Like her fine jewelry, Valerie Madison built a career to last a lifetime.
Valerie Madison, ‘09, didn’t initially set out to start a fine jewelry business - instead, she was following her curiosity. Her mom showed her a lot of creative hobbies like painting, beading, and rockhounding as a child, which eventually led to her making her own jewelry. She continued to build her jewelry business while studying Environmental Science and Resource Management at the University of Washington, and she went on to bridge her artistic and analytical skills when she started Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry.
We sat down with Madison, the owner and creative director of her company, to learn more about how she built her fine jewelry business, her process for coming up with new designs, and how she carved a space for herself as an entrepreneur.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you start to plant the seeds for your business, Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry?
I was initially making jewelry with sterling silver and basic gemstones as a hobby, and I sold pieces on Etsy and at farmer’s markets to recoup some of the costs of the materials and tools. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was laying the foundation for a strong business. Friends and family started asking me if I could make pieces with gold instead, and I had to learn the science of metallurgy for gold. I initially struggled with it, and my husband encouraged me to keep trying until I mastered it.
How did you know that you were ready to take your business full-time?
I worked for a company that sold commercial marine insurance full-time while continuing to build my jewelry business nights and weekends, and I knew one had to give. I’ve always been OK with not having a plan B because plan A has always worked, so I trusted my intuition.
I never had a mentor, so a lot of my pride comes from building my business on my own and being really resourceful. As I continued to hire people for my team, I realized this was my life’s new direction. I even got a tattoo for Au, the chemical symbol of gold, which is a reminder that this is for life.
What does being a creative director for your company entail?
As a creative director, my goal is to ensure that everything we make has a consistent look and feel that translates across everything from the packaging for online orders to the in-store experience, all while staying true to the clean and minimalist branding of Valerie Madison since our pieces are designed to last a lifetime.
With new designs, I create beautiful silhouettes by transforming classic designs that still fit our ethos and aesthetic. I also find inspiration from movement, which shows up in jewelry designs as fluidity and texture in details like curvy lines or a triple band of gold.
Why does representation in the jewelry industry matter to you?
When I started my jewelry business nine years ago, it was hard to find others that looked like me, whether it was the person making the jewelry or modeling the jewelry. That’s why it was really important to showcase the jewelry on myself in photos.
We continue to showcase our jewelry on a variety of skin tones and highlight a range of love stories. We also want to offer options for people who want a unique engagement or wedding ring, which is why we offer bridal jewelry made with colorful sapphires, champagne diamonds, and more. For some people, it’s their first and only jewelry purchase, and we want to make sure they feel taken care of and find something that’s right for them.
Do you have any advice for new entrepreneurs?
Being told ‘no’ is not the end. I was told ‘no’ by so many people, and now I get to do things my way. That ownership is worth embracing because it enables you to build something for yourself.
When have you felt the most proud of your business?
I’ve had many moments during the 9+ years I’ve run this business, and most of them revolve around the people we work with. One of the most rewarding moments was when we had a grand opening recently for the new location of our physical store, and it was such a great turnout of supportive friends and customers. Seeing customers open their ring boxes for the first time is also such a joyous moment, and we’re proud to be a part of something so special.
About the author: Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who’s rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She writes about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdie, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals, reading a book by a BIPOC author, or planning her next trip to New York. You can learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.