CRANSTON, R.I. (Forbes) — Carolyn Rafaelian founded fashion jewelry company Alex and Ani in 2004, taking over what had been her father’s Rhode Island jewelry factory to manufacture the new age, celestial-chic bangles that have become the brand’s staple.
To say growth has been explosive would be an understatement. In 2010, Alex and Ani — named after two of Rafaelian’s daughters — did an estimated $4.5 million in revenues. By 2015, sales had hit $500 million, catapulting the 49-year-old onto Forbes’ second annual list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women thanks to her majority ownership.
Rafaelian joins the ranks at number 22, with an estimated net worth of $700 million, making her the second richest newcomer to the list, after Gail Miller, billionaire owner of basketball’s Utah Jazz.
She’s the richest self-made woman in the nation to derive her wealth from jewelry, and joins an impressive group of fashion and retail moguls on Forbes’ ranking that includes Spanx founder Sara Blakely, preppie-chic designer Tory Burch, and bridal tycoon Vera Wang.
Rafaelian’s success can be partly attributed to her mastery of the supply chain. Alex and Ani’s pieces — like its bestselling $28 zodiac-themed charm bangles — are mainly made of recycled materials like scrap metal and vintage or surplus jewelry, keeping costs low and margins high. Everything is manufactured on-site at the company’s Cranston, R.I. base.
Alex and Ani now has 65 freestanding stores as well as concessions in hundreds of department stores and boutiques.
As her fortune has grown, Rafaelian has invested in her home state, buying (and renovating) 40,000-square foot Belcourt Castle near Newport, R.I. and 163-acre Sakonnet Vineyards.