I was so fortunate to sit down with independent jewelry designer Emily Marquis, owner of Emily Marquis Designs and Marquis Jewelry Academy, on Zoom, to talk about her personal brand, businesses and their goals, and her hashtag #AChainOfPace. Emily and her husband, Cal, are exceptionally talented jewelers offering bridal, custom jewelry, memorial jewelry, and one-of-a-kind pieces to their customers and teaching motivated individuals how to create custom jewelry themselves.
You may have seen Emily Marquis Designs on Instagram, featuring their unique vintage-inspired scarab jewelry, handmade chains, and an assortment of colored stone and diamond jewelry pieces. Located in Stonington, Connecticut since 2020, jewelry power couple Emily and Cal have been applying knowledge developed over a number of years as a small business retailer and online seller.
Marquis Jewelry Academy instructs hobbyists as well as experienced jewelry professionals in more than just proper bench technique, but also problem solving and other aspects that go into making a jewelry career profitable. Focused on small group instruction, the academy offers a unique learning experience catered to the individual jeweler and their needs.
You can watch the full interview on YouTube, or check out the highlights below from this personal interview that examines Emily Marquis and her thoughts, experiences, and goals in the jewelry industry.
E: I have been doing jewelry and goldsmithing since I was 18. I started off with a traditional 4 year college, teaching through college.
E: When I got out of school, I moved down to DC and my uncle had just started a school down there. I worked alongside him as he built up this big community for the last 11 years. It started in his basement with just a couple benches. He is still operating that now and during that time I had a couple of weird jobs where I was doing full time work and part-time teaching. For most of the 2010s, I was working between 50 and 75 hours a week going between those two careers.
E: In 2015, I got a job doing bench jewelry for a really high end jeweler in DC: doing repairs, custom work, lots of vintage refurbishment jobs. That taught me how a lot of things were created and how they should be taken care of; what does and does not withstand the test of time. I think learning bench jewelry and repair jewelry really helped me become an independent designer because I know what I need to do to make my work actually last. You fix enough of other people’s stuff, you learn what goes wrong. In 2018, I left that and started being an independent jeweler, kinda running my own jewelry line alongside still teaching on a part time level.
Emily On Opening A Business At the Beginning of COVID
E: At the beginning of the year (2020), Cal and I moved up to Connecticut to start our own studio and because I’d been teaching for so long it made a natural progression that we should also have a school. We’ve just been making custom jewelry and teaching whenever somebody shows up. It’s been a very funky year, trying to find out what our true rhythm is because nothing is normal. If anybody has a jewelry job or wants to learn something, we’re just going for it.
E: My classroom used to be 10 students, now it’s 4. But through the pandemic, we’ve never gotten up to full capacity because we opened up right before the state shut down. It was Saturday we opened, Monday the state said “No more businesses. Close your businesses.” So we kinda hunkered down for a few months, and in June we started teaching. We’ve taught 1, 2, and 3 people but haven’t had an actual group of 4. So it’s been a totally different balance; learning how to teach a small group of people vs a large group of people.
JOTT: Do your students make the jewelry that you sell?
E: [No.] Our students purely only make their own things. My students pay me an hourly rate, I provide them with silver and tools and materials. Their projects are totally their own stuff.
JOTT: Is it mostly silver that your students work in?
E: I provide silver and stones. If my students want to do gold or platinum, they buy it at cost. There’s no upsell on getting them materials they need.
JOTT: Are most of your students professionals already in the jewelry industry?
E: No. I would say, right now, it’s probably 60/40. Most of our students are beginners or people who maybe have a business but it’s not supporting them, kinda more of a hobby. We have another hunk of people who are professionals who want to continue to push themselves. And they are learning totally different things; I’m not going to teach the same thing to a beginner that I’m going to teach to someone 15 years in.
E: We have an extended study student right now who is doing 10 months with us as a replacement for her freshman year of college. She was going to go to a jewelry school but the idea of doing distance learning at an art college was just a joke. So her parents set her up with us for the year. While she’s here with us, she gets to see everything we’re working on and understand how we’re working through it. I have some students who pay me to set up their studio or build them a shopping list. Students have questions that aren’t just “How do I file this?” “How do I hammer this?”, because once you have those skills you have to answer questions like “How do I market these?”
JOTT: Tell me about your hashtag, #AChainOfPace
E: My husband, Cal, is also a full time goldsmith. He runs the school with me, he makes all the jewelry alongside me. Often, when I’m showing Emily Marquis Designs stuff or I’m showing stuff that the school is doing — that’s a joint effort between the two of us. Cal came up with the hashtag because he is an absolute wordsmith.
E: I had been talking in December about how we were very busy but I was not feeling fulfilled by any of it. I was feeling like I was going through the motions and not feeling challenged. When people have a niche market and their audience has gone in a direction you don’t really want, you somehow become known for something that isn’t what makes you happy, you have to steer the ship in another direction.
E: I wanted to start making more chains. I wanted my clients to be buying more chains. I wanted my students to pay me to teach them to make chains.
