It doesn’t get much better than a Twitter endorsement from Dan Carter.
When the All Black gave Wellington’s Inspired Jewellery Group the thumbs up on their Wilshi Proposal Ring concept, they knew they were onto a good thing. In fact, they even held off on the public launch so Carter could be the first person to propose with one.
“Asking someone to marry you is stressful enough. But what makes it even more so is the worry of whether the love of your life will like the ring you’ve chosen for them,” says co-founder Chris Benham.
“We recognised that guys were starting to propose without a ring because they were too worried that they would pick the wrong style of ring for their partner.”
Enter the temporary engagement ring. Wilshi’s simple bands are engraved with the phrase ‘Will you marry me?’ and come in a variety of styles. They’re now sold throughout Oceania and will hit the UK and US markets shortly.
It may be at the forefront of jewellery design, but the Inspired group has history on its side with an impressive pedigree. The group consists of retail and manufacturing arm Village Goldsmith, founded more than 33 years ago; The Inspired Collection, circa 2009; and Wilshi, spawned in late 2010.
Ian Douglas (left), who co-founded Inspired with his wife Christine and Benham, says frustration proved the mother of invention.
“After 30 years in the jewellery industry I was becoming increasingly unhappy with its direction. It seemed that price was becoming the primary factor in the design and production of jewellery, particularly diamond jewellery and ring design,” he says.
“I was determined to design jewellery for companies and individuals that was faithful to what jewellery should be: items that inspire the soul.”
That sentiment is echoed by Benham: “Jewellery is a very special medium. It has existed as long as mankind – as long as there have been people there has been jewellery. Mankind has always adorned themselves with jewellery – it’s something that evokes pleasure and pride.”
All Inspired designs start from scratch – with pencil and paper. Benham says the challenge for every new piece is to focus on its uniqueness.
“Our strength is in our capability to produce distinctive, marketable jewellery. For us it’s more about concentrating on subtle lines and shapes, about the marriage between technology and design.
“Although our style is partly influenced by modernism, such as technology, architecture, even automotive design, we are also strongly influenced by nature and people.”
Almost all employees come from creative backgrounds – even retail staff are generally architecture, photography or design graduates.
“Our team has been drawn to design and make jewellery because it is one of those rare mediums where you can take an idea from your mind, use your own hands and skills, and then craft a piece of jewellery that embodies all those aspects,” he explains.
Inspired works with companies across North America, Asia and Australasia on design, development and manufacturing. The road ahead includes the launch of a “revolutionary” new type of diamond setting, in which the diamond appears to float above the finger, and continuing to build a presence in China, where it launched in 2010 and quickly gained traction.
The company recently inked its biggest deal yet with Hiersun, China’s largest privately owned jewellery business, to design annual collections for its 300 ‘I Do’ stores. While there have been approaches from several Chinese enterprises over the years, Inspired chose to wait for the perfect partner.
Benham says Hiersun – which is currently seeking an IPO – has aspirations to rival De Beers, Tiffany and Cartier. To that end, it’s focusing on Western-style designs, which have a high cachet in China.
“As China continues to adopt Western traditions it provides a huge opportunity for Inspired.”
He acknowledges there are plenty of cultural differences and the learning curve for Kiwi companies in China can be steep. But for those who persevere, the rewards are worth it.
“The more time we spend there the more we learn about the culture. For example, Chinese women typically don’t wear their engagement ring everyday like most Western women, which means that you can design far more delicate rings, to be worn on special occasions rather than everyday use.
“It has been fascinating learning more and more about eastern traditions.”