Life & Culture

Three jewellery entrepreneurs who say: All that glitters builds our businesses

An unbridled passion for jewellery is behind three north London women’s successful careers


As a young girl, Talya Paskin spent holidays at her family’s holiday home in Tel Aviv.

At the end of each trip, she would visit the local jewellery shop with her mum and sister to pick out a piece — accumulating a sentimental collection of inscribed bracelets, turquoise beads, and necklaces with spiritual hamsa-hand or evil-eye charms.

“It was such a nice thing to do at the end of every summer,” reflects Paskin. “I had jewellery that was so different to my friends, that I could wear to a simchah or on yom tov.

"In Israel, there was always a real element of craftsmanship and innovation, especially in the Carmel Market or the artisan stalls by the seafront. It was a real feast for the eyes.”

Years on, that family ritual inspired Paskin to launch her own brand, Aurum + Grey. Today, her designs — featuring personalised fine jewellery, with a core collection of gold necklaces with little letters made from gold or diamonds — have been championed by stars including the Kardashian family, model Kaia Gerber and singer Cheryl.

While she went on to work in retail after South Hampstead High School and then university, Paskin, 39, says she was always passionate about personalised jewellery.

Planning her 2014 wedding in Caesarea she had “a real challish” to find bracelets for her five closest girlfriends made from “rose gold with grey diamonds”.

When she could not find anything similar on the market, Paskin had them made.

A year on, she started designing her own jewellery, finding craftsmen who could realise her love of dainty chains. As friends and family started complimenting (and requesting) what she wore, Paskin put together a line.

She spent hermaternity leave designing her collection, calling diamond suppliers in Israel and sourcing London jewellers willing to break away from traditional techniques.

“When it is something that you love and enjoy, you will find a way to do it,” says Paskin, who quit her job and put her savings into the project. “I worked really hard and got a lot of ‘nos’, but I was persistent.”

Less than a year into setting up her business, she took a punt. Recognising the reach of high-profile figures on social media, she sent £1,000 worth of personalised earrings and necklaces to the influential Kardashian family, getting her then-baby daughter to rub the package for good luck.

Over Shabbat dinner a few weeks later, Paskin received a notification: the Kardashians had posted pictures of themselves wearing her brand.

“I remember it so well, I was just speechless,” recalls the mother-of-two. “I am so incredibly grateful for that moment because it opened so many doors and led to a lot of press about the brand.”

The American consumer market followed and more celebrities started wearing her designs. But eight years since Aurum + Grey launched, Paskin is now pushing for a more personal business, with pop-up stalls in high-end retailers, including Liberty.

“Social media is such a crowded space,” she says. “What got attention last year won’t work this year, so I want to be more client-facing and encourage people to come to the studio so we can connect with them.”

Today, we meet at the company’s concept studio in central London, where buyers can buy the latest lines starting from £45, just a stone’s throw away from where they are made by skilled jewellers. Paskin has even used the laser machine herself, though admittedly “it takes me half a day to make an earring”.

In the studio, shoppers can browse the core collection and choose symbolic charms to dangle beside little letters that spell out their names or the initials of their loved ones. Soon they will be able to add a magen David or chai charm to their piece, as part of her upcoming bat mitzvah collection.

Reflecting on the growth of her ten-strong team, Paskin says that her favourite thing about the business is “designing”, but she must also focus on the business.

Confronted with the rising cost of gold, fluctuating exchange rates and Brexit, she says: “It has absolutely been challenging, but I am so passionate about it. I always tell people who want to set up a business, to just try. Do as much as you can yourself and, if you strongly believe in your product, do not take no for an answer.”

For Alona Shelemy, founder of the ByAlona brand loved by celebrities, persistence is also key.
As the daughter of a fine jeweller, the former JFS student remembers following her dad to the workbench at the back of his Islington shop, watching as bespoke items with precious stones were made for customers.

She would then spend evenings sifting through her mother’s jewellery box for those extra special pieces brought home by her father.

Shelemy went onto work in the fashion industry for leading brands, but always exercised her creative streak by designing jewellery — something she had done since she was a teenager. In 2009, she attended the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York, which gave her the drawing skills to put a collection together.

“I was so naive at the time,” laughs Shelemy, who handed in her notice to pursue her brand.

“I just thought that I would go back and get a job in fashion if it didn’t work.”
She asked her dad for advice and contacted tradespeople in London’s Hatton Garden jewellery district.

“I had a lot of push-back and was told that I could not make the things I wanted,” she says. “Eventually, I managed to make a few pieces and photograph a collection.”

