Episode 136: Part 2 – 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: How does the fact that you’re in Ecuador influence your designs? It’s interesting to me. In my questions, I’ve mentioned the Southwest. Everybody talks about the light, or in Iceland, they talk about certain aspects of the country. What does Ecuador have to offer that’s different?
Jameson: Our main product we sell here is engagement rings and wedding rings. We have a showroom here in Quito which we sustain ourselves with, selling and doing this. We also have the vision for luxury jewelry with this Galapagos line. We’ve been inspired by designs that are popular in the US for engagement rings. We’ve tried to work with that style, and it doesn’t always work. I speak with my wife and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” and she says, “Well, it’s a Latin American group. They have different interests.” You have to market it differently. You can’t just go to a website in the U.S. and say, “Hey, I’m going to take some pictures that look similar to these pictures that work for them.” You need to work with the culture a little bit more. There are designs that are more interesting to the people here that I wouldn’t have thought would be good sellers. Some of our best models have been things I would not have thought would have been.
Sharon: Such as? Can you give an example?
Jameson: Our top engagement ring, the sides are braided with really small, one-millimeter diamonds, and then there’s a central diamond on top. Another design we thought to put in there, and it turned out to be the best design, was something I wouldn’t have imaged. It’s not something very specific, but I’m saying the customers here are drawn to that. It’s something that must be cultural.
Sharon: If I went to Argentina and looked at jewelry, is there something that makes your jewelry specifically Ecuadorean in a sense?
Jameson: Specifically this Galapagos line that just came out. We have the Galapagos, but we also have some of the mountains here. We would also love to get into the Amazon. We have a unique country here. We have the Amazon. We have the Andes. We have the coast and the Galapagos. There’s a lot of physical area that’s good for inspiring. We haven’t gotten into the Amazon yet, but we’d love to do work with that as well. For the moment, the inspiration has been the Galapagos, which has been this line we just came out with.
Sharon: In your mind, when you think about the future and the Amazon, are you thinking of crocodiles, alligators?
Jameson: There’s so much opportunity. I love the colors and the gems, so I’m thinking of frogs, jaguars, all kinds of interesting jewelry that I would love to do for the next line.
Sharon: I guess my question is, I’m somebody who knows very little about Latin America. I’ve been to Argentina; that’s about it. If I come to Ecuador and look at your jewelry and then I go to Brazil, am I going to see a difference in the design and say, “Ah, that reflects that mountains of Ecuador”? What am I going to see that’s different?
Jameson: Well, if we talk specifically about the line I’m making, this is unique to Ecuador. One of the largest mountains in Ecuador is Chimborazo. It’s actually the highest mountain if you’re judging it from the center of the earth, due to the bulge of the planet. It’s the farthest from the center of the earth. This is Chimborazo.
We made a pendant that’s based on the 3D model of this mountain, and we have a sun that’s setting behind the mountains. This is a really unique pendant. This is something that’s unique to Ecuador, and also the wildlife we’re making the pieces of as well.
Sharon: Do you find that people who are travelling or tourists are drawn to this mountain pendant because it’s a reminder? Who is drawn to that?
Jameson: Yes, since we started, we’ve always wanted our jewelry to be meaningful. We understand that this is part of the magic jewelry has. People have an engagement ring and they remember the moment; they remember the feeling. There’s so much connected to it or a pendant. If it was a gift, they remember when they got it, where it came from, and they carry that with themselves. We want this to be the same for people who are visiting Ecuador. Thanks to this event we’re doing with polo, we’re preparing ourselves for the people who come here to take something back home from this event, the polo players, something to give to their wives. We’re also going to be offering it in the cruise, so they’ll remember that. It’ll be something that’s meaningful. They’ll remember the whole event, their trip to Ecuador, the polo, that it was a gift. We want to incorporate all of this and have it represent this meaning to the people.
Sharon: If you put the polo aside, do you think your customers see meaning in the jewelry you’re doing that says, “Oh, this is uniquely Ecuadorean,” or “I wouldn’t find this in Colombia”? Is there something that’s a little different? I’m just trying to understand if there is some differentiation. You’re talking to somebody who’s so naïve about the geography and that culture.
Jameson: Sure, the wildlife is unique, the wildlife in the Galapagos. We also made a sea iguana. In the Galapagos, they have the only sea iguana that exists.
Sharon: Oh, a sea iguana, really?
Jameson: It goes into the water and eats algae, and then it comes back out and dries out on the land. It’s the only iguana in the world that actually goes out to sea. So, we took an image of this. We made a really elaborate iguana, and he’s holding a big tanzanite. We wanted to create a link with Africa, where these gems are coming from, and the Galapagos. He has studded emeralds going down his back, so it’s a really beautiful piece and it’s unique. This is absolutely Ecuadorean. You wouldn’t think of Colombia or anywhere else, because this is the only place in the world where you can find this animal.
