“Diamonds are a result of pressure,” Lisa Bridge, CEO of U.S. retailer Ben Bridge Jeweler noted when discussing the challenging environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through such comments, the fifth-generation Bridge family member reveals herself to be an optimistic leader bent on reinventing jewelry retail during our conversation. Based in Seattle, Washington, Lisa aims to continue modernizing all 75 Ben Bridge stores with the long-time mission to be our customers “personal jeweler” as a guiding light, but with new innovative tactics, like hologram technology that allows customers to experience jewelry before its creation, as the fuel. With a positive outlook and big ideas, Lisa certainly has the right conditions in her hands for making “diamonds.”
Q: What’s the story of your first diamond?
When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a diamond pendant with an emerald cut diamond at its center. My dad had given the stone, set as a solitaire pendant, to my mom years earlier to mark their first wedding anniversary. They had designed the beautiful pendant, which is inspired by Art Deco design, and reset the diamond into it for my graduation. I wear the pendant often and when I do, I feel the diamond and my parents close to my heart.
Q: What excites you most at the moment?
Diamonds are a result of pressure. They occur when a tremendous amount of pressure is applied to the element carbon deep underneath the surface of the earth. Similarly, Covid-19 has applied tremendous pressure to all of us and while challenging, it has created an environment for reinvention. I have seen a greater openness to change emerge, running the gamut from creative experimentation to embracing of technology. I hope we all use this period to reflect, to challenge assumptions and to create something beautiful. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Q: What is your intention for the year ahead?
Our philosophy at Ben Bridge is to be our customers’ “personal jeweler” and my intention is to grow our business with that philosophy as our touch stone. We already have deep, personal relationships with customers. In fact, we have 40 associates who have been with our company for more than three decades. Rather than just being customers, they have become our friends. We will look to new technologies to enhance that personal touch.
Q: What’s your greatest indulgence?
Travel usually is, but ironically currently it is the lack of travel. My husband and I are passionate travelers; few things have brought us more joy than dreaming, planning, and experiencing a trip. However, during the past months, the lack of travel has been our indulgence. We had our first child this spring, a little girl, and being able to work from home with her and to put her to bed every night has been my greatest joy.
Q: What diamond destination is at the top of your list?
I would love to visit Namibia. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a number of diamond mines, but never an off-shore diamond mine. The latter calls for different exploration and extraction methods, which I would like to learn more about.
Part of it might be my love for water. I grew up on an island in Lake Washington, just outside Seattle. I feel at home by the water, or doing anything related to water like boating or scuba diving. I find alluvial diamond deposits amazing.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in jewelry?
When you sell your first diamond engagement ring, you are sold on a career in jewelry. Ben Bridge is a family business and I grew up in it – my family talked about jewelry at the dinner table, and spent vacations visiting jewelry stores. When I was 16 years old, I sold my first diamond engagement ring while working at our store in Bellevue, Washington. It was magical and intoxicating to be part of such an important, beautiful moment for two people.
My parents never pressured me to pursue a career in jewelry. In fact, I studied education while in college. However, that feeling when I sold my first engagement ring never left me and I get tingly to this day when I watch a couple exchange rings with vows at their wedding. I’m lucky because I grew up in jewelry and it turned out to be my dream job.
Q: What moment still blows your mind?
Looking down into the Jwaneng diamond mine in Botswana. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with twelve members of my team and we were blown away together. It was an incredible experience to peer deep into the Earth and see where diamonds begin their journey.
After seeing the mine, we visited a nearby hospital that was opened when the mine did, where the director gave us a tour. At the beginning, he said, “Thank you. Because you buy our diamonds, we can care for our community.” At that moment, I gained a deeper appreciation of the impact diamonds have on our world.
Q: What life lesson has been the hardest earned, and taught you the most?
It’s impossible to be perfect and to be everything to everyone. I very much want to be everything to family, friends, colleagues and customers. However, the past few months have underscored that impossibility. With the onset of the pandemic and becoming a mother, there has been a lot of change. Having to adapt quickly has not allowed time to be perfect. Over time, I have learned that if your heart is in the right place, and you are doing your best, people understand. We all have to make choices about where to put our time and energy, and sometimes the best we can do has to suffice. We are all human and it is important to allow ourselves some grace.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her to soak it all in. Life is an adventure that can fly by, making it important to take moments to pause and recognize what is going on. One of the best pieces of advice I have heard was right before my wedding. A neighbor said to my husband and me, “Every so often, take a moment, look at each other and say what is about to happen to mark the moment.” Throughout that day, we kept taking moments to pause and say things like, “We are about to walk down the aisle.” It was good advice that day and it is also good advice every day, mark each moment.
Q: What’s next for diamonds?
Diamonds have a special story to tell; one that is particularly relevant during these times. We are reminded of the importance of celebrating life and of the power of the natural world. Diamonds are one of the greatest symbols of celebration used to mark important moments in our culture. They often connect us with each other, whether to a partner, parent or another important person, and they also connect us with the natural world that gives us diamonds. It is incumbent on us to share that story and help people to connect to and celebrate the people they love.