Stripped: A Vegas Story

I’m a month late to the blogparty, but it’s high time I add my notes to the collection of tales from Jewelry Week 2018.

While this tradeshow extravaganza always moves at a fast clip, this year felt especially rapid thanks to working the show with a new company in a role that magically combines some of my previous jobs into one. I’ve been a buyer and an exhibitor, but this time I got to be BOTH! At the same time! The whole time, all day! IN HEELS!

While the show itself was an overall business success for some, many attendees felt a distinct air of uncertainty: attendance was down, selling and buying were up but not enough, and what the hell is going to happen next year when the whole thing picks up stakes and high-tails it back to the Sands?!

In addition to the 15-hour work days trekking the carpeted miles in my stilettos, I was also privileged to attend some wonderful events. The Jewelers for Children Rings of Strength 5K was a sweaty success as usual, the evening bowling/dance party we’ve come to hate enjoy wasn’t half bad, and sandwiched in between were some lovely off-strip dinners with handsome accompaniment.

My favorite industry event by far was an evening sitting among some of the best, brightest, and most influential women I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. From store owners and designers to lawyers and writers, the mix was better than my margarita. I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet these women (and if only we’d had more time!) in the beautiful setting of the Four Seasons patio, and my only wish is to learn from their collective vast experience and array of talents (okay, and to get published alongside them in living print!).

This was a strange and beautiful desert trip, complete with Hassidic families walking on one side of the pool while groups of BDSM-styled adults capered toward their 3AM sex party,** a delightful secret find just outside Old Vegas complete with fire-breathing sculpture and frose, and some interesting games of LRC played on an improvised patio with borrowed dollar bills. I’ll leave that last one up to your imagination.

 

**Yes, our hotel hosted a 2-night sex party for the local chapter of an adult organization, complete with high-decibal DJ ’til 3AM and what appeared to be inflated plastic igloos that glowed. I’m still a little sad we never made it inside.

Missing Pieces

A colleague of mine recently posed this question to a large and varied industry group: what’s missing from today’s jewelry market?

Deceptively simple, his query struck me rather forcibly because I had just begun to write a blog post (the one you’re reading now) as a brief study in what I felt has been underrepresented or even entirely absent from mainstream jewelry.

My response was internet-appropriately brief, but in this space I thought a little more elaboration was due. We tend to think of jewelry in terms of categories, so what follows is a sort of commentary breakdown, combining some unofficial bird’s-eye-view concepts that borrow heavily from my daily work with a dash or three of personal, yes-I’m-a-Millennial-get-over-it opinions. Ahem.

Engagement/wedding: I know you love it, but the halo in all its possible iterations has been done — and done very well — to death. The style I never see is a band, thin or wide, with beautiful engraving that goes far, far beyond the vintage flowers-ropes-vines trifecta. Little or no gemstones are needed, but instead, well-executed metalwork with designs that speak to clean, bold, or even whimsical patterns are nowhere to be found.

Fashion: give me sleek, modern designs that emphasize amazing color and perhaps clean geometric patterns. Give me dark and light, negative space, comfortable, and hefty. Show off the amazingly diverse rainbow of colored gems we have available, with non-standard cuts set deep into pieces that highlight texture and celebrate something, anything, that reflects personality.

Symbolic: more like a subcategory, but the idea of talismanic jewelry has always been both appealing and relatively scarce. Sure, the average consumer often takes any special gift and turns it into a symbol (that being the point, more often than not, of giving jewelry in the first place), but I don’t often see designers inventing completely new symbols for people to use in honor or celebration of something specific. And so help me if I see one more poorly-rendered Ribbon of Whatever dangling off a charm bracelet…

Looks Custom But Isn’t: okay, I made up this category, but go with it. If more designers did what only a select few have ever done — which is to say, blasted into the stratosphere high above the comfort zone — we’d have so much more clever things to wear. You all know I’m the biggest advocate for full custom jewelry, but often it’s best to let the creative geniuses around us take the lead and make a concept come to life. Sometimes a designer has created something that is so utterly perfect, so fitting for a person, that it looks and feels like it was custom made even when it wasn’t. That’s quite an achievement.

Now, naming names isn’t normally my thing, as I don’t accept payment in any form for this blog and I strongly prefer to stay as neutral as possible. But I’ll make an exception here by listing a few designers whose work I truly admire as being some combination of unique, progressive, and striving to rise above the commonplace. In no particular order, I’ve been very interested in the following**:

— Collette, for beautiful and edgy
— Retrouvai, for bold and graphic
— Temple St. Clair, for whimsical and extravagant
— Marla Aaron, for cool and inventive
— Wendy Brandes, for modern and irreverent

These folks are doing things outside the proverbial box more often than not, and you don’t have to fall in love with every single piece to appreciate the brilliance behind much of their respective works. These designers also have individual pieces or entire lines that are wholly, uniquely their own, which means a knock-off is very easy to spot. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it’s also horrible and illegal and I’m really sick of the design theft that often occurs when big box stores want a designer’s look without actually paying them for it. (End rant).

For the record, that’s an incredibly incomplete list. Don’t message me with any form of “but HOW could you not mention my favorite designer, XYZ?!” or even “ABC doesn’t deserve to be named!!” All designers are striving and struggling and working and shedding blood/sweat/tears/diamonds in what they do. I have many, many designer friends whose work I find incredibly appealing, but I’m not in this game for the promotional benefits. This is just an informed opinion, folks.

For consumers and industry vets alike, I would really love to know: what do you think is missing from the market? What do you want to see, or wear, or buy, or design? Please chime in here, in this openly democratic forum.

**I won’t even put a link. Check them out, or don’t.

Tough, Hard, & Stable

If you’ve ever discussed gemstone jewelry with a reputable and knowledgeable jeweler, you might have experienced a series of questions along these lines:

“How often do you plan to wear the ring?”

“What do you do for work, and what are your hobbies?”

“Do you typically take your jewelry off when you sleep, shower, or travel?”

He or she isn’t being impertinent or nosy, but rather attempting to find out what type of gem might be best suited for your lifestyle. Some gems can withstand a decent amount of daily wear and tear without any ill effects, while others are more delicate (some are extremely delicate) and require some special considerations.

A gemstone’s hardness, toughness, and stability are the three most important factors in determining its durability. Useful information for jewelry lovers, of course, but lately these three characteristics also seem to be relevant to conversations about human strength and resilience.

What follows contains a little cheese, so pour yourself some wine and indulge me, okay?

Hardness in a gem is measured by the non-linear Mohs scale, and indicates its resistance to scratches and abrasions. As humans I’d say our physical bodies can withstand a surprising amount of painful bruises and scrapes — pain and medication notwithstanding — but it takes much more practice to reach a state of mental grit. Unlike gems, of course, we can build up this tolerance over time through experience and repetition. Diamonds are the leader in the gemological pack, and resilience is a great indicator of leadership in people.

A gem’s toughness, or resistance to breaking and chipping, is due to the strength of the atomic bonds of the molecules that make up the gem’s essential crystal structure. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for our human heart, I don’t know what is: truly it’s the strength of our bonds to one another, be they romantic or friendly or even basic human-to-fellow-human, that make us tough. The ability to withstand heartbreak, suffer through previously-broken bonds, and forge even stronger connections is something only people can do, and gems like super-tough jadeite will just have to go along as they always have.

The stability factor is most often an issue when a gem must withstand sudden or intense changes, or is exposed to extreme conditions. In the gemological world this means withstanding temperature or humidity shifts, certain chemicals, and exposure to various light wavelengths. For humans, this is perhaps the most subtle aspect, displayed only during periods of stress; people are more adaptable than gems, but some people are more flexible than others. Fortunately for us, change doesn’t have to leave us permanently damaged like a crazed opal or thermally-shocked tanzanite.

Like many gems, we can receive treatments that help us improve on some of these characteristics. Emeralds can be oiled, diamonds fracture-filled, sapphires re-polished, garnets re-cut. So too can people be healed both physically and mentally, restoring strained bonds, giving and receiving apologies, cutting negativity out and allowing a little more light inside. (Yes, that last one applies to gemstones too.)

No two gems are ever exactly alike, a single piece of rough can be cut many ways, and every color has its place in the spectrum. We can learn perseverance, fortitude, and resilience — or hardness, toughness, and stability — from the world around us. And really, what better way to do so than through the beauty and rich diversity of the gemstone world?

Risky Business: 2017, a Year in Review

In the early new year, nothing good happened.

On a grey and frigid winter night, I made a life-changing decision.

In chilly early spring (who are we kidding, still winter in New England), the family got some great news.

When spring was in full bloom, five minutes changed my life.

One month later, a very short conversation ruined everything.

Two days later, I rose to a big challenge…

… and signed up for another one.

The summer came and went, without much to note, but nothing good happened.

The calendar said fall but the weather said otherwise, and I made a change.

More days went by, and more changes were made. Nothing good happened.

Officially fall began, and I thought I made a good decision.

It was a bad decision. Nothing good happened.

On an unseasonably warm (but definitely fall) day, I took a big leap.

And more big leaps and more changes are right around the corner.

This has been the most challenging year of my adult life thus far: in the midst of mom’s cancer treatment, I got a divorce. One month later, I lost my job. I thought at that point, sitting with the broken pieces of everything else that went wrong, I might just lose my mind.

As with all things, it’s perseverance and gratitude that dragged me through the year. I’m a very fortunate woman, surrounded as I am by family and friends and mentors who offered an excellent balance of support and tough love when I needed it most. Secure in the knowledge that my personal failures never truly lowered me in their eyes, I was able to pick up those scattered pieces and start rearranging them into a whole new picture.

You learn something from those ridiculous torturous miserable adventure races I’ve grown to love: that thing you fear, that huge and horrible beast sitting directly in your path when you turn the corner — the one you’ve certain is going to chew you up and spit you out in a swirl of pain — that thing can be HANDLED. Not without bruises and some tears and maybe a little blood… but it can be done.

In fact, this former-ballerina-turned-obstacle-racer has dredged up enough grit and fortitude to make it through a very rough-and-tumble year, which means I can absolutely make it through anything.

Hey, 2018, are you listening? I’m coming for you. And something good is definitely going to happen.

Holiday Help: The Time is Now

If the frosty mornings and hearty food cravings haven’t set in quite yet in your area, they will soon: it’s officially the holidays! For jewelers, this time of year brings busy store days and long nights full of hopeful shoppers, many of whom are just beginning their quest for the perfect gift.

This is also the height of engagement season, with a reported 40% of engagement rings purchased (and given) between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. As family and friends travel in an effort to gather for seasonal celebrations, it’s no wonder this is a popular time to think about forming new families and lasting bonds. (I won’t even mention the influence of cuffing season, but we all know it’s there).

What does this mean for folks looking for beautiful, meaningful jewelry? In a word, timing.

On the one hand, this is an excellent opportunity to engage your trusted independent jeweler in a conversation about your needs, as he or she will likely be carrying the largest total stocked merchandise of the year in anticipation of holiday sales. Business will be brisk and the best items will sell quickly, so don’t count on that perfect piece sitting in the case long enough for you to regret it as it makes someone else’s day. But if he or she says “I have just the thing!” it’s probably because right now (and perhaps only right now), that’s actually true.

If your ideal jewel can only be created through the custom design process, your approach should be a little different. Many jewelers with on-site bench workers and designers can meet special deadlines with enough notice, but the custom process can rarely be rushed. As the Big Three** approach, early birds will see their orders filled while late starters must scramble or settle — and neither are good options when you’re considering a major expenditure for a very important purchase.

So while I advise all of my clients to think carefully and plan accordingly all year round, this becomes especially important during this festive, fete-filled season. Do not wait until the last possible moment to begin your hunt for the perfect treasure, and your jeweler will certainly thank you.

Have a burning question or special request? Submit now for inclusion in an upcoming post!


**Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day/Eve. Yes, I’m well aware that many more holidays are celebrated during this time, but these are the primary US dates (and closures!) to keep in mind when planning a special moment.

Brief Baubles: Jewelry & the Sharing Economy

Millennial. Startup. “Uber of X.” Viral. Cord Cutter. Experiential. Influencer. Gamification. Hacking.

Today’s colloquialisms provide a unique challenge for content producers, forcing us to navigate a tightrope strung high over a cavernous hole of hashtags, hits, and SEO-driven buzzwords. It sure does grate on you, after a while.

So please grin and bear it as I throw another one out for your consideration: the sharing economy. Defined by others as “collaborative consumption” in direct opposition to Veblen’s original “conspicuous consumption,” the concept applies to anything you make use of but do not own. Big-ticket items like cars and houses were the first aboard this bandwagon, and predictably other 1status items have followed suit.

The latest to join the game is the jewelry and watch world, following in the footsteps of successful concepts like Rent the Runway for designer clothing and BagBorroworSteal for, you guessed it, high-end pocketbooks. These companies allow their clients to order items online to be shipped to their homes, worn for a limited time, and shipped straight back. Talk about fast fashion.

The obvious issues do come up from time to time: theft, accidental destruction, genuine loss. But rental-based organizations often forge strong relationships with the designers they carry, and many offer or require various premiums that amount to insurance for just these situations.

I have been asked on more than one occasion my opinion of this type of consumerism, mainly in regards to its impact on the future of the luxury industry as defined by its success with younger generations. My response may surprise you, though certainly not my mother, whose special designer duds I’ve been trying to steal borrow for years: I’m all for it.

Taken in the short term, it’s true that renting and returning merchandise offers little gain for luxury sellers who are strapped for cash and customers. But by allowing these online (read: no overhead) entities to handle the logistics for them, both major and emerging designers can build a larger following based on exposure and experience. It’s this magical combination that gains the trust of today’s HENRYs, and will turn them into more educated (and therefore more satisfied) purchasers later on.

Try it, then buy it… when you can afford it. Or when you love it and don’t want to return it because you have to have it for yourself (or for someone else).

A number of luxury accessory companies have entered this new market. I was most impressed by a startup called Eleven James, as they currently focus solely on mid to high-level timepieces. Watches are not a fading fad as some might claim, but their role in our daily lives has shifted from necessary time-telling device to pure fashion (or status) statement. Eleven James capitalizes on this concept, and provides a concierge experience with multiple tiers that aim to match a range of budgets and tastes.

Flont is another newcomer, providing temporary access to a swath of designer jewels. A recent news release from Rapaport’s Diamond.Net says:

“Flont, which offers a jewelry-renting service, has raised $5 million from investors to grow its inventory and staff and help fund an expansion into the Chinese market.
The company describes itself as a pioneer of the “Jewelry as a Service” model, in which it lets consumers wear jewelry for a fee for a fixed period, or take out membership for unlimited rental.”

So that pair of Bvlgari earrings you can’t currently afford, but would go perfectly with your cocktail dress at that wedding this weekend? Rent them. Want to wear a diamond necklace that’s the real deal for your wedding? (Do I even have to say it?) Hello, something borrowed.

“’Borrowing incredible jewelry, and experiencing it first-hand, is the best way to discover brands and designers, while developing a lifelong affinity,’ said Cormac Kinney, founder and CEO of Flont, in a statement last week.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Readers, what do you think? Would you rent a watch of piece of otherwise unattainable jewelry, either for a special occasion or just because you could? And equally importantly, would it influence a future decision to buy it (or something like it)?

Palatable Palettes

The color obsession continues! We’ve looked at color once or twice before, and it seemed to me I’m long overdue for another glance. Autumn has arrived* and with it a change in popular tones, from the cool brights of summer to the warmer jewel tones of calendar-perfect New England fall foliage.

The crystal-ball-wielding wizards at Pantone told the world what we’d be wearing (and decorating with, and even eating) this fall:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 10.22.17 AM
Image credit: Pantone

Well hello, familiar faces. That Millennial Pink and Blue look an awful lot like 2016’s co-colors of the year, Quartz and Serenity. Both pastels are certainly the least seasonal of the bunch, but their popularity can’t be denied.

My personal wardrobe tends to favor tones similar to the blueish-green Shaded Spruce, cold oceanic Navy Peony (what? navy peonies?), and the ever reliable Neutral Gray. But recently, thanks in part to some recent exposure to a delectable suite of fire opal and Imperial topaz, I’ve been contemplating rich and flamelike palette that includes Autumn Maple and Tawny Port, with a little Butterum for good measure. I blame my seasonal affinity for foods in those colors. Mmmmm, caramel…

Alas, for me, Grenadine is too garish and Golden Lime too sallow. Blame it on the blonde.

Taken as a whole, the palette seems incoherent and vaguely messy, with little harmony or pleasant relationship between colors. It’s almost as though each swatch was selected by one person as a fall favorite, and the whole lot was jumbled together with no regard for complementary hues. Individually the shades are lovely; collectively they’re a distraction.

Keep your eyes open for more examples of these colors as we head deeper into the season. Right now I think it’s time to bake another apple cake and get those cider & sea salt caramels wrapped up. Beef stew, anyone?

 

*It’s September folks, and I’ve already gone apple picking. The best season has begun, and I’m not sorry.

The Independents — A Love Letter

You’ve seen their sign, maybe their billboard on your daily commute. Maybe you’ve wandered by their storefront, pausing to peek at the pretty displays and wondering what else could be inside. It’s even possible you’ve stood in line at the grocery store behind their owner, your spouse has played golf or hosted book club with them, or your children have played baseball with their kids.

I’m talking about your friendly neighborhood independent jeweler, and the family that is very much a part of your local community.

