Long before Aldo Orta entered the Shark Tank, he was a go-to jewelry designer for the wildly rich and famous. Aldo Orta Jewelry of Chicago adorned Kim Kardashian, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Taylor and a long list of other A-listers. But Orta swam with the sharks in May 2011 in hopes of creating a jewelry line for mass-market consumers.
Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran fell in love with him and his brand of bling bling while infomercial king Kevin Harrington loved his celebrity endorsements. They each bid $90,000 for 45% of his company on air. But Orta managed to change the deal and still controls 100% of his business.
After Shark Tank, QVC made Orta in-house designer, an opportunity normally only afforded to celebrities. He was also the first Shark Tank entrepreneur to land a contract with the shopping channel. Owing to confidentiality requirements under his current contracts, he cannot disclose his total sales before or after his Shark Tank appearance. He could only say that sales tripled and that he’s a million times happier. He’s currently developing a new collection for a very high-end retail store and another one with a major global brand that also must remain a secret. They’re set to launch next year.
Orta’s prices range from $90 for a silver fleur de lis ring with cubic zirconia to $7,300 for an 18-carat power ring. Prices for his one-of-a-kind commissions vary depending on the piece. He likes to hand deliver those himself to his clients.
Orta, a Mexican immigrant, explains how he came to adorn celebrities and royalty, how he conjures magnificent creations and much more.
Ky Trang Ho: Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you started your business? What made you start your company?
Aldo Orta: I was a director for Marriott International (MAR) for five years. I worked with the architects and designers on projects all over the country. For example, the Houston Space Center NASA located in Houston. We did things like remodel the gift shops and create fixtures and displays. The purpose of this was to bring customers into the stores with the beautiful designs.
All over the country, I worked in airports. This gave me the opportunity to work with different designers and the flexibility to meet and explore new styles all over. I got tired of working for a corporation and wanted to be independent. I knew I had the skills and ability to start my own business because I was designing jewelry for myself.
Everyone would always ask where I bought them from. It was at a party in the Hamptons. And it was that moment when I was invited into a private yacht and introduced to a member of the royal family of Kuwait and The Alghanim Family. They loved my jewelry. They invited me to their home in Long Island. It was that day where I got my first big order for one million dollars to make gifts for the Royal Family of Kuwait, and the Alghanim Family, one of a kind pieces like napkin holders, centerpieces for the table, and silver chargers for a table of 200 people. The most important items from this order were prayer beads.
After, I started to design and make my first collections in silver and gold, precious and semi-precious stones. The prayer beads inspired to keep the spiritual meaning and the enlightenment in my jewelry.
Ho: What made you think it could be a successful product (especially when there are so many competing products)?
Orta: There are no other products like mine with the unique designs and the message behind the symbols. In my jewelry, you will find fearless messages to remind you of your abilities to change the world and make it a better place. I believe we need more beauty in this world and to protect all the arts. We need more people being creative and stopping destruction and division, therefore, unifying humankind.
Ho: How do you come up with the designs for your jewelry?
Orta: My inspiration comes from the metaphysical study of all cultures in history and mythology, from the most iconic and beautiful symbols. After I study the most important symbols that represent the awakening of knowledge, I design jewelry with the meanings behind them and the spiritual meaning of enlightening and awareness.
Ho: How much did you invest in your business? How did you get the money to start your business initially?
Orta: I was very blessed and lucky part of a social network whose friends included people like Calvin Klein and David Geffen. I was also very involved with charity organizations. I make one-of-a-kind pieces for special clients, for example, Care Resorts in Miami. The organization helps people with HIV/AIDS who do not have health insurance, providing them with medicine, food, and shelter. That charity commissioned me to make a piece for Cyndi Lauper.
Adorning Celebrities and Royalty
Ho: How did you get celebrity clients?
Orta: I got my celebrity clients because of my social network and a group of friends that I had built in New York including friends like Calvin Klein, David Giffin, Barry Diller, and one of my first and favorite customers Brian Boitano.
Ho: When did you first roll out the product?
Orta: My first collections were Alexander the Great Collection, The Sword Collection, and the Dante Collection. They were launched on Fire Island, New York in 1998. I was very honored to be celebrating with Calvin Klein, my models and my friends in David Geffen’s house. It was so surreal to me.
Ho: How many hours did you work on your business every day?
Orta: My grandfather was a major in the Mexican army and watching him I learn to “work like a soldier to live like a star.” I worked at least 18 hours a day when I was first starting my company. It all paid off.
Appearing on Shark Tank opened doors to the Metropolitan Museum. The day I was meeting with QVC, I got up at 4 am to head the Midway airport to fly into New York City. There was an Alexander McQueen exhibit happening. And the line to get in was three hours long. I was nervous about making it out in time to get to the meeting, so I was looking for the closest exit. At that very moment, a security guard saw me and asked, “Aren’t you Aldo Orta from Shark Tank?”
It was that moment I knew my life would never be the same. She gave me two VIP tickets, and I was able to see the most amazing exhibit in my life. Leaving the museum confident and prepared; after hours of sketching and designing this collection for them, I was ready to take on the meeting with buyers at QVC.
Ho: Where and at how many locations were you selling your product before Shark Tank?
