After starting a biology degree, Charmaine Williams ended up completing a Bachelor of Design Innovation at the Victoria University of Wellington. In her final year, she applied for a designer's role with an online jewellery company and was able to work alongside their manufacturer in Wellington.
"It was a unique position to be working for this very modern company but at the same time working with well-regarded ‘old-hands' of the New Zealand jewellery industry," she said.
"I have been privileged to design for some of New Zealand's most exciting new jewellery companies and create some exceptional pieces of jewellery."
Williams conceived and established Grae in May 2015. Named after the metaphor of the colour grey, Grae represents this cloudy dream space where ideas are born.
"I think I have a modern approach to a very traditional industry. The backbone of the business has built on the quality of materials and exquisite craftsmanship and I value and support local companies and resources but in the modern sense, I understand the power of online presence, marketing and retail, incorporating new manufacturing technologies and looking outside your domestic market."
Williams didn't want to build a business that was driven by revenue or open a jewellery store full of watches and imported jewellery, so Grae runs as a studio rather than a retail space. She either meets with her clients in her home studio or travels to their city or hometown to meet with them.
"In this way customers are drawn into the design process and it is very collaborative. I think it unquestionably adds to the intimacy and trust that is essential to the client/designer relationship when having a piece commissioned."
She predominantly creates bespoke engagement rings.
"The wearing of engagement and wedding rings adheres to romantic traditions of love but I think my clients value their individuality and are writing their stories, bucking convention a little bit."
Inspired by brands which challenge tradition, especially the alternative bridal movement, Williams aims to build on the first year of the business which has been spent developing relationships with clients, researching, drawing inspiration and growing a collection of exceptional gemstones.
"Eventually, I would like to scale up the studio with an on-site workshop or flagship location and create some fantastic jobs for like-minded people but do this in a way that emulates the privacy and intimacy of the current studio experience."