The Interview: Otiumberg co-founder Rosanna Wollenberg on establishing the demi-fine jewellery brand with sister Christie
Sisters Rosanna and Christie Wollenberg combined their respective skills and passion for art and fashion to create demi-fine jewellery brand Otiumberg, which bridges the gap between the high street and high end options. The sibling started the brand in 2016 after friends requested their designs and it is now stocked at some of the most prestigious fashion retailers from Selfridges to Matches and Browns. Rosanna Wollenberg (pictured above right with Christie) tells us the brand story and its plans for the future.
It’s lovely that this is a sibling-founded business, can you please tell us a bit about your backgrounds before we talk about the brand? Are you both designers, for instance?
Christie holds 12 years of luxury fashion experience having worked in the communications, buying and VIP departments of Burberry and Louis Vuitton both in London and the UAE. Previous to founding Otiumberg, I worked in positions across the art and branding industries in both London and New York. Always with a desire to explore the world, we both studied languages at university and spent time living in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Barcelona - hugely formative experiences that exposed us to new cultures, people and life.
We came to Otiumberg with a very complementary skill set and consequently can work very intuitively together – perhaps it’s a sister thing but we rarely have differing opinions when it comes to the brand and its aesthetic direction, whether that’s the design or wider visuals. Christie as Creative Director oversees design and I oversee the wider brand direction, always coming together to review, sign-off and challenge each other.
What motivated you to set up a business together?
We founded the brand when we were living together in London and both working in the creative industries – Christie in fashion and myself in art. Whilst we both enjoyed our work; we very much felt a level of dissatisfaction and an urge to create something for ourselves. As you can imagine, we both loved to express ourselves through what we wore and as part of that was how we styled our multiple piercings.
We recognised that whilst we had disposable income, we were unable to buy into the fine jewellery market whilst at the same time had little interest in the throw away character of the high street options. Christie had previously made some solid gold huggie hoops whilst living in the Middle East working at LVMH, which we both loved styling across our new piercings. When our friends started requesting the pieces, we began to think that there was an opportunity to build on this and create something ourselves.
We instinctively started to build the collection piece by piece based on what we wanted to wear and the brand really grew organically from there. We’ve always been cautious with Otiumberg and we’ve grown the brand steadily and responsibly. It started as a side hustle alongside our main careers, working weekends and evenings together to build its foundations. It was only when Otiumberg began to grow and was too much to handle alongside our jobs that we knew it was time to throw ourselves into it full time.
How did you go about establishing the business and what were the biggest challenges and wins in the early days?
The incident which immediately comes to mind is when we had all our stock stolen at the very beginning of the brand, which not only dented morale at a critical moment for the business, but also left us to slowly start rebuilding the inventory without external investment. With that said, and with the joy of hindsight, it happened at a very early moment in the business and made us seriously consider how we operate in a safe and secure way.
Growing a business is never straightforward, especially as we were first time entrepreneurs and outsiders to the jewellery industry. With that said, we really had some wonderful moments including when our first luxury retailers picked us up such as Selfridges and Matches and when we were finally able to hire our first employees after having done everything ourselves for so long.
Tell us about the brand’s name and what it stands for?
Otiumberg is derived from the combination of two words and meanings. From the Latin, ‘otium’, which is leisure time devoted specifically to artistic endeavours and enlightenment. ‘Berg’, is taken from our family surname, to emphasise the sisterhood at the heart of the brand.
The aesthetic is divine, modern yet timeless. How do you describe it?
The collection is really a personal reflection in jewellery, an ode to understatement and effortless style. We are always focussed on a timeless perspective and subtle details that make the pieces feel special.
When you go about creating new product, where do you start? How do you know if something is right?
We are constantly designing new pieces as we are always inspired by the world around us (and unfortunately we are very bad at switching off!), so whether that’s being inspired by friends in London, by the prestigious galleries we are lucky to have here on our doorstop or by searching through archival / vintage references. A thought or inspiration can really happen anywhere. We’ll play around with shape and form for weeks before coming to a place where we feel happy with the design. It’s driven very much from gut intuition and personal taste. Once we have the sample, we know that something is right if we end up living in the piece for weeks. We’ll often do focus groups with friends and the wider team to get feedback and input.
What are the brand’s bestsellers?
Our customers really do buy into the full breadth of the collection, both the solid 9 karat gold collection and the Gold Vermeil / Sterling Silver pieces. Our personalised pieces are always up there in the bestsellers every week which includes our Tiny Diamond Initial Pendant, Name Pendant and Name Bracelet. These pieces are exclusive to Otiumberg.com and offer luxurious and subtle touches of personalisation for the everyday.
How much newness do you bring into the collection and how often?
We launch around two designs a month at the very most. As with everything at Otiumberg, we want everything to be considered and timeless which lends itself to a much slower evolution.
You are a B Corp, tell us why that was important for you?
As a small brand, we have invested a huge amount of time and resources into being more responsible, and B Corp is an accreditation we have been working towards for over a year and a half. It's a wonderful achievement to see our commitment and efforts formally recognised with this prestigious certification. B Corp gives us a framework to grow and evolve in a responsible manner, laying the foundations for a new type of business model in the industry. It’s an incredible honour to be part of the B Corp community and something that motivates us to do even better.
It is worth saying that whilst we are delighted to achieve our B Corp status, this is by no means our end goal, it's just part of our journey. We will always ensure that we are evolving, learning and improving. It’s not about the awards or status.
Can you please tell us about your approach to sustainably sourcing materials and packaging?
At Otiumberg we are constantly researching and learning about how to improve our materials and sourcing. We use recycled precious metals across the collection alongside a capsule in full traceable and responsible Single Mine Origin gold. Our packaging has always been sustainable, that means no plastic or foam. It was challenging at first to maintain a level of luxury, but after many prototypes we got there and have recently introduced new materials such as plant-derived Raime into the packaging. In the supply chain we have swapped harmful polybags for HOME compostable and biodegradable alternatives - this is the plastic behind the scenes that rarely gets spoken about. A few years ago, we also introduced a recycling and replating scheme for our customers which encourages a long-term and circular mindset when it comes to jewellery and precious metals.
Can you describe the Otiumberg customer or is the base very broad?
We think of who our customer is in terms of their attitude. It’s someone who likes to invest in themselves, into pieces that become loved and part of them. Our customer has an appreciation of elevated design and brings an innate sense of their own aesthetic to express a quiet confidence in who they are.
They are not necessarily trend-setters but come with a youthful energy and an eye for understated style. In deciding to invest in longevity, they embrace a more conscious approach to self-expression and derive joy from joining a movement that’s making a positive impact.
They come to Otiumberg (time and time again) for its family ethos, along with a well-curated edit of thoughtfully-designed pieces that are exactly what they were looking for.
What are the future ambitions for the brand?
We are looking into new markets as the brand continues to gain recognition abroad. We recently opened over eight doors in Japan and are seeing much more traffic from the US. Global expansion is most definitely an exciting prospect and focus for us.