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'Just walk down Orchard Road, there are diamond shops everywhere': Maddy Barber on why she picks alternative gems over diamonds

Ever wondered what CEOs and founders are like? Are they all work and no play? Do they have a nurturing or intimidating personality? In Employee No. 1, catch a glimpse of what it is like being a homegrown boss under 50. Take an inside look into their day, how they run their successful companies, and learn what it takes to be employee number one.

Diamonds shine bright but coloured gemstones have always been Maddy Barber's choice.

If that name happens to ring a bell, the sound of her voice should as well. Maddy, 48, is a former Kiss92 DJ who announced her departure from radio in July 2021.

The reason she left? Her passion for shiny baubles.

Maddy has been juggling her commitments as a radio DJ and her jewellery business, Madly, since 2014.

Stepping away from radio was tough but she felt the time was right to focus solely on Madly, she told AsiaOne. 

Today, the bespoke jeweller is known for having a wide range of high-quality coloured gems and bold shapes.

Coloured gems 'have more personality'


Maddy's mum actually played an influential role in her affinity for coloured gemstones.

As a kid, a young Maddy would peek into her mum's jewellery collection and she was "always more attracted to the ones with coloured gemstones than the diamonds", she shares.

By "coloured gemstones", Maddy means alternative gems such as emerald, tourmaline, topaz and aquamarine. 

She adds: "I think for coloured stones, they just have a lot more personality and they appeal to me and my character as well."

"Just walk down Orchard Road, there are diamond shops everywhere," says Maddy, adding that she wasn't keen on joining the pack when thinking of starting her business. "So I thought, do what I love and what I truly believe in."

In her eyes, coloured gemstones provide more bang for your buck as you are unlikely to be paying through their nose as compared to diamond pieces.

For the same price, you could get a "much bigger" coloured stone that's irreplaceable, according to Maddy.

It's clear how passionate she is about her job as she uses the rings she's wearing to prove her point.

To the untrained eye, the two emerald rings may look identical. But Maddy urges us to look a little closer.

"But can you see that they're [of] very different hues, tones, saturation?" she asks.

It's this uniqueness that puts coloured gemstones over traditional diamonds, at least for Maddy. 

Ensuring ethical sourcing 

There tends to be an association between gemstones and a raft of social and environmental issues, including child and forced labour.

So one might expect the founder of a jewellery business to be tight-lipped when pressed on such issues.

Maddy, however, chose to be transparent and did not shy away when asked about how her business ensures gemstones are sourced ethically.

Ethical sourcing is all about provenance and traceability, she says.

Maddy makes it a point to actually "know the people [we] work with". This goes beyond just her employee in Singapore and extends to their gemstone supply chain as a whole, she says.

Madly's sourcing office sits in the mining production region of Morogoro, Tanzania and, according to its website, this makes the provenance, quality and traceability of Madly's gems unprecedented.

"With our own gem sourcing office on the ground just next to the mines, it's really the stones to the hands of our staff and our cutters, and money from our pockets to the miners' hands.

"Ethical sourcing is really just knowing where your stones come from, that they are legally obtained and there's no child labour involved," she explains.

In fact, Madly is the only jeweller in Singapore to become a member of the International Coloured Stone Association’s Ethical Accreditation program.

Bossing it at work


Being the main man (or woman) in the company isn't always bright and sparkly.

For Maddy, the transition into being a full-time boss was quite rocky, she admits.

"Because I haven't been there full-time, they've already found their own ways of working."

But she wanted to show her staff that she is not simply there to give orders or demands.

She wants to roll up her sleeves and be "down with [them] fighting in the dirt", exemplifying her point that for an entrepreneur to be successful, they have to first be courageous.


Whether it's the courage to pursue your dreams or the courage to stand up for your employees, Maddy believes that this is a key quality which is often overlooked when a discussion is had about successful entrepreneurs.

So, this begs the question. Does Maddy Barber consider herself a successful businesswoman?

Mind you, she did invest a five-figure sum into Madly at the start and the business is worth seven figures today.

However, Maddy's definition of success is not simply about the numbers. 

"For me, success is not about the money. I think it's [about] being able to do what you love, in your own terms," she answers.

Maddy adds that she has a vision for Madly and the best part is that it is a shared vision among those in the company.

The bespoke jeweller currently has two outlets in Singapore, but Maddy is dreaming big and would love for her business to go international.

Cities on her wish list include Dubai, London and Munich.

While the idea of global expansion has been in the making for a while, Maddy understands that it has to be done at a certain pace.

"These things can't be rushed, like [how] a piece of fine jewellery is a work of art. It takes time."

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