A Conversation with a Sustainable Jewelry Designer: Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry
Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry creates unique pieces from recycled metals and ethically sourced diamonds. She stands out in the sustainable jewelry industry by being an exceptionally talented Black Latina in the predominately white fine jewelry industry, but also because of her commitment to sustainability. Valerie shares how she got started, her inspiration, and the importance of creating everything in her city, Seattle.
Can you tell me a little about the journey to starting Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry?
I was a college student studying Environmental Science when I started making jewelry as a hobby between my classes and on weekends. I was hungry for information about the jewelry industry, always daydreaming about possibly pursuing it one day. In my research, I learned about the gold mining industry in particular and it’s terrible effects on the earth and its habitats and communities. I realized I could apply environmental responsibility into jewelry making.
After college, I continued making jewelry as a hobby and then I made the leap to become a full time designer and business owner in 2014. Ever since my first few attempts at making jewelry, I saw that I had a knack for it and I knew that my passion could take me far. I wanted this career because I wanted to be my own boss and be able to do something really well.
Today, I have the pleasure of designing one-of-a-kind diamond rings, working with clients around the country on custom engagement rings, and developing a collection of modern, minimal fine jewelry. Valerie Madison is carried in local boutique stockists in Seattle and I’m looking forward to sharing my jewelry with more people in different cities in 2019.
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The majority of your designs are made of recycled metals and ethically-sourced diamonds. Why was it important for you to source your materials this way?
We all have ways we can help the planet by reducing our footprints and I knew I could make an impact by choosing to work with recycled metals and avoiding refineries that did not share my values. The same goes for the necessity of sourcing conflict-free diamonds.
I enjoy the sourcing process because I get to learn more about the fascinating diamond industry. While we still have far to go, transparency in the diamond sourcing process is being requested more and more by jewelry designers and customers, so I hope the diamond industry is listening.
In the meantime, I love sourcing Canadian and recycled diamonds for my customers as sustainable and conflict-free options. Rose cut diamonds are a wonderful trend in the jewelry industry because these diamonds (formally considered by-products of mining traditional brilliant white diamonds) are unique, interesting, hardy, and beautiful.
What is one thing you wish you knew about running your business when you first started?
I wish I had known how much I would love being in the position I am in. When I first took the leap to designing full time, I was hesitant and worried and nervous and stressed all at once. But most importantly I was excited and had a drive to make my dream a reality. To anyone who feels like they are waiting for the perfect moment to start their business, I would recommend starting now because there is no time like the present.
Are there any other sustainable practices you have behind the scenes that an average client may not know about?
The Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry studio is in a beautifully renovated, century-old, charming building with a loft, high ceilings, exposed beams, and is crawling with creeping green vines. It's a wonderful place to work in as I keep it filled with plants and natural light pours in.
Some of the smaller ways I aim to be sustainable is by recycling & composting, using the natural light from our skylight, and trying to keep a small footprint in terms of the waste we generate.
We recycle our scrap metals, continuing the cycle of recycling gold to reduce future need for mining. Also important, my work is created here in Seattle from start to finish. I don’t outsource any work outside of our city. To contribute to the small industry here in Seattle, it’s important to fuel our own local economy by supporting others here in the city. My pieces are designed, casted, and created right here which means more of our dollars staying local and helping our local economy.
What have been some of the biggest influences on your jewelry designs?
I’m very inspired by clean, minimalist lines and design that has structure, balance, and elegance. My designs are also very gem-centric; when I see a diamond sometimes I just fall in love at first sight and the ideas start flowing. I have not yet been able to pinpoint a single source that I draw inspiration from specifically because so far, it has all come from within.
What is/has been your favorite design? Why?
My favorite pieces to make are my rose cut diamond engagement rings, especially the rings I create for custom orders when I get to work with customers to help bring their ideas to life. I really love making these rings because each of these rustic diamonds have a unique shape and their own unique design challenges. I have different ring styles based on what characters each diamond possesses.
Many considerations have to be made for a rose cut diamond’s unique shape, cut, color, and weight and good design is important in order to highlight the gem’s best features. I am thrilled and honored to be selected by my clients to create a ring to symbolize their union so I work hard to procure the very best diamonds to offer to my clients in really minimalist but beautiful settings so that the diamond can be the center attraction. I want my customers to be happy not only when they open that ring box for the first time but also every time they look down at their hands years and years to come.