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Elaine Russell '09 founded Heirlumé, a company that takes the guesswork out of gift giving.

Elaine Russell

Start Me Up: Elaine Russell '09

Elaine Russell '09 demystifies jewelry buying with Heirlumé

By Eva Saviano

6/16/2014 - Editor's note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights younger members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold entrepreneurial visions to life.

Sometimes, the Internet serves as a guide. Netflix, Amazon, your favorite online clothing retailer — all offer a menu of recommended items. Shoppers get the convenience of similar options at the ready. Retailers keep the shoppers clicking.

Now, apply that to a purchase that can be one of the most uncertain and stressful: jewelry. To address that niche, Elaine Russell ’09 founded Heirlumé, a company that takes the guesswork out of gift giving, at least when it comes to all that glitters.

“The gift giving industry is a big one,” said Russell, who co-founded the company. “Jewelry is the No. 1 gift men give women, and people need a lot of help.”

Return to Chicago 

A veteran of Silicon Valley, Russell was vice president of product at e-commerce company Storeplacer.com and worked for Tinyprints.com until Shutterfly bought it in 2011. That’s when Russell moved back to Chicago and got into the startup scene.

Fine jewelry is a $40 billion industry in the United States, with 80 percent of it men buying jewelry for women. But for shoppers, department stores and big chains generally mean lower-quality products and over-eager commissioned salespeople.

“Jewelry is a hard gift to figure out,” said John Adolph, a Heirlumé shopper and attorney from Dallas, Texas. “It’s hard to get good feedback without giving it away that I am trying to get a gift.” A friend told Adolph about Heirlumé and he decided to give it a shot.

From questions to gifts 

Heirlumé sources independent, emerging jewelry designers across the country, including many Chicagoans, to provide an array of unique designs. The shopper then answers a series of questions about the recipient: What’s her perfect date night? What shoes does she wear to work? How does she dress on her day off?

Running those answers through a proprietary algorithm, Heirlumé gives the shopper nine jewelry suggestions. And if he still doesn’t know which to pick? He can send an email with links to her friends, or her sister — whomever — for help.

John Adolph says the process was easy and successful. “The necklace looked like one she would like, it arrived on time and looked great. She still wears it regularly.”

Russell herself has been the beneficiary of Heirlumé, with her mother using the site to buy matching necklaces for Russell and her sisters. “I have a three-diamond cluster necklace designed by Kamofie that I love,” she said. “I'm one of three sisters, and we each wear it every day.”

Follow Heirlumé on Instagram and Twitter (@heirlume).

Read more in the Start Me Up series: