Over 13 years ago, Laura Kitsos opened a quaint little boutique and atelier under the name Gem Jewelry Boutique to make and sell her own jewelry designs. Within a year, the store was recognized by publications such as DailyCandy, Crain’s Business, Vogue and more.
Gem focuses on pursuing and collecting from small, independent jewelers with one-of-a-kind styles—introducing different brands to their Chicago customers and some becoming major players in the jewelry industry—and all the jewelry offered at the store is made with ethically sourced stones and/or recycle diamonds and goods.
This week, we caught up with Kitsos herself to discuss her experience and advice in the jewelry industry, the importance of strong business relationships, what she’s most looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2019 and much more:
What is your background in the jewelry industry, and how did you get your start?
I got my start as a jewelry designer in the mid 90’s while living in Portland, OR. I started to sell my beaded necklaces to small boutiques around the country. Eventually I learned some metal smithing skills that enabled me to create more and started selling at art shows and more exclusive shops. I decided to open my store, Gem, in 2004 and have continued to both make and sell jewelry, focusing now on harder to find jewelry designers from all over the world who share the same design aesthetic and ideals that I do.
I feel strongly that in retail and in life, you should always be evolving. Evolve or Die: that’s my motto!
How would you describe your store using only three words?
Inviting, Sophisticated and Creatively Curated
The jewelry offered in your store is all made with ethically sourced stones and/or recycled diamonds and gold. Sustainability and ethics being top priority, can you give us an idea of what else you look for when deciding what to carry in your store?
Honestly, I have to connect with the designer and feel a kinship. If I don’t have that, it’s hard to sell their work. We need to be able to inspire each other and have a mutual respect. I am first a designer and second a store owner so I perceive everything from that point of view. I don’t feel like I’m just “all about business” which is maybe why it works!
Tell us more about your company culture and why customers can feel good about buying the jewelry at your store.
We are a small mom and pop shop with all the part time employees having worked here for several years—an all-female staff so a very “woman owned” feel. Most of our clients are self-purchasing women except for holidays and bridal so we definitely like to get to know our customers!
We also like to give back to the community and to charities that are important to us. We are local minded but like to play on a national level online. Deep down we are a small company but we have been lucky enough to have become known as a destination for finely curated designers from all over the world.
Are there any particular stones, hues, or styles you are partial to and prefer to carry more of in the store?
Our best selling stones are labradorite, moonstone, blue turquoise and diamonds mainly in the opaque colors ranging from white to salt and pepper along with black diamonds.
What do you do to make customers’ visits memorable?
We are really relaxed and casual. Even though we are selling some very high end pieces, we have a laid back selling style that makes our clients feel comfortable and at home. We become friends with many of our customers because of this! We also always have a favorite candle burning so the scent draws a lot of people in too!
Do you do any special events? If so, what kind?
We do! We do several piercing events a year where we offer a free ear piercing with the purchase of any of our studs. We also have done a new moon cleansing event to focus on our crystal collection and we do a few major trunk shows each year.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business?
It’s the people…connecting and sharing and getting to know the people on every end of the jewelry business is what it’s all about!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is just starting out in the industry?
If you find something really unique and think it will be hard to get again, buy deep…you will have a hard time creating a collection from a bunch of small random purchases. Go with your gut!
What is one of your favorite memories from a JCK show?
Standing side-by-side with a highly respected designer while both waiting to purchase findings from a vendor and becoming friends with each other. We both remember the moment as original being possibly competitive but then becoming warm and friendly! There is enough room in the world for competition!
What are you most looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2019?
Besides the warm weather (hopefully!), I am just looking forward to being around my jewelry peers! I always love seeing the familiar faces each time I go to Tucson!
What types of pieces/collections will you be looking for at JCK/Luxury 2019?
I am always looking for fresh and new… I like to find things that I least expect! I am looking mostly for gold and unique diamond styles this time.
Do you have any other fun plans in Tucson while you’re there?
Yes, my husband and I are looking forward to going to the Saguaro National Park.