Athens, Greece–Marina Manolopoulou-Vassiliou was born and raised in Greece, and the e-commerce site founder marries the best of her country’s ancient culture with a distinctly global, modern point-of-view.
She earned her MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and worked in both London and Athens for years in strategy consulting before completely shifting focus to pursue her personal passion: jewelry.
Now, Manolopoulou-Vassiliou is a champion of Greek fine jewelry design in particular. In 2013, she launched Kultia Jewels, a fine jewelry e-commerce site that also operates boutiques in various Greek luxury hotels.
Ioanna Souflia is the designer of this rhodium-plated 14-karat gold ring with Thasos marble and black diamonds. It retails for $6,920 on Kultia.com.
“I thought there was a need for good representation of independent designers,” said Manolopoulou-Vassiliou of creating her company. “Coming from a country where jewelry is really important and the heritage is so strong, I felt it would be a great opportunity for me to start representing these designers.”
Heritage is an undeniable foundation of all things related to Greek jewelry, and it’s the reason most Greek jewelry designers give when asked about the abundance of talented designers from their country.
“If you go to any museum you can see that jewelry was part of the everyday life of the Athenian people and the Greek people in antiquity,” Manolopoulou-Vassiliou said. “We have people now who have been working as craftspeople for many, many years.”
She credits design house Lalaounis for making Greek design an international success.
“Lalaounis has been there forever and has kept it alive. In the last century, (Ilias Lalaounis) revived jewelry making. And then a lot of the younger generations were inspired by Elena Votsi.”
Currently, Kultia Jewels carries about 22 designers. A little more than half are Greek, including brands such as Votsi, Elena Syraka, Ileana Makri and Lito.
But Manolopoulou-Vassiliou doesn’t limit herself to her countrymen and women. She also champions “mostly European up-and-coming designers,” she said.
This ring sold on Kultia.com is by Cora Sheibani, a Swiss-born, London-based designer. The ring is 18-karat yellow gold, layered chalcedony and diamond. It retails for $5,800.
She stocks designers she would wear herself. When asked to pick a favorite, she admitted that she had a few, though she “tends to love all of them.”
Her first choice was Votsi, and partly for sentimental reasons.
“She was one of the first designers who helped me to start Kultia and supported me,” Manolopoulou-Vassiliou explained. “From the younger generation I definitely admire the work of Ioanna Souflia. She’s using the Greek marble as her inspiration and creating really unique pieces.”
Manolopoulou-Vassiliou also said that she greatly admired Italian designer Carolina Bucci because her jewelry “is so easy to wear and layer.”
As for the e-commerce fine jewelry business in general, true to her holistic approach, Manolopoulou-Vassiliou is dedicated to combining traditional and new retail practices.
“It’s getting better and better,” she said of the e-commerce element. “I still find that people need to have experienced a piece, so that means that maybe it’s something they’ve seen before so they buy it online, or they buy things online if they know what to expect (from that designer).”
“E-commerce is amazing for discovering new designers,” she continued, “but Kultia has the benefit that we have physical locations, so people usually try to see the piece in person before buying it, though not always.”
However, Manolopoulou-Vassiliou acknowledged that there are limitations to shopping for fine jewelry online.
“I think it will be easy for pieces up to $5,000 or $6,000. Beyond that point, it happens, but it’s much less.”
For more information about Kultia Jewels, visit Kultia.com.