It was a long and convoluted road that brought me here. Well, yes and no. I was born into a jewelry family. My great-grandfather began working for British jewelry company, Alexander Clark, and acquired their China operations in the late 1800’s and transformed the company from a diamond merchant and metalsmithing business into the finest jewelry store in China. Alexander Clark Company (Shanghai), Ltd. (安康洋行) took up the entire first floor of the infamous Sassoon House, which later became the Peace Hotel on the Bund in Shanghai and we were the sole purveyors of famous international jewelry brands such as Cartier, Lalique, Rolex, Mikimoto, Vacheron Constantin, etc. Shanghai was a chic and prosperous international port at the time and we were responsible for making its inhabitants glisten.
My grandfather, Jack Poh, took over Alexander Clark from his father, and the advertisement for Rolex watches below was from the 1940’s during grandpa’s time at the helm. My father, Johnson Poh, used to visit the store as a child and his job was to wind all the grandfather clocks after school; he still recalls the elation he felt from hearing over forty grandfather clocks chime together simultaneously. It was assumed that my father would succeed my grandfather when the time came but that would never come to pass as the store was closed as a result of the Cultural Revolution.
My parents moved to NYC (oh yes, I am a New Yorker through and through. I almost called this blog “Bagels and Diamonds” but then I thought, “Choking hazard!”) after I was born and my dad took up an apprenticeship at a jewelry manufacturing company in 1982. I remember going up to his bench as a toddler and standing on tiptoes to marvel at all the sparkly gems and the gold dust that accumulated. I was told never to touch anything on his bench and I always obeyed. By 1987, he started his own manufacturing company on 47th street in the Diamond District. Whenever I went to the workshop to visit him I was given the very important job of sweeping up the gold dust from the jewelers benches and scouring the floor for diamonds that may have popped out of the jewelers’ tweezers during the manufacturing process. Even now when you visit my father’s company and go into the workshop at the end of the day you will see the most junior apprentice sweeping up the gold dust from the other master jewelers’ benches–although no one can beat me when it comes to looking for floor diamonds (I once found a 3.88 carat blue sapphire on the pavement on 47th street and I wasn’t even trying).
Needless to say, with such a pedigree I developed a special understanding of and relationship with jewelry early on. At the age of five I used to design futuristic jewelry–I think it was a combination of the fashion of the 80’s and my obsession with The Jetsons–a cartoon set in the future–that influenced my design aesthetic at the time. It was probably around that same age that my father gifted me with my first diamond ring. An adorable little gold flower with a diamond in its center. I swooned over it and wore it to dinner in. There was much frolicking and gleeful hand swinging, and by the end of the night the ring was nowhere to be found. My clammy little five-year old fingers were once again unadorned. Oh how I cried! Heartbreak at such an early age.
Naturally, one would think I went into the jewelry business straight away. Nope, not this product of an Asian tiger mom! I was bound for law school. So yes, Cornell Law, big firm in NYC and an even bigger firm in Shanghai (my other city–I might have about 4 cities). Alas, hours upon hours, years upon years of venture capital financings, private equity deals and mergers meant that I was practically living in my office with a drawer full of stilettos, another containing a cute outfit for nights out, a spare suit and a black-tie gown constantly hanging on the back of my office door. But alas after about 6 years I decided to give it all up to pursue my true calling.
I went off and got my G.D. (Graduate Diamonds) from the Gemological Institute of America, became creative director of my father’s company and launched Jean & Alex, a jewelry atelier that works directly with clients to design and create custom pieces of jewelry that reflect their individual aesthetics, preferences, and lifestyle. Client after client seemed to be telling me the same thing: that it is incredibly difficult and intimidating to shop for jewelry and everything out there looks the same. I soon recognized that there were inefficiencies in the jewelry industry that not only affected my clients, but also jewelry designers and brands themselves. As a result, after a few years of running and designing for the atelier I felt compelled to try to solve the larger problem–that jewelry has lost its meaning. Thus began Swoonery.com, a luxury online marketplace for fine jewelry that helps customers discover and purchase exquisitely crafted, unique jewelry that they connect with.
This blog is my love letter to the Universe and my great big thank you to my family and friends for their love and support. It amazes me that all my paths and past experiences have led me to exactly where I need and want to be. This is my way of paying it forward by sharing my journey so that others can learn from my mistakes, be inspired by my wins, and see what being a female entrepreneur in the world of luxury actually entails. I encourage other female entrepreneurs to build what they feel is lacking in the world. Here’s to your fempire!
Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,