Quite a lot, actually.
“There’s definitely been a long history of people calling themselves jewelry specialists, but we’ve never seen the exact concept of Little Bird – Diamond & Engagement Ring Expertise,” says Danielle Mainas, co-founder of the San Francisco-based company, which offers engagement ring consultation services for the confused, the overwhelmed and the generally undereducated.
Mainas began her career sourcing gems for jewelry designers and then overseeing sales and marketing for a major ethical-origin diamond startup. Her business partner, Lia Wilson, is a GIA trained jewelry designer who worked as an engagement ring specialist for a well-loved jewelry brick and mortar store in the Bay Area. “We are not personal shoppers,” says Mainas. “We are diamond and engagement ring experts. We focus on the conversation, and making the process feel whole.”
Buying an engagement ring is not usually known for wholeness. It’s known for anxiety over diamond size, price points and style preferences. It’s known for hours of desperate googling, pinterest pinning, and GQ advice columns with titles like “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Mainas and Wilson think that they can change that. “We’re interested in hearing people’s goals and values,” says Mainas. “We want to help them find something directed to their values – not just the biggest diamond for the best price. How is this going to function in their modern day relationship?”
Certainly, Little Bird can get you the biggest diamond for the best price (“We love those clients too!” says Wilson), but they’re more interested in matching couples with rings that say something about their relationship. “The first questions we ask after the basics – what’s your budget, where do you live – are about the client and his or her partner, and how they see themselves. We want to know what their style and lifestyle is,” says Wilson.
“From there, we work on providing the specific education and language they need to understand what they’re looking for, and eventually select or create a ring,” says Mainas. “We have such a breadth of information and understanding of the different players and styles. We can translate a description of a guy and his girlfriend into a recommendation for a designer. Once a client is working with the right designer, we continue translating what the designer means, and what the customer means when he says ‘I don’t want it to be sticky-upy.’” Of the process, Wilson adds, “I would love to say it’s a formula. It’s a little bit of magic.”
However, while most clients come to Little Bird with a ring in mind, a lot of the coaching – at least in the beginning – is about figuring out what a client really wants, not just what the industry wants them to want. “These guys, bless their hearts, they have done their research,” says Mainas, “and they are gonna come up against exactly what the jewelry industry wants them to – which is 20 of the most promoted images of giant round diamonds in halo rings. So they say, ‘I want a ring, and it should have like a round solitaire on it with little diamonds all around it.’” A key focus for Little Bird is to help people think outside the box.
Wilson agrees. “A lot of people figure out the diamond that they want by having one specific jeweler educate them.” Jewelers, of course, have a vested interest in selling one ring over the other. Little Bird offers a less partisan education. Mainas says, “we don’t represent a single designer or a specific inventory, so our goal is to get the client the best thing possible, not the best thing from one jewelry case.”
As consumers continue to seek unique and personalized jewelry, curators like Little Bird may become more common, even integral, to the buying process. “Those big jewelry houses are maintaining their position,” says Wilson. “I don’t think they’re losing market share, but at the same time, the millennials want more for their money.” Mainas adds, “the jewelry industry is having a harder time offering out of the box, one of a kind, options. It’s really difficult to find something so tailored without someone there to direct that conversation. You just need to know what to ask.”