Talking Diamonds and Gold With EC One

Happy Friday! With Spring on the horizon (well, it is in my mind), you may have begun to think about Spring-cleaning and how you can make those changes to become more sustainable and conscious about what you are buying this year.

This week I had the opportunity to sit down with Alison Skeates, the co-founder of EC One to discuss all things jewelry and sustainability. EC One were the first company in the world to register and make fair-trade jewelry and continue to lead the way in ethically sourced diamonds and recycled gold. Honestly, they had me at hello… We hope you enjoy this week’s conversation!

Hi there Alison! Could you tell me a bit about your childhood and how you feel that has influenced you today?

As a child I loved making things and being creative.  My dad had an engineering background and was (and still is) always making things. So, I think I inherited a sense that making things with your hands was the norm. My mum was a Maths teacher and loves numbers and solving problems, which I think I inherited from her. When I was little, I remember wanting to be a visual merchandiser (though I didn’t know what it was called back then!). Looking back, I feel very lucky to have a role that combines my appreciation of design, pleasure at problem- solving and my nerdy joy of numbers.

That is the dream; finding a job that combines all your passions! So how did you get started in the jewellery industry? 

My husband Jos, (who was, at the time, my boyfriend) trained as a goldsmith for six years before going onto a Jewellery Design degree at Central Saint Martins, so I spent a lot of time surrounded by young jewellers training in London’s iconic Hatton Garden. I learned the ropes this way before starting EC One. 

That sounds like the perfect training ground. When did you decide to start up EC One and why? 

Jos and I started EC One for our friends who were jewellery designers, so they had a place to showcase their work and customers could come to have something made by hand. At the time, there wasn’t anywhere for up-and-coming designers to sell their work, so EC One acted as a bridge between a shop and a gallery. Our little shop opened on Exmouth Market in 1997 when Britannia was cool and Clerkenwell was a bit run-down. Our shop has expanded over the years, but we’re still on the same street we were 23 years ago and still going strong. 

"We’re a majority women-led team, so I love working with the inspiring women around me each day who bring so many skills to our team."

That is such a lovely story! In what ways do you consider sensitive skin throughout the process of selecting the materials to use?

The materials we use and where we source them from is central to who we are. Our metal is all recycled and nickel-free, which means that the chances of skin reaction is very low. Also, because of our on-site workshop, if customers ever have an issue with a piece, we are on-hand to work out a solution.

I love that commitment to your customers. What other strategies have been key to the success of EC One?

We’ve always been a little bit different to your average jewellery store, having championed fresh talent and unique pieces from the very beginning, so customers know they can always find exciting pieces when they come in. We stock a range of pieces that are accessibly priced and great for gifts, so our customers can come in and shop in a relaxed environment. We build that trust with people and often, find our customers return for the big pieces such as engagement rings and family heirloom remodels, which we make at our in-house workshop. Bespoke and personalised jewellery is a huge part of our business and is growing every year.

I’m glad to hear that. What is your favourite thing about having started EC One?

I love being able to look back and see how many young designers we’ve helped and worked with over the years.  It’s also very special to be part of setting the agenda and direction for a business and making change happen; for example, our ethos on being a responsible business makes me so proud of our team. We’re a majority women-led team, so I love working with the inspiring women around me each day who bring so many skills to our team. Sorry, that’s more than one thing!

There’s no need to apologise! So, how do you come up with new ideas for pieces? 

We are always listening to what our customers are asking for when creating new collections in store, as we want people to fall in love with the piecesthey buy from us. After many requests for coloured engagement rings, we recently created an alternative bridal jewellery range: Alice, which features beautiful hand-hammered details and bright gemstones for our customers who were looking for something a little more unusual when it comes to bridal jewellery. 

They are really gorgeous, I love them! Ok, so what is the best part of your job?

So many things! Collaborating with designers, meeting customers, designing new pieces, sourcing new stones and materials. It’s not a hard life to be surrounded by diamonds and gemstones!

I bet! Why do you think people are more conscious of the materials they wear in their jewellery nowadays?

I think that, at last, we are all thinking more about the impact of the choices we make in all areas of our lives; who we choose to spend our money with, the materials used in making the pieces we surround ourselves with, the environmental and humanitarian impact of the items we buy, which is why we keep looking at every process and dimension of the business. We want to try and keep improving what we make and how we make it.

I definitely think that is one of the best things a business can do; keep evolving and never settle! Could you tell me about how sustainability fits into your brand ethos?

