Ana Cavalheiro’s Creative Evolution
If masterful, creative custom jewelry is what you are seeking then meet Ana Cavalheiro, a jewelry veteran and modern-day jeweler who translates old world techniques into timeless pieces for her contemporary customers. She transformed her namesake wholesale brand into a one-of-a-kind, personalized, by-appointment jewelry business when she noticed that more and more women were asking for small changes in pieces in her full-scale collection.
Here, I talk to the designer who I first met when she launched her collection in 2008 and whom I recently met again and was awe-struck by her designs and inspired by her evolution and ability to change to meet the demands of the jewelry retail market.
“I started my career in finance which lead me to live in many different countries in Europe throughout that career. I had always had a passion and an eye for jewelry and in my thirties, while living in Paris I decided to change my path. I did a two-year crash course at jewelry school in Paris, where the teachers were master jewelers that worked at the Place Vendome jewelry houses. Shortly after the course was finished, I moved to Los Angeles, and started my own namesake brand.”
-How would you describe your first collection?
“As my French jewelry education dictated, I created a collection comprised of all classifications of jewelry, drawing inspiration from carvings in monuments and buildings that exist in Lisbon, my hometown. My first collection was all 18K gold, with bright big custom cut colored gemstones. These pieces were definitely not for the dainty jewelry lovers. Rings have always been my favorite item to create so I probably had more rings in the collection than any other item.”
-What was your original aesthetic and how has it changed
“I’ve always had a love affair with big colored gemstones and 18K yellow gold. Many of my designs were a modern day take on Romanesque and classical designs. Over the years I began to create pieces that were simpler, streamlined and less busy. Additionally, I strived to include details from what I thought would reflect the lifestyles of women today while pursuing my own aesthetic. My brand was well received by retailers, but I had many requests for one-of-a-kind pieces based on my original designs and/or changes in those designs to be more suited to the customer’s personal styles.”
How and why did transition you company to doing only custom and one-of-a-kind jewelry?
“This change happened almost organically. As I mentioned, women would go into stores that were carrying my pieces and ask for changes or a completely new pieces based on a design or a feeling or a stone in my collection. Then I moved from California to Virginia and opened a retail location by appointment. I started meeting my clients face to face instead of having a wholesale intermediary and got a real high out of creating something personal for a client and seeing the reaction on their faces when it was completed. While doing wholesale, I was missing out on this: the joy that clients shared when they received their piece, the emails at all times of the day with photos of my clients wearing my pieces. I suddenly realized that my old image was not representing what I was doing so I changed the logo, revamped the mission statement and moved solely into custom and-one-of-a-kind work. Letting go of having to create two full collections each year freed up my mind.”
How do you find clients, or do they find you?
“My existing customers bring family and friends and eventual a network of word of mouth develops. Some clients see my work in a publication and reach out to me. Approximately half of my clients are local and the other half lives around the country (and some in Europe).”
Do you see repeat sales from these customers?
“Oh yes! Since a lot of what I do is either repurposing old jewelry or creating a woman’s dream piece, once they see the final result and fall in love with it, suddenly a world of possibilities comes to life. It’s a very addictive process for clients!”
What is the process by which you work?
“We schedule a first appointment either at the studio or via skype/facetime/phone call. I want my potential clients to be relaxed and try my best to take the intimidation out of this process. We talk about the client’s ideas, what is their vision for the piece and budget/time frame. After this first meeting I will send the client design proposals with sketches and prices. I usually send four different ideas based on what they want, and one idea based on what I feel would be the best for the design and them. The client chooses one idea, and sometimes it may happen that we combine design elements from two different proposals. From this point, the production process starts. I will keep the client updated with photos and videos of the development of their piece. If you are local you may come and try the piece before the stones are set (mainly for rings) otherwise the client comes to the studio to pick it up or I ship the piece insured.”
-it must be so fulfilling to work on a one-to-one basis after starting out as a wholesale business and having little contact with the customer? Can you tell us how that feels?
“That is what this business is all about for me! While in the process of discussing the client’s ideas for their jewelry I get to know a lot about them. My trademark is to include personal, hidden details into the pieces that only the wearer will know about. So, we talk a lot about their lives and I learn details that sometimes nobody else knows about. We usually joke and say that I’m like a priest in confession or a lawyer: whatever you tell me is under client privilege. And most of the times we will become friends and I get to know the rest of the family, pets included (we sometimes have play dates with our dogs). It is an honor to be part of such intimate moments in people’s lives: marriage, childbirths and anniversaries. I get to see sweet tender moments and tears of joy, what else could I ask for in a job?”
Created in Partnership with Ana Cavalheiro Fine Jewelry