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From Wellington to worldwide: The Inspired Collection spreads its wings

A 35-year-old jewellery company from Victoria St, Wellington is punching above its weight on an international scale. The company has seen a worldwide demand for its products that are made in the Capital, and has recently started expanding globally into markets such as India, the US and China. We talked with CEO Chris Benham and co-founders Ian and Christine Douglas about going global.

By Elly Strang | November 18, 2016 | News

L-R: Chris Benham, Ian Douglas and Christine Douglas.

Village Goldsmith began as a boutique retailer and jewellery manufacturing company in Wellington in 1981.

It was founded by Ian Douglas, now creative director, and grew its profile within the local market through its high quality, unique pieces.

A few high-profile clients, such as Dan and Honor Carter, didn’t hurt either.

However, a demand from outside New Zealand in recent years led to the creation of a new international arm to the business: The Inspired Collection.

It was created in 2009 and brought CEO Chris Benham, whose background is in corporate advisory and taxes, on board.

Together, Christine and Ian Douglas’ creative flair and Benham’s business smarts allowed the company to scale up globally.

Christine Douglas describes the overall business structure of the Village Goldsmith store and The Inspired Collection studio as a “design hub”.

“It’s designing for either the end customer or for [international] retail stores that have their own end customer,” she says.

This year, the company has taken that vision to the next level by expanding its retail store and design studio to be nearly three times as big as its predecessor.

The refitted store will be re-opened to the public within a month, and is the physical embodiment of how the business has expanded.

 Downstairs is the Village Goldsmith store and local arm to the company, while upstairs, staff are busy at work in The Inspired Collection’s design studio creating pieces for clients all over the world.

International interest

While the bricks and mortar side of the business is still a key aspect to Village Goldsmith, Douglas says international orders have soared.

“We have core dedicated clients who are still coming to see us, but we also have this incredible online business where we’re shipping bridal and engagement pieces to clients right across New Zealand and around the world,” Douglas says.

This surge in attention from clients as far flung as the US is perhaps a sign of how popular online shopping has become.

While engagement and wedding rings require a big investment of time and money, consumers are now happily buying these big-ticket items online instead of in-store.

“They don’t even walk into bricks and mortar anymore - we never meet these people - but they’re happy to engage with us and go on a journey on creating a special piece of jewellery,” Douglas says.

He credits the company’s treatment of customers as the reason why customers are comfortable enough to buy those kind of items online.  

“We treat them the same online as we would walking into our shop in person. It’s about finding out who you are, your likes and wants, listen to those thoughts or words in an email and coming back with a process, step-by-step.”

The Esperanza diamond.

The creative process              

Worldwide, word about the Kiwi business has spread through The Inspired Collection entering international competitions and attending overseas tradeshows.

The slew of awards it’s won has led to some high-profile contracts, including recently designing a pendant for the Esperanza diamond - the most valuable diamond ever discovered in the US.

Other projects vary in location and in what products to be designed. One recent venture was a collection for the largest chain of privately owned jewellery stores in China, while another is making men’s dress rings for a jewellery company in India.

Working with so many different cultures means it’s a constant process of adaptation and refinement, Benham says.

“China was a big learning curve – the way they wear jewellery is different to the Western market – different types of jewellery - India is different with its men’s diamonds rings and even the US has its own preferences,” he says.

“Each one gives us different challenges, but it allows us to constantly evolve.”

Ian Douglas says the company had to break down a lot of barriers and create a name for itself with its products, as New Zealand is not known globally for jewellery design.

This has culminated in The Inspired Collection drawing inspiration from New Zealand’s unique cultural heritage.

Bentham says influences include the outdoors environment, the people they meet each day, and Polynesian influences.

 This unique Kiwi “flavour” is what overseas companies are attracted to, he says.

“New Zealand is an incredible country with a mix of amazing cultures - Polynesian and Maori cultures coupled with immigration – we’re a really young country – but it makes for a cool identity from a design aesthetic,” he says.  

New Zealand being a young country also makes for a design environment where the company isn’t bound by traditional means or ideas about making jewellery, he says.

“We have an adherence to the past in terms of quality and craftsmanship but we’re really active in taking on new technologies - 3D printing and laser engraving are state-of-the-art advancements we’ve latched onto and pulled into our business,” he says.

“It creates opportunity and imagination - you start thinking of things because the technology opens your mind. If you constrained yourself to traditional manufacturing methods, your designs tend to reflect that.”

Looking ahead

With international projects on the go, the re-fitted Wellington store due to open and various film companies and Government agencies wanting to collaborate, it’s never quiet in the Inspired Collection’s offices.

Benham says the goal for the future is to expand on the concept of what is done in that space each and every day.

As its global domination continues, he says the online business will be a key focus for the company.

“It’s about building our online capability and making our digital world much more accessible, as well as making sure that we can scale up to cope with that.”

Keep an eye out for a story on Village Goldsmith’s refitted store in a couple of week’s time.

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