Planning & Inspiration
Interview with Olivia Michaels and Sunim Choi of Goldpoint Jewelry
Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Greenpoint has become a shopping/eating/drinking destination in recent years. Any given day, you’ll find locals and tourists alike strolling its sidewalks lined with buzzed-about-restaurants, bars, and specialty shops. The newest, and without a doubt the shiniest addition to the block is Goldpoint Jewelry, a beautiful boutique specializing in modern engagement rings and wedding bands.
Sunim Choi and Olivia Michaels make up the team behind this minority and women-owned business. Collectively, Sunim and Olivia have over 20 years of experience working in the New York jewelry world, holding various positions ranging from bench jeweler and technician to designer (they each had their own fine jewelry lines) to sales and management. After years of talking about collaborating and starting their own store, they finally made the move and opened Goldpoint Jewelry in March.
Despite its petite size, Goldpoint Jewelry’s gallery space has a calm, open and airy atmosphere. Underscoring the serene feeling, décor features a cubed wall shelf displaying a mix of plants, canonical books on jewelry design, and dried flower arrangements. Organic wooden sculptures made by Olivia’s mother who is an artist hang from the ceiling, twisting and turning ever so slightly. Showroom cases are stocked with Goldpoint Jewelry’s signature collections of rings, earrings, and charms. It doesn’t take long to notice the distinctiveness of the diamonds and gemstones, which sparkle in unique shapes and brilliant colors. A table at the front offers clients a spot to sit down and look at wedding jewelry options or begin the collaborative progress of designing a custom-made, one-of-a-kind engagement ring.
Reports predict that 2022 is going to be a boom year for weddings (ask anyone working in the industry, this calculation is right on target). Since jewelry plays such an important role in a couple’s journey to finally saying ‘I Do,’ we thought now would be a great time to interview Sunim and Olivia for our Women Paving the Aisle blog series. Here, we talk about the challenges Sunim and Olivia faced starting a business during a pandemic, their approach to designing wedding jewelry, their commitment to sustainable and ethical production, and how they stay creatively inspired.
We always like to start from the beginning. Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds? How did you get started in jewelry design?
Olivia: My mother is a wood sculptor and I grew up watching her work, making these really interesting shapes in her studio. I became interested in jewelry when Gallery Loupe opened in my hometown of Montclair, NJ. For the first time, I saw how jewelry could be approached in a more artistic manner. Their pieces were so different than anything I had seen at commercial companies such as Kay Jewelers. I didn’t even know I could study jewelry design until I went to Pratt. Starting out as a Photography major, I switched to their Jewelry Design program.
Sunim: In college, I had a photography teacher who also happened to be my guidance counselor. He suggested that I take a new class he was teaching, metalsmithing. Needless to say, I fell in love – being able to transform a sheet of metal into a sculptural piece that you could also wear was, in my eyes, magical!
You both had your own jewelry lines before joining together to establish Goldpoint Jewelry. What did you see in each other’s design aesthetics and vision that made you want to collaborate and form a creative business partnership?
Sunim: My first collection was inspired by ancient Egyptian objects and ornamentation with a focus on protective pieces and talismans. Coincidentally, for her thesis, Olivia created a collection of large silver pieces that also symbolized protection. Olivia and I first met a few years later when we started working at the same jewelry studio, teaching classes and managing daily operations. We eventually started selling our own work there and noticed that the same clients would gravitate toward our collections. It makes sense looking back – we were both creating more modern engagement rings that incorporated unique-shaped stones in non-traditional settings. Our designs seemed to attract clients with alternative styles and taste. Not only did our aesthetics align, but Olivia and I got along great from the start (which is very important in a business partnership!) so collaborating was a very easy transition for us.
Olivia: Sunim said it perfectly. We really enjoyed working together from the get-go and both had a punky feel to our jewelry. Because we have worked together on and off for the past ten years, our styles developed in a similar direction. There is a parallel to how our individual designs became more refined from their original versions, ultimately arriving to the wedding and engagement pieces we make together now. It’s been a year since we started designing in collaboration – the transition has been seamless and fun! And Sunim and I have enough difference in opinion to keep things interesting.
Starting a business, especially during a pandemic, takes relentless determination, work, and the ability to meet challenges head on. How long did it take before you considered launching Goldpoint Jewelry? Was there a specific moment when you said, “We can really do this.” Did you hit any major roadblocks along the way?
Sunim: When the pandemic started, we were both still managing another jewelry studio. While there, we had to think of creative ways to keep the staff working while trying to generate income. We started offering online jewelry tutorials and wedding and engagement consultations. That held business up for a little bit.