With one store location or maybe a handful, these businesses have built their lives and livelihoods by treating you with courtesy and respect, running a shop that puts quality and the customer first. Unlike the revolving door and high-volume sales at the national chains, the familiar faces at an independent jewelry store keep all eyes focused on what the client needs and wants.

They might open a little early for an emergency watch battery change, or stay open past closing so you can pick up that special gift after a long day of work. They’ll send you a note to remind you of an upcoming birthday or anniversary — and they’ve kept a list of exactly what that special someone has been eyeing. Need it hand delivered, gift-wrapped, totally secret, even one-of-a-kind? They can do that, too.

With the ability to source colored gems, diamonds, designer brands, and specialty items from around the world, independent jewelers can and will go the extra mile. Many also staff talented bench jewelers and designers, who will take your dreams and translate them into beautifully crafted reality. Repairs big and small, sizings up or down, a new chain or watch strap: these gals and guys have seen and done it all, and they’ll happily do it for you.

An educated and dedicated team will be present for your most precious life events — you can’t be just a number when they know you by name! Independent jewelers love to share their knowledge, and they know that an educated consumer is a confident and happy client.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a gift, planning a special life celebration, or feel the desire for a beautiful, wearable work of art in your life, remember your neighbors. They’re ready to serve you, and they’re right around the corner — where they’ve always been.

Just Another Week in Paradise (NV)

April showers bring May… tradeshows. And June tradeshows. The ones that take place in a desert city mirage, full of glittering monoliths and towering representations of fairy tales and larger-than-life fantasies. Food, drink, and sparkling gems at every turn battle for dominance with late nights and long walks down streets that glow with neon promise.

In other words, fifteen-plus-hour days in heels with ceaseless talking, extensive walking (83782 steps), desperate hunger and thirst, exhaustion, dehydration, pain, stress, and general desert malaise. We call it Jewelry Week.

This year was a good one, all things considered, both for the business I was there to represent and for my own interests. I feel extreme gratitude for my show team, who collectively practiced their best “patience faces,” brought their dress-up clothes, and tolerated my singing and dancing at the Margaritaville table.

Additionally, I was honored to attend this year’s #VegasGems evening out — a dinner table full of some of the coolest, most intelligent, interesting, and influential women out there. Just listening to your stories was a pleasure, and I wish we’d had so much more time so I could continue soaking in your fabulousness and learning from the very best.

Oh, and I discovered that running a 5K up and down the strip at 5:30am is a little different from walking it, no matter how hard you train or how much water you drink. Time doesn’t fly quite as fast without conversations about broadway musicals. Who knew?

But as always, surrounding myself with the people and things of the jewelry world gives me a refreshment and renewed sense of purpose. If nothing else, this show brings me back to my center. When I manage to take a brief tour around the other halls of the show, greeting the folks I’ve come to know and giving myself some time to absorb the atmosphere, I feel reconnected to the pulse of what I love to do.

So now it’s back to the grind: day job, studying gems in the lab, freelancing, and building that little business into something bigger.

 

Back in Time: An Evening with Vortic Watch Co.

When I first announced my transition from fine jewelry retail to 3D printing tech, the responses varied from a tentatively supportive “sounds… interesting” to something like “tech? But what about jewelry?!” and even “does that mean you’ll wear jeans and t-shirts and use words like ‘bandwidth’?” (yes, no, and yes, for the record).

The truth is, I’ve been even more involved with the jewelry industry since I took on this role, and it’s been the most amazing experience to have the privilege of meeting people like R.T. Custer, co-founder and CEO of Vortic Watch. He had the brilliant notion to take US-made, early-20th-century pocket watches that were sitting around unused and unloved, and convert them into chic, industrial wristwatches.

What does this have to do with me? Well, the original pieces he produced involved serious Solidworks CAD skills and some impressive wrangling of a little old 3D printer. R.T. and his business partner Tyler Wolfe (Vortic COO) have grown this original Kickstarter into a full-fledged business, producing custom casements and reviving an American watchmaking tradition many believed had died off in the post-industrial era.

Vortic Watch hosted a special event last weekend at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which houses an incredible collection of historic pieces from the American Industrial Revolution. They were kind enough to invite me as both a representative of the technology used to bring these magical devices to life, and as a jewelry and watch nerd who seriously can’t stop using their design tool to play with the custom watch builder options.

There are few things that appeal to me more than a seamless integration of old-world style and modern techniques, so this company truly hits it out of the park. From their tough-but-elegant styling to the significant history behind the movements, these timepieces absolutely belong both on the wrist and in the enthusiast’s collection.

Take a look at a few highlights from the event in the slideshow below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.