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Jewelry designer infuses flagship store with personal touches.

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Julez Bryant, Solana Beach, CA

OWNER: Julez Bryant; URL: julez.com; FOUNDED: 2003; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2020; RENOVATED: 2022;AREA: 1,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Julez Bryant, Jamie Joseph, Celine D’Aoust, Artemer, Jennifer Demoro; EMPLOYEES: 4; ONLINE PRESENCE: 889 Facebook followers


Julez Bryant

Julez Ward

FOR YEARS, JULEZ WARD was the queen of trunk shows. As a jewelry designer, she built her brand visiting retail stores.

At the same time, she longed to have her own store, in part because she wanted to see the full collection on display exactly as she imagined it.

“I realized it was time for me to try a new route to bring it to the world on our own, to control our destiny,” she says.

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California Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal FlairCalifornia Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal Flair
California Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal FlairCalifornia Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal Flair

Once that goal was established, she began searching in the design district of her hometown, Solana Beach. When she did find her spot, she was finally ready to open in March 2020, which admittedly wasn’t the best timing. “I hired our gallery director and laid her off on the same day,” Ward recalls, as COVID shut down her dream.

Still, she found a way to work around it. As a wholesaler, she’d been late to e-commerce, but she began to emphasize that aspect of the business. COVID’s focus on e-commerce leveled the playing field, she believes, making retailers and designers more of a team.

She was also able to bring one sales associate at a time into the store to meet with customers by appointment and host private meetings for designer friends, too, until she could fully open months later. “We tried to build a community and it ended up working out,” she says.

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The store showcases her namesake Julez Bryant collection along with a mix of 13 acclaimed and emerging designers, all known for their artisanal approach to jewelry making.

It’s a great time for artisans and stores that celebrate the craft of jewelry to shine, she says.

“Clients are really valuing how jewelry is made and are curious about the story behind each piece because it’s becoming increasingly rare to view objects made by hand. We’ve found that people are always looking for things that feel personal and unique to them.”

Ward sells her jewelry to lifestyle stores, gallery-style stores and traditional fine jewelry stores. In traditional stores, she’s seen owners struggle to capture self-purchasers because many of them have been designed for men to buy for women. She kept that in mind when creating her own store. She wants her female clients to feel comfortable not only just to be in a fine jewelry store, but also to treat themselves and feel that they deserve it. “Oftentimes, people walk into our store because they’ve always been curious about jewelry but may have felt too intimidated or just don’t know where to start,” she says.

Making those clients comfortable is in no small part about hiring and training the right staff.

California Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal Flair

Photo shoots emphasize how Julez Bryant shoppers can build a collection of comfortable and distinctive jewelry they can wear every day

“If there is fire in their eyes, they’re excited and want to do the work because they love the product, then that’s the person we want,” she says. “I want them to be more storytellers than product sellers.” Her team loves helping people express their personal style through jewelry.

The emphasis is empowering women to wear jewelry in their everyday life, whether they’re adding to an existing collection or trying on their first piece.

“When they leave with a piece from our store, they are choosing to celebrate themselves. It’s always such a magical moment. Our team never tires of it because we just love matching the right piece of jewelry to the right person.”

Personalized service includes hand sketching custom designs, locating special diamonds and other gemstones to meet the customers’ needs, and remodeling heirlooms.

Store design was DIY on a shoestring budget.

The color palette is pulled from a painting that Ward’s mother had loved. Cases are moveable for flexibility. And the floor is made of Moroccan-style tiles.

For 30 years, Ward had collected colorful glass bottles, which have become a distinctive feature of the decor. She changes the colors of the bottles she displays from season to season for a simple mood shift. “It’s fun to see them come to life in this setting, these bottles collected from all around the world. That, to tell you the truth, is what people come in to look at.”

Ward worked with a local metalsmith to create custom door handles that integrate her brand’s logo. “We love that they are a gorgeous shade of gold that references back to our signature shade of gold in our jewelry,” Ward says. “We refine all of our gold in-house to get the color just right.”

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Opening the store has brought her much more engagement and wedding business than she had in the past. It represents about 10% of her retail business, while self-purchasers represent the other 90%. At Julez Bryant, wedding rings and engagement rings are made from scratch, made to last and sold by a knowledgeable team. “We get so many brides and grooms that come in together. They always come back to us and say they never found this level of customer service and education anywhere else.”

Jewelry design was not Ward’s first career choice.

Formerly a vice president and director for a global independent video game developer, she traveled the world in that role, speaking at universities, including Cambridge, Oxford and Trinity.

At the same time, she’d been dabbling in jewelry for fun. She started her line when a close friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer gave her a charm bracelet. “He inspired me to live in the moment and focus my energy on my dreams, rather than my fears,” she says. She loved wearing the bracelet, but she converted it into a necklace design after the bracelet caught on her clothes.

When another friend admired it and asked her to design jewelry for her, she turned to what she had on hand. She remade all of her grandmother’s old necklaces, stuffed them into a shoebox and sold them to her friend. From there, jewelry making became a regular pursuit. “I did my corporate job, put the kids to sleep and worked on jewelry till 2 a.m.,” she says.

California Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal Flair

Moroccan tile floor, pops of color and carefully curated display cases help create an artisinal enclave.

