How the Pandemic Changed Sabine Roemer’s Jewelry Business

LONDON — Disrupter, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic has been all that and more for jewelry fans and designers alike.

Just ask Sabine Roemer.

The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that carries her name (one-off pieces priced from 10,000 pounds, or about $14,095) and Atelier Romy, which sells trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear party studs online for £50 to £500.

And now that England is easing restrictions, she said, both lines are emerging as direct-to-consumer businesses — and are linked more closely to her own identity as a craftswoman.

“Workmanship is absolutely apparent in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both of Ms. Roemer’s brands. “There’s always a personality in her pieces and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”

Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s transformable designs and strong attention to detail, features that also resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a managing director at a private equity firm in London.

“She sits down with you and really creates something that fits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility,” said Ms. Giovanna, who also wears both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment, dealing with big businesses, and I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that.”

Last year’s lockdown, however, was “a make-and-break moment,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic hit.

“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business, and not just entrust it to others,” the 41-year-old designer said, admitting she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly she couldn’t just help clients dream up high jewelry pieces like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings topped with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled rendition of a postage stamp she created for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust in 2017 to celebrate the queen’s 65 years on the British throne.

In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her shipping agent. She hadn’t been entirely happy with its service and decided fulfillment should be handled in-house. “I packed, I shipped and tied the ribbon around every box,” she said. “I needed to learn everything — my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s, where you have to start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card now accompanies every order.)

Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and visuals that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales figures, but Ms. Roemer said shoppers must have liked the changes, as sales increased fivefold.

It’s the kind of online marketing that is here to stay, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, head of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence firm.

When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, she said, they began spending more on luxury items and investment pieces. Fashion brands were well positioned to capture those sales, thanks to their early investments in digital, and “brands with an online presence or shoppable content on social media were even further ahead of the curve as mobile phones became the way we shop,” Ms. Hutton-Squire explained. “That is just going to continue. We are not going back from this.”

In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career — which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany — led to her roles as a businesswoman and jeweler today.

Crafting jewelry, she said, is not all about “tools, craft and creation,” as she had once imagined. “You soon realized you also have to be good at physics and math, chemicals and chemistry. Thankfully, those were my favorite subjects at school.”

Atelier Romy has exercised her mathematical brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating sitting at home in lockdown and just looking at data and who’s coming into the virtual shop.”

After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer she said she particularly admired as “a craftsperson and not just a designer.”

More work for other Bond Street houses followed, plus orders from private clients — turning the early 2000s into something of a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work also was recognized, especially several custom pieces she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, like a gold, diamond and emerald bangle inscribed with the South African president’s prison number; Morgan Freeman wore the piece to the 2010 Oscars as a best actor nominee for “Invictus.”

Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry could be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing to do was put a bling diamond piece that gets attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional — you wear it every day on your skin. I don’t wear my grandmother’s handbag every day but I do wear her ring. It’s close to me, and really carries that emotional value.”

That same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.

Atelier Romy — a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter, Romy — was created as an affordable ready-to-wear line to be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something a bit different,” she recalled. “Something with strong bold designs but still modern and zeitlos” — German for ageless — “depending on how you’d layer and make it your own.”

Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer), said: “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. Everything she’s learned has been through hard work by herself, and the fact that she has all these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose.”

That sense is increasingly relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “enforced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, spurring jewelers to act online in more authentic ways. Whether that was creating, for example, a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “it wasn’t all about sell, sell, sell,” she said. “That really kind of separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”

That also explains the growing demand for craft — something Ms. Roemer said she had experienced prepandemic with some of her high jewelry line’s female clients. “They have a very different mind-set: asking who made it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and the carat size,” Ms. Roemer said. “They just want to express themselves and their personalities through jewelry.”

She has been bringing the sentiment online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of “how to style” videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench, cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to take people into the workshop and show them the process.”

In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first high jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in lockdown has been a creative boon, she said (“I always found the best pieces happen in the workshop when you don’t have a plan”) and the collection of nine pairs of earrings were muses on travel, with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew purchased.

Ms. Roemer said she hopes to resume meeting clients from both brands, which, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies — you can’t pick a favorite one, they’re equally important,” she said. “But also very different.”

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Oatly Stock Price Jumps in Trading Debut

Shares of Oatly soared 30 percent on Thursday as investors jumped at the chance to take part in rapid changes in the food industry driven by consumer tastes shifting to plant-based products.

The company, which makes an alternative to dairy milk based on oats, priced its initial public offering Wednesday night on the high end of its range, giving the company a value of about $10 billion. Shares were priced at $17 and began trading at $22.12 on the Nasdaq under the ticker “OTLY.”

The offering comes as money is flooding into the food tech space, with investors eager to catch a ride on the next Beyond Meat — the vegan food company valued at about $6.6 billion by public investors. And investors have put a heightened focus on companies like Oatly that say they meet environmental, social and governance standards.

“Long term, it’s an opportunity for us to create a fantastic shareholder base,” Oatly’s chief executive, Toni Petersson, said of the offering. “So E.S.G. was definitely a huge, huge part of it — so we’re excited, we’re really excited, about the outcome here.”

complained about Oatly’s marketing around its use of sugar. But Oatly has no plans to address its sugar content.

“We’re just replicating what nature does before it enters your stomach,” Mr. Petersson said in describing the process of making oatmilk.

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Oatly, a Maker of Oat Milk, Is About to Have Its IPO

Private equity has a place at the table, and so do Oprah and Jay-Z. Food giants like Nestlé are scrambling to get a foot in the door. There are implications for the climate. There are even geopolitical rumblings.

The unlikely focus of this excitement is Oatly, producer of a milk substitute made from oats that can be poured on cereal or foamed for a cappuccino. Oatly, a Swedish company, will sell shares to the public for the first time this week in an offering that could value it at $10 billion and exemplify the changes in consumer preferences that are reshaping the food business.

It’s no longer enough for food to taste good and be healthy. More people want to make sure that their ketchup, cookies or mac and cheese are not helping to melt the polar ice caps. Food production is a leading contributor to climate change, especially when animals are involved. (Cows belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas.) Milk substitutes made from soybeans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, hemp, rice and oats have proliferated in response to soaring demand.

“We have a bold vision for a food system that’s better for people and the planet,” Oatly declared in its prospectus for the offering. The company’s shares are expected to start trading in New York on May 20.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive, was a steadfast supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, who has maintained that climate change is a hoax.

Blackstone’s backing also helped lend Oatly credibility on Wall Street. And there was no sign that Blackstone’s involvement slowed Oatly sales, which doubled last year.

Oatly’s image benefited from a roster of celebrity investors, including Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company, and Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks. All have some connection to the plant-based or healthy living movement.

Oatly declined to comment, citing regulations that restrict public statements ahead of an initial public offering.

Oat milk is part of a larger trend toward food that mimics animal products. So-called food tech companies like Beyond Meat have raised a little more than $18 billion in venture funding, according to PitchBook, which tracks the industry. Plant-based dairy, which in the United States includes brands like Ripple (made from peas) and Moalla (bananas), raised $640 million last year, more than double the amount raised a year earlier.

In the United States, milk substitutes like oat milk and rice milk make up a $2.5 billion industry that is expected to grow to $3.6 billion by 2025, according to Euromonitor. Globally, the $9.5 billion industry is expected to grow to $11 billion.

Once a niche market, alternate milk has become as American as baseball. A frozen version of Oatly that mimics soft-serve ice cream is being sold this season at Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, where the Rangers play.

China Resources, a state-owned conglomerate with vast holdings in cement, power generation, coal mining, beer, retailing and many other industries. The new financing helped Oatly to expand in Europe and begin exporting to the United States and China, where many people cannot tolerate cow’s milk. China Resources’ involvement undoubtedly helped open doors in the Chinese market. Asia, primarily China, accounted for 18 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2021, and is growing at a rate of 450 percent a year, according to Oatly.

In Europe, there is growing alarm about Chinese investment in strategic industries like autos, batteries and robotics. The European Commission has begun erecting regulatory barriers to companies with financial links to the Chinese government. But so far no one has expressed fear that China will dominate the world’s supply of oat milk.

Just in case, Oatly’s prospectus gives it the option of listing in Hong Kong if the foreign ownership becomes a problem in the United States.

The potential of the market for dairy alternatives is not lost on big food producers. Oatly acknowledged in its offering documents that it faces fierce competition, including from “multinational corporations with substantially greater resources and operations than us.”

That would include British consumer goods maker Unilever, which said last year that it aims to generate revenue of one billion euros, or $1.2 billion, by 2027 from plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy, for example Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise or Ben & Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream. Unilever has not announced plans for a milk substitute.

dairy alternatives are a poor substitute for cow’s milk because they don’t have nearly as much protein.

Stefan Palzer, the chief technology officer at Nestlé, took issue with those who say a big company can’t move as fast as a bunch of Swedish foodies. A young team at Nestlé developed Wunda in nine months, including three months of market testing in Britain, Mr. Palzer said in an interview.

substitutes for almost any kind of animal product. The next frontier: fish. Nestlé has begun selling a tuna substitute called Vuna and is working on scallops.

“It’s a great opportunity to combine health with sustainability,” Mr. Palzer said of plant-based alternatives to milk and meat. “It’s also a great growth opportunity.”

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Spencer Silver, an Inventor of Post-it Notes, Is Dead at 80

Spencer Ferguson Silver III was born on Feb. 6, 1941, in San Antonio. His father, Spencer Jr., was an accountant. His mother, Bernice (Wendt) Silver, was a secretary.

Spencer was a teenager in 1957 when the Soviet Union sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into Earth’s orbit.

“His science teacher told the class, ‘All you guys are going to be engineers,’” his wife said in a phone interview.

Dr. Silver did not choose engineering or astrophysics. Instead, he graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, four years later. While there, he met Linda Martin, an undergraduate who was working part time in the chemistry department. They married in 1965.

He soon joined 3M as a senior chemist working on pressure-sensitive adhesives. During his 30 years at the company, he rose to the rank of corporate scientist. And while he worked on other projects involving branch block copolymers and immuno-diagnostics, none were part of popular successes like Post-it Notes.

The mating of Dr. Silver’s adhesive and Mr. Fry’s handmade adhesive notes was a hit with 3M secretaries. But 3M executives weren’t so sure.

A test release in 1977 of Press ‘n Peel, as the product was called, in four cities — Denver; Tulsa, Okla.; Tampa, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. — flopped with consumers, who were uncertain about the idea of repositionable paper squares. But the next year, 3M had greater success when it flooded offices in Boise, Idaho, with free samples; 90 percent of the recipients said they would buy them.

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Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

Mary Beth Meehan and

Mary Beth Meehan is an independent photographer and writer. Fred Turner is a professor of communication at Stanford University.


The workers of Silicon Valley rarely look like the men idealized in its lore. They are sometimes heavier, sometimes older, often female, often darker skinned. Many migrated from elsewhere. And most earn far less than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook.

This is a place of divides.

As the valley’s tech companies have driven the American economy since the Great Recession, the region has remained one of the most unequal in the United States.

During the depths of the pandemic, four in 10 families in the area with children could not be sure that they would have enough to eat on any given day, according to an analysis by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies. Just months later, Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, who recently added “Technoking” to his title, briefly became the world’s richest man. The median home price in Santa Clara County — home to Apple and Alphabet — is now $1.4 million, according to the California Association of Realtors.

For those who have not been fortunate enough to make billionaire lists, for midlevel engineers and food truck workers and longtime residents, the valley has become increasingly inhospitable, testing their resilience and resolve.

Seeing Silicon Valley,” from which this photo essay is excerpted.

it would give $1 billion in loans, grants and land toward creating more affordable housing in the area. Of that pledge, $25 million would go toward building housing for educators: 120 apartments, including for Konstance and the other teachers in the original pilot as long as they were working in nearby schools.

At the time of the announcement, Facebook said the money would be used over the next decade. Construction on the teacher housing has yet to be completed.

One day Geraldine received a phone call from a friend: “They’re taking our churches!” her friend said. It was 2015, when Facebook was expanding in the Menlo Park neighborhood where she lived. Her father-in-law had established a tiny church here 55 years before, and Geraldine, a church leader, couldn’t let it be torn down. The City Council was holding a meeting for the community that night. “So I went to the meeting,” she said. “You had to write your name on a paper to be heard, so I did that. They called my name and I went up there bravely, and I talked.”

Geraldine doesn’t remember exactly what she said, but she stood up and prayed — and, ultimately, the congregation was able to keep the church. “God really did it,” she said. “I didn’t have nothing to do with that. It was God.”

In 2016, Gee and Virginia bought a five-bedroom house in Los Gatos, a pricey town nestled beside coastal foothills. Houses on their street cost just under $2 million at the time, and theirs was big enough for each of their two children to have a bedroom and for their parents to visit them from Taiwan.

Together, the couple earn about $350,000 a year — more than six times the national household average. Virginia works in the finance department of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, and Gee was an early employee of a start-up that developed an online auctioning app.

They have wanted to buy nice furniture for the house, but between their mortgage and child care expenses, they don’t think they can afford to buy it all at once. Some of their rooms now sit empty. Gee said that Silicon Valley salaries like theirs sounded like real wealth to the rest of the country, but that here it didn’t always feel that way.

Jon lives in East Palo Alto, a traditionally lower-income area separated from the rest of Silicon Valley by Highway 101.

