Deskside

A Jewelry Brand So Transparent They Tell Their Customers Their Margins

They’re making sustainable jewelry with something for everyone. In collaboration with Vrai & Oro.

By: Jodi Taylor
Photography: Tristan Kallas

We can’t even begin to count the amount of times we’ve become totally disheartened while jewelry shopping. It’s either we can’t find exactly what we’re looking for, everything is too costume-y, or, let’s be real, way too out of our price range. Then came along Vrai & Oro, our newest jewelry obsession. Not only do they make insanely beautiful yet simple pieces, they’re also the most transparent and ethical jewelry brand we’ve come across in a long time. Not only does founder Vanessa Stofenmacher wholeheartedly believe in doing things the right way and making a positive impact on the world, but she stands behind the quality of her designs, all of which are made in Vrai & Oro’s hometown of L.A.

When we got together with Stofenmacher (who just made this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list) at her downtown L.A. headquarters, she explained to us how Vrai & Oro literally means truth and gold in French and Spanish, respectively. Every piece the brand creates is made from solid gold (whether that be white, yellow, or rose), and while the brand originally began with only simple, everyday items, theyve since branched out into engagement rings. But they’re not here to do engagement rings the usual way—instead theyre using California-grown diamonds (!) and will even send three mock rings to your home for you and your partner-to-be to play with and try on. Doesnt get much better than that.

 

It all began when she realized that men don’t typically know how to purchase jewelry:

“I’ve always had this urge to live through the life cycle of a company, creating that brand identity. My older sister and I realized that both of our husbands are terrible at buying us gifts, so other women must have this issue, too. Being super inspired by technology, we created a learning algorithm that helped match men using shopping behaviors and personalized questions for gifts for their significant other. During that process we realized that fine jewelry was the number one gift that men gave women.”

But then she quickly realized the true value of jewelry:

“I didn’t know anything about jewelry, so I started learning. We worked with mass jewelers across the U.S.—they’d send us their jewelry, we’d photograph it and create marketing materials. I was touching all of it, receiving it, and I started to see the behind-the-scenes of the jewelry industry. A lot of these mass jewelers are buying overseas from catalogs, pre-made designs, and putting their names on it, marking it up, [and] selling it to us. The quality was really bad and so cheap—it just felt so wrong. No one was doing anything to change the fine jewelry industry. Being in Los Angeles with the jewelry district, it seemed such an amazing opportunity to try and see what could happen.”

 

The company started with only ten designs (all made-to-order) and no marketing dollars:

“My husband invested $8,000, and [Vrai & Oro] launched with ten pieces. I found a manufacturer to do a one-off of each, put it on a website, and it was made-to-order for the first year. Once the order was placed, the manufacturer would make it and send it instantly. It just hit at the right time, right place with Instagram and social media—I didn’t have to put any money into marketing.”

Their mission is to be as transparent as possible (no matter what anyone else says):

“Since day one it’s been part of our ethos and DNA to be totally transparent about things that people maybe think we’re being too transparent [about]. We’ll tell people what our margins are, and obviously that upsets the jewelry industry because they don’t want that information out there. Even some customers are like, ‘That’s too much information. You should keep that to yourself.’”

 

With their jewelry being as simple and timeless as possible:

“Our jewelry isn’t meant to be something you’ve never seen before; it’s meant to be something you can put on and never take off. I want jewelry to be effortless and easy, not so much of a fashion statement. It’s great that there are fashion jewelers out there that do that, but our thing is doing just the essentials, the right way.”

Which is why they went into engagement rings:

“The next area that I saw a lot of opportunity for was engagement rings. The way that the engagement ring process works is so backward, in my opinion. Why does the guy choose when, where, how, the ring to propose with, and the girl has nothing to do with it? Maybe that’s good for some people, but maybe it’s not for others. We created an experience that allows couples to collaborate, giving them the opportunity to try on three of the rings at home for free. They can go to our website, choose three rings, and we’ll send mock versions. We saw that women tend to care about the design of the ring, and men are very specific about the specifications of the diamonds. I wanted to combine those two [things].

“I had the experience down, then had to figure out, how do we, being founded on transparency, offer completely traceable, transparent diamonds?”

 

Of course there was struggle to find ethical diamonds:

“I started talking to our manufacturers [about ethical diamonds]. They routed me to talk with someone else, then they’re passing me on to someone else... I felt like I was chasing my tail.

“You can’t trace a diamond. It’s a unique product; it’s a rough diamond. Once it gets cut and polished in this mass place, there’s no traceability.  Then on Instagram one day, I came across a friend who just got engaged. Shed posted a photo of her ring and said, ‘My diamond was grown in California.’ [She told me about] Diamond Foundry, a new Silicon Valley-based company that’s using solar technology to grow diamonds. We realized we’re both totally on the same mission to change the way traditional industries are operating. They’re not trying to create an alternative diamond—they’re trying to create a whole new way of thinking about diamonds, and that’s what we’re trying to do with jewelry. At first, we were just going to use their diamonds in our engagement rings and tap into their database. Then we started talking more, and they’re like, ‘Why don’t we combine forces?’ In the grand scheme of things, Vrai & Oro can change the jewelry industry if we grow big enough. With Diamond Foundry we can change a whole industry for the better. Last November we were acquired, and it’s been crazy.”

What’s next?

“We have a lot of exciting projects in the works from brick-and-mortar expansion to unexpected collaborations, but ultimately our larger mission is to grow our company the right way—always staying true to our core values.”

 

Want more stories like this?

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An Antique Jewelry Collection That Broke Our Brains
How to Buy a Diamond

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