 5 - 8 years ago it was all happening in NYC now it’s all happening in LA! I am just super grateful that I have been around for a while, otherwise I would be so daunted to start now because everything is so saturated. 

What is your design process like and how often do you drop a collection?

I am designing all the time and I have a sketchbook of ideas. I also have this software online called Airtable where I upload each design and I then get specific, like ‘I want it to be 16mm or I want it to be on a twisted rope chain’. So I start thinking from design, but then I am always also thinking about a price point because I do want my jewellery to be somewhat accessible for people. So I may start off with an idea but then I think “oooh, can I charge that much money for this design? Hmmm. Probably not,’ so then I shift gears a little and redesign. I might then opt for a thinner chain, or go for an 8mm charm rather than a 10mm charm because the gold weight is too high. All in all, the process can take three or four sampling processes until we get it right. And every round of sampling is about one month to two months. But typically I drop two collections a year, a spring and a fall.

Which description would you say fits you best, are you a business owner or a jewellery designer?

I will forever say I am a better business owner than I am a jewellery designer! So much of what I do is running a business. HR, negotiating better shipping rates with UPS, making my line sheets, managing sales appointments, managing the inventory for my ecommerce website where I do 85% of my business but making sure that there is also enough for my wholesale partners. My hands are in every pot. Even though it’s the best part, I wish I could have more time to leisurely design and sketch, but there are so many moving parts to running the business that I need to be involved in and that takes time. 

"As long as you have nice jewellery and a nice handbag, you could be wearing something inexpensive and no one will know!"

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Kind of all around me. My two best selling pieces are my Imperial Disc necklace and my Medallion Signet necklace. Both of those were designed after I had my kids. The Medallion Signet came first, because I had a son and my husband is Italian. I guess I had a vision of a deeply leathery tanned Italian man on a boat in Capri with his gold chains and little charm, and I was like ‘I want that!’. Also I love vintage jewellery, so I am forever hoarding and referencing vintage pieces. I mean if you are going to wear a piece of jewellery everyday, there should be some personal connection to it. An engraving, a birth stone, a line of poetry. Personalisation is a big part of my business. So I saw some vintage calligraphy and I took it to my hand engraver and asked him if he could engrave it onto a charm. He and I played around with that and so that is how the Medallion Signet was born. Flashforward a few years, then I had a daughter and I guess it’s a similar vibe which is a 70’s luxe, gold, feel that is still minimal and chic enough that you can wear it everyday. I don’t change my jewellery everyday, I wear these pieces day in and day out. I always say as long as you have nice jewellery and a nice handbag, you could be wearing something inexpensive and no one will know! You will look dialed!

What kind of woman do you want to see wearing your jewellery?

I want to dress a woman and make her feel like the best version of herself. I mean, we’re all running around like chickens with our heads cut off and I certainly don’t have time to do hair and make up everyday and get capital D Dressed. I am often throwing on a pair of jeans that I wore the day before with a blouse and Birkenstocks then scooting out the door. But if I have my anchor jewellery pieces on I feel more done up and put together. It totally boosts me and gives me a little confidence, as good jewellery does!

How do you feel when you see a celebrity or someone walk down the street wearing your jewellery?

When I see someone walk down the street in my jewels, that makes me feel rad! I am a total creep, I always walk up to the person and am like ‘excuse me, I made your necklace!’ 

And with the celebrity thing, lots of celebrities often wear my jewellery but these guys have massive production and styling teams and they wear it to premiers and press junkets. Most of the time they are not even buying it, so to me It’s not as appealing as a perfect stranger walking down the street wearing something I have made! I still have an OMG moment!

Your thoughts on men wearing jewellery?

You know, I used to be anti-man-wearing jewellery, but then again, give me Harry Styles wearing a pearl necklace all day long and I am totally here for it!  But could the average guy pull that off? Maybe not! But I do appreciate how men are wearing chains more.

Your jewellery in 3 words?

Handmade, chic, happy  

Selected from our Journal