Sharon: That’s interesting, a sea iguana. Has this been a popular item? I realize it’s a high-end item from what you’re describing. Do people say, “Oh, this is something I should have in my shop because I have people who will want something like this”?
Jameson: The sea iguana is actually the piece that has gotten the most attention. I reached out to some other polo groups thinking, “I’m in this world. I’m going to take advantage of it to see what I can what I do with it.” There’s another owner of a polo group and she said, “Wow! I want to make a trophy also. I’m not even thinking of doing it in Ecuador. I want to make a trophy out of a sea iguana.” She wanted to do it, and she actually used the image of the jewelry I sent her as her WhatsApp image for a couple of days, just showing her friends and letting everyone know about this image she loves. I believe she’s probably going to be the first customer for this piece, hopefully.
Sharon: I hope that comes to pass. This is really talking about niche marketing here, the niche of the polo group. In five or 10 years, we’re going to talk and you’re going to be the polo jeweler, in a sense.
Jameson: That would be great. That would be a great spot to be for lovely jewelry.
Sharon: Oh, sure.
Jameson: You need a client who can afford a piece like this. Polo is definitely known to have high-net-worth attendees to a game like this.
Sharon: Where else are they playing this in Latin America, this sport?
Jameson: Where else are they playing polo?
Jameson: Like I mentioned before, I know it’s really big in Argentina. They do horse breeding. They do their own tournaments and everything, so it’s definitely very important in Argentina. I couldn’t say how important it is in other places in South America.
Sharon: Would there be resistance with an Argentine team saying, “You’re from Ecuador. Why do we want something made by people in Ecuador or designed by people in Ecuador?” Would there be barriers in terms of the culture or somebody saying, “We’ll do our own”?
Jameson: For the jewelry do you mean?
Jameson: It would have to be meaningful to them. If I say, “Hey, check out this sea iguana. Would you like to buy this?” and if it’s not meaningful to them, if they’re not doing an event in Ecuador, if they’ve never visited Ecuador and they don’t think about coming to Ecuador, it’s certainly not going to be interesting to them. They’ll say, “Hey, it’s interesting, but what am I going to do with it?” That’s definitely a barrier. So, you need people that see meaning in this as well. I need to find them. Like I mentioned, the people that are running this event, they have a cruise line that goes from the coast of Ecuador out to the Galapagos, so, I can also do marketing on the cruise line. This is an opportunity because this means I’m reaching people that see deep meaning in Ecuador. They’re here visiting with their family. They’re here with their wives, their husbands, and this is a meaningful moment for them, so yes, they are interested in this. That’s a great way to reach them. Just like you mentioned, if I show it to everybody, they could say, “Hey, it’s interesting, but I’m not planning on visiting Ecuador. I’ve never been in that corner, so it wouldn’t be that interesting for me.”
Sharon: It’s interesting to me, because talking to different makers, jewelers, I don’t hear a lot about finding your niche. It’s so important that you’re being very targeted. Your money goes a lot further, and it’s so much easier to find your market.
Sharon: In your background, you mentioned e-commerce and blockchain. How does that play into what you’re doing in terms of selling your jewelry?
Jameson: Blockchain is something that’s very interesting. This is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. About six years ago, Bitcoin came out—I don’t how long ago—but it’s something that’s always been interesting to me. I’ve followed it; I’ve investigated it; I’ve spent a lot of time looking into it. I’ve never actually had something to do with it. It’s just been something I love investigating about the economy and I find interesting. Blockchain, based on cryptocurrencies, is something I found interesting, so I thought, “How am I going to link this to jewelry?” Have you ever heard of an NFT?
Sharon: I’ve heard of it, but is it possible to briefly and succinctly—because I know it’s such a complicated area—explain the blockchain and NFTs, which is very important in jewelry?
Jameson: Sure, an NFT is a non-fungible token. It’s a very specific name, but basically it’s a digital item that is unique, and you know it’s unique because it’s backed by the blockchain. A blockchain is something that is non-centralized that can safely record information. You know the information is correct because it’s not produced by anybody; it’s actually produced by everybody in some way. We could say it like this. So, an NFT is a digital file that’s unique, and you know it’s unique because it is linked to the blockchain.