We’re so proud that EC One became a registered B Corporation last year, as it helps cement our commitment to creating only ethical and sustainable jewellery. In fact, we’re the first jewellery store in the UK to become a B Corporation! All our jewellery is made by our three registered goldsmiths in our in-house workshop from only sustainably and ethically sourced materials. We use 100% recycled silver and gold or Fairtrade metals in our designs and know the provenance of the gemstones we use. We’ve also made sure each of our 30 guest designers are working in ethical and sustainable ways too. 

That is brilliant! And, which is your absolute favourite piece that you have ever created?

That is so hard! There have been so many beautiful and meaningful pieces over the years. I think it is a pair of wedding and engagement rings for a couple who were both nurses. I was very ill a few years ago, and this couple had been part of the team who looked after me over a number of months.  A little while after I was discharged, they came to see us to ask if we would design and make their rings.  It was the biggest privilege to be able to do something in return for all they had done for Jos and I. When they collected their rings there were so many tears…It was a joy to be a small part of this really happy time in their lives.

That is brilliant! And, which is your absolute favourite piece that you have ever created?

That is so hard! There have been so many beautiful and meaningful pieces over the years. I think it is a pair of wedding and engagement rings for a couple who were both nurses. I was very ill a few years ago, and this couple had been part of the team who looked after me over a number of months.  A little while after I was discharged, they came to see us to ask if we would design and make their rings.  It was the biggest privilege to be able to do something in return for all they had done for Jos and I. When they collected their rings there were so many tears…It was a joy to be a small part of this really happy time in their lives.

That is so beautiful! In terms of the business, what were your biggest challenges in starting up EC One?

Our first store was a lot less glamorous than the EC One you see today. It was a small showroom in the back of a disused dairy shop, so we had to work hard to give it a jewellery-gallery feel. Luckily, in the beginning, we had no difficulty persuading designers to showcase with us, as we were doing something new and cool that the new wave of British jewellers wanted to be part of. We were lucky enough to sell the work of Stephen Webster, Shaun Leane and Alex Monroe when we first opened; the two latter designers still stock with us today!

"We’re building on our sustainability goals in 2020 to become an even better business. Our aim is to become carbon neutral, so we’re working towards that. "

You really spotted what the industry needed and made it happen at just the right time. What else makes EC One stand out? 

We’re one of very few jewellers in the UK committed to designing and making ethically-made jewellery only. Our focus on provenance means that our customers can be sure that we’re a brand to be trusted. In store, our workshop is on the shop floor, which means visitors can see the jewellery being made. That makes us very unique! 

What’s been your biggest “pinch me” moment? 

In our 23 years, we’ve had so many “pinch me” moments to be proud of, but a few that stand out are: Kate Moss and Robbie Williams shopping in store regularly and making a bespoke piece for Madonna. We’ve won some amazing awards over the years, but I think becoming a B-Corp business and winning Ethical Jeweller of the Year last year, were real standout moments.

Those are all really special! So what inspires you?

Amazing people, customers, designers, stone dealers, environmentalists and our team, all inspires me to do what we do better.

What’s your average day like? 

I arrive at the store around 9am after dropping my two daughters off at school and walking our dog Rudy, who then comes to work with me. I eat breakfast at my desk, catch up on emails and go through the day’s activities with the design team. A lot of my time is spent updating our website with new products and ordering new pieces from our guest designers. During busier months, I can spend a lot of time away from the store at international jewellery fairs and exhibitions looking for new designers to introduce at EC One.

And do you think you have a work/life balance?

I don’t think I have it quite nailed, but I feel very blessed. I do a job I still love after all these years and work in an industry that is very special. I get to work with my life partner and when I get home my girls ensure I leave work behind me!

That sounds incredibly balanced. What words do you live by?

At work it’s “considered” – whether it’s about the design of something or how it has been produced. Has something been thought through and if not, how can it be done better? I also think that post-illness, I have learned a lot about appreciating life so “being grateful” is without a doubt a mantra I live by.

What’s next for EC One in 2020?

We’re building on our sustainability goals in 2020 to become an even better business. Our aim is to become carbon neutral, so we’re working towards that. We are also designing a new engagement ring collection, which I’m very excited about.  All in all, its going to be a great year!

Like what you read? Head to EC One to find out more. Or if you fancy checking out some previous interviews you can find them here.  All images are via EC One.

 

Follow
Follow:
Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Looking for Something?