The jewelry industry is dominated by males, according to Vivian Grimes, founder and CEO of Henri Noël Fine Jewelry. Grimes is working to change this with her all-female team.
“Historically, jewelry was made by men and sold to men buying for their wives,” Grimes, BC ’16, said. “Jewelry is very much a male-dominated industry.”
Grimes spoke at Boston College’s Ethics and Lunch Series, which is sponsored by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, on Oct. 12. Grimes was joined by her business partner and former roommate Carolina Menendez, BC ’16. According to Grimes, Henri Noël specializes in gold and gemstone pieces.
Grimes said the jewelry industry has been steeped in controversy because it funded civil wars and insurgent groups in African nations such as Angola and Sierra Leone during the 1990s. But an international effort in recent years sought to change this through the Kimberley Process, which regulates over 99 percent of diamonds sold in the United States, according to Grimes.
“The Kimberley Process was started to eliminate or at least lessen conflict diamonds, which help to fund wars and armed conflict against governments,” Grimes said. “[Our suppliers] are saying and agreeing that all of our diamonds meet the requirements to be conflict-free.”
According to Menendez, large diamond suppliers historically controlled diamond mining. Recent protests by young people, however, prompted these suppliers to turn control over to the countries that economically depend on the diamond industry.
“At the end of the day, the countries that have the natural resources should own all of those resources, “ Menendez said. “A lot of the change has to do with social pressure from younger generations saying that we’re not going to buy this because it’s not right.”
Grimes said she has family ties in the jewelry industry, but she never considered joining it herself.
“My grandfather was in the jewelry industry and my dad was also in the jewelry industry,” Grimes said. “So I’ve always had that around me, but I never really felt even an inkling to enter into diamond and jewelry.”
After graduating from BC and earning a master’s degree at the University of Southern California, Grimes said she took a job at a venture capital firm that specialized in beauty products. According to Grimes, she enjoyed her job but felt she needed to be closer to her family after her brother died from an overdose.
“My family was really hurting and I knew I wanted to be there to help them, but I didn’t want to leave my big corporate job,” Grimes said. “I was doing so well to go back home to Naples, Florida, which is a small town. What was I supposed to do there?”
At this time, Grimes said her friends and relatives began reaching out with questions about jewelry as they began getting married, which led her to reconsider her career path.
“I realized that I loved the emotional aspect of jewelry and that was kind of my segue into quitting my corporate job,” Grimes said.
Grimes said she feels that Henri Noël stands out from other companies because of the genuine connection the business tries to establish with its customers.
“A lot of times with larger companies, customer service is the first thing that gets outsourced because it’s not getting sales right away,” Grimes said. “We are still the ones answering the DMs, answering the emails because I want customers to feel confident and comfortable with their purchase.”
Menendez said that communicating its story authentically was key to Henri Noël’s success, and she encouraged students to do the same.
“The communication of why you’re there and what you want to accomplish makes people appreciate you so much more,” Menendez said. “I think storytelling is a huge part of what makes someone or something successful.”