I recently caught up with Erica Courtney just returning from her latest globe-trotting, gem-collecting adventure in Thailand. Erica’s a legend in her own time. Boot-strapping her way to success from her roots as a single mom in need of basic income to the highest echelons of the designer jewelry industry. She’s the real deal, a self-made woman, a model creative entrepreneur. Erica’s a winner of numerous Spectrum awards - including this year - and couturier to the stars. Her Hollywood A-List clients are frequently seen gracing the red carpet with her latest “Drop Dead Gorgeous” signature creations. (ericacourtney.com)
“I’m at home wherever I am,” Erica states simply. Her natural friendliness and approachability are certainly one key to her success. Whether she’s making dal (an Indian sauce made from lentils and spices) with miners in Sri Lanka or revamping a celebrity client’s jewelry wardrobe with them, re-designing pieces to add a fresh twist, salvaging secondary pieces for their children and relatives, Erica’s like your best friend you never knew you had. Her overflowing creativity is infectious.
Mia Katrin: “Your exquisite jewelry features some jaw-dropping world-class rare and exotic gems from spectacular Paraiba tourmaline to color-change Csarite, as well as precious sapphires, emeralds and rubies. What initially sparked your interest in featuring these remarkable gems?”
Erica Courtney: “It all began 18-20 years ago at the big AGTA Gem show. I discovered a vendor with this incredible Pakistani peridot - a color I had never seen before - and Spessartite garnet with vibrant flashes of orange and red. I was mesmerized. It changed my world. I had to have them! I invested $10,000 - a large sum for me then - although advised against this by my gemological mentor at the time who thought I was overpaying. But when I saw my clients’ response to the gems I knew I had found my niche.”
MK: “When did you begin directly sourcing gems at the mines and with local dealers?”
EC: “In 2008 I went to Tanzania. Africa was incredible! We went on safari. It whetted my appetite. I’ve been to Colombia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam and am planning a trip to Burma next year.”
MK: “I’ve heard from gem dealer friends that you have to be careful going to remote locations. Personal safety is an issue.”
EC: “The dangers are real. We hike to remote locations carrying backpacks with a gallon of water - which feels like 100 pounds! - treats for snacking and sleeping bags for sleeping under the stars. In Vietnam we trekked over acres of wet, slippery green rocks. If you twist your ankle you jeopardize the progress of the whole group. Going down mine shafts, there are no safety harnesses. Of course the real issue is getting back up. And there are bandits!”
MK: “What about getting taken advantage of business-wise?”
EC: “You can make a lot of mistakes. I go with experienced guides such as Vincent Pardieu, a GIA connection who knows how to navigate the terrain. We’re careful our gems are ethically sourced. We don’t give advance warning when we go to an area so we can know what’s really going on there. We don’t allow leeway for ‘cover-ups.’ Although once you’re in an area the word quickly gets around to all the local dealers.”
MK: “You seem to blend in very naturally with any culture you’re immersed in. I’ve seen pictures of you making soup with miners in Sri Lanka, preparing culinary feasts in Thailand. Do you have a favorite location?”
EC: “I enjoy them all for different reasons. Vietnam was incredibly beautiful. When we were cooking in Sri Lanka, they took such care with the preparation of the meal - every detail for every person. They make their own moonshine. If it’s served with breakfast you have to at least take a sip for hospitality’s sake!”
(Next time: Part II: The evolution of Erica Courtney’s signature style; practical “words of wisdom” from an industry leader)
Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 100 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877 539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC.