After almost 10 years as one of Singapore’s most popular radio hosts, Maddy Barber is stepping away from the microphone to focus on something even more fun: her brilliantly coloured fine jewellery brand Madly.
Ms Barber founded the brand in 2014, focusing on creating colourful fine jewellery featuring a wide variety of gemstones rather than the traditional, colourless diamonds most Singaporeans were used to. Instead, Madly offers customers every colour of the rainbow, and more, to add joy and sparkle to their lives.
It is obvious that Madly has been a success, but it hasn’t always been easy. Ms Barber juggled an early morning job, raising two daughters and establishing a jewellery business with strong ethical and sustainable goals at the same time.
At home here in Singapore, business was affected drastically last year as we were, as the majority of businesses, forced to close completely over the circuit breaker period. Covid has also dramatically affected the supply of raw materials coming out of all gem producing regions around the world
But all the hard work has paid off, and now Ms Barber is ready to take the brand to the next level: “Focusing on just one vocation instead of spreading myself too thin has always been the goal,” she explains.
“There is only so long one can straddle the fence, work the hours I did without sacrificing my health and family life. That being said, having been able to fulfil my childhood dream job to this extent, for as long as I did, has truly been one of life’s greatest blessings and privileges."
“I highly recommend juggling your day job and start-up for as long as you can, because when your eggs are not all in one basket, you are less likely to make decisions out of fear or desperation. It gave me the peace I needed to make good, rational decisions based on a mix of sound logic and gut instincts. That is particularly critical in the first five years of any business," she adds.
“I know I’ve given my best to radio, but I haven’t given my all, if not my best, to Madly. With how quickly Madly is growing and moving upstream, my baby needs all hands on deck!” says Ms Barber.
Coping in a pandemic
You might think that having two jobs during a pandemic would be a reassurance. Still, for Ms Barber, the upheaval of the Coronavirus gave her an opportunity to rethink her lifestyle choices and her ideas for the development of Madly.
“At home here in Singapore, business was affected drastically last year as we were, as the majority of businesses, forced to close completely over the circuit breaker period. Covid has also dramatically affected the supply of raw materials coming out of all gem producing regions around the world,” Ms Barber explains.
“But every dark cloud has a silver lining, and it’s up to us to plan meticulously for the future, but to also be willing to throw it all away and go with our gut. So as we watched the pandemic destabilise in Europe in early 2020, we pivoted from our original plans for a second retail location, and went full steam ahead on securing our upstream capabilities instead."
“We only work with the finest 0.1% of coloured gems from around the world, so this move was to safeguard our future in the industry. So instead of another shop front, Madly invested in two sourcing offices in the coloured gem capitals of the world - Tanzania and Sri Lanka."
Having sourcing offices ensures that Madly has early access to the products coming out of the mines, and helps the brand to invest in more stock, more easily, since prices continue to increase, says Ms Barber.
“In a sense, Covid was one of the reasons why I was nudged to make this decision and finally commit full-time to Madly. We have an office in Tanzania which I’ve never personally seen, and with radio as my day job and Covid quarantines, I probably would never be able to see it if I didn’t make this move, much less go to trade shows and build the networks that we need for expansion,” explains Ms Barber.
While she admits that she misses working in radio, particularly with her team, Ms Barber says she has no regrets about leaving the industry, knowing that she always gave her best and “savoured every moment on air”.
Madly’s long-term goals include looking into more retail stores in Singapore and overseas, but at a measured pace. “We like to take things step-by-step, but the natural step forward after setting up sourcing offices in Tanzania and Sri Lanka, would be to expand the upstream side of our business,” says Ms Barber.
The future of coloured gemstones
Since Madly is all about coloured gems, naturally, Ms Barber has some ideas about future trends for this segment of the fine jewellery market.
“The coloured gemstone market has certainly expanded tremendously over the last five to 10 years. Now, there’s so much information on the internet about the rarity of various gemstones, and the once oblivious diamond-centric buyer is slowly but surely waking up to their beauty, if not the intrinsic value they offer,” explains Ms Barber.
“Just scroll through Instagram, and you’ll notice that even the oldest and biggest design houses in the world are now using an array of colours - far beyond the traditional Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald - in their high jewellery collections.
“As the world gets darker, people are going to NEED more colour in their lives! Now that the information is out there - that said, one must still be discerning when reading up on gemstones as there is also a lot of conflicting and inaccurate information floating on the internet - they can only love and appreciate them more. The same way ‘colour’ is not a trend, coloured gemstones are here to stay, sparkle and shine!”
Maddy Barker's three favourite gems of all time
1. Spinel! It always has been and always will be. They’re basically the gem that got me started – their lustre, their colour, their story. To me, they’re the Cinderella of gemstones. She was always beautiful and always there, but people only noticed her after her Fairy Godmother worked her magic. For years, they’ve been overlooked in favour of the better-known Sapphires, Rubies and Emeralds, and only those who KNEW could appreciate it.
2. Garnets. I love their sparkle; I love that they’re one of the most complex, if not the most complex, mineral family, and I love that discoveries and colours are still being made — take Malaia Garnets, they’re a peachy pink hue, for example. Some people are still shocked by the ‘new’ colours which have been discovered, and I’ve even had jewellers ask me if I had mistakenly called Morganites and Kunzite 'Malaia Garnet'. I love some gemstones for their rich history, but for Garnets, the fact that we’re still on the cusp of discovery is what makes them extra exciting.
3. Emerald. To me, the most beautiful thing about them is that what’s deemed as a ‘flaw’ in other gemstones, in Emerald, it’s ‘character’. Their inherent inclusions are affectionately called Jardin, and they’re what make Emeralds so charming and otherworldly. Their glow, their artistry, and how I personally wouldn’t fall in love with an Emerald without any Jardin, I wouldn’t fall in love with a person with no character.
To shop Madly Gems, go to madlygems.com to book an appointment for a bespoke jewellery piece, or book an appointment via +65 6650 1544 or email@example.com to visit the atelier at 72 Seng Poh Rd, #01-63, S160072. Viewings are by appointment only.
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