Q&A With the Founder of The Smith Jewelry & Living

Women In (Small) Business Series

Ironically enough, an industry that caters primarily to the sophisticated taste of women is predominately run by men. Whenever I walk through the Diamond District in NYC, the majority of diamond dealers are men. If you look back at some of the most noted jewelry designers in history, most of them are men. Every facet of the jewelry industry, like many other types of industries, have female jewelry designers are the minority.

To me, though, it seems that for every ten average men in the jewelry business, there is one sensational female. Women that have carved a name for themselves in the jewelry industry have faced no small task in doing so. Fine jewelry designers need knowledge, talent, connections, and capital to have a chance at success. The woman I am showcasing here highlights some industry favorites you need to know. She has offered consumers jewelry that is so awesome that you can’t help but take notice. 

The Smith Jewelry & Living recently announced the launch of its luxury online website dedicated to selling luxury jewelry and lifestyle products. I had the chance to get to know the founder and CEO of this newly thriving website, Christina Catsavis.

Today we are sitting down with Christina Catsavis, owner and founder of The Smith Jewelry & Living, to talk about style, fashion and business.

You can buy Christina’s jewelry directly from Thesmithonline.com. The Web site also lists other sources for Christina’s creations.

Women In (Small) Business Series

How did you get into the fine jewelry industry?

I spent over 8 years in my family business and observed firsthand the daily struggles customers encountered both online and offline, trying to not only find the right items that suited their needs but a fair shopping experience that made them feel good about their purchase knowing they are receiving an authentic item at a fair price. Based on the principle that luxury shopping and selling should be a fully enjoyable experience rather than an intimidating one, I wanted to offer individuals the transparent experience they deserve.

Why buy designer jewelry?

Purchasing designer items is about a statement and style. Many consumers are loyal to their favorite brands and choose to purchase these brands repeatedly. Also, designer items have always had a price premium vs. similarly made unsigned pieces, which has made them difficult to purchase for the mass audience who have a brand affinity. Having the capability of purchasing pre-owned certified designer jewelry allows a much larger audience to afford the brands they’ve always wanted.

What would you say is your personal style, and how does that influence your product selection?

I have always favored really simple and classic pieces that are timeless. When I select jewelry for my store or when I create a custom piece, it is always with the idea that in ten years or twenty years the piece will be just as beautiful and relevant as it is today.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I always feel really inspired when I travel and draw a lot of ideas from that.

In a word, concept. For me, it’s the flash of an idea, beginning with a memory, a place, a name from ancient Rome, a swatch of fabric. The challenge and passion for me is to create something tangible from that concept that can be touched, seen, emotionally ‘felt,’ and ultimately become part of wearable art or a sculptural piece of art in jewelry.

Who are your favorite jewelry designers?

My favorite ones are Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. I love the color combinations and intricate design of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry that truly shines when it’s worn.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in business?

I do feel that being a woman presents its own unique set of expectations to overcome. I had to work really hard to be taken seriously, especially trying to move through the very male-dominated industry of jewelry. I’m a working mom, so in the beginning, I was running around New York with a baby strapped to my chest, begging people to take meetings with me. It was not “professional” by most standards, but I knew I had to make it work, and eventually, it did.

So, you have to be relentless?

I would say you have to be persistent. There’s no room for hurt feelings; when a door is slammed in your face, you have to knock on the next door and the next one…

I’m sure COVID-19 has presented its own unique set of challenges.

When I was opening my business, I knew it needed to be nimble so that I could pivot quickly if needed. I didn’t realize I would need to completely change things six months in, but I didn’t stop for a second. I found ways to generate business by securing 500 units of hand sanitizer when it was impossible to find, and I sold it all within a weekend. I really poured myself into online sales and have continued to grow that side of the business, along with creating bespoke shopping experiences for my clients through private appointments as well as video and text shopping.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

“Don’t try to be everything to everyone.”

What advice do you have for other women who may be thinking about opening their own business?

Be very selective about who you seek advice from. Make sure it is people who really understand your vision and keep that circle small. I knew exactly who I wanted to speak with and for what purpose. I didn’t solicit business advice from the creatives, and I didn’t ask for creative input from the tech guys. It’s important to think about both the big picture and the nuances of your business.

What do you feel is important for small retail businesses to be aware of?

Know your market, know your products, and be honest with yourself. I know I’m not a strong salesperson, but I’m great at spotting quality products and curating a selection. I need my products to sell themselves. In politics, they say, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” It’s the same way in a retail environment. If the customer has to ask too many questions, it spoils the fun of the shopping experience. You want products that stand out and speak to your customer.

It has endlessly been declared that brick and mortar stores are dead. How do you feel about that?

I actually think people crave a fulfilling in-store experience, but so many brick and mortar stores have lost touch with the basics of customer service. Setting yourself apart with services is key. In the beginning, I asked myself why do people shop online vs. in the store. It’s not just for the convenience of “add to cart.”

I have offered free gift wrapping and free local delivery since the day I opened my doors. I try to make shopping in my store as easy as going online but with the added benefit of personal service. Everyone leaves knowing their business is appreciated, and that is the foundation of building a strong relationship with your customers.

What piece of jewelry should every woman have in her collection?

I think every lady should own a strand of pearls. Pearls are a timeless classic and can be dressed up or down. They’re also great layered with other pieces.

Finally, where do you see your business in five years?

I hope it is still growing; I am extremely interested in product development and would love to have my own jewelry line and products that are unique to The Smith.

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