Episode 136: Part 1 – Finding Jewelry Inspiration in Ecuador’s Mountains and Sea Turtles with Jameson Murphy, Co-Founder & General Manager of Flor de la Vida
What you’ll learn in this episode:
- How Flor de la Vida draws inspiration from Ecuador’s unique landscape and wildlife
- How the company developed a partnership with local and international polo teams, and their process for designing a trophy for the World Polo Championship
- Why it was important for Jameson to work with recycled gold and ethically sourced gems
- Why a jewelry design that sells well in one market won’t always be popular in another
- What NFTs are, and how people are using blockchain technology to invest in jewelry
About Jameson Murphy
Jameson Murphy is co-founder and general manager of Flor de la Vida, a jewelry brand founded in 2014 and based in Quito, Ecuador. The company uses 3D technology and innovative techniques to create sustainable, handcrafted high jewelry and engagement and wedding rings. Flor de la Vida aims to reshape the business model of selling high jewelry and push the limits of e-commerce in Ecuador and worldwide.
Founded in 2014 with simple silver jewelry sold door-to-door, Flor de la Vida has grown into a global high jewelry brand that combines the inspiration of Ecuador’s natural landscape with cutting-edge design and e-commerce technology. Co-owner Jameson Murphy joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the company sources its materials ethically; why Flor de la Vida partnered with the Polo World Championship; and how blockchain technology is changing the way people buy and invest in jewelry. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Jameson Murphy, co-owner with his wife of Flor de la Vida, a jewelry establishment located in Quito, Ecuador. Jameson is our first guest from South America. Flor de la Vida has some interesting points of differentiation. He will tell us about these as well as his own jewelry journey today. Jameson, welcome to the program.
Jameson: Thank you, Sharon. Pleased to be here.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Were you a maker? How did you get into it? Did you study it?
Jameson: I didn’t actually study it. When I started in jewelry, I had no experience. This was about eight years ago. I was living in Ecuador with my wife. We had people that were coming to visit us frequently from the United States, family, friends, so we thought about how we could make the best of these trips. People can bring us things, and that would make it easier to ship it. It was difficult to bring things into the country at that time. My wife had experience with making jewelry. She had some friends who were jewelers. She had a little bit of experience, so we thought we could have them bring gems, semiprecious gems, and we could make jewelry out of it. We could design some things, and we knew someone who could make them for us. That was where we started. We had some friends and family bring some stones down, we made some designs, and we basically just offered them to friends, people we knew, and started selling jewelry. That was the beginning. That was about eight years ago.
Sharon: It sounds like the political climate, the financial climate, has changed since then and things can enter the country more easily.
Jameson: Importing has become much easier just in this year. We had a real protectionist government that was good in a lot of ways, but difficult for bringing things in. That’s really opening up now. That brings more opportunity, but also brings more competition, so there are ups and downs to every side.
Sharon: Well, I’m glad that at least bringing stuff in is easier. There’s always competition, right?
Sharon: Tell us about Flor de la Vida. What does the name mean? How did you come up with it? Who are your customers? Tell us about that.
Jameson: When we started, like I mentioned, it was silver jewelry. We hadn’t thought of doing gold jewelry at first, but we wanted it to be meaningful jewelry. We wanted to do jewelry with significance, with sacred geometry. Flor de la Vida is “the flower of life,” which is a geometrical pattern based on sacred geometry. It doesn’t belong to any one culture; it’s a geometry that’s universal. These were the designs we were making. We specialized in reiki jewelry—
Sharon: What’s reiki?
Jameson: Reiki is a Japanese health technique. It’s an energetic healing technique. They use symbols and healing with energy, and we were making the image of the symbol. This was the start of it. We felt that Flor de la Vida, the flower of life, would be a good name for our business.
Sharon: Did it take you a while, a lot of thought, in terms of coming up with the name, or did you sit down and say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. Let’s do this”?