The beginning was a struggle, but months into the pandemic we noticed a sudden boom in sales. People were falling in love in quarantine and those who were already in a relationship seemed to now have the time and extra money to finally plan a wedding. Also, I believe the tragedy of the pandemic gave us all a reality check – we started re-prioritizing and putting important things, like matters of the heart, first.
Olivia: Sunim and I had been talking about opening our own jewelry shop together since 2015. Our major roadblock was finding time to create the pieces while generating enough revenue to start a business, all while managing a studio full time. But with the pandemic came the downtime we needed to design and make jewelry – sales from these first pieces allowed us to finally open our own shop. It really makes you think if we were all given more time for creativity, how much happier and more productive we would be…
Sunim: People were out and about again – it felt like NYC was coming alive and returning to its original luster. Our jewelry was selling really well at this point and rents had not yet skyrocketed. Olivia and I saw this as our now-or-never moment.
You specialize in engagement rings and wedding bands. What made you want to focus on wedding jewelry?
Olivia: After working with engagement rings and wedding bands for ten years, Sunim and I knew about this niche of fine jewelry very well. As individual designers, we both started jewelry lines offering pieces that were protective and meaningful. The transition to making wedding jewelry that carried such symbolic importance, which could be passed down through generations was a natural, seamless progression for both of us. We are also very focused on sustainability so it only makes sense that we offer our clients jewelry that they will cherish and want to wear forever.
Sunim: Watching clients purchase rings together really gives you the feels! Some get extremely excited, some weep, and some just stare at each other lovingly as if to say with their eyes “We’re really doing this!” I think having something tangible and knowing that you will be wearing this unique piece of jewelry together forever just makes the moment even more special and real.
Can you tell us about your collection of engagement rings and wedding bands?
Sunim & Olivia: Modern, sustainable, and a little edgy. We like to source interesting-shaped stones, and put them in unique settings while making sure the craftsmanship is high standard. The main problem with a lot of the alternative jewelry out there is that the production is poor and the finish is messy. We want to show people that you can have jewelry with a modern feel, but that is also made using high-quality production and materials. And for those who do like the more traditional rings, we have a selection of customizable flat and dome wedding bands in different widths, metal options, and various finishes.
You also offer couples the option to create custom wedding jewelry. Can you walk us through the process of custom design from start to finish?
Sunim & Olivia: Couples can either mix and match elements of our designs or they can bring in their own ideas. We have a selection of different sizes, finishes, metal hues, and texture options to choose from. Once we land on a design, the ring is either carved in wax by hand or drawn up in CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and printed. Either way, the client is ensured they are getting exactly what they want. The client views and signs off on their wax model before we proceed with the casting, polishing, and stone setting. Everything in our shop is customizable and we encourage clients to be a part of the design process.
What advice do you have for the client who wants to pick out a surprise engagement ring for their partner? What are the most important things they should consider in choosing this symbolic piece of jewelry?
Sunim & Olivia: Most people have a general idea of their partner’s taste and style and show up with inspiration photos on their phone. We see a lot of couples coming in together as well. But for those who have no idea, we encourage them to seek advice from their partner’s close friends and family. And if that doesn’t work, we recommend purchasing a stock piece – on the off chance their significant other is not crazy about it, they can come in and exchange it for something they do like. We’re talking about a major purchase that the recipient will be wearing hopefully forever. Every measure should be taken to make sure they will love it!
How does it feel knowing that your rings symbolize one of the most important events in a couple’s life together?
Olivia: It’s beautiful.
Sunim: Hahaha. Olivia has summed it up in a nutshell. As I stated above, seeing the excitement and love shared between a couple when they are in the shop is enough to melt your heart. It gets you all giddy, and without even realizing, puts a huge smile on your face. So yeah, it feels pretty awesome to say the least.
In addition to classic white diamonds, your designs feature colored diamonds and gemstones. Can you tell us about the unique stone and precious metal options that you offer?
Sunim & Olivia: We offer a selection of classic white brilliant diamonds as well as salt and pepper, champagne, and gray diamonds. We love working with unusual shapes and can source half-moon, kite, duchess, and shield shaped stones – really anything your heart desires. Lab grown diamonds are also becoming very popular. We love working with them because they are cultivated instead of mined from the earth, thus conflict-free. Lab grown diamonds are also a fraction of the cost, so it’s a win-win! For colored stones, we work mainly with sapphires. The second hardest natural stone to diamonds, sapphires are gorgeous and come in a variety of different colors. If you want a ring that is sustainable and will last for years to come, it is important to purchase a durable stone that doesn’t scratch or chip easily.
