Few find their footing in their careers as naturally as Seattle-based jeweler Valerie Madison has. As a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, she spent her free time exploring the wilds of the outdoors, collecting rocks and admiring the wonder of the natural world. Once she was grown, a deep seated passion for the protection and preservation of these outdoor spaces led her to pursue a degree in Environmental Science & Resource Management. Armed with this academic knowledge, she’s infused her values of ethical sourcing and sustainability into the world of jewelry design, building a business that honors the magnificent beauty of metals and gemstones in a way that is respectful of the earth from which they came.
The Fires Of Creativity Light The Way Of A New Path
Valerie graduated from college in 2009, a challenging year for anyone looking to start a new career. She took a job at a marine insurance company, but found that her creative side was beginning to bubble up under the surface. She started designing jewelry as a hobby. “I got really good at it,” she says, “and I started selling my wares because making jewelry is really expensive. In order to be able to buy more supplies and tools, I reinvested the profits back into the business.” After a few years, she had a full-fledged company on her hands and in 2014 she founded Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry, specializing in heirloom quality pieces, engagement rings and wedding bands.
For Valerie, jewelry design all begins with the stones. “The best part of my work is selecting diamonds and gemstones,” she says. “I really enjoy finding gems for their special shapes, their special colors, combinations of those and their rarity. I let the stones do all the talking and they tell me what they want to be.” She describes her style as minimalist, favoring versatility over embellishments. “I think that comes from growing up and never having a lot,” she explains, “especially when it comes to more luxe items. I don’t need to have a lot of pieces in order to feel fancy. I want to have one piece that can transition well to a lot of different environments.”
As a designer, creative blocks do happen, and Valerie has found that simply stepping away from her work bench and taking a walk can be enough to clear the cobwebs. If the block persists, she takes to a different creative task to get the wheels turning. “I’ll draw or do watercolor painting,” she says. “I’ve found that to be really relaxing and a way to work with colors. Color theory is really important in designing jewelry, so if I’m able to work with color theory in another art form, it really helps me just appreciate the color aspect of my work.”
Building A Business
The balancing act of building a lucrative business as a creative can be a challenge, but Valerie’s perseverance has paid off. “When you start a new business, it takes time before people come to recognize you and see your work often,” Valerie says. “It took awhile for us to get some footing.”
Word of mouth and Google search have gone a long way in building Valerie’s clientele, resulting in the 2020 opening of her retail store and showroom in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. “Fortunately, for us, in 2020 we've had a lot of growth despite COVID,” she says. “A lot of couples are realizing that right now is just as good a time as any to get committed and have that ceremony with their partner. A lot of people are eloping, so wedding bands are really popular right now. There hasn't been a ton of downtime this year. I've had a lot of opportunities to be creative, and to grow so much, and to make a lot of jewelry.”
A Change In The Wind
Valerie attributes some of that success to shifting trends in terms of values and design within the jewelry industry. Because the materials she uses are all ethically sourced and sustainable, her clients feel good about making such an important purchase that aligns with their values. “Environmentalism is just part of my DNA,” Valerie says. “I really care about making a positive impact.” Additionally, the younger generations are veering away from traditional design. “They want something that represents them,” Valerie says. “They want something that's truly one of a kind. We really specialize in finding really unique, amazing, high quality gemstones and diamonds, things that you aren’t going to see on anyone else's hands. I think that feels really special when you have something that no one else has.”
Beyond her sustainability practices, Valerie is finding that customers are seeking out opportunities to support minority owned businesses. And Black fine jewelers are few and far between. As a Black/Latina woman in the jewelry industry, Valerie feels that she can be a role model, not just because of her gender or her race, but because of the quality of her product. “It's always been really important for me to make something that someone is proud enough to wear every day for the rest of their life, to symbolize their union and commitment, or a really special milestone in their life. I'm really proud of that.”
Recommendations From Valerie
“A lovely shop with a friendly staff dedicated to a wonderful assortment of thoughtfully curated gifts.”
“Our absolute favorite spot for picking up beautiful and interesting plants.”
“A fun place to grab a drink or yummy dishes in their beautifully decorated outdoor or indoor seating areas.”
“A sliding scale personal styling agency and newly opened showroom for recycled clothing, accessories, and home goods.”
“A female-run boutique specializing in luxury lingerie and sleepwear, all handmade.”
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