This week, we’re kicking off our “Partner Spotlight” series off with one of our favorites, Grace Lavarro — the dynamo behind Jewels by Grace.
Jewels by Grace: sapphire and diamond serpent earrings (photo source: jewelsbygrace.com)
Grace is a unique wonder: a self-made woman who established a successful jewelry business virtually out of nowhere. No family background in jewelry, no prior experience as a dealer, no GIA degree — just a vibrant online following, a great eye for antique jewelry, and an abiding love for the things she buys and sells. Not to mention a truly wicked sense of humor!
I sat down with Grace to find out more about her:
H: So, tell me about yourself!
G: Well, I’m a first generation immigrant, born & raised in the Philippines, and I came here at age 20 with a degree in journalism. My father worked in international trade, so we moved around a lot: Hong Kong for a bit, Singapore, for a little while we lived in Venezuela, then we came here to the States. We landed in Glendale [California], and I’ve lived here ever since.
I knew my husband since we were children — his mother and my mother were best friends, and they’d talk about how nice it would be if Gerald and I got married. It’s not an arranged marriage, but sometimes he’d like to act like it was! We’ve been married 24 years and have 2 girls.
H: You had no background in the business, no family connection — that’s so unusual in this industry. How did Jewels by Grace come to be?
G: The very first antique diamond I ever saw was my mother in law’s. It was a 14-carat old Euro that she’d inherited, and it was literally the size of my thumb! I got all googly eyed just looking at it, and from then I was hooked on jewelry.
I started collecting little pieces, just here and there. I didn’t know anything, had no formal education, had no background. I was working in the entertainment industry in LA. But about ten years ago I decided to pare the collection down, and started selling on forums online.
That’s how I met my former business partner. She bought her first diamond from me, and we developed an amazing friendship. We sold a diamond for a thousand dollars, split it $500 each, and thought we’d just won the lottery. So we thought there was a business there, and launched “Jewels by Erica Grace.” We did that for a number of years; I went my own way with “Jewels by Grace” about two years ago.
When people ask me how I got started, I always like to tell them that I’m a fluke. And I really do feel at times like I’m a fluke. We were starting at the right time, in the right place, and took off in a direction that I never could have imagined. People ask if I come from a family of dealers, am I a second or third generation jeweler — but I’m just a consumer who took her passion to the next level.
H: What do you like best about old cut stones?
G: My aesthetic has always been very different from what I would consider traditional and trendy. I’ve always kind of bucked the trend, wanted to be just a little bit different. I never want to be told what I should like, what I should buy, and certainly what I should sell.
So the old euros, old mines, and antique jewelry just resonated with me because they are so different, because they do buck convention. Five or ten years ago when they weren’t as popular as they are now, it took a gutsy, strong-willed woman to say “I want a lumpy old cushion for my engagement ring.” So what I’ve always espoused to people is “be your own person. You would never want to have a GIA XXX round brilliant diamond just like all your friends do. You want to be that girl whose stone is maybe a little bit crooked, whose setting is perhaps a little bit worn down, but whose ring is so charming, so different, that everybody will be looking at what you have on your finger.” The only time you can TRULY say you have a one of a kind ring, is if you’ve got a vintage diamond or an antique engagement ring.
If someone wants a GIA G color XXX round brilliant, I could make three or four calls, and have forty or fifty of those on my desk. I could line them up and never be able to tell one from the others.
If someone asked for a J color SI2 old euro, I could make six calls and be lucky if I got a handful of them to show. But even if they were all the same measurements, carat weights, angles, no two of those diamonds would look alike. I could tell them apart in my sleep! That’s what I love about old stones.
Jewels by Grace: A 0.56 carat antique Peruzzi cut diamond (photo source: jewelsbygrace.com)
H: Why do your selling & business style work for you?
G: I actually don’t know! [laughing] If I were to guess, I’d say it’s because I’m not so intimidating. I give off a vibe that’s a little more friendly, because I’m also a consumer — there have been many places where if I’ve wanted more information I’ve almost hesitated before hitting the send button, because I didn’t know what kind of response I’d get.
I still have a very small company mentality, where I will do almost anything to make a customer happy. If they call my 800 number, 98% of the time I still pick the phone up. I have people who call and I say “this is Grace” and they’re blown away. Yes, this is Grace! I’m still pretty reachable.
H: What’s your favorite thing about this business?
G: Other than the jewelry, it’s definitely the relationships. But really: the jewelry will always be the #1 answer! I’m still that kid in the candy store — if I walk into a jewelry show I could go on for hours without food or drink, just looking at jewelry. My palms still sweat, my heart still races, I get googly eyed — it never fails. If I did this for another 20 years, the reaction would be the same. The excitement would be the same, if someone’s opening a tray of jewelry for me it’s always the same. It never gets old looking at old!
(Featured image source: Jewels by Grace)