Ethics and transparency are very important to Goldpoint Jewelry. Can you explain your approach to ethical sourcing and production?
Sunim & Olivia: We try our best to be as ethical and sustainable as possible by using only conflict-free, lab grown, reclaimed, or post-consumer diamonds. We source our metals from refineries that use only existing metals, which means they are not digging up new elements from the earth and disturbing the ecosystem.
We also encourage customers to bring in any old jewelry they have – the metal can be recycled, and heirloom stones can repurposed to create a completely new piece. Not only is this the most sustainable, environmentally friendly, and cost-efficient approach, but it’s also sentimental – knowing that part of your family’s history is instilled in your ring feels very romantic.
Covid-19 impacted the wedding industry from top to bottom. Have you noticed a change in the sensibility and values among your clients toward their wedding jewelry?
Sunim & Olivia: Historically, stressful times lead to increased marriage rates. While we have seen an increase in people getting engaged, we also noticed that people are more budget conscious, which we believe is one of the reasons why there has been such a demand for lab grown diamonds. They are physically, chemically, and optically the same as a natural diamond but can be purchased for a fraction of the cost. Additionally, there has been a rise in environmentally and ethically-minded consumers – people want to know how and where their goods are being made. We’re glad to see lab grown diamonds becoming popular for this reason.
What advice do you have for our readers who are thinking about starting their own business? Is there anything you would have done differently when you were starting out?
Sunim: Our first piece of advice would be to calculate your budget and double it! Unpredicted expenses and delays are inevitable in launching a business. We went through most of our savings quickly. Thankfully though, we started making sales right away, which leads us to our next piece of advice – be proficient in and knowledgeable of your craft. Olivia and I were coming from over a decade of experience in the industry, from design and fabrication to management and sales, so we knew the business inside and out. Because we had been doing it for so long, there was an intuitive progression to getting Goldpoint Jewelry up and running.
Olivia: And finally just go for it! I think our only regret was not doing this sooner. Who doesn’t want to work for themselves?
How do you stay creatively inspired?
Sunim: I love paging through old jewelry and art history books. Jewelry is found throughout history and it’s fascinating to see similarities across different civilizations and time periods. Can you believe that the oldest piece of jewelry was found in Morocco and is thought to be 150,000 years old?! Jewelry has been a part of humans’ existence since the Stone Age. How insane it that?
Olivia: I spend a lot of time looking at art in books and going to museums. I also enjoy taking long walks through the city and letting my eyes and mind wander. So many of my ideas come from the architecture and structures I’ve encountered in NYC and on my travels.
Do you have any favorite artists or designers?
Sunim: I love the distorted photographs of Andre Kertesz and contorted dolls and drawings of Hans Bellmer. Both artists used an unorthodox approach to their art and dared to be different, which is probably why I have an affinity to them.
Olivia: Louise Bourgeois. Talk about a woman who was nothing but herself! Wildly fierce in both her character and art. She made whatever she wanted and created beautiful but not overly thought-out drawings and sculptures. One of the biggest challenges for an artist is knowing when a piece is finished. The simplicity and rawness of her work shows confidence in what she was making.
If you could pick one couple or person throughout all of history to design wedding jewelry for, who would it be?
Sunim: Cleopatra! Not only was she a powerful diplomat and ruler, but she was also a trendsetter. Her iconic braided hairstyle and pearl jewelry continues to influence art, fashion, and beauty today. She also started a club called ‘The Inimitable Livers Society,’ which was basically a members-only club that got together to binge on wine and play elaborate games. A woman after my own heart.
Olivia: Nick Offerman & Megan Mullally. I love them both as actors in every role they play. But when you listen to them talk together as a real-life couple, you can hear how much fun they have in their relationship. I think when people are picking their forever rings, the gesture is more an expression of personality and sentiment than momentary style. What’s more fun than designing rings for people who love being in love?!
You finally have the day off, how do you spend it?
Olivia: Yoga, long walks, and enjoying a beer in a park. And if I am being honest, a good bit of apartment cleaning after a long week!
Sunim: I love going the movies and eating out. NYC has no shortage of delicious foods and different types of cuisines, so trying out a new restaurant after the cinema is my jam. During the summer, you can find me by the pool or at the beach. I love being near the water!
An incredible thank you to Olivia and Sunim for participating in our Women Paving the Aisle interview series. For more information about their engagement and wedding jewelry collections, visit www.goldpointbk.com and follow along at @goldpointbk