47: Jewelry Auction – Interview with Seth Holehouse from Fortuna Auction

Today we feature CEO Seth Holehouse from Fortuna Auction, a New York-based Auction House specialized on Jewelry.


What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

Fortuna is an auction house that specializes in fine jewelry and gemstones. We began in 2012 and are based in New York City. In the world of auctions, we are fairly young—and that’s a good thing. Having a narrow focus on jewelry gives us an edge over traditional houses, especially in the internet age where the buying landscape is so fragmented. Our auctions are hosted 4-6 times a year. We have bidders live in the sale room, over the phones, and through online platforms from all over the world.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I come from a background of industrial design and entered into the field of jewelry around a decade ago when I met my wife. She already had an established jewelry career as a Graduate Gemologist from GIA. Together we continued to learn how to buy and sell jewelry, and built a successful retail/wholesale establishment here in New York.

What inspired you to start this business?

One big reason we started Fortuna Auction was because we had an unfortunate experience with auction houses ourselves. A few years back, we were asked by a client to sell a piece of Chinese art, which falls outside our area of expertise. After we consigned the item at an auction—where it didn’t sell—we got hit with with thousands of dollars in auction fees.

It was painful to learn how vulnerable people are when buying or selling in an unfamiliar area. We figured that many sellers and buyers of jewelry might be unaware of the potential risks, the nuances in the marketplace, or simply not be aware of all the sales channels available to them, so we founded Fortuna to alleviate that pain.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

In the last few years, it’s becoming ever clearer to me that there’s a tremendous need for a reliable, trusted way to buy and sell jewelry at fair market values.

From the perspective of the seller, jewelry has such personal importance. It may have been handed down in the family and carries with it sentimental value. Or maybe some fine jewelry needs to be sold to finance a child’s education. Divorce is another reason someone might sell jewelry. From the buyer’s perspective, they see fine jewelry as works of art, which they collect with zeal, or they’re looking for gifts for their wives or children.

Clients come to us with all sorts of needs, and it’s our mission to serve them with integrity. The more we grow, the more we see that there’s immense interest, particularly among owners of jewelry, who often have no clue where to begin when it comes to selling.

There’s unfortunately a lot of unscrupulous buyers out there, and most people, unless they are experts in the industry, easily lose money they deserve. When they come to us, we teach them how jewelry is evaluated, in what ways they can maximize their earnings—and if they want, help them sell it through auction.

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

We are the world’s only no-fee fine jewelry auction house. While other auction houses typically charge a seller’s commission of at least 10% off the hammer price, we don’t charge the seller a dime—not even the fees for photography, cataloging, marketing, or unsold lots. Our profit is derived from the buyer’s premium, which is on par with the industry standard. This way, the seller has nothing to lose and everything to gain by consigning with us. Because we have such a narrow focus in our operations, we are able to keep our overhead lower than a traditional auction house and we pass along those savings to our clients.

In addition, we offer free valuations. Anyone is welcome to submit photos of their jewelry or visit us for a consultation, free of charge, and with no obligation to consign thereafter.

How competitive is your industry?

In the United States, the auction industry is dominated by a duopoly consisting of Sotheby’s and Christies. Most people who are aware of auctions know these two names. However, the kind of items most people own wouldn’t meet the quality/price point standards for these auction houses since they must operate on such a large scale.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, are small, local auctions. They are wonderful; often warm and easy to work with. But they also have limited reach in terms of finding a buying audience.

Fortuna is run by a small and dedicated team, but working in the realm of higher-end jewelry, so in my eyes, we offer the best of both worlds.

What’s a view you held before starting your business that has since changed?

I used to think that starting a business required a picture-perfect business plan. A common concern among entrepreneurs is finding the perfect position in an already crowded industry. But the longer I work on my business, the more I realize that it’s about people. Clients don’t come to you after a doing a lengthy market positioning analysis, and determining that you’re the smartest. They come to you because they trust you and like you.

So don’t think that you’re just another Italian restaurant among a sea of Italian restaurants. If you put your heart into it, have a product or service that truly serves the public, you’ll succeed as long as you treat people with consideration and respect.

To find out more about Fortuna please visit Fortunaauction.com.