By the time Jon was in the eighth grade he knew he wanted to go to college, and he was accepted by a rigorous private high school for low-income children. He discovered an aptitude for computers, and excelled in school and professional internships. Yet as he advanced in his career, he realized that wherever he went there were very few people who looked like him.

“I got really troubled,” he said. “I didn’t know who to talk to, and I saw that it wasn’t a problem for them. I was just like ‘I need to do something about this.’”

Jon, now in his 30s, has come back to East Palo Alto, where he has developed maker spaces and brought tech-related education projects to members of the community.

“It is amazing living here,” said Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband got a job as an engineer at Google. “But it’s not a place I want to spend my whole life. There are lots of opportunities for work, but it’s all about the technology, the speed for new technology, new ideas, new everything.” The couple had previously lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.

“We never had these opportunities back home, in Iran. I know that — I don’t want to complain,” she added. “When I tell people I’m living in the Bay Area, they say: ‘You’re so lucky — it must be like heaven! You must be so rich.’”

But the emotional toll can be weighty. “We are sometimes happy, but also very anxious, very stressed. You have to be worried if you lose your job, because the cost of living is very high, and it’s very competitive. It’s not that easy — come here, live in California, become a millionaire. It’s not that simple. ”

Elizabeth studied at Stanford and works as a security guard for a major tech firm in the area. She is also homeless.

Sitting on a panel about the issue at San Jose State University in 2017, she said, “Please remember that many of the homeless — and there are many more of us than are captured in the census — work in the same companies that you do.” (She declined to disclose which company she worked for out of fear of reprisal.)

While sometimes homeless co-workers may often serve food in cafeterias or clean buildings, she added, many times they’re white-collar professionals.

“Sometimes it takes only one mistake, one financial mistake, sometimes it takes just one medical catastrophe. Sometimes it takes one tiny little lapse in insurance — it can be a number of things. But the fact is that there’s lots of middle-class people that fell into poverty very recently,” she said. “Their homelessness that was just supposed to be a month or two months until they recovered, or three months, turns out to stretch into years. Please remember, there are a lot of us.”

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Helen Murray Free Dies at 98; Chemist Developed Diabetes Test

Helen Murray Free, a chemist who ushered in a revolution in diagnostic testing when she co-developed the dip-and-read diabetes test, a paper strip that detected glucose in urine, died on Saturday at a hospice facility in Elkhart, Ind. She was 98.

The cause was complications of a stroke, her son Eric said.

Before the invention of the dip-and-read test in 1956, technicians added chemicals to urine and then heated the mixture over a Bunsen burner. The test was inconvenient, and, because it could not distinguish glucose from other sugars, results were not very precise.

Working with her husband, who was also a chemist, Ms. Free figured out how to impregnate strips of filter paper with chemicals that turned blue when glucose was present. The test made it easier for clinicians to diagnose diabetes and cleared the way for home test kits, which enabled patients to monitor glucose on their own.

People with diabetes now use blood sugar meters to monitor their glucose levels, but the dip-and-read tests are ubiquitous in clinical laboratories worldwide.

commemorative booklet produced by the American Chemical Society in 2010.

She received her bachelor’s degree in 1944 and went to work for Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, first in quality control and then in the biochemistry division, which worked on diagnostic tests and was led by her future husband, Alfred Free. They married in 1947.

He provided the ideas; she was the technician “who had the advantage of picking his brain 24 hours a day,” Ms. Free recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2011. They soon set their sights on developing a more convenient glucose test “so no one would have to wash out test tubes and mess around with droppers,” she said. When her husband suggested chemically treated paper strips, “it was like a light bulb went off,” she said.

American Chemical Society in 1993. In 2009, she was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Barack Obama, and in 2011 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y., for her role in developing the dip-and-read test.

Alfred Free died in 2000. In addition to her son Eric, Ms. Free is survived by two other sons, Kurt and Jake; three daughters, Bonnie Grisz, Nina Lovejoy and Penny Moloney; a stepson, Charles; two stepdaughters, Barbara Free and Jane Linderman; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Miles Laboratories followed the introduction of the dip-and-read glucose test with a host of other tests designed to detect proteins, blood and other indicators of metabolic, kidney and liver disorders. “They sure went hog wild on diagnostics, and that’s all Al’s fault,” Ms. Free said in the commemorative booklet. “He was the one who pushed diagnostics.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Several years after the introduction of the dip-and-read test, Miles moved Ms. Free to another division, citing an anti-nepotism policy. But two years later, after a change in management, she was transferred back to her husband’s division.

“They realized that breaking up a team like this was interfering with productivity in the lab,” Ms. Free said.

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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