To give an example, there’s a business that’s selling diamonds as NFTs. For the jewelry industry, it’s easier to understand how this could be useful. There’s a business called Icecap Diamonds and they sell NFTs. I can go online and if I have a cryptocurrency—I need Ethereum, specifically—I can buy one of these diamonds. So, I buy it and what do they send? They send a digital copy of this diamond. What can I do with this? I could sell this to another person. Now, I need to know there’s actually a physical diamond related to this, so this is important: I need to trust this business, that not just anybody is selling me an image of a diamond. It needs to be a trustworthy business, but I can buy this diamond, and this is an investment.
I have a digital image; I have it my cryptocurrency wallet. I can sell this to somebody else if they’re interested, or I can burn this image. This one of the terms. If I burn this, in a sense I’m going to be canceling it, and then they send me the diamond physically. If I actually want the diamond physically, they can give it to me. I can have it in my stock; I could use it as an investment. These are specifically investment-created diamonds. If I had it physically, any time I want to have my NFT again, I want to sell it or I want to have my digital backing of this diamond, I send it back to them. They check it out and make sure this is the same diamond, that there’s no damage or anything, and they reactivate my NFT so I have it again. They have it in their safe. It’s in their bank, in their vault, and then I have this digital image or file showing that I have this. It’s just an interesting way of investing. They’re using this towards people that are investing. That want to diversify their portfolios. They can easily buy a diamond and sell it to other people or have the diamond and buy it back.
I wanted to do something similar myself, so I was thinking, “How can I do this? How can I do an NFT with jewelry?” Reaching out to another polo group, I got in contact with another owner of a major league polo group in the United States. I saw in the news that she was doing an NFT deal with polo players and making NFTs of polo players. This is basically like trading cards, you could say. They have value because you know that there’s only one or 10 of them, and you know exactly how many and you know who produced it. If we’re talking about baseball cards, you know it’s an official baseball card and you know there are only 10 in circulation, and that gives it value. An NFT has something similar. If I make cards of the best polo players and I only make one or ten of them, then it has a value of whatever value people give it knowing it’s unique.
I saw that she was a doing a big deal and she just got a big contract with this for players, so I reached out and said, “Hey, I’m making this jewelry. Would you be interested in doing some trophies or NFTs?” She was thrilled, and we actually just got a contract. I’m going to be doing an NFT jewelry line with her. This is exciting. This is digital jewelry, but it’s also exchangeable—there’s a better word for it—meaning that if they burn the image, I send them the piece of jewelry. If they send it back to me or we destroy this NFT, then I send them the physical piece of jewelry or they can have the image, which represents a piece of jewelry they can have any time or sell. Someone else could buy it. They can trade this with other people. The jewelry is based on a mascot for this polo league, which is a unicorn. It’s a unicorn that we made, and it has a gem in its belly. This is the image. People can buy this, and if they want this necklace, they let us know. They exchange the NFT for the necklace, or they can hold onto it or trade it to other people if they want.
Sharon: So, if I’m a member of the league, she sends out a catalogue with T-shirts and keychains and a picture of your unicorn with the gem, and then I say, “Oh, I really like that.” Is it the same price? Would I pay the same amount for this image as I am for the gem?
Jameson: Yes, you pay the full price. If you want the piece of jewelry, then you have to exchange the image for the jewelry, or you can just have the image that’s tradeable so anybody else could buy it from them. From the blockchain we will know who the owner is. You can see who has always been the owner from the creator, so whoever the owner is can say at any moment, “I would like to now have this necklace,” and then you produce it and send it to them.
Sharon: When you say “you,” will you be producing it?
Jameson: I will be producing it, yes.
Sharon: Do you have to have it in stock in case people want them?
Jameson: No, that’s one of the exciting pieces. We could sell potentially hundreds of these and not have to make them until somebody requests it. That’s an interesting aspect.
Sharon: But you have to know how to make it, right?
Jameson: Absolutely, yes. We have tested; we have everything ready. We know we can make it.
Sharon: Wow! Do people pay with Bitcoin? Do they pay for these with Bitcoin, or can I send you a check or an electronic transfer? How do people pay?
Jameson: We’re just doing press for it right now. Last week we launched it. We’re getting people excited about it. We’re creating hype, so it’s not for sale yet. Depending on the platform we put it on—because there are a lot of different platforms, websites that offer NFTs. Some you can only pay in cryptocurrencies; others you can pay with a credit card, and they convert it because it has to be related to the blockchain at some point. We don’t have it defined. It’s probably going to be in cryptocurrency first.
Sharon: When you say the blockchain–I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to understand this—the blockchain, can you explain how that fits into all of this? The blockchain, is that the cryptocurrency? Is that the different kinds of cryptocurrency that makes up a blockchain?
