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Romancing the stone with Naveya & Sloane

Auckland jewellery company Naveya & Sloane is disrupting the category with an offering most people would never have thought of.

Auckland jewellery company Naveya & Sloane is disrupting the category with an offering most people would never have thought of.

Rachel Sloane and Alex Bunnett of Naveya & Sloane jeweller

Rachel Sloane and Alex Bunnett. Photo: Jessie Casson

For some people, the ‘Original Setting’ concept by new jeweler on the block Naveya & Sloane is perhaps a bit too out there. But for others, particularly confused men, it’s more a case of “Where the hell were you three months ago?!” The jewellery company, founded by former Huffer womenswear designer and Shortland Street fashion worker Rachel Sloane, is looking to disrupt a category that has long been stale when it comes to certain traditions. The engagement ring is one.

“There doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice for men in New Zealand at the moment when it comes to engagement jewellery,” Sloane says. “There’s a real stereotype of an old lady standing behind a counter full of ready-made diamond rings. That’s a stereotype we want to break away from.”

Break away they have. Sloane, with business partner Alex Bunnett, has created the ‘Original Setting’, a solution to both breaking the mould and the men’s conundrum of how to choose an engagement ring that’ll provoke tears of joy rather than grimaces of bad taste.

It’s a platinum or gold ingot containing a stone; both will be made into a ring. There are no manufacturing or design costs involved, so customers are only charged for the metal and the diamond. The company works with the couple to design and create a ring, while nothing more than the raw materials are paid for at that point.

Sloane says the reaction so far – to something that was fairly left-of-centre and risky for the category – has been astounding.

“It seems like such an obvious option for the proposal and people say it’s a wonder it hasn’t been done before. We’re excited to see more and more guys adopt this approach, having been frustrated and confused in picking the right ring. A lot of girls admitted to a fear of having their engagement ring picked. It’s not for everyone, and we don’t want to discourage guys from choosing an engagement ring to propose with, but more of another option for their proposal.”

Naveya & Sloane came up with the idea when pondering how they could make the process of choosing a ring easier for the guys, while at the same time retaining the traditions of having a diamond at the heart of the process. Current solutions in the market didn’t ring their bell and there was a gap for a premium experience.

“The inspiration came when we where helping a client package a loose diamond he was going to propose with,” Sloane says.

“We thought there must be a more elegant solution than just having it rattling around in the box. It dawned on me to use the future metal of the ring to present the diamond before it’s made into a ring. We worked through a few alternatives and samples before the design you see today.”

Sloane believes there’s a growing trend of people proposing with an alternative to the final ring, mostly out of uncertainty around which design to choose. Other ideas include using a note, a fake diamond, a loose unmounted diamond – but they felt something more elegant and design-led could be the solution. (There’s also a gold band in case the physical act of slipping something onto someone’s finger is of importance.)

The company has also produced ‘The Gentlemen’s Guide’, an online offering helping men with the ins and outs of proposing and the associated jewellery – from budget tips to engagement tips, personalisation and how to choose a gemstone. Sloane says the market for this is different to most – in particular because it’s a new experience for most people, and they’re buying for someone else.

“Our job is not just one of designing and production but also education and guidance. We work with each client personally – doing this all over a whiskey or a beer helps, too!”

Sloane initially studied fashion design at AUT, where she was voted ‘best up and comer’ at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2005. Then she went to work at Huffer as womenswear designer, showing collections two years running at NZFW. Later she worked on Shortland Street creating one-off items for the show’s stars, working on the design and branding of Naveya & Sloane in her spare time. Gradually she reduced her hours there and left in mid-2010 to run Naveya & Sloane full-time. It launched at the Jewellers and Watchmakers Trade Fair and they haven’t looked back.

Incredibly, this is the first time she’s tried her hand at jewellery design.

“The industry has that old-world feel to it, being so immersed in heritage and tradition. There’s a great deal of work involved in crafting a single piece of jewellery, from the initial sketch to the carving of the wax, to setting the final gemstones. The amazingly involved process makes my job even more enjoyable with an end product that’s so precious.”

Co-founder Bunnett has a degree in physics and has been working as an embedded software engineer for the past five years.

“I’ve always wanted to challenge myself and do something a bit different. When Rachel spoke to me about starting Naveya & Sloane, I encouraged her to take the leap, not really thinking that one day I would to be on board helping grow the business.”
The company has a couple of key mentors: Pack & Company CEO Mark Keddell and Huffer co-founder Dan Buckley.

“They’ve been amazing and regularly check in on how we are going. [Deloitte partner] Matt McKendry and [Deloitte audit partner] Graham Judge have also been a huge help making sure we are thinking about the right issues to run and grow the business.”

As to the future? Sloane sees collectible jewellery continuing to grow in popularity and fashion brands offering products at lower and lower price points.

“But as it becomes more and more saturated we expect to see people looking for something unique and personal, pieces that can last a lifetime and be truly treasured.

“I love the challenge of designing on such an intricate scale. You’re working within the tiniest of millimeters to create something proportionally correct, comfortable and of the highest standard.”