Jameson: We had another partner at that time. It was me, my wife and another partner, and she said, “Please, I want to use this name. Let’s do it.” We didn’t question her about it. We said, “O.K., let’s do it.” We liked it also, so it didn’t take too much thought. I was thinking about ideas, trying to see what it could be, but she asked us if we could do this, and we liked the name as well so we went with it.
Sharon: Yeah, it’s a memorable name. Who do you sell to? Do you sell to other retailers? Do you sell directly to the consumer? Do you sell online?
Jameson: We’ve evolved a lot. This was the beginning, like I mentioned. We started like this, just selling to people we knew. We showed jewelry to friends and family. Our partner at that time, she was someone who would sell jewelry. She would go to conferences. She was like a door-to-door salesman at that point, but it wasn’t door-to-door. She would go to offices; she would go to government buildings. She would sell to anyone she could. So, we also would go that way, and we thought, “These designs are great. We’re selling them, and it’s about the same amount of work to sell a silver piece of jewelry and to make a gold piece of jewelry. Let’s try it.” So, we invested in making some gold jewelry. We sold it and said, “Well, these semiprecious gems are great to use. We love them, but let’s try some emeralds; let’s try some rubies; let’s try some other things,” and we sold them as well. We just kept on going from there, realizing we could keep on growing and the limit was the limit we were putting on it. Just keep on trying to overcome the limits, see what else can I do. How am I limiting myself? What can I open up to? That has brought us to now, where we’re selling to people internationally. We sell luxury jewelry. We’re working with polo. We’re making a polo trophy for a World Cup event.
Sharon: Yeah, you mentioned that. Tells us about it. Is polo big there? You mentioned that you were commissioned—
Jameson: Not especially big. There are clubs in all the major cities. There’s a polo club and they are active. They do polo, but not like in other countries. In Argentina, I know polo is really important for the country, but in Ecuador, it’s a sport that people do. There is a group of people that are into it, but I wouldn’t see it on television. I don’t see people talking about it so much. The United States, they have a connection with a cruise line they have in the Galapagos, so they set up a World Cup event. It’s the US v. Ecuador. They’re going to do this World Cup event, and they asked us to do the trophy. We designed a really unique Galapagos-themed trophy, which is going to be presented in February of 2022.
Sharon: Is this a gold trophy?
Jameson: No, it’s going to be bronze. It’s enormous. It’s larger than a meter. This is a perpetual trophy. That means that every year, they’re going to repeat this event and every year, the winner will be put on the plaque on the bottom of this. It’ll keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger along the decade. This is a perpetual trophy that should keep them going for a long time. I understand there’s been a contract between the US and Ecuador, and this is an ongoing event.
Sharon: When you say a perpetual trophy, does the person take it home? Does somebody on the winning team take it home?
Jameson: No, it stays at the club where the event is. That means it’s perpetual because it keeps being the official trophy for many years, but we are also making smaller trophies the two teams will take home. So, the winning team has a slightly larger trophy and the other team has a smaller trophy.
Sharon: When you say a Galapagos-themed trophy, does it have animals on it, sea turtles? That’s what I think of.
Jameson: This is new to us. We had never made a trophy before, so we did a lot of investigation. What is the meaning of a trophy? Where does this idea come from? It’s a symbol of victory. You’ve taken over another city; you’ve dominated, and this shows the wealth you have acquired. It’s an award symbol, so we looked into that. What is the symbol of it? What are polo trophies like, because there are trophies for all the different sports and they can be unique in different ways. With polo trophies, we saw they all had this Greco-Roman style. It’s classical, it’s elegant, and so we wanted to incorporate that. We didn’t want to make something completely different from that, so we incorporated that but made a huge Galapagos tortoise as the base of it, and then it has a big Roman column coming out of it. It’s a beautiful combination of Ecuador. You can see it’s like a huge island, this Galapagos tortoise, and then coming out are the similar things you know. It’s really extravagant and elegant.
