Sarah Ortega of Sarah O. Jewelry designs diamond, gemstone and custom fine jewelry from her two store locations in Denver, as well as online. Her growing business has overcome challenges during the pandemic due to a strong online presence, all the while debuting new dreamy collections of fine jewelry.
Rich History and Heritage
Ortega’s mother, Mary Vigil, started her business by selling jewelry out of a shoebox at her daughter’s swim practices. She later opened a store before her daughter began middle school. Ooh! Aah! Jewelry is still going strong today and Vigil has no plans of retiring soon.
Ortega’s passion for jewelry design developed early in her childhood as she assisted her mother in her boutique, Ooh! Aah! Jewelry in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ortega’s mother wasn’t the first in the family to have an entrepreneurial spirit, and she certainly wasn’t the last. Her grandparents, Ralph and Dominga Flores, owned a farm in New Mexico, which expanded over time. She recalled stories of her mother and grandmother making dinner for the farm workers each night to demonstrate their appreciation for their hard work. Although her grandparents’ business was successful, it was their family-like work environment that was most important to them.
“They really valued the people that worked for them,” Ortega said. “I think that passed down to me. It’s the people that make the business.”
Sarah O. Jewelry’s Heritage Collection, launched in 2021, was based on this very concept. Ortega designed the collection in reference to her roots in New Mexico and rich family history, which continues to inform how she runs her company today.
Sarah O. Jewelry Dazzles Denver
As for Ortega’s entrepreneurial journey, things began in her dorm room at Regis University. She designed beaded pieces, earrings and necklaces as a side hustle while earning her mathematics degree. When asked what she wanted to do after graduation, she discovered her heart was in the jewelry business. After college, Ortega began working for a local jeweler and learned more about the jewelry design process.
“One day, I was driving down Tennyson and I saw a tiny location. We [her and her husband] decided to rent it,” Ortega said.
In 2006, Ortega started selling jewelry from her small spot on Tennyson, which eventually grew to fit another location on the street. At the time, her store was more of a boutique, selling handbags, jewelry from local designers and, in a small case, Ortega’s own designs.
While Tennyson St. is now a bustling community with small businesses sprouting up on every corner, it wasn’t nearly as busy in the 2000s. Before the days of social media, Ortega was finding creative ways to market her brand and the street. By dropping off postcards around the neighborhood and capitalizing on First Friday Art Walks, she put in the work to catch the attention of the Denver community.
“We worked so many hours trying to put Tennyson on the map as a place to go boutique shopping,” Ortega said.
When a corner space opened up at 4301 Tennyson St., where Sarah O. Jewelry still lives today, Ortega took a leap of faith into making it a jewelry store rather than a boutique. One-by-one, she added her own pieces to the cases, until it became a store full of her designs alone.
Eventually, word spread and people wanted custom pieces from Ortega. She enjoyed working one-on-one with her customers to build a strong foundation of trust.
“Customers want to trust the company they’re buying a fine jewelry piece from because they’re going to have it for the rest of their life,” Ortega said. “So I got to establish that trust between them and me.”
Now, Sarah O. Jewelry can not only be found at its Tennyson location but also in the Dairy Block at 1825 Blake St. Suite 120.
Fine Jewelry In the Digital Age
By 2019, the brand gained more traction on social media and the business was doing better than ever. However, 2020 provided a multitude of challenges for Sarah O. Jewelry to overcome, as it did for many small businesses. Ortega decided to shut down fairly early, out of safety concerns for her team.
Ortega was faced with the possibility of losing everything she’d built up. After a hard night of wondering what to do, a surge of courage came over her.
“I thought, ‘we’re starting over. We’re going to get everybody working from home. We are going to find a way to make this work on the Internet,’” Ortega said.
Ortega didn’t forgo a single one of her employees. She gathered her team for a morning meeting and asked everyone to share something they were grateful for, which boosted morale. The team’s camaraderie, confidence in the mission and determination to move forward contributed to Sarah O. Jewelry’s success during the pandemic.
Despite the precarious position of selling fine jewelry in an online market, Sarah O. Jewelry still found a way to get customers to trust them. Online consultations and virtual shopping experiences were implemented to make selling fine jewelry in a digital world possible.
“It was challenging but so cool to see our team come together in a really hard moment,” Ortega said. “I knew every single day we were going to make it through.”
A Sparkling Future
Just as the company history of Sarah O. Jewelry is full of beauty and meaning, so is the jewelry itself.
According to Ortega, the gemstones she finds on her travels spark her imagination and inspire her to design. But she also considers what her customers are looking for, which has influenced her upcoming collection.
“I always kind of feel like there are two different kinds of people that buy jewelry from us. Some people want a unique gemstone, while some want a unique white diamond. So those two things marry each other in this collection,” Ortega said.
As always, many of the rings will be stackable, meaning you can add other bands to them for extra sparkle. In fact, there is a stacking guide on their website for inspiration on how to stack your rings in Sarah O. style.
“There are certain ways you can customize your piece every day without going to a jeweler to switch it out,” Ortega said.
The new collection is set to launch sometime in July. However, that’s not all that the brand has in store for the future. Ortega also shared the news that Sarah O. Jewelry will be hitting the road for trunk shows throughout the U.S. The dates and locations of these trunk shows will be announced soon. As business continues to elevate and expand for Sarah O. Jewelry, you can stay updated on their endeavors through their website and Instagram.
All photos by Roxanna Carrasco unless otherwise indicated.