Recognised for her love of the sea (10 per cent of ByAlona proceeds now go towards ocean conservation charities) and an “unearthed treasures” look, Shelemy’s brand celebrates the use of mixed metals, rustic gold coins inscribed with karmic phrases, textured seashell shapes and pearls.

As a nod to her dual Sephardic-Ashkenazi heritage, Shelemy, whose Adeni father and mother of German heritage met in Israel, incorporates “superstitions of the Middle East like the hamsa hand and the evil eye, as well as more structured lines’’.

“I started small by selling pieces to family and friends in the community,” she explains. “I still tell people starting a business to do that. People won’t buy it if they don’t like your work.”

Since its launch, her designs have been worn by models Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn, singer Rita Ora and designer Alexa Chung — and even donned by Beyoncé on the front cover of British Vogue.

“When you see your designs in magazines that you have read your whole teenage years, it’s quite a moment,” she says.

“My designs are for someone who wants to bring a bit of joy to their lives, who does not take themselves too seriously and who want something with a little bit of a difference.”

While her line appeals to a range of shoppers, she says the £40 to £265 price point is increasingly popular among high-end customers, who buy ByAlona from luxury stockists including MatchesFashion and Browns.

“There is a lot of pressure and stress that can come with really expensive jewellery,” she says. “People want to wear something that looks luxurious, but that they don’t have to worry about.”

ByAlona has grown over the past year, even as 37-year-old Shelemy was diagnosed with cancer last April. Still undergoing treatment, the mother-of-one says: “Having the business is a really good distraction.

"I know I can’t do everything, and I am able to ask people for help. I have also learnt to prioritise and do the little things that move the needle.

"I believe that you should grow a business in a way that doesn’t stress you out. The only reason I have stuck at it is because I enjoy it.”

Shelemy, who has designed a necklace made from pearls and rose quartz, with all proceeds going to the Future Dreams breast cancer charity, adds: “We have come a long way. When I started, I thought there were limits to what I could do, but now I am limitless.”

For Talia Dawood, fashion and creativity have always been at the forefront of her career goals. A former pupil at Naima Jewish Preparatory School and Francis Holland girls’ school, she remembers dressing up from an early age and talking to her grandmother about the important “four Cs” of a diamond (cut, colour, clarity and carat).

After reading modern languages at Leeds University, she went on to work for a big beauty brand; but as a young graduate, she struggled to find quality jewellery at a fair price point.

“I was fed up with buying gold-plated jewellery that would change colour and tarnish,” says the 33-year-old.

“I wanted something that was fun, would last and was also affordable.”

Using her free time, Dawood contacted suppliers in Europe who could realise her designs.

Soon, she put together a collection of necklaces with dove silhouettes, rings with smiley faces and bracelets with dangling charms — all designed to be worn individually or layered together.

She started gifting her designs to family and friends — which led to orders. It was then that she knew she was onto something.

She packed some samples into a case and spent weekends selling her collection by word of mouth, at pop-up events, or by visiting retailers who could stock her Talia Naomi brand. Eventually, she quit her job.

“I felt quite trapped at work; it was very corporate and not challenging in design or creativity. I thought: ‘I am going to try and do what I really want,’” says Dawood, who went on to study at New York’s GIA, where she learned to work with precious stones.

Born to an Iraqi Jewish family, Dawood says she is inspired by Middle Eastern symbolism, her love of travel and the sea.

“I love the ‘dripping in gold’ look. I think yellow gold is so seductive and flattering against the skin, in the sea or sitting in the sun.”

Since then, her pieces — which retail from around £100 —have been worn by high-profile figures from fashion influencers to American actress Jessica Alba.

“I have always designed for the modern girl on the go,” she adds. “It’s something sexy, chic and playful that you can live in.”

By her own admission, Dawood is “a bit extra”, wearing as many pieces as possible — often with a minimum of three chains at a time.

“I’ll wear my jewellery lounging around on a Sunday, and then go out for dinner wearing the same thing,” she laughs.

Ten years on since her first collection, the mother-of-two’s brand is evolving. “My tastes have turned towards more custom bigger pieces,” says Dawood, who works on personalised items from heart-shaped pink diamond engagement rings to “Mummy and Me” jewellery engraved with the names of newborns.

For Dawood, juggling motherhood with her online brand is “hard work”, but worth it. “You can never sit down and relax, but it is such a rewarding feeling.

"Having your creative vision come together from being an idea in your head to something around someone’s neck, is just amazing.”

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