12: Interview with Christine Lin from Yun Boutique

Today’s blog post features New Yorker Christine from Yun Boutique who makes hand-made jewelry.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

For nearly 10 years I worked in Arts & Culture journalism before moving on to work on building the jewelry business I share with my neighbor and partner Ariel Tian. Ariel’s background is in production management. Both of us began making jewelry as hobbyists. It seemed to be written in the stars when we met as neighbors. After realizing that we share a similar vision about the power of handcrafting, we decided to go into business together.

What kind of business do you run? When did you start it?

Yun Boutique is our handmade jewelry business. We launched our Shopify store on New Year’s Day this year, but Ariel started Yun Boutique on her own in 2013. After I joined on as partner in the latter half of 2015, the company grew and its brand identity began to rapidly solidify. Working as a partnership rather than a solo entrepreneur injected new energy into the enterprise.

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You design the jewelry, do you also manufacture it?

Everything is handmade with the exception of some metal parts that we source.

What inspired you to start this business?

Both Ariel and I practice Falun Dafa, an ancient Chinese meditation practice. Its core principles are truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, which practitioners hold themselves to in daily life. When Ariel began Yun Boutique in 2013, she had just taken up the practice again after a long hiatus, and wanted badly to share with the world her newfound sense of peace in a beautiful way. Falun Dafa meditation taps into millennia of self-cultivation traditions that existed in ancient China, and millions of practitioners all over the world have experienced the change in outlook and well-being that it brings.

Which resources to run your business do you use most?

We rely on the wonderful experts at Shopify and the third-party developers who designed our shop’s theme. Shopify more like an ecosystem than an e-commerce solutions company—the platform itself is an oak in the forest, supporting a wide array of talented designers, coders, and troubleshooters always ready and willing to help.

Another great resource, which we think is underutilized, is SCORE, the free business coaching arm of the Small Business Administration. Just speaking to a coach is like therapy for an overextended small business owner, not to mention that the coaches are all retired from long careers in their respective fields and harbor a wealth of knowledge.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

It still astounds us how overwhelmingly positive our customers’ feedback are. Every time we ship out an order, be it a pair of earrings, a necklace, or a hair accessory, in a week they come back with glowing reviews. This proves to us that Chinese culture and aesthetics really resonates with people, and that they feel the positive energy we put into our craft. It heartens us to know that with every order shipped, we’re introducing someone to the spiritual discipline that’s changed our lives for the better.

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What is your single best non-obvious tip for running a business?

When your to-do list is the length of your leg and screaming at you, ignore it. What’s most needed in these instances is perspective, not a jackhammer—especially because you’re responsible for the health of a business. One of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned from Falun Dafa’s teachings is that when you’re met with resistance, the key is to step back. As Master Li Hongzhi said, “when you take a step back in a conflict, you will find the seas and the skies boundless, and it will certainly be another situation.”

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

We sure do! When we began looking at the market for Chinese jewelry, we noticed that it was divided into two extremes: souvenir-grade items, and fine jewelry made in Chinese ateliers that are actually Western in spirit and style. Nothing we found reflected the best of Chinese culture, which is deeply spiritual. The advice to creatives is to “write the book you wish to read,” right? We decided to make the jewelry we couldn’t find.

How did you come up with the name of the company?

“Yun” means “cloud” in Chinese. Clouds evoke faraway places, the realms high above, dreams and wishes, and the conduits between the earth and the heavens. For those reasons, clouds are also a classic motif in Chinese decorative arts. “Yun” embodies so much of what our brand stands for.

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How do you stay productive and not get distracted?

It’s important to work with, not against your most productive times of day. I find that I’m most creative and effective in the mornings and evenings, so I schedule tasks accordingly. Chinese medicine also says that the mid-afternoon (when you usually hit the slump) is the best time for physical exercise, so that’s when I take a walk and get recharged. To prevent distractions, I work off a daily task list, one’s that’s reasonably challenging so I don’t get overwhelmed and start procrastinating.

What are your future plans for the company?

There seems to be a renaissance of people becoming interested in Chinese culture beyond its relevance for international business. We plan to continue reaching more people who love Chinese culture and the arts. On our blog, we write about Chinese culture, jewelry, and design, and the response has been good so far.

Do you think that anybody could start a business?

We believe that anyone who has the passion and motivation to bring something really valuable to the world and their community could start a business. You can succeed if you really put the benefit of your customers above their own. Because we believe it is part of the principle of the universe: a spirit of generosity and a genuine concern for others are the first conditions for true success.

To learn more about Ariel’s & Christine’s jewelry please visit Yunboutique.com.