When the company she worked for was acquired, she was offered an overseas position, but she didn’t want to move. “I thought if I’m out of this industry for a year, I won’t be forgotten.” But after beginning to work in jewelry full time 20 years ago, she stuck with it.

It’s all hand-forged at her design studio on the Southern California coast. “I taught myself and ended up doing everything in house. I stay in my lane; it’s all I know.” Each design is crafted to be both beautiful and comfortable, combining a love of bold shapes with soft, satin finishes and delicate hand-hammered touches. All materials are created from recycled 14K and 18K gold with responsibly sourced diamonds and gemstones.

“My goal for the future is to make sure my team has a company that they can be proud to work at and could eventually call their own. People who work in artisanal jewelry love the arts and all the splendor of it. To be able to provide a healthy workplace is No. 1 above everything.

“I let the business lead me to where it needs to go. We all love making jewelry and we all love jewelry. It’s like Christmas for us.”

Five Cool Things About Julez Bryant

1. GRATITUDE IN THE MAIL. Instead of approaching Black Friday in a typical way, Ward decided to send her VIP clients a gratitude package in the mail to thank them for supporting the business for the year. They received a hand sketch by Ward, a packet of California marigold seeds (a local bloom that Ward loves), a ceramic pot and planting kit, so clients could grow their own flowers. “We are a small and independent designer, so it really means a lot to have clients choosing to support our brand,” Ward says.

2. TREASURES. A vintage-store treasure hunter, Ward collects vintage jewelry boxes, which engagement ring shoppers select as keepsakes. “We try to let the jewelry do the speaking, but it’s fun to have another creative outlet.”

3. INFLUENCERS. Ward says that hosting local micro-bloggers can be very effective when they’re a good match for your corpoate philosophy and value system. “Find the ones that match that, then it’s natural, not forced, it’s a very easy relationship. Then it’s likely that people who follow them will love our work.”

California Jewelry Designer Infuses First Retail Location with Personal Flair

4. CREATIVE FAMILY. Julez’s daughter, Gia, and son, Myles, have been involved in the business. Julez and Gia created the Golden Collection, inspired by growing up as a family on the Southern California coast. The designs feature motifs like the night sky and ocean waves. Myles has worked as a bench jeweler in the shop. One day, he handmade a flat link gold chain for his mom, inspired by a chain she wears every day that once beloned to her mother. Myles wanted to surprise her with a new version of the necklace as an ode to both his mother and grandmother. Named the DOEY chain after Myles’ childhood nickname, it’s become a best-seller.

5. NON-COMPETE. Although she’s planning additional retail locations, Ward says she is not trying to compete with her wholesale accounts. “I’m very honest with our retailers. We see it more as a showroom. And oftentimes, shoppers see it here and buy it somewhere else.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • LESLIE MCGWIRE: : The design goal was to have the clients feel at home. The beautiful Moroccan tile floor creates a residential feel. The large images on the wall give the store the punch that is needed. Love the idea of bringing in the owner’s artistic flair into the store with the vintage glass bottle display. Well done.
  • KATHLEEN CUTLER: Julez’s attention to detail and personal touches in the design of the showroom is remarkable. From the exquisite Moroccan tiles to the carefully curated ambience, clients are greeted with a sense of warmth and familiarity, making them feel as though they are stepping into Julez’s own home. This personalization sets the stage for a truly unique and immersive experience. Clientele sophistication is taken to new heights through thoughtful gestures such as events, personalized notes, and even sending presents “just because.” These acts of appreciation and recognition demonstrate a deep understanding of the importance of building strong relationships with clients. By going above and beyond, Julez creates an environment where clients feel valued, understood, and cherished.
  • MEGAN CRABTREE:The story behind the jewelry line’s inception, where Julez was inspired by her dear friend to live in the moment and create something beautiful, adds a deeper meaning and emotional connection to each piece. Additionally, it’s heartwarming to hear about the gratitude packages Julez sends to her clients. The small gesture of including personalized flower seeds and a planting kit shows that Julez not only cares about the sale but also the happiness and well-being of her clients. It’s these personal touches that make clients feel valued and appreciated, and ultimately build trust and loyalty with the brand. The story and personalized approach behind Julez Bryant adds a unique charm to the brand, making it stand out in the world of jewelry design.
  • MARIE McCARTHY:Beautiful interior, beautiful family business, beautiful full experience customer service.
  • ELIZABETH ross BREWER:The store is light and bright with a very relaxed and welcoming vibe. Much attention to detail can be found both internally and externally. The custom door handles reflect the gold tone of the jewelry inside. The space is filled with many personal touches. Julez’ use of recycled gold and responsibly sourced diamonds and gemstones resonates with her clientele. Julez Bryant is a destination for those celebrating themselves with a self-purchase.

 

Try This: Hire Committed Staff.

Ward had previous retail experience working for Nike and as a buyer for a clothing company. She learned back then that staffing is one of the hardest things she’d face. “We want someone who loves it, who is very committed to selling jewelry. It’s not pipe fittings. I am a person who highly regards hard work, meaning commitment,” she says. “That means work smart, not hard, and put your love into it, whatever you do. Are they honest, good people? Do they have intention and are they driven? If they’re happy and can help grow the business, then we all grow.”

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