Orta: Before Shark Tank, I had two fine boutiques in New York City and two in Miami Beach, one fine gallery in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, one gallery in Chicago and two jewelry stores as well. After Shark Tank, my sales went through the roof on my website. A shower of commissions poured in. Princess Patricia and the Canadian light infantry commissioned me to make a special brooch as a gift for Queen Elizabeth of England. I have had loyal clients for the last 15 years that I am constantly making one of a kind pieces for. Without Shark Tank, I would not have gotten the deal with QVC as an in-house designer.
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Orta: All of my designs are original and unique. First, I sketch my designs with pencil and paper, then send to my great team of computer designers. They use a program called Cadwork to create the molds and prototypes to make the symbols. I only work with precious and semi-precious metals like platinum, silver and gold and precious and semi-precious stones.
All my jewelry is limited edition or one of a kind. They are all stamped with my name and signature, then packaged in a very distinguished and elegant presentation making it unforgettable and becomes an emblem to share for generations. My pieces are always conversation starters. Many clients have told me that it is the most complimentary they own. My jewelry is 95% rated five-stars on QVC. I am currently here in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York while the production from QVC is in Thailand.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Orta: The biggest hardship I have been facing recently is realizing in this business, unfortunately sometimes signing a contract means signing away my rights as an artist to the authenticity of my designs. In other words, compromising my original signature designs to please the buyers. Because at the end of the day you know that contract has an expiration date I have bigger fish to fry with a bigger contract and better opportunities already on the table. Because when someone else tries to make my designs into something commercial, it loses that sense of uniqueness that my customers want.
Striking Shark Tank Gold
Ho: What did the Sharks like most about you, the company and product?
Orta: Besides thinking my jewelry was uniquely beautiful, I already had a list of celebrity clients like Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Jones, Calvin Klein, Holly Hunter, Cindy Lauper, and royalty such as Prince Albert Monaco and the Royal family of Kuwait. I think it is important to say that they liked me. I am the face of my product and represent it from the inside to the outside.
Barbara even said to me on the show “you look the part.” I laughed and responded, “I do not look the part, I am the part.”
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance? What made it a success?
Orta: I practiced my pitch before the show at least 100 times. I even had my family members act out as the sharks. Watching the show, preparing constantly, I was prepared when I arrived.
Ho: What about being in the tank surprised you the most?
Orta: I was amazed by the little army behind the scenes working hard. There were very professional people at Sony studio. The next studio over was filming the Wheel of Fortune. From makeup artists to stage production, I was welcomed. They put me in a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills. Clay Newbill introduced himself to me; it was unbelievable to know I was going to be on the stage and this opportunity would take my life to a new level.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Orta: It is my perception that the viewers think after you get a deal, the check is just waiting at the door for you. In reality, that’s not how it is at all. Leaving the show with a deal is just the beginning of much hard work and building new steps.
A Gem on QVC
Ho: What are the next steps in working with the Sharks after getting a deal?
Orta: After getting a deal with Barbara Corcoran and Kevin Harrington, I got the contract with QVC. Six months after the show I went to the book signing of Shark Tales by Barbara Corcoran, where I had the opportunity to socialize with all the sharks — Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John, Kevin Harrington — and many entrepreneurs from the show.
Ho: How much did your sales and profits to increase after the Shark Tank appearance?
Orta: After Shark Tank, I had great success on QVC. Below is an email from my manager at QVC updating the sharks about how the first time my collection went on air:
9/07/12 at 4:48 PM
Hi Shark teams, Aldo went on air yesterday about 10 minutes and did a great job. He sold out his 20-inch chain within 5
minutes and his Alpha Omega cross almost sold out (about 85% of all inventory was gone). His overall sales for the show was about $85,000.
We will get the exact number next week but QVC told us already today that Aldo will be on air again.
The Shark tank team was there to tape his update and did the interview afterward where
Aldo talked about selling out on one item in just a few minutes!
Please join me in congratulating Aldo. Now you can find about 12 items under his brand on QVC.com.
Always Yours, Ulli.
Ho: What do you hope the Sharks will do for your business? And how are you working together?
Orta: Barbara has been my muse for QVC for the jewelry collection. She wears my jewelry in the show. She has been a huge supporter, wearing my jewelry. After the original show, Barbara arranged to give me an update when I was filming and doing sales for QVC.
Also, I presently have been offered new great opportunities I never imagined I would have. Kevin Harrington has brought these great opportunities to me. Because of confidentiality, I cannot spill the beans. They are so supportive I even have their personal cells if needed.
A Shining Business Plan
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy?
Orta: The power of television is amazing. I’m overwhelmed with the number of people around the globe that have seen the show that calls me about my jewelry. Customers call from Europe, Canada, and Iceland. Every time the show repeats my sales spike up on the website and my phone is ringing off the hook for commission pieces like a one-of-a-kind engagement ring.
Ho: What was the most effective thing you did to get more exposure for your business before going on Shark Tank?
Orta: I did my own sales through my personal social network. I was very blessed. I was swimming with bigger sharks before I went into the tank.
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Orta: Google has been a great resource. It always keeps you updated or in the loop as to what products are out there. And you will always be surprised about the new items and keeps me on my toes about what customers are saying about my product.
Ho: What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made in business and how can others learn from it?
Orta: It is a mistake to misinterpret an obstacle as a mistake. And I think one thing people can learn from me that it is important to take obstacles and turn them into opportunities.
Ho: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Orta: Always have a good attorney to go over any and all contracts before signing.