We’re re-running this piece from earlier this year to reiterate how much we love Valerie Madison’s work in creating intentional, environmentally responsible, and beautiful jewelry.
Afro-Latina jewelry maker and business owner Valerie Madison is giving the world gorgeous and unique pieces of wearable art to swoon over. Her Seattle-based business (which shares her name) serves people worldwide. Not only are her designs, settings, and stones breathtaking, all of her work is environmentally responsible as well. “It’s important to me that I take a stand with my business to work with recycled metals, offer traceable stones whenever possible, work with reclaimed/recycled diamonds, and overall help our customers make educated decisions about what’s right for them,” she told BELatina. Madison is living proof that you do not have to compromise on your values to be a successful business owner.
We were ecstatic when — in the middle of moving into a larger studio space — Madison agreed to speak to us about her business, motivations to start a business, and how her culture informs her work.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to chat with us. Your rings are gorgeous and have a reputation of being unique and universal all at once. Where do you find inspiration for the different designs you create?
Thank you! I strive to come up with designs I haven’t seen before and to fill a need and desire that modern couples are looking for. I can’t say my work is necessarily nature-inspired or reminiscent of a period of time because it comes from me and what I would want to wear. I think the universal appeal is because I focus on high quality; there are many trends in the jewelry industry that aren’t conducive for long-lasting heirloom pieces (meaning they are made with “soft” stones and super thin settings). I aim to strike a balance between what is modern yet timeless.
Can you please describe if there was a particular moment that you decided or knew that jewelry making was what you wanted to go into?
I was a college student studying Environmental Science when I started making jewelry as a hobby between my classes and on weekends as a way to relieve stress and do something creative. As I found my groove in jewelry, I became curious and I began to seek information about the jewelry industry, starting to daydream about possibly pursuing it one day. In my research I learned about the gold mining industry in particular and its terrible effects on the earth and its habitats and communities. I realized I could apply environmental responsibility into jewelry making. 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.
Jewelry making is such a unique sector to get into. Does anyone else in your family make jewelry?
No one else in my family or anyone I grew up knowing was in the jewelry industry and I never thought about pursuing it until I was in college. I think this career found me instead of the other way around.
How did your family react to you saying you wanted to start your own jewelry making business?
They were supportive, but I think it’s common for family & friends to consider jewelry making a hobby (I had left a stable job with insurance and benefits to become an entrepreneur). It took a few years for my business to grow for everyone around me to understand this was more than a fleeting hobby but, rather, a full-time career that’s been growing ever since.
Your company is now approaching six years of being in business. When you think about when and where you started to where you are now, moving into a larger studio space, what has changed the most and what has remained the same?
My hustle has always been strong but it’s incredible to reflect on how much I am capable of doing today versus six years ago, even though I still think I was working pretty hard back then. You learn so much on a daily basis and you need to be pretty business savvy in order to keep growing. You have to be open to learning from mistakes and not be too hard on yourself if things don’t go the way you planned. Every decision will lead to your next choices, it is never ending. In addition to increased business knowledge, I have more trust in the people I choose to surround myself with in my business because you really can’t grow a business alone; you need support from people in all facets of your life if you’re going to see success.
Those are great points. What is very striking to me is that in addition to your work being beautiful it’s also environmentally friendly. Why is it important to you that your business be environmentally responsible and what does environmental responsibility mean to you?
I will always believe in putting the environment first over profit or business success. The jewelry industry has a dark history with the over-mining of precious metals and diamonds that has been environmentally and socially devastating, from water pollution and greenhouse gas emission to inhumane labor practices. We aim to make the most responsible choices possible, which means meeting with reputable vendors, researching, and always learning more about the industry and always being transparent and honest with our customers.
Those are a lot of intentional steps. What is your favorite logistical part of being a jeweler?
Definitely sourcing incredible gemstones! I personally select all of the diamonds and gemstones for our inventory and I choose them for their uniqueness and special characteristics. Whether it be a unique color or shape, something speaks to me about each gem and I can always think of a few ways I want to set it to highlight the distinctive qualities I see in it. It’s the best part of the job and sharing my treasures with clients for their one-of-a-kind ring is something I’ll never tire of.
As a Black Latina business owner what are some of the ways you feel your culture influences your work and or vise versa?
I love how vibrant and strong my culture is. My mother is Mexican and my father is African-American. After my parents separated, when I was too young to remember, I was raised by my mother and grandmother so I grew up eating fresh tortillas, watching novelas, and singing to Selena (now the name of one of my favorite setting styles). There’s a playful lightness that my heritage gives to me and it tells me to dance when I hear the beat, create stunning pieces of art, and not take things too seriously. There’s also great pride and strength that comes from my heritage. I am thankful for all the sacrifices my ancestors on both sides of my family had to make to give me the life I have today and I feel their strength and resilience in me as I navigate my own way. It is a part of what drives me to pursue success, represent for my fellow Black Latinos, and honor my ancestors.
We can not wait to visit her larger studio space in Seattle but in the meantime, we will continue to follow along on Instagram at @ValerieMadisonJewelry and schedule our appointment to start discussing fine jewelry on ValerieMadison.com.