Jewel in the Crown: Maria Ulas
Artelia Jewellery’s CEO and Creative Director Maria Ulas has stepped out of the white label shadow to inject color into Australia’s luxury jewelry scene.
After the ‘black and white’ of the past few years, where headlines have been dominated by sobering news on the health, political and social fronts, Maria Ulas thinks it’s time to brighten up our lives. "Let’s color our world a bit," she tells The CEO Magazine. "We all need it."
As the CEO and Creative Director of Artelia Jewellery, she’s in a position to action her words. So, clients who step inside the second-generation custom jewelry house’s boutique in Melbourne, Australia, can expect to be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors across the delicate rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings on display this season: from soft pink morganites to green emeralds and rare orange sapphires and yellow diamonds.
She’s also resolved to showcase that Australia’s classic colored gemstone – the opal – can fit in a fine jewelry setting. "There’s a lot of outdated traditional designs and a perception of a more costume jewelry look around the opal," she says.
I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level and honoring these local gems, but with a romantic, feminine touch, which hasn’t been seen before.
"I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level and honoring these local gems, but with a romantic, feminine touch, which hasn’t been seen before."
Growing up, Ulas explains that she was encouraged to explore her creative side. "I loved writing and drawing," she says. But these passions were always considered a hobby, and she never thought of them as a possible career, instead following the path in medicine her parents had encouraged.
But that all changed when she met a master jeweler who would become her husband, Roberto Ulas. Jewelry was in his blood; as a child in Istanbul, Turkey, he crafted his first piece of jewelry at age eight under the guidance of his father.
By the age of 15, he was working full-time for the family jewelry business. He moved to Australia to forge his own path and founded a business supplying the country’s leading jewelry houses.
From the chandeliers to the sofas and the boxes, every element has my heart and soul in it.
The pair have worked together for nearly two decades. At first they stayed behind the scenes as white label manufacturers (at one point, supplying about 60 percent of the domestic jewelry industry with engagement and wedding rings Ulas had designed) before they made the decision eight years ago to step out of the shadows and forge direct connections with their customers by opening a retail store.
It was a big jump for the couple. "But the week we opened, we knew it was the right move for us," she says.
The name Artelia was chosen, a composite of art and telia, the Greek word for finished. There are also similarities with atelier, the French word for workshop. "There’s this sense of an art piece that is made in-house," she explains.
Heart and soul
In what Ulas describes as a dream come true, Artelia recently opened on Collins Street, Melbourne’s premier shopping street. Along with designing the jewelry on display, Ulas was also behind the store fitout. "From the chandeliers to the sofas and the boxes, every element has my heart and soul in it," she says with a smile.
For clients, the surroundings also serve as inspiration for what she can create for them. "As soon as they walk in, they can see my work," she says. "So visually, there is already an element of trust."
Instead of a counter and cash register, there’s a Champagne bar and a fireplace, which also facilitates relationship-based experiences. "We’re really relaxed, you feel like you’re in my home."
Much of her inspiration for the boutique and, more importantly, her creations comes from timeless European classics with a contemporary touch. But there’s also the role that instinct, something that cannot be taught or learned, plays in her art.
Whenever I create a piece, of course, I honor the diamond and the design, but I always think of the woman who would wear the piece as well.
"Whenever I create a piece, of course, I honor the diamond and the design, but I always think of the woman who would wear the piece as well," she says. "The greatest compliment comes from the clients who bring their friends in to meet me and say, ‘she knows exactly what you’re after, just trust what she’ll pick’."
With the Collins Street location now a reality, Ulas says she’s living the dream. "I couldn’t see myself doing anything else," she says. And one recent moment, in particular, brought that home.
"I was showing a client some diamonds, including a more affordable one with a few more inclusions," she explains. "The client asked what inclusions were, and I told her that one was actually a feather. She broke down into tears, explaining she had just lost her mom. Before she passed, her mom had told her that when she saw feathers, she’d see her.
"How beautiful is that? It’s why I do what I do. She will always, and I will always, remember that moment."