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 providing luxury jewels, watches, and accessories for its elite.
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. 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 and no one can beat me when it comes to looking for floor diamonds though my best friend constantly tries (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 futuristic cartoon, 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 of course and wore it out to dinner in the City. 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 law school bound. So yes, Cornell Law, big firm in the City, then bigger firm in Shanghai (my other city–I might have about 4 cities). Alas, hours upon hours, years upon years of: private equity deals, mergers, and securities filings; living in my office with a drawer full of stilettos, another containing “go-out clothes,” a spare suit and a black-tie gown constantly hanging on the back of my office door; sleeping under my desk; and all-around ass-kicking corporate-lawyering later, I decided to give it all up. Naturally.
I went off and got my G.D. (Graduate Diamonds Degree) from the Gemological Institute of America, became creative director of my father’s company and launched our atelier, Jean & Alex, which works directly with clients to design and create custom pieces of jewelry that reflects their individual aesthetic, preferences, and lifestyle. While doing so, I 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 running and designing for the atelier I decided to start Vahlte, a jewelry tech startup that will launch this October.
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’s kinda nuts that all my paths and past experiences have led me to exactly where I need to be and want to be. This is my way of paying it forward by sharing my journey with the world so that others can learn from my mistakes, be inspired by my wins, and see what being a female tech entrepreneurs actually entails. As I said in my post about why I am choosing to embark on this journey publicly, I have no idea whether I’m doing this the right way but I am working my ass off to do the best that I can. If reading this blog makes it less scary for even one girl to start her own business or less lonely for one other female entrepreneur who is going through the same stuff, then this will have all been worth it. Let’s go kill it ladies, here’s to the fempire!
Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,