As the head of communications at an investment bank in Asia, Stephenie Charlotte Chow's biggest challenge was buying corporate gifts for clients who always got the best of everything. Finally, she stopped shopping and started designing a line of tableware handcrafted from semiprecious stones, including lapis, aventurine, agate, crystal and labradorite. "The stones were inherently valuable," Chow explains, "and the gifts could be displayed and used. I hate getting useless gifts." In February, Chow, who has no professional design training, started her own company, SCC Designs, in San Francisco, and launched a collection of bowls, chopsticks and sake cups. She's currently creating a line of silverware with semiprecious-stone accents. Now, if Chow's former clients want her tabletop pieces, they'll have to pay for them ($95 to $180; 415-370-6106).

—Susan Choung