Jeweler Emily Warden (’17) urges students to trust themselves, learn all they can

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On April 5, Emily Warden (’17) addresses an audience of about 80 students and community members at the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship. PHOTOGRAPHS BY IBRAHIM AZAD

SUMMARY: Emily Warden (’17) was still a student when she started her online jewelry business. Now, with two successful Richmond-area showrooms, she encourages other entrepreneurs to take the leap to make their dreams a reality.

Richmond business owner Emily Warden (’17) has had her share of derisive feedback since deciding to get a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art with a focus in Metals and Jewelry.

“Oh, you make jewelry,” people sometimes scoff at her.

“Yeah,” she likes to reply. “Here’s my diamond ring.”

Addressing an audience of about 80 students and community members at the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship on April 5, Warden recalled how she almost dropped her metals class from her course schedule because of how hard it was.

However, she persisted and discovered a passion for working with precious stones. Now, seven years after earning a degree through the School of Art, Design, and Art History, she’s founder of Emily Warden Designs, has two Richmond-area showrooms, and was chosen from 12,000 applicants across North America for the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 Arts & Style List.

Emily Warden at her presentation
Emily Warden (’17) talks with a student who attended her talk.

Her success wasn’t easy or typical, but that’s what makes it hers.

Warden was still a student when she started designing jewelry and selling it to have the funds to buy more stones so she could, in turn, make jewelry for herself and her friends. It also allowed her to start saving for her business.

After graduation, she continued to hone her craft, committed to a lot of trial and error, took risks, and adapted to the market and the times.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she excelled at pick boxes that offered customers three jewelry options for a certain price. She now offers several permanent jewelry collections through her stores, as well as some seasonal ones, and a large part of her business is custom jewelry, particularly wedding rings. 

She finds the most exciting designs are the unique and creative ones.

“I’m all about the storytelling,” she said. “Coming up with something new is my favorite part.”

Warden grew her business online, using a garage studio at her parents’ house in Norfolk, Virginia, before taking the leap to pay for a tiny studio space. 

Taking risks is essential to growing a business, she said. One of her biggest risks involved signing a second-year lease on the small studio. A larger, higher rent space became available, and she debated whether to take it. At the time, her business consisted of just her and a part-time employee. Her five-year plan was to work her way up to a space like that. But with encouragement from her family and her now husband, she took the leap and has never looked back.

Emily Warden talks with students
Emily Warden (’17) looks at jewelry created by student entrepreneurs.

“Keep going, because you can get past it,” she told future entrepreneurs. “If you have a good product, be really confident in it.”

Additionally, she advised them not to worry about perfection.

“Haters gonna hate. Don’t stop because they don’t like it,” she said. “Plus, everyone starts out somewhere. People had to buy the stuff that I’m embarrassed by now to get where I am.”

Warden prides herself on sourcing stones and diamonds of traceable origin that are mined sustainably, responsibly and ethically.

“Stick with your passion and know your values,” she said.

Although her dream is to move to New York City one day, she said she’s happy with where she is for now.

“Maybe in five or 10 years,” she said — though after a moment of consideration, she added, “If it opened up, I would just go for it.”

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by Josette Keelor

Published: Friday, April 12, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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