When Shibani Shinde Patil received an email from British Vogue in August telling her that her jewelry would be included in the lauded fashion glossy, she thought it was a joke.
She immediately contacted the magazine's offices in London. When the Baltimore resident learned that the e-mail was in fact legitimate, she was still in disbelief.
"Then I started believing emails," she said with a laugh.
In just a year, Shinde Patil's luxury jewelry collection, Ri Noor, has vaulted to the upper echelons of the design world. And she's done it all from her Harbor East apartment.
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Her ascent is a rarity – especially without a celebrity wearing her merchandise or a major social media imprint (the company has just 61 Instagram followers). But somehow the young brand has managed to get featured on the websites of Stilorama and Jewel Street, two British-based retailers that focus on luxury designers.
"I've been successful. I should have done it sooner," Shinde Patil, 38, said as she sat in her spacious neutral-hued living room where wall-length windows provide a sweeping view of Baltimore's cityscape. Shinde Patil was preparing to hold a trunk show in New York and release a holiday collection and had just returned from New York City, where she visited the showroom she works with there.
A little more than a year ago, Shinde Patil was designing jewelry on the side while working as a principal at GenCo Strategy, an energy company.
"I worked in the energy world my whole career," she explained. "I really liked what I did, but I was always drawn to entrepreneurship."
But then Shinde Patil had her son, Rishi.
"I wanted to be around him and have flexibility," she said of the 17-month-old for whom she named her company ("noor" means "light"). "I wanted to do something that I loved. Once I had the baby it was a now-or-never moment. Doing something you love changes your outlook."
A large stark-white dresser adorned with a laser-cut pattern contains all her neatly organized magic: the raw fine stones and jewelry sketches in various states of completion. It is here that the jewelry maker sketches Ri Noor.
"These don't make any sense without the stones," she said as she leafed through sketches in pencil of various types of jewelry.
Zoey Washington, senior fashion and beauty editor at Brit & Co., calls Ri Noor jewelry "statement-making."
"Ri Noor is a brand that understands how contemporary women want to wear fine jewelry," she said. "Each piece is the perfect mix of statement-making and subtle that elevates anything from a classic sweater-and-jeans combo to an evening gown."
With the encouragement of her husband, Karthik, a Constellation manager of trading for the Mid-Atlantic region, Shinde Patil started working with Wolf & Badger, an international retailer that features independent fashion, jewelry, accessory and beauty brands, and cold contacting various fashion retailers and publications worldwide. Her efforts paid off with interest from magazines and jewelry websites. She keeps copies of the magazines her jewelry has been featured in – including British Vogue and Elle UK – in the dresser with her sketches.
"It's not an easy path. But it has been a great journey," said Shinde Patil. "It's kind of validating – the interest we've been getting.
"A lot of it is chance and luck," she said, launching into a story about how she struck up a friendship with a gemologist in India who became a mentor and helped her navigate through the industry.
Even though the Ri Noor brand is fairly young, Shinde Patil has been designing jewelry since she was 19.
"I could never find jewelry that I really loved," she said. "My parents encouraged me to make my own jewelry."
Shinde Patil moved to the United States to go to college. She earned her undergraduate degree and a master's in financial economics from Ohio University and her MBA from Drexel University in 2006. She moved to Baltimore in 2012 for her work in the energy field.
Since starting her company, there's been a lot of pavement-pounding.
"It's been very humbling," she said. "I was very confident about my style. I thought I would be an instant hit. "
Instead there was a lot of rejection.
"I even had someone unfriend me on Facebook," she said in reference to a contact who severed ties with her because she posted too many photos of her jewelry.
"They've finally come around," she said. "I do feel now I have a good spectrum of people to work with."
Shinde Patil has worked with Wolf & Badger since May.
"For a fine jewelry brand to succeed, they need to offer something truly unique to a customer. Beyond gorgeous jewelry, Ri Noor offers customers an intimate and luxurious experience," said Camila Noelle, head of U.S. operations for Wolf & Badger. "Customers that have met Shibani understand that they're speaking to a fine jewelry expert. She not only shares her extensive knowledge of gemstones and materials but her approach is friendly and engaging."
That type of interaction is what sold John Keefe, a portfolio manager from Severna Park and one of Ri Noor's first customers last November, when he purchased a blue enamel cuff with silver inlay for his wife. By May, he had purchased two more pieces – a blue turquoise cocktail ring and diamond pendant necklace – as a gift for their 25th wedding anniversary.
"She has a good eye. She has things that are not cookie-cutter. I like the quality of it," said Keefe, who works with Shinde Patil's husband. "I feel like I've gotten on the ground floor of something. I'm very happy that my wife likes the pieces. ... They spark conversation when my wife wears it."
Noelle added: "Shibani pays extremely close attention to exactly what cut, color and material will make each piece transitional, elegant and striking. Every piece is unique but her collections are cohesive in the sense that every piece is timeless and can be worn on any occasion."
Shinde Patil attributes a large portion of her success to her ability to work with unusual stone shapes and slices of stones, which make her pieces thousands of dollars less expensive than other designers who work with whole stones. Her pieces range in price from $300 to $20,000.
"I find creative ways to work with the stones," she said. "I'll use different types of diamonds."
Sally DiMarco, director of education at the Maryland Fashion Institute, was immediately impressed by the collection.
"I think they are very classy," she said. "They have nice clean lines. They are not very busy."
DiMarco, who just returned from a trip to Italy, said Shinde Patil's jewelry is on trend with the pieces she saw in Europe.
"I saw a lot of those types of looks overseas," she said. "I could see a lot of consumers being interested. They aren't outlandish and gaudy at all. She has beautiful shapes. And of course she works with a magnificent array of real stones and metals. I can see designing a dress around her jewelry."
DiMarco was particularly impressed by Shinde Patil's quick trajectory.
"She must be extremely talented to navigate that and to be positioned in those magazines," DiMarco said.
In addition to British Vogue and Elle UK, Ri Noor has been featured in Tatler UK, and Harpers Bazaar UK.
"Obviously I'd like to be in the U.S.," Shinde Patil said. "I haven't had the bandwidth. But my collection is expanding."
Washington predicts major success for the brand in the U.S., in large part because of its pricing and "creative use of fine stones."
She added, "It enables her to offer customers such impactful pieces at an affordable price point. This type of smart design and economy of jewels is what will set her apart from pricier options and position her for success stateside."
DiMarco hopes that Ri Noor is able to maintain its design aesthetic.
"She's producing unique pieces. If she stays unique and creative and she remains more couture than ready-to-wear, she'll be successful," DiMarco said. "Hopefully that creativity stays there when that business grows."