Jameson: Sure, I could clear this up a little bit. Specifically, I have studied Bitcoin. There are so many cryptocurrencies we now have. They all have something unique to them, which is exciting. They’re different. They’re not just a copy of Bitcoin, although some are and they just put a different name on it. Basically, a blockchain is a ledger that is confirmed by no one. Let’s say I have a ledger; I have a back account that says I have $100 and you have $100 in your bank account. I send you $100, and who confirms that I sent you the $100? We need the bank. We need a bank that says, “O.K., Jamie really had $100 and he really sent Sharon $100 and she really accepted $100.” We need somebody in between us to verify that this transaction has taken place. Blockchain is a technology that uses cryptography to be able to confirm that I have $100 or 100 Bitcoin and I sent it. This cryptography confirms that I really have $100 or 100 Bitcoin.
Sharon: What’s this cryptography?
Jameson: This is complicated. I don’t know it in the depth that I should, but cryptography means there’s a whole impressive algorithm that confirms that I actually have this, that I actually sent it. Let’s start from there, because later I’ll explain exactly how it’s interesting as well. This digital surveyor, let’s say, confirms that I have this, that I’m sending it to you, and that I’m not sending it to two people at once, because I could try to send—like I have a hundred Bitcoins, so I’m going to send a hundred to one person and I’m also going to send a hundred to my brother, but it’s the same hundred Bitcoin and I’m trying to cheat the system. This is impossible. This won’t happen because the cryptography says it can only go one place. I could possibly trick the system for a little bit of time, but because it’s a blockchain and every block of it is connected to the next, there are so many computers that are confirming this at once that I wouldn’t be able to trick the system for very long. Let’s go into what these computers are doing. Have you ever heard of someone who mines cryptocurrency or mines Bitcoin?
Sharon: No, you’re talking to somebody who knows very little. I’m working in cash. But people mine this stuff, did you say?
Jameson: I’m almost done. I understand that this is a pretty far-out topic, but it’s actually related to the jewelry, so I can bring it around. When somebody is mining cryptocurrency, you basically turn on your computer and you use your computer to look at a whole bunch of numbers. If you can look at the numbers fast, if you have a really big computer and you’re reviewing these numbers, which is checking the cryptography—you don’t know what you’re checking; you’re just reviewing that the cryptography is correct. What you’re doing is confirming the transactions people make.
There are millions of people right now, at this moment, who are mining cryptocurrencies. They turn on their computers and they link them to a centralized place where you’re confirming all of these transactions. You don’t know whose transaction you’re confirming. You have no idea what you’re doing, but your computer is checking that the cryptography is correct. Why would anybody do this? Because cryptocurrencies reward you if you solve the transaction. You found out the transaction is correct. You don’t know whose it is or where it is, but you solved it. Your computer found the bits, the numbers that link together, so then you earn Bitcoin. The Bitcoin itself produces and sends you Bitcoin, so nobody sent it to you. You don’t know whose transaction you solved, but you solved it; you solved it with cryptography, so there’s no third party. You’re solving everybody’s transaction, so it’s decentralized.
Sharon: I’ve seen several sites where people say, “We accept Bitcoin.” Have people paid you in Bitcoin for things?
Jameson: A few, yes.
Sharon: Has that been something you’re comfortable with, in terms of giving somebody a piece of jewelry and they give you Bitcoin?
Jameson: Like I mentioned, we’ve come a long way from when we started, just making some artisanal silver jewelry. It was a limit that I had. We had a customer who reached out to us. She was a South African customer. She said, “Hey, I’d like to buy some jewelry, but I’d like to pay you in Bitcoins.” This was the first time. I said, “O.K., I’ve got to figure out what it is. If I don’t know what this is, how am I going to accept it? And if I don’t know what it is, I’m limiting myself.” I wanted to look into it; I wanted to know. I found it really interesting and I found out everything I could. I say, “Well, it’s currency.” If somebody sends you Bitcoin, it’s not that hard to go on a platform and turn it into US dollars and deposit it in your bank account. It’s really simple, actually. There’s a lot of resistance because people don’t know what it is, but it’s not that difficult to turn it back into US dollars.
Sharon: That’s very interesting. There was so much resistance among dealers just going online until Covid. For years, I was trying to encourage friends who are dealers or in the business to go online, do your website, and nobody did it until there was nowhere else to sell your stuff with Covid. Anyway, is it Jamie? I know you said Jameson, but you go by Jamie.
Jameson: I used to go by Jamie, yes.
Sharon: Thank you so much for being with us today. This is really interesting. You’re going to become the expert and people are going to be coming to you and saying, “How do I do this with Bitcoin?”
Jameson: I’m glad to talk.
Sharon: Thank you so much. It’s greatly appreciated.
Jameson: Thank you so much, Sharon. Thanks for having me here.
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