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A former tech exec and self-professed "ancient history geek," Torie Tilley of Common Era did not have a straightforward path to becoming a jewelry designer. Happy to leave the corporate boys club and be able to call the shots on her own, Torie decided to take a major risk and start Common Era, a jewelry design company born in 2019 with "one foot in 219 BCE" as she says. Her collection is full of talismans featuring the OG influencers, goddesses and muses like Aphrodite, Artemis, and Athena. We had such a smart, spirited chat—read on!
MELISSA: Tell me how you have your love for ancient mythology? How did you come about starting the Common Era?
TORIE: I don’t come from the fashion world or the jewelry world. I used to work at a B2B tech company in Australia before moving to Seattle. I then moved to Chicago and then to New York. I lost my job when I moved, and all of these things happened at once. I decided to go on a family vacation, and I started listening to the audiobook of the odyssey. I went to a museum, and I was listening to the odyssey at the same time and I thought it was a sign. I decided to turn something that I was passionate about into a small business. It has been so rewarding. I launched in 2019 which was not the best timing.
MELISSA: You are not the only person that I’ve interviewed over the last year who launched their business over the pandemic. In some ways that is the worst timing but also the best timing.
TORIE: We are an e-commerce only company, so it was kind of made for the pandemic.
MELISSA: How did you decide to turn this passion into a line? What were your first steps to launch this business?
TORIE: First it was convincing my husband that I wasn’t crazy. I was really lucky to have some savings from my time working in Australia and I said, “if I don’t do it then I will regret it, so I should at least try.” I knew nothing about jewelry, but I am a huge nerd—I love learning things. I read so many books on jewelry design and sketching. I had some of the ugliest jewelry designs at the start. I launched with a really small, curated line and it has slowly grown. At the time, everyone was very into zodiac necklaces—which is still on-trend. With the goddesses, I think you can shape into different powers and wear different goddesses depending on what you are doing—like at a meeting you may wear Athena or if you are going on a date you may wear Aphrodite.
MELISSA: I love that—identifying with people based on your mood. How did you decide on the 9 muses? Did you launch with them? I think it is so interesting and very powerful. Who doesn’t want to identify with one of the goddesses based on your mood?!!
TORIE: The goddess collection came first and that was all Greek goddesses—I launched with that. Muses were the worst launch ever; it took so long to happen because of the Covid supply chain issues. I ended up getting Covid-19 the week I was eligible to get the vaccine. It was such bad luck. I took all the photos myself and I was shooting the new collection and I was sweating from a fever, I couldn’t smell or taste. It was quite an interesting time to launch a new collection. A muse and goddess are so different, you can embody a goddess, but a muse is typically something that people will call on.
MELISSA: That is so amazing and so different. There are so many lines out there, but it is so refreshing that this can give you some power and meaning. Is there one piece in the line that you love that means a lot to you? Or does it change day by day?
TORIE: It shifts. Medusa is my favorite. I think when I designed her no one would like her. She is scary, but I love that, especially her 7 emeralds in her hair. I wear her a lot and I love Clio also because she loves history. I love Roman and Greek history so much.
With the goddesses, I think you can shape into different powers and wear different goddesses depending on what you are doing—like at a meeting you may wear Athena or if you are going on a date you may wear Aphrodite.
MELISSA: Was there any particular piece in your line that sold more than others? Were there any surprises?
TORIE: I think Athena would be the number one seller and Medusa would be the worst. But it is quite the opposite. Medusa is the best seller by far.
MELISSA: I read up all about your company and how you are conflict-free and nothing is man-made. Walk me through how you source your stones? Was going about designing your jewelry that way really difficult?
TORIE: It was very difficult. There was so much learning to do. It would be so much cheaper to make everything in China with not great materials. I could never forgive myself if I did that. I ended up finding a responsible jewelry council-certified studio which is the hardest certification to get in the jewelry industry. They are finding all the right guidelines and they have been audited repeatedly. My husband is also in the business. He makes a lot of fine jewelry. He makes my solid gold jewelry but not the vermeil stuff.
MELISSA: Good for you! What are some of your particulars? What are some things you never take off or always have with you?
TORIE: My engagement ring – I always have it on. My husband designed it and I love it so much. I always wear my wedding ring also. I wear the Medusa and I always wear the pearl necklace also. I love the Floating Pearl earrings which I am wearing now also. They come in opal and ruby. I always have my kindle because I love reading. I have the Aesop oil blends and I put them in my diffusers. They smell so good.