E: “I really like this, I would like to be doing more of this. How can I change the direction of the ship?” So I started thinking about doing a self-challenge. …Doing 100 chains in 100 days was never going to happen. So I started thinking about other options: I decided that in one year I’m going to make 100 chains. Some are client commissions, some are making variations of chains that I’ve made before. I bought a bunch of chain-making books and I’ve been studying antique chains and looking on eBay for pieces I’ve never seen before. A lot of what this project has been is a change of pace, turning my trajectory into something I want to be focusing on.
E: It’s not about getting anybody else to make 100 chains, it’s about showing a concerted effort towards the thing that I actually do want. I’ve been doing demos on different chain links, I have friends who are getting in on it. This is fun and there’s no pressure. We’re 26 days in and I’ve done 7 chains.
JOTT: If someone wants to place an order with you, can they message you?
E: Yes. We have a large collection at this point of 15 or 20 different chain designs.
JOTT: What other kind of jewelry are you trying to associate with your brand?
E: One of our really big lines over the past couple of years has been our vintage scarab work. I probably have the largest collection of vintage scarabs in the country. The clients really get to have a customized shopping experience where they can pick out the scarab stone that speaks to them.
E: This last year, we did two really big, dreamy scarab jobs that I have been working towards for the last 3 years. I shopped for scarab bracelets from the 1930s-1970s, pulled all the stones out and hand fabricated settings for them in silver and gold. I then said “Ok. How can I get these?” I learned the hard way that people can sell some shit on the internet [haha]. Plastic, ceramics, stuff that was cracked. And then I came up with this dreamy project of this sardonyx banded orange agate.
JOTT: Is that piece for sale? (The Sardonyx Scarab Riviere in 18ky w/fleur de lis)
E: Yes. It is for sale. I don’t know who it will sell to but I believe that the market is there. I think a lot of our jewelry is not the kind of stuff people will buy the second they see it. It’s usually the stuff they’ve revisited over weeks or months. They may buy a year later. Over that year, I got to know them and got to talk to them.
E: I think that they want to buy something that is really special and worth it. Maybe they saw something but by the time a year goes around, they’re like “Ok well I’ve seen [multiple] pieces, can we put [these designs] together?”
E: That’s a lot more valuable to me than just getting a bunch of small sales throughout the week. I’d much rather wait and get to know all of my clients and have these important sales that are so much more valuable to the both of us.
JOTT: Do you do any wholesale?
E: At the moment it’s all direct to the customer.
JOTT: Is your market mostly local or online?
E: I would say online. We’ve got a lot of pockets of clients across the country and a few clients overseas. We find clients because we’re teachers, or we find clients that somehow have stumbled onto us or people that we’ve met in passing.
JOTT: What are your goals with your sales and with the school?
E: Right now, we’re just kinda riding out the pandemic and enjoying the experience of it being slow and getting our footing in this new space. I’m just waiting, I will find out where we’re going to grow when it’s time to grow again. With our business, we’re trying to move into a place where a lot more of our one-of-a-kind stuff is selling more directly instead of inspiring other pieces. I would like to have a full collection of pieces I came up with, that I decided that was the best version of it, and then you decided that’s the best version for you as well.
JOTT: What type of design aesthetic has influenced you and pushed you into your niche?
E: I’m an absolute sucker for antique stuff. My artistic career began with sewing historical clothing. I’m actually really adept at seamstress work, sewing, and patterning. I have a love for history and that kind of has translated it’s way through my career as a jeweler.
Emily on choosing the jewelry profession
E: I became a jeweler because I wanted a job where I knew I could actually make a salary. I wanted to be a painter and my uncle said “Well, if you want to be an artist, you should be a jeweler. You can have a job when things are tough because you can repair things and melt things down. There’s always a market for wedding bands and memorial jewelry.” That really spoke to my sense of job security as an artist.
JOTT: I have to ask! Do you love marquises?
E: I do not have an affinity for the marquise shaped diamond, it just is my God-given name. My mom goes “You were born to be a jeweler.”
JOTT: How can people reach you? Buy from you, take classes from you, etc.
E: You can find me on instagram: @emilymarquisdesigns or @marquisjewelryacademy.
I run those and my number one compliment from clients is that I’m very good at getting back to them quickly. I answer questions all day long.
E: We have a website: marquisjewelryacademy.com
E: For people who aren’t local, we do take travelers. If you want to come to the east coast and stay by the beach for the week, we have courses for that. We’re in a tourist town, so you can stay and eat good food.
E: On top of that, we have our Patreon set up where people can do scholar options that allows them to have certain hours of video conference time and having me in their back pocket any and all times if they have questions. So you can find Emily Marquis Design on Patreon and learn about what we offer through that. patreon.com/EMarquisDesigns
E: And then we have a crap ton of our jewelry listed on Etsy because I’m too busy to make an online shopping platform that isn’t run by somebody else.
E: All of that can be found at linktr.ee/emilymarquisdesigns