Vendor SpotlightAshley, of Chouette Designs!
Below is our interview – in the most casual sense of the word – where we got together, over video chat, and talked about the ins and outs of Chouette Designs and the jewelry she offers.
Tell us about you & your business.
I’m Ashley, I’m the founder and designer behind Chouette Designs, a demi-fine, size-inclusive jewelry brand.
I do the day-to-day & designing, and my wife, Marine, helps run the books, manage systems, etc. She checks on me to make sure I’m not spending all of our money on gems all day. She keeps us very organized, which is something I need because I’m much more on the creative side & tend to struggle with structure.
Note from Katie: In case, like me, you don’t speak French… Chouette is pronounced kind of like “shwette” and means “owl.”
This photo is from a collab with Ashley’s jewelry & my wood flowers! Photo by: Robert Wood Photography
What made you want to start Chouette Designs?
I had been working in jewelry sales for many, many years. My degree is in fashion design and, after school, I worked several odd, short-term jobs like costuming for like film projects, and styling gigs for different photo shoots or short films.
That was all really fun, but it wasn’t very consistent, so I got a job in the jewelry department of a fancy department. That’s where I fell in love with jewelry!
It became apparent that rings, bracelets, and necklaces don’t always fit everyone. There’s this belief that “jewelry always fits,” it’s even a big hashtag on Instagram. And the truth is it doesn’t! I, myself, wear a size 10 or 11 rings, and I could rarely find any rings to try on, even while I was working at those places.
That’s super frustrating and led me to decide I should do it myself!
I gathered some connections from previous jobs, utilized my design degree, and put Chouette Designs together.
Did you initially want to focus on rings?
Rings is kind of where it all started. Right now, we carry four different classes of jewelry: bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and rings. They’re all available to shop, but rings tend to be what everyone buys for their weddings, for engagement, for commitment, for bridal. And rings are often something that people will buy as a treat to themselves because it’s something that you can see. It’s a piece of jewelry that you get to observe every day.
Rings and bracelets were particularly important to me. Lots of customers come in to get a 10-year anniversary band, or treat themselves to a tennis bracelet after a huge promotion, etc.
It was always, “we’re celebrating these huge milestones with a ring or a bracelet.” In particular, larger size folks, and even straight-size people who have a slightly larger hand, couldn’t find what they were looking for.
And, on the flip side, I had customers who were smaller who were told by a salesperson to look in the Kids section. That’s not fun either – nobody wants to be infantilized.
Tell me about custom engagement rings.
Of course, I love doing custom engagement rings!
Once you inquire about a custom ring, we have a consultation and I provide sketches for you to look at and make any changes. From there, you’ll receive a digital mock-up, and then the final ring! At this time, we have a $750 minimum on custom work, with a non-refundable deposit due after the consultation.
Do you also do wedding bands?
Yep! We’ve done wedding bands. It’s great when we can we create a matching wedding band and engagement ring, but we have done bands for engagement rings that already exist. People might find us after they have proposed/been proposed to, and already have their ring, then come to us for the band.
In addition to custom bridal and engagement – or, as I like to say, “commitment jewelry” – I think it’s really special that we carry size-inclusive, ready-to-ship jewelry on our website.
We hope that those who love our rings and come to us for a custom design will eventually come back for anniversary & special occasion gifts. Doing that will make the gift that much more sentimental because it’s like, here’s this brand that they found, that they loved, and we did something totally custom and unique for them. We took care of them. We hopefully helped facilitate a happy memory, and that they will come back to us and see that, “Hey, if I want to get a gift for our anniversary, for Christmas, for a birthday, etc., I don’t have to put in a custom order. I can just order the size & I know they’ll have it available for my person.”
Did I see something about your jewelry being used as gifts for a wedding party on your socials recently?
Yes! If you’re in the throes of wedding planning, we’re set up perfectly for wedding gifts. If you’re looking to get gifts or to invest in some jewelry for all of your wedding party members, we have a piece that will fit everyone.
Our rings range from size 4.5 to size 15, and we always wanted to start with a necklace length that was a little longer than the industry standard, which is generally 16-18 inches. Our necklaces start with a standard length of at least 19 inches, with a jumper at 17 inches.
In our Catarina collection, we introduced an even longer necklace length.
That is awesome! I always hear/see couples asking where they can find dresses in a large range of sizes, but I rarely – or never – hear about that for jewelry.
Yeah! And why not? There’s a small handful of us out here that do inclusive jewelry. And when you’re talking about even jewelry up to like rings up to a size 15, it’s super rare. Particularly once you start getting into the demi-fine, luxury space. That’s almost nonexistent.
I’ve noticed that your jewelry features some pretty unique gemstones.
We do use really unique gemstones! I’m really proud that, in both of our collections, we’ve been able to introduce new and unique gemstones to the market.
In the Catarina Collection, we have amethyst, blue zircon, and peridot, some of which are birthstones so people have generally heard of them, but you don’t see them in stores very often.
In the Balboa Collection, we’ve introduced a lab-grown pink spinel and tanzanite. Tanzanite is natural, and it’s actually rarer than diamonds, but there’s not as high of a demand for tanzanite because consumers don’t really know about the stone the same way that they know about diamonds and sapphires.
Really, we’ve been given a really unique opportunity to introduce these stones, and spinel is another great example. We used a lab-grown gemstone for folks who have humanitarian concerns.
It’s important to us that we know the source of all our stones. I can confidently say that they’re conflict-free. We stand by all Kimberley Process Standards, and we vet our vendors. I’m proud of where all our stuff comes from. Even for custom work, if a client has any questions about where their stones come from, I’m happy to give them origin information.
Our Balboa Collection actually features a custom cut on all the gemstones, which I’m really proud of. It’s a cut that you don’t really see very often. You probably won’t see them in any kind of store; if you were to walk into a jewelry store in the mall, or even a smaller jewelry store, you probably won’t see a hexagonal rose cut anything, let alone a spinel or tanzanite.
All of our jewelry is very unique. It’s very one-of-a-kind. I mean, obviously. We only have a small handful of them.
What about the metals you use? Is there anything special about them?
We use a Sterling silver base metal. We plate that with a 14 karat gold or rose gold, which is electronically bonded, which makes the plating adhere to the silver a lot better and it holds up well over time.
We are planning on transitioning that to vermeil, so it’ll be a thicker plating on our line coming out for the holidays.
Be sure to join the Chouette Designs email list to be notified when the holiday line is announced & released!
Where to find Chouette Designs
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