Tina Smith: “Build a good team and be prepared to fail and learn from your failures”

Build a good team and be prepared to fail and learn from your failures: At some point, you will need to hire an employee. Make sure she is a good one or you will be bringing on more work for yourself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiina Smith. When Tiina Smith was a young […]

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Build a good team and be prepared to fail and learn from your failures: At some point, you will need to hire an employee. Make sure she is a good one or you will be bringing on more work for yourself.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiina Smith. When Tiina Smith was a young girl her grandmother gave her a small emerald ring she had purchased in Italy. With that meaningful present, Tiina was bitten by the jewelry bug, and lasting love was born. Years later, her life would take her to business school and then to a career in the world of finance and strategic consulting.

Assembling a collection of exceptional jewelry, similar to picking stocks, requires many of the same skills to be successful. Doing both requires investigation, comparison, and detailed analysis. Those efforts, combined with good instincts, produce results. Jewelry and stocks both have stories to tell, ones of history, personality, and value. While working on Wall Street Tiina began to treat her jewelry collecting the way she handled her portfolios — with in-depth research, market insight, and a solid understanding of value. After years of cultivating relationships with top auctioneers, jewelry houses, and private sources, and refining and growing her collection to include the finest examples, she has turned a personal passion into a new profession.

Tiina is drawn to pieces that use color in creative and unpredictable ways — peridot, tsavorite, angel skin coral and yellow sapphire nestled together like a mosaic of cupcakes sprinkled with candy colors. There’s also a dash of whimsy in the form of a Boucheron fish or a jewel-encrusted della Valle octopus. Her collection is defined by expertly-crafted designs that are unique and represent the very best of their makers.

She is pleased to see more women working in the fields of jewelry making and collecting and is happy to be a part of that rising tide. As a woman, she inherently understands the emotional impact a piece of jewelry can have, whether given by a loved one or purchased for oneself. It represents adornment, achievement and empowerment and while it is certainly an asset, it is also the most personal form of self-expression.

Tiina decided to make jewelry my career because she recognized there was a hole in the market that she could fill. Often she would be out and both friends and strangers alike would remark on her jewelry, asking where they could find something similar. She took a step back and realized the hours of research that had gone into selecting every piece she had acquired and knew she could become a discerning resource for others. She looks forward to sharing her collection, both online and in her gallery in Boston, and growing future collectors like herself.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s a long and winding road!!!!

I grew up in Boston and went to Harvard College and Harvard Business School and went to Wall Street to become an investor in marketable securities. As I went, I began to become interested in, educated myself about, and began buying vintage jewelry for myself. People began asking me where I had found certain interesting pieces and ‘could I find them unique vintage jewels, too?”. It was then that I decided to start my own business doing what I loved to do for myself, for others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

One of the signature services we offer is complimentary jewelry evaluations. One of the most unexpected discoveries came from an elderly gentleman, recently widowed, who brought in a small selection of jewelry from his wife’s aunt. He said it was a jumble of costume and real pieces and was most interested to find out how much her sapphire engagement ring was worth. While the ring was lovely, I was taken aback by a specific diamond bracelet. He remembered his wife’s aunt wearing it constantly, along with her favorite Swatch watch, even when she weeded her Beacon Hill garden. This gentleman naturally assumed it was costume because of her nonchalance and also because the diamonds didn’t have that modern sparkle. I was thrilled to inform him that indeed the diamonds were real — old mine cut stones from the early 1930s — and the bracelet was an exceedingly valuable Art Deco treasure.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When preparing to open our Boston gallery, I placed a large order of office and shipping supplies to get us through the first opening months. While I can determine carat weight, I obviously have a blind spot where it comes to volume. I ordered what I thought was 3 rolls of bubble wrap that in reality was 3 cases. I could have wrapped our entire gallery space for safe shipping with what arrived. Lesson learned. Don’t assume.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My background as a collector — a very particular, discerning collector — has helped me create a business where we value research and education as much as we strive to find the rare and unusual. I always say that an informed customer makes the best client. We host an ongoing series of lectures and conversations with experts including Tom Heyman of Oscar Heyman, Emily Stoehrer, Jewelry Curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and jewelry historian Ruth Peltason. This fall we are kicking off our exhibition programming with Jewelry as Fashion as Jewelry, curated by fashion historian and former Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Michelle Finamore. This exhibition is the first in a series of thematic shows we will mount periodically that will take as their starting point an object, a style, or a maker from our collection

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Love what you do, always be curious, and pay attention to the small details. In jewelry, pick an area of the vintage market that you love and focus on that.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My family and I are actively involved in Boston-area charities and non-profits. Through Tiina Smith Jewelry we are continuing our philanthropy and focusing on one specific organization each year. This year we chose the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Covid-19 Relief Fund and last year we worked with ALSOne.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

A quote I come back to time and again is “Every magnificent oak tree starts with a single acorn.” When I think of an acorn actually becoming an oak, I try and savor the process of ‘becoming” because it’s the process that takes the longest and is the hardest, not the actual “being”.

Business has grown inch by inch — developed over time.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

– We are seeing a return to quality. Our clients want to know that what they buy is signed by master jewelry and represents the best that the maker has to offer.

We are also seeing interest in alternate engagement rings, or sentimental jewelry, that is not colorless diamond focused but maybe highlights brown diamonds, interesting gemstone cuts like “kite” or “shield”, and unusual colored stones such as padparascha, Paraiba tourmaline, kunzite, and mandarin garnet.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

1.You have to love it because it’s a long slog: When the heating breaks on a sub-zero Boston day, it’s on me.

2. As an entrepreneur you have to wear many hats and the ultimate responsibility rests with you: Remember that in order to save money, it may be you mopping the floor.

3. Start with a business plan — you have to be prepared to work hard, it’s not all fun and games: Fashion is as tough a business as being on Wall Street as the only woman in my firm in the 1980s. Get ready and don’t feel sorry for yourself.

4. Learning from your peers in the industry and connecting with like minds: Talk to anyone who went before you as you prepare to open your business. Learn from the mistakes of others so you don’t have to make them all over again.

5. Build a good team and be prepared to fail and learn from your failures: At some point, you will need to hire an employee. Make sure she is a good one or you will be bringing on more work for yourself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be kind

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