Victoria Taylor and Kirstin O’Brien are the business partners behind the Wellington-based jewellery brand TORY & KO.

When and why did you get started in the jewellery business?

Victoria:

I remember having a moment of clarity on a bus in Europe that I wanted to become a jeweller and open my own store. It took two years to find an apprenticeship so in the meantime I did a diploma in business studies, which has stood me in good stead.

I eventually got my apprenticeship at Berry's jewellers, where I was lucky enough to have one-on-one training with Helen Grubi - an excellent jeweller and businesswoman. She also encouraged me to start a degree in gemmology which, lucky for me, was in New York.

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After five years at Berry's I moved to Sydney to work at a diamond merchant and a few years later I moved back to Wellington with the plan to open my own showroom on The Terrace with a jewellery workshop at the front of the building so people could see the jewellers and I at work. After my second son was born I opened a small space in the Old Bank Arcade and was appointment-only for a while. And that's when Kirstin came along.

Kirstin: I was actually one of Victoria's customers and was always really inspired by her design aesthetic and personality. I loved the personal connection with a jeweller and really identified with the trade, because my grandfather and uncle were both manufacturing jewellers and I'd also worked for Stewart Dawsons jewellers in Christchurch when I was studying at Canterbury University.

Victoria had a really successful business and had created jewellery for the red carpet and movie stars and New York Fashion Week. It all seemed so intriguing, and I found myself popping in and talking to her about ideas I had to help grow her brand. We got on really well and had a lot of synergies in terms of work experience, ideas, enthusiasm and a desire to make a positive difference.

What stage is the business at now?
Kirstin: We're in a growth period at the moment with the opening of our second retail store. We got a lot of international media attention when the Kensington Palace staff of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, requested four pieces from our collections, so we've seen our market grow internationally.

We've since sent jewellery to Australia, England, the US, Luxembourg, Belgium, Estonia and Japan. We've also been growing our distribution channels in the form of design store retailers, art galleries and departments stores.

Victoria: We've also recently taken on two new staff members to work in our store downstairs and have another full-time jeweller on board to allow me to work more on jewellery design and consultation with our valued clients. We're always looking to make a positive change while we grow our business. One of things we feel really strongly about is giving back to the community - especially to children as we're mums ourselves.

What have been the primary challenges in terms of growing your brand and your business?
Victoria: We use the way gemologists grade diamonds - the 'four C's' of cut, clarity, colour and carat weight - to help us grow. We see the 'cut' as how we reflect ourselves, use our different skills and respect our staff and customers; 'clarity' is our vision and ability to change with the market; 'colour' is all about our essence of having fun while working; and 'carat' is how we want to make a positive change and set an example for our children. I think we're achieving this through our charity work and work ethics.

Being in business always has its challenges. We have quite specialised services, so our business does need more than the two of us swapping hats eight times a day. We knew we needed help, but it has really been a cart before the horse situation until recently.

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Kirstin: I think we'd both like to be able to free up our 'working in the business' time to 'working on the business'. For Victoria this means having the time to design and create new collections and for me, I'd like to have more time to work solidly on creating a positive environment for our staff, put more robust systems in place, and develop our marketing and brand alignments.

What's worked well for you in terms of growing your brand?
Kirstin: We've definitely been prepared to push ourselves outside our traditional retail store mindset by engaging with our distribution channels and working on all manner of events and brand alliances. Through our contacts we've had some great opportunities to showcase our jewellery - Victoria's created jewellery for the red carpet at the Baftas and the Oscars, for Kate Middleton and for movie stars like Evangeline Lilly and Robin Tunney.

Another interesting event we got involved with was the Genée International Ballet Competition. Victoria designed a beautiful tiara for the audience award winner and we were lucky enough to present the piece on stage at the final awards ceremony at the St James Theatre.

Victoria: From that we've since been commissioned to create another beautiful tiara featuring pink Argyle diamonds in 18ct white and rose gold - one of the highlights of my jewellery career.

Coming up in Your Business: Social media has made it easier than ever for customers to rate and comment on products and services online. What are small business owners doing to keep on top of this side of their operations? If you've got a story to share about handling customer reviews, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com