Last week saw WSS let loose in London to meet the very lovely Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie, founder of the online jewellery boutique De Bouverie. Despite launching a mere 8 months ago, De Bouverie is already making a name for itself as the destination for unique, quality designer jewellery that you won’t find on the high street.
I meet Harriot at her Mayfair offices late in the afternoon and, unsurprisingly considering she’s running the company single-handedly at the moment, she’s dying for a coffee, so we scoot round the corner to the nearest Costa.
Harriot instantly strikes me as a very driven and ambitious young lady. She’s always dreamt of owning her own business and after a career in the City left her unsatisfied, she took the bull by the horns a year ago and embarked on the journey to launch De Bouverie.
WSS: It’s obvious you’re a very entrepreneurial person, where do you think that comes from?
Harriot: Well, my father is a farmer, so has always worked for himself. But more than that, I’ve always hated being told what to do and not being in control. I’m very stubborn and determined and prefer to work on my own terms. Running my own business was always something I dreamt of doing, it was just a case of figuring out what. I had a lot of ideas and it was whilst on gardening leave from a previous job I decided to go for it.
WSS: You launched De Bouverie in October 2011, how long did it take you to reach that point?
Harriot: Almost a year to the day. I worked day in, day out, weekends and evenings,
Ring by Milly Swire
sometimes through the night. I started building the website around March last year and meeting with designers. My original plan was for a big launch in time for the Olympics, but I quickly realised I’d be able to launch earlier, on a smaller scale. Looking back, I’m glad I did as it’s meant I’ve been able to develop and adapt with the needs of the business as it’s grown.
WSS: You are the sole driving force of the business at the moment, what have you learnt so far?
Harriot: Everything! This is my first business and it’s been a steep learning curve throughout. The finance aspect was new to me and I had to grasp that pretty quickly, plus the whole marketing side of things. I’m naturally an organised person, but I’ve had to become even more so. There’s no one around to pick up the ball or chase me when things are late. Having a plan and sticking to it is important, but so is knowing when to step back. At first, I worked too hard; you have to give yourself a break once in a while, something I’m not very good at. But every now and then you have to say “No, today’s Sunday, I’m having a day off”. You need a life outside work.
WSS: You don’t have a typical ‘Jewellery’ background, has that been a major disadvantage?
Harriot: My jewellery knowledge is another thing I’ve had to learn on the go and what I know now compared to 8 months ago is incredible. I studied Fine Art and Sculpture at
Innocence Cluster Necklace
University, which has helped hugely. My weakest area is probably my gem stone knowledge and I’ve started an evening course to get myself up to speed. But I also see it as a benefit as I’ve started out with a totally open mind.
WSS: Where do you see De Bouverie within the jewellery market?
Harriot: De Bouverie is all about high quality designer jewellery not mass produced high street jewellery. The quality of the design, as well as the materials used is tantamount. It’s about bringing beautiful, unique jewellery to time-short customers that wouldn’t have been able to find it otherwise.
WSS: Selling jewellery online has been traditionally very difficult, is this something you’ve experienced?
Harriot: It’s all about gaining the customer’s trust and my customers know they can pick up the phone or pop into my offices for any help or advice. On the whole, the jewellery world is changing rapidly and will look very different in 5 years’ time. The world is going online and I think launching now as a purely online business has only been a benefit for me. I would say there’s no market front-runner at the moment and with the growing demand for online shopping, there’s a lot of customers out there looking for places to shop.
WSS: How do you go about finding your designers?
Harriot: At first, with a lot of leg work. We have 12 on the site right now, but I actually work actively with 26 and am in touch with around 50. A lot of designers introduce me to other designers, people whose work they like and admire. I’m at the point now where designers approach me. If I don’t know them, I’ll ask around, find out about their work and their reputation. De Bouverie prides itself on the highest quality. Designers don’t have to be certified, but I need to be 100% sure they can meet the high standards the brand sets.
WSS: You hand pick every piece that you sell on the website. Is that down to personal preference or commercial viability?
Harriot: A bit of both really. A lot of the lines I launched with were very much ‘my style’, which is paired-down, simplistic, classic and mainly gold. I really had to work on
Desert Rose Bracelet
the silver lines as well as stud earrings, as they’re not something I would wear myself. I listen to the designers; they know their products and customers way better that I ever will. What new pieces are they working on, what are their best sellers? It’s about giving them the freedom to design and have a say in what’s being promoted. That said, if I really love something, I will always put it on the site.
WSS: You offer a bespoke service on your site, how did that come about?
Harriot: It started with a lot of friends looking for engagement rings and being very dissatisfied with what was widely available. I act as a go between the customer and the designers. With my artistic background I’m able to work with the client and get an idea of exactly what they’re after. Then I can go out and talk to those designers I feel match the requirements and make the necessary introductions. It’s more of an advisory role for me.
WSS: Jewellery week is upon us, what are your plans?
Harriot: We’ll be at the Luxe by Me show at Chelsea Town Hall on Tuesday 12th June and hopefully also at the Marylebone Summer Fair which takes place on 16th and 17th June. They close down the whole road and there are some pretty big brands there which De Bouverie sits alongside nicely.
WSS: And what are the longer term plans for the future?
Harriot: Whilst we currently only operate in the UK, De Bouverie isn’t a wholly British brand. There are some really amazing Italian designers I’m looking at working with, as well as some in Eastern Europe. Some of the silver work coming out of Poland is
Pom Pom Earrings
incredible. We also want to look at taking our British designers abroad as well. The wider international market for British jewellery is huge, so I’m looking at streamlining my distribution channels to access this.
Eventually I want De Bouverie to be an internationally recognised brand which stands for quality, design-led jewellery. It’s about working in partnership with the designers, giving them the freedom to do what they do best whilst I help leverage customers desire of online shopping. I want the designers to feel they have a say in what direction the business takes. It’s not about massive mark ups, which don’t benefit the designers; it’s about working together so we all reap the rewards.
The jewellery world should keep an eye on this lady, I can tell you, she is definitely going places.
ps. A % of every sale on De Bouverie goes to support supports the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund, a charity which aims to improve the quality of education in Ugandan schools by investing in buildings and educational resources.