We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Elser and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, how does your business help the community?
For me, the connection of a gem to the people who mine it, and the hands that touch it along the way is so important. Gems and jewellery tell a story and the more we know about how the gem came to be the richer that story is. I travel to the gem mining countries as much as possible to buy my rough. Because I’m a small business and not a huge player who can buy the entire output of mines, I have no say in how mines operate or how people are paid. I can and do treat my sellers as partners. I pay fair prices and share profits when something is even better than I’d initially thought. 20-25% of our net profits goes to schools, social programs, water and sanitation, and other efforts. We give directly to organizations on the ground in Tanzania, Nigeria, and other countries as well as supporting social justice efforts in the US. It’s also important for me to support my goldsmith and jeweller clients as a partner helping them succeed. Whether that’s sourcing the right pieces, or helping them market and sell to their clients, or just providing coaching and mentoring where I can it’s all about doing the most good. If you want a bigger slice of pie, bake a bigger pie. Help everyone get more.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My designs are almost all created in partnership with my husband, who is a research mathematician. He models the designs to be unique, but usable – nothing that’s going to scare the jeweller! Every gem is cut to have the best possible colour and light movement. They sparkle and have excellent colour. Coming from a business background, one of the things that’s rare for gem cutters is that I have that database Tom build, with the photos. It allows me to be super responsive to my clients when they have requests. I can send out catalogues in .pdf with photos and prices in their currency and with their markup within minutes. Once they’ve purchased a gem I can send them a file for their CAD/CAM system to create the jewellery. The better I run the business side, the easier it is to make a living doing the artistic part and the easier I am to work with for my clients. I think for anyone who wants to make a living with their art, having a solid grasp of the business side is critical.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I know this sounds a little out there, but my high school Latin teach, Linda Fisk, was life changing for me. I loved Latin and my parents thought it was useless. Linda not only taught me Latin (I went on to do graduate work in Medieval and Classical literature, so it stuck) but she taught me that I could excel at things even if other people thought it was bonkers. Her confidence in me helped me listen less to what others wanted and more to what I wanted. When the time came for me to leave corporate life and follow gems, I was able to do that because of the imprint she made all those years ago. A more recent and more important person is my husband, whose response to me deciding to leave my high paying corporate gig to cut gems was “Great! You’ll need a database, and photos, and ….” and then he went on to build me a database that I still use today, and took on the thankless task of my photography.
C. Tom Schlegel Karlyn Bennett