Sharon: It sounds wonderful. Was it controversial? Did you have to do several designs when you presented your ideas?
Jameson: We wondered how it was going to be accepted. We pitched it as an idea. We said, “This is an idea we came up with. We think it looks great but let me know, because obviously the other people have to accept it, the people who are organizing the event.” They loved it. The saw it and said, “Yes, this is incredible. We love it. Do it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” It was extremely unique to them, and seeing their excitement was great for us. We knew we had really hit home with something they hadn’t seen before, and that was exciting. They said they’re going to put it in polo magazines worldwide. They’re excited about it; we’re excited about it, and from the first time we presented it, they accepted it.
Sharon: Wow, that’s fabulous! It doesn’t happen often, so that’s great.
Jameson: That was great.
Sharon: Are you going to be doing a line of jewelry to go along with this?
Jameson: Yes, we’ve designed a line of jewelry to go with this. This is a high-luxury line, and it all has an Ecuador and Galapagos theme. We have some turtle-themed pendants, whale-themed bracelets, and all these features sustainable rare gems. We teamed up with a family that does amazing work, Roger Dery. They go as close to the mine as they can. They source these gems, and they buy strictly from the locals when they can. They return many times to the same places so they get to know these people and find the best gems they can. Roger Dery is the father of the family. He’s the cutter. He’s an award-winning precision cutter. Every cut is specific to the chemical compound so their refraction can be displayed excellently.
In investigating, we found this family and their gems and we said, “We want to do jewelry with them because we want to do sustainable jewelry.” They do this work. They know where they are coming from. It’s a family business. We like what they’re doing. They also have a nonprofit called Gem Legacy, and we thought this was great. We want to do work with them; we want to be part of this. People can be aware of where this comes from and take an interest in other human beings and the environment, which is important for us as well. So, this jewelry line is based on Galapagos themes and rare gems, really beautiful, rare gems.
Sharon: Have you already presented the line, or is it something you’re developing now?
Jameson: We do have this design. It’s completely designed. It’s 3D modeled and rendered. We have everything ready. We have done tests on it. We don’t have it made yet. We don’t have it in stock, but we know it’s ready. We have it and it’s presentable, so we can market it. We can do it through e-commerce; we can get people interested. Everything is ready to go, but we don’t have it physically, which is one of the benefits of the technology we use, which is being able to sell a piece before we actually have it. We work with very little stock, and we offer a lot of products we know we can make thanks to the current technology.
Sharon: When you’re selling this, are you presenting designs? You don’t have your door-to-door person anymore, and people aren’t walking into a store. Are you going to shows? How are you doing that?
Jameson: We’re doing it online at the moment through social media. Also the polo event; we’re connected to their mailing list, so this is specifically interesting to them, people that are playing polo or they’re related to the event, they’re coming to the event and they’re going to do the Galapagos cruise. I have contact with these people, and I’ve also reached out to other polo groups. I said, “Hey, look what we’re doing here. It’s something we’re excited about. Hopefully you like it as well.” And this opens it up. It’s a lot of reaching out, building and doing it digitally. We’re taking advantage of the moment, which is one in which everything needs to be digital. In Ecuador, we’re still living in the pandemic. I understand that in other parts of the world, everything has eased up a lot, but down here, we’re pretty much still at the home office mainly. From here, we’re able to reach the world, which is exciting.
Sharon: Yeah, everybody’s involved. I think a lot of parts of the world are still dealing with Covid. It eases and then it tightens. That’s what’s happening in Los Angeles. Did you buy your polo whites yet? Do you buy your horse and your polo outfits?
Jameson: Not yet. I’m getting ready for that. That’s in February. This will be my first polo event I’m going to. This is new to me. I did go the club and I met the owners. I wanted to know where the trophy’s going to be, so I got to check it out, but there wasn’t an event at the time when I went.
Sharon: I don’t know anything about polo. Is it seasonal? You can’t play in the snow.
Jameson: I’ve done a lot of investigation. There actually is snow polo. I believe it’s in Switzerland or somewhere in the Alps; they actually make a snow polo event. They make the polo ball larger and red so they can see it. I’ve even seen images of elephant polo that I believe are in India. I haven’t seen any videos of it. There are a lot of different variations.
Sharon: Is it a summer sport? Is it a spring and summer sport?
Jameson: I understand that it’s active now. It’s a summer and, I believe, a fall sport. I know the people I’m organizing the event with, they’re busy right now; they’re in full season, so summer and fall it seems like. Like I mentioned, this is my first year going into it, so I couldn’t give the exact details. Here in Ecuador there are not really seasons. We’re right on equator, so there’s basically a dry season and a wet season, but that changes day to day.
Sharon: What was their level of interest in jewelry when you said you also wanted to do a jewelry line that reflects the cup you’re doing? What was their level of interest in having something like that?
Jameson: They weren’t specifically interested in that. That was us taking advantage. They said, “Hey, you could do this. You could do this. We can open up our cruise line,” so they gave us some ideas. They were more interested in the trophy and they just threw us some ideas of things we could do. We took advantage of them and said, “That’s great. We’ll make a line. Please give us your mailing list. Let’s reach out. Let’s do a release of this line.” That was more us taking advantage of the situation as much as we can.
Sharon: I talk with a lot of people who are entrepreneurs, but you sound very entrepreneurial. You talked about sustainable gems. How do you know they’re sustainable?
Jameson: That’s a good question. You have to work on trust, really. I’ve been working with this family for a couple of years, and I’ve seen their work. I know they’re dedicated, and that’s really the best I can do if I’m not at the mine myself. It’s a good question; it’s on trust. If we’re talking about gold, the gold they buy—I use recycled gold here in Ecuador—if it’s coming from an artisanal mine, it’s probably going to be using mercury. That’s something you’d like to avoid, but that’s something that’s always happening in the world. We just try to do our best. We set the intention and we try to do what we can. So, use recycled material, work with people you trust and try to do good. Try to even do better than you were doing; try to open up more.
Sharon: What does sustainability mean to you? What do you look for? You’re doing your best. Sometimes you have gold that’s been mined with mercury, but in your gems, what does sustainability mean? What are you looking for?
Jameson: For sustainability, I would look for the human relation, so where these gems come from. Are you supporting a community or are you buying gems that come from a place where people are exploited? So, sustainability mostly in the human sense. These gems I’m using for this line, we know these are coming from communities where people work together. They’re farmers and miners, so these are people that benefit deeply from the gems they sell. They can continue living in their communities and living a meaningful life with dignity. This is what we strive for.
Sharon: Is this true just for the polo gems or is this true in general?
Jameson: We would love to open this up as much as we can. In Latin America, there’s not much market for this. If we market this and put a higher price, there are not really any clients we’ve come across yet that are going to say, “Hey, I’m willing to pay more because I care about this.” In Latin America where we do most of our sales, there’s not really a market for it. But when we’re reaching out through e-commerce and the internet, we’re trying to reach out to the world, which also help grow this. Reaching more people, making more sales, showing more people that this is a future we can all work towards. This helps the movement itself.
Sharon: So, people are not coming to you and saying specifically, “I want jewelry that has gems from sustainable sources.” They’re not coming and asking for that.
Jameson: No, that’s our interest, so we’re trying to promote this. We’re trying to move this. Really, nobody’s asking for that right now, but we want to promote it. We want to get this idea out there and we want to make it better. We want to do whatever we can to promote this and make everything more sustainable than what we do.
Sharon: And recycled gold, I assume that’s not really at sale. People put up their jewelry and you melt it down and use it for something. Is that what we’re talking about?
Jameson: That’s what we do. It’s mostly pawned jewelry. We work with it. There’s a business that takes all the pawned jewelry and melts it down. They purify it and sell it to us. Here in Ecuador, it’s mostly pawned. I don’t know where other people get recycled jewelry from.
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