Atelier 9: A tale of pluck, luck, timing & talent

Jewellery on a cabinet in a Geneva jewellery boutique

Display cabinet at jewellery boutique Atelier 9 in Geneve.

JEWELLERS Oya Kozacioglu, Muriel Laurent and Aurore de Geer met ten years ago as students at Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD).

Together they opened their boutique, Atelier 9, in the city’s historic Saint Gervais manufacturing district almost two years ago.

Starting a new, storefront business is risky at the best of times. But when the opportunity arose in the Autumn of 2020, with a global pandemic and lockdowns underway, it took a special leap of faith to even consider it. 

Yet as Oya tells me, it seemed all the stars were aligned for success when they decided to follow their intuition and sign the lease in January 2021. 

Three women, jewellers and owners of a boutique Atelier 9.
Muriel, Aurore and Oya on 15 January 2021, after signing the lease for Atelier 9 and before renovations began.

How you three came to take over this shop, which suits you so well and is ideally located, sounds like a wonderful case of kismet.

It’s true. After graduation everyone starts looking for a workshop because at school, you use its facilities for making jewellery.

In Geneva, often people get workshops together so they can share equipment — there’s quite a lot of it around. Some equipment you don’t use very often, some you can get second hand from jewelers who are retiring, and people go bust as well.

I got a workspace at Kugler, an old faucet factory in the Jonction neighborhood that for 15 years has been used by artists. Aurore was also within this new workshop space and (eventually) Muriel came to it as well.

And then?

We shared the workshop for a few years. I had my daughter and Aurore had her son. We were both working on and off with schedules that weren’t quite fixed because our kids were quite young.  

I was honestly trying to figure out how to make it work. Financially, how to have enough work and still be flexible. That’s when we heard about a new workshop available in this neighborhood. Aurore and I went to visit it and it was really nice. 

Jewellery display on a shelf with a little vase of flowers.

So how did the workshop lead to the shop? 

That same day, after visiting the workshop, Aurore heard from our supplier of precious stones that another client of hers, Mrs Alvarez, was looking for someone to take over her lease, as well as her equipment. 

The city, who is the lease holder of this property, prefers for the same type of business to remain, so for example, a jewellery shop remains one and doesn’t become another coffee shop. But you still need to present your application and plans to them. 

So, (at this point) I thought, yeah, as if we’re going to rent a shop! Whatever next?  Famous last words.  The next day I went on holiday. 

What moved you from sceptical to ‘let’s go for it’?

We had three or four Skype sessions discussing it. At this stage we didn’t have the money or any concept, but the more we thought about it, the more it sounded like a great opportunity.

We’d be able to work with customers directly. As it was, we were selling our collections via orders or galleries, which meant we weren’t getting the full sales price. 

We weren’t doing any repairs or orders. 

We didn’t have our own vitrine, somewhere to show off what we do. Having a physical shop changes everything because people walk by.

And Madame Alvarez had been here for 23 years. Her specialty was restringing pearls, but she also worked with the jewellers in this neighbourhood, who would do repairs (for her) as well as (executing) her designs.

Her attitude was very much, “always say yes, there’s always a solution.” 

She also encouraged us. Once we’d decided to take over, I spent time with her while she was with her customers and saw how her interactions worked, and she gave us lots of tips as well.  

We were very interested to see how she did business because she had a lot of valuable experience.

A necklace of semi-precious stones

What really sold you on the opportunity?

There were three things. It was already a jewellery shop; Mrs Alvarez already had her clientele (which they could inherit).

Secondly, the location’s amazing. Though it’s a small, discreet shop, you tell anyone we’re next to Manor, in the square where the fountain is, and they know it. You don’t need to say the address. So there’s just a lot of foot-fall.

Thirdly, because this is all happening in September 2020 after six months of COVID, we know it’s the city renting it out and their conditions are very fair. 

We knew there wouldn’t be any big rise in rent. It was a big stability issue for us to know that the conditions wouldn’t change with the market, because we were doing this with our own financing. 

So we prepared all the paperwork for the City during the month of September 2020 and got the decision in January 2021. We signed the lease on Friday, the 15th and on the following Monday, they closed all nonessential shops again. But to be honest it was not bad timing for us.

During that closure we did the interior of the shop, planned and prepared, and then we opened officially on the 19th of March, the week that non-essential shops could open again. We felt we needed to be ready.

Silver earrings and a pearl ring and a gold diamond ring.

You’ve really made the space your own. 

It was difficult because when starting out you want to make all the right decisions. We’re designers so it had to be aesthetic and also practical.

We work at the bench while we’re here if there are no customers. And it’s got to be economical as we don’t want to redo the shop every six months.

There were also constraints because we’re in a building (dating) from the 1400s. We couldn’t do whatever we wanted. The stonework is all protected, for example.

The city architect came, and we had to tell him what we wanted to do, and without breaking our budget. There were some things we really invested time into, like the display unit. 

It’s minimalist, light and airy and the green enamel finish makes it lively.

We have a friend who’s an ironmonger. We drew the designs and discussed it with him so that it’s very adaptable. It’s fixed on the wall only at the top, but all the bars can be moved around. It was an investment and it’s entirely made in Geneva.

It’s just a small detail, but it’s the color of workshop machinery in Switzerland.  It’s a green that we like, but it reminds us of workshop environments, and I think it’s a true reflection (of us).

We don’t do high-end jewellery, we make it here in Geneva, we make it ourselves, handmade, and we can adapt it to whatever the customer wants. I think it’s our biggest sales point.

Aquamarine necklace, brass ring, gift box with a gold ribbon

How is it going? Have you been able to find schedules that work for each of you?

We had all worked for other people in the past, so we had a lot of experience with scheduling. We discussed a lot. We decided to do a trial year and if we need to change things we will. 

And the shop gives us a certain flexibility. We make the schedule a month in advance and we can change it each week. 

As for working together, we have a lot of trust amongst each other. We respect each other’s work, we know each other well and come from a similar background. We’ve known each other a long time so it’s easier for us to talk about things and find solutions. 

I think it was the perfect project for us at this time, but we just didn’t know it. 

Atelier 9 will take part in the Marché de Noël du Château de Coppet on the 9th, 10th and 11th December 2022 (free entry). Be sure to stop by and say hello if you go. And, you can check out my, as well as other google reviews of Atelier 9.

Atelier 9 jewellery shop in Geneva.
Atelier 9: Bespoke creations, unique collections, jewellery transformations, repairs & rethreading.

Atelier 9
Place de-Grenus 9
1201 Geneva
Monday to Friday
10h00 to 18h30
10h00 to 18h00
Tel: +41 22 731 16 76

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