Andrew Ioannou has a certified dream job. As the man who owns and runs Guild Jewellery Design he spends his days immersed in the comic book universe, finely crafting specialty rings that are in-demand by fans around the globe.
One ringmaker to rule them all
There is no one in Australia or New Zealand who is officially allowed to design, produce and distribute DC Comics-related jewellery other than Andrew Ioannou. This golden ticket didn’t just fall into his lap though – Andrew created a partnership with global mega-company Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics, through sheer entrepreneurialism and talent.
As a student of industrial design, Andrew discovered his love and skill for jewellery-making after randomly choosing an elective in the field and finding it surprisingly easy and entertaining. Upon graduating he decided to take this new interest further and became a jeweller’s apprentice.
“The first place I went into took me on because they really liked my design and communication skills,” he says. “From what they saw after just a six month elective they were keen to take me on as an apprentice. I learned a lot of hand-making skills, a lot of dos and don’ts.”
The genesis of Andrew’s business – Guild Jewellery Design – came shortly after his apprenticeship. The concept for Guild was borne out of an innocent conversation with a friend about Andrew’s favourite DC character – Green Lantern – whose power, coincidentally, comes from a ring.
“We were talking about a specific storyline called ‘Blackest Night’ which introduced all these different colours and coloured rings into the universe,” says Andrew. “I said to my friend, ‘You know, I reckon I could make those’, and my friend – who’s a big guy – grabbed me by the shoulders and said ‘I will pay you to make them! Make me these rings!’
“So I started looking into it, and the more I developed it, the more I thought: ‘Why can’t I do this officially and sell
to the public?’”
After a few months of research and sourcing stores that were eager to stock his product, Andrew simply approached Warner Bros.
“They loved the concept,” he says. “And they basically said here’s some leeway, make a few samples, come to our Melbourne office and if we like what we see we can sign you up.”
Clearly impressed with Andrew’s self motivation, creativity and craftsmanship, Warner Bros. offered him a preliminary 18-month contract as the official licensee for Australia and New Zealand. Upon that contract’s expiration, Warner Bros renewed the deal with Andrew for another three years.
Andrew says he would like to look at reaching the US market, but explains that it’s a difficult process for an Australian designer and manufacturer because of strict import policies that create a labyrinth of taxes, stamp duties and red tape.
Despite this, his success with official DC merchandise has grown rapidly, and so has the demand for his custom-made jewellery. With customers in the UK, Europe and (despite the red tape) some in America, he thanks the comic book subculture and social media for his increasing popularity.
“The internet is just fantastic, particularly social media. I’ve just started using Instagram, but I mainly use Facebook and Twitter. When one person finds out about us, another 100 people will follow, so tools like forums and social media are invaluable.”
As well as a strong online presence, Andrew is a regular on the convention and exhibition circuit, which gives him a direct link to his customers.
“When you talk to them they’ll tell you what storylines and characters they love, and which ones they hate,” he says. “Being immersed in the culture and knowing what they are talking about creates trust and rapport, and people in that subculture want to support each other. Having those personal relationships makes a big difference.”
Andrew is clearly a legitimate fan of the DC Comics universe and its characters, so it is natural to assume there could be some conflict between his creative interpretations and the strict guidelines handed down by a big company such as Warner Bros. But, Andrew says this has never been an issue.
“Creative freedom is fantastic with Warner Bros.,” he says. “Basically, the artists have some guidelines that you have to follow – they give you artwork and they also give you access to a huge database which has all the artwork from the past to the current time, and they are always adding something new.”
From a starting point of research and reference via this epic database, Andrew illustrates a design and sends it through to Warner Bros. They determine if anything needs to be altered before allowing him to proceed to prototype phase. After manufacturing the prototypes, they are sent off for approval once more before Andrew creates a master design from which a mass-production mould is cast.
The actual production of the jewellery happens at various Adelaide manufacturers, with Andrew deciding who to use based on what specialty crafting might be required.
“It’s a lot of management really, when I first started out I was hand finishing everything, but the volume became too high so I really had to outsource,” he says.
Andrew also sources his materials locally, ensuring everything is ethical and of supreme quality – “I use gold, silver, platinum, yellow gold, white gold. I’ve even made some rings out of palladium – that’s very comic.”
Andrew also custom designs and makes jewellery to specification – no superheroes in sight, if that’s what you prefer.
Excited about the future and upcoming conventions, Andrew left CityMag smiling – his passion is contagious and sincere. He is living proof that taking simple yet terrifying actions – like approaching mega corporations – is often worth the risk.