You’ve likely admired the effortlessly stylish jewelry designs of Ariel Gordon Maffei on celebs, including Jessica Alba, Kate Winslet and Beyoncé (to name just a few!) Her brand, Ariel Gordon Jewelry, focuses on the intersection of traditional craftsmanship with modern design; each piece is handmade in Los Angeles using only the finest raw materials and conflict free stones. We recently had a chance to chat with Ariel about her style inspiration and how she transitioned from a PR job to her dream gig as a jewelry designer.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5-10 YEARS AGO, BEFORE ARIEL GORDON JEWELRY?
AGM: I majored in English and Italian at UCLA. My first job out of college was for a marketing firm founded by Caroline Graham, who was a titan in the magazine world. She was the west coast editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Talk Magazine under Tina Brown. I learned a lot from her about marketing, PR, event production, proper etiquette, and so much more.
During this time, I took some jewelry classes at a local jewelry school to escape the hectic pace of the industry. This led me to the Revere Academy in San Francisco, where I learned metalsmithing and stone setting. Once I moved back to LA, I sent my resume to every jewelry designer (from Caroline I learned to be fearless and to this day I can cold call anyone) in the area and ended up working as the assistant to Maya Brenner for 5 years. She taught me everything I need to know about how to run a small business – from making line sheets to sourcing materials to accounting and everything in between. I launched my own line, Ariel Gordon Jewelry, in 2009 and haven’t looked back.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JEWELRY DESIGNS?
AGM: I don’t see my jewelry as being limited by age. Everyone can wear these pieces. My jewelry is for the modern girl: she’s fresh-faced, playful, modern, sexy, and timeless. And the jewelry can be worn whether you’re going out for the night or spending a day at the beach.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST?
AGM: I am inspired by my girlfriends and the everyday girls that I see on the street, in blogs, or around town who manage to look casual, elegant, and chic without fashion closets or stylists to help them out. They are confident women who have their own sense of style while living on a real budget. Necessity leads them to be creative.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF ARIEL GORDON JEWELRY?
AGM: I was standing at the check out aisle in the grocery store and there were four magazines with AGJ placements next to me (if memory serves me well, I think they were Lucky, InStyle, Vogue, and UsWeekly.) I knew I was doing something right.
IS ARIEL GORDON JEWELRY YOUR DREAM JOB?
AGM: I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else at this point. It is so satisfying to design and make something that is tangible and becomes a part of a someone’s daily life. Because all of my jewelry is real metal and stones, I love the idea that the pieces I make could be handed down as family heirlooms. AGJ consists of highly personal pieces designed to be worn together and collected over time, since I often find myself wearing the same jewels for months. All of the jewelry that I wear is symbolic of a treasured moment in my life. I want AGJ pieces to be an extension of the woman wearing them, tangible symbols of those she holds dear to her heart, or a happy occasion in her life.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
AGM: During my PR days, I worked on an event with a jewelry designer named Page Sargisson. Meeting Page was a revelation for me. I was so inspired by the life she had created for herself. She owned her own company. She was the one who benefited financially from all her hard work. She was doing something creative. She had time to be with her kids. I knew those were all things that I wanted in my own life. I had literally never made a piece of jewelry before I met her. She inspired me to start my own business. Having a background in PR was a huge help for me to get traction right away.
HOW DID YOU FUND ARIEL GORDON JEWELRY?
AGM: As I could afford to grow, I did. I’ve never taken a loan or investor or incurred any debt.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
AGM: I was pretty afraid when I quite my fancy PR job to go back to jewelry school. I was pretty afraid when I found out I was pregnant. For better or for worse, I’m the forward propulsion of my company and it was hard to imagine how it would work now that I had to focus my energy and time elsewhere. And, I was pretty afraid this year when my family relocated to the Bay Area. AGJ studios is still in DTLA (it’s where everything is made) and I’ve had to figure out how to work remotely and keep things flowing.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
AGM: Find someone who has a business model similar to what you aspire to and work for them first. There is a learning curve to things and you might as well get paid while you learn that curve. When I decided I wanted to pursue jewelry as a career, it was a really scary moment in my life. I didn’t know anything about how to start a retail business. All I knew was that I felt a sense of satisfaction making something tangible and seeing people wear it. I wanted the freedom of being my own boss and I wanted to be the one to reap the benefits of all my hard work. I worked for Maya Brenner for over 5 years (I launched Ariel Gordon Jewelry the last 2 of those 5) running almost every aspect of her company. It was the best learning experience I could have asked for. Maya taught me so much and I’m so lucky that we found each other!
You control your destiny. It’s up to you to build the life that you want for yourself. If you’re unhappy, chart a new course. You get to choose what you do, where you do it, how you do it. You know what’s right for you.