Grad’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Knows No Limits
October 9, 2013
“If you follow your dream with passion, it will lead you to the path less followed. The desire to fulfill that dream in the midst of adverse climates will bring innovation. It is at this stage that the true love for entrepreneurship becomes your life dream."
– H. "Gio" Giovanni, GG, CEO Blacksmith Intl. & Co.
Finding a passion in life can be a long and circuitous journey for many, but for those like H. “Gio” Giovanni, GG, the challenge is choosing which of his passions to follow. An entrepreneur whose expertise spans gems, jewelry, clothing and custom cars and motorcycles, Giovanni fortunately never had to make a choice. He formed three successful businesses in three entirely different industries before taking his first graduate gemologist class at GIA in Carlsbad in 2007.
Today, Blacksmith Intl. & Co., Giovanni’s Minden, Nevada-based gem and jewelry design firm, is his number one priority. Yet it’s clear his life also revolves around the innovative motorcycle design, automotive accessory design and clothing businesses he’s also worked hard to build.
“The common thread across all my ventures is that they’re about lifestyle,” says Giovanni. “They’re about enhancing and reflecting my customers’ lives, whether they want a semi-custom ring or a high-performance, artistic motorcycle.”
Giovanni, whose family is from Cali, Colombia, fell into the gem and jewelry business out of a desire for custom-made jewelry pieces, but it was next to impossible to find someone to envision his ideas for one-of-a-kind pieces.
“The greatest challenge was finding a jeweler that would be able to get the large carat sizes that would become my jewelry’s signature,” Giovanni said. His determination pushed him to consider getting involved in the jewelry business, as he thought there were others that must share his love for “large, explosive pieces,” limited by the standards of retail.
So while earning his master’s degree in business administration at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, he learned from a gentleman in Chicago who ultimately became his business partner.
“We formed an agreement in which he would teach me about carving, casting and setting, and I would help him with negotiations for diamonds and colored gemstones,” Giovanni said. “I showed him how to get the proper price points. I was also able to acquire custom stones straight from the rough that a lot of others couldn’t get.”
Giovanni next turned to a friend of the family who introduced him to some emerald dealers in Colombia. He learned that the European marketplace should be his first stop to meet dealers. So with a pocket full of high-grade emeralds given to him on consignment, Giovanni boarded a flight and began his career as a gem importer.
During his travels as a gem importer, a diamond dealer in Tel Aviv told him all about GIA and Giovanni was immediately intrigued.
“I liked the sound of a GG and knew it would benefit me and my business to enroll,” Giovanni said.
To do so, however, Giovanni decided he couldn’t have it all – all of his businesses, that is. He needed to focus all of his energy on the rigorous GG coursework. And when it came time to embark on his GIA education, his next move not only astounded those around him, but also surprised Giovanni himself.
“I walked away from the other aspects of my business life and isolated myself at GIA’s Carlsbad campus, turning over all management of Blacksmith Motoring Co. – my custom motorcycle business – to my executive staff,” he said. “Throughout the duration of the GG program, I dismissed phone calls and emails and studied seven days a week. I realized it was not the time to have my mind going off in other directions.”
On campus, he found that the GIA computer-aided design classes were a natural fit for his business, and that his GIA education in general played a big role in helping him advance his success.
“During the 12 months I was getting my GG, I was not only increasing my knowledge of gemstones, but I was also churning out new designs with CAD, legitimizing my business and making new industry connections,” Giovanni said.
“I had instructors who encouraged me to push my innovative ideas and they tailored some aspects of the course to help enhance my skill sets. They knew I would bring my company into a new direction in the industry,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni’s gamble paid off. Not only did the GG program add greater depth and breadth to his gem knowledge, but he came back to his businesses to find they were well taken care of during his absence. Soon after, the entrepreneur said, Blacksmith & Company jumped from being a small, two-man operation to a multi-employee company almost overnight.
“I built a whole new company while I was building myself and my skills at GIA,” he said. “GIA was able to take what I knew and help me mold it into something new.”
Fast forward to today and Giovanni’s gem and jewelry business is operating in high gear. The semi-custom men’s lines that his firm produces all follow a carefully crafted look and feel – a distinctive brand design he works closely with his in-house team to maintain.
Like his custom motorcycle business, Giovanni’s Blacksmith Intl. & Co. offers an online store to serve clients on a global scale. Branding and marketing are also a specialty of his, and he has come out with jewelry lines that are lower in price, featuring metals such as stainless steel and sterling silver, along with more sports-oriented and car-oriented themes.
Blacksmith Intl. & Co. makes use of platinum, rose gold and some yellow gold, but lately Giovanni has placed a stronger focus on palladium. He says it's relatively lightweight and lends well to bold designs and to creations capable of holding the larger carat – exotic gemstones that have become a trademark of his firm.
“Our goal is to provide clients with the quality, craftsmanship, metal weight and innovative design they deserve,” he said. “We follow the time-honored tradition and art of crafting metal, and specialize in 950 palladium – the most reflective member of the platinum group.”
Always eager to share his knowledge, Giovanni recently returned to Carlsbad to present a student lecture covering his innovative jewelry design techniques as well the business practices that have catapulted his ventures.
The key point that he drove home with students is the importance of protecting your brand. “You can have everything else taken away from you,” he said, “but your brand represents who you are and what you do. I’ll fight for my brand until the end. The Blacksmith name reflects my ability and desire to tailor designs according to my customers’ wishes, whether they want motorcycles, cars or jewelry.”
Giovanni said he has learned a lot by listening to older people in the jewelry business. Even if they have not been the most successful at their craft, he appreciates the advice they have to offer.
“They knew what needed to be done in order to make a change or to go forward and people just haven’t listened to it,” he said. If you find these people, “they’ll see something in you and they’ll feed you information that they may have never told anybody else,” he said.
He sees his role in coming back to talk to students as a way to pay his experience forward.
“You need to be able to tell individuals what you did, how it worked for you, situations around it and give them examples because one of those examples may click,” he said. “You follow your heart. You do what you think is right.”
About The Author
Amanda J. Luke is a senior communications manager at GIA. She is the editor of the GIA Insider and Alum Connect and was the editor of The Loupe magazine.