Under the Tucson Sun: Show Recap

Sunshine. 70 degrees. Palm trees mixed with cacti of all shapes and sizes. Fruit on the trees, vivid sunsets. Sounds like a vacation to this hardy New Englander.

Between wine and tequila tastings, evening stargazing, and too much guacamole, there was also this show called JCK Tucson.

This was my first time exhibiting at the lovely JW Starr Marriott Resort, and I enjoyed the smaller size and slower pace of this show compared to many of the larger ones. I actually had time for lengthy conversations with clients, which allowed me to really soak in their perspectives on everything from CAD/CAM integration and technology adoption to social media, synthetic diamonds, custom design, transparent sourcing, and the future of the global industry.

Subjects near and dear to my little heart.

Tradeshows are a great opportunity to take an industry’s temperature, and they provide a snapshot of both the financial and more personal sides of the business. In this case, I felt a general sense of positivity: things might not be the best they’ve ever been, but they’re not the worst and might be getting a little better. Many clients have taken the last few years of heavy industry closures and market uncertainty as a sign that they need to carefully consider and execute a plan for long-term sustainability. Many have concluded that adopting the right set of new technologies and breaking old, bad habits will serve them well in the immediate future — a clear sign of hope, and at least a tiny drop of faith in the industry to keep pushing forward.

This was the first show where my newly-acquired technical knowledge was equally as appreciated as my jewelry insight. Perhaps it’s due to some of the confidence bred of reaching a work milestone, but I felt significantly more comfortable discussing the inner workings of design, sourcing, production, and manufacturing along with the usual business content. Everyone, it seemed to me, is looking for efficiency in their process and a road map for reaching the next wave of buyers.

Maybe it was all that vitamin D after so many months without, but I’m feeling the groove right along with these intelligent and innovative thinkers. If every show could bring these feelings, I call that a true sign of success.

One Kick to Win it: Goal Line

This time last year, I wrote down a short list of goals for 2016 and beyond. I had never done so publicly before, but this is a personal habit I’ve long maintained in place of making resolutions. At the halfway point, I paused to do an assessment, and was surprised to note how much progress I’d made in so short a time.

To say that I exceeded my own expectations might sound like hubris, but in fact I’ve somehow managed to humble myself even further because of it. I’m proud to have accomplished so many of the things I set out to do, but even in doing so, I’ve been able to realize how important the long view can be — my goals are never truly reached, they’re extended and transformed and pushed and dragged, forcing me to adapt and change and grow.

But I’ve been struggling to come up with a well-articulated list this time around. Perhaps it’s due to the past year, where part of my personal growth has been in acknowledging and embracing just how much more growing I need to do. I know I’d like to get down to the business of my career development and really kicking some major tail in 2017 and beyond. It’s also pretty clear that I need to prioritize sustaining and nurturing the relationships and friendships I’ve been establishing, so as not to let all that excellent drinking time socializing go to waste.

So, let’s see what I end up with:

1. Build and strengthen my network
I’m nobody and nowhere without the people I meet along the way, and there’s always room for more on this train. I’m surrounded by fascinating people, and there are few things I enjoy more than turning strangers into friends.

2. Lift up and lean in
I’d like to think I’ve had a positive impact on the people around me, and that at least a few people have found value in knowing me. But I know I can continue to do more for the people — particularly women! — in my life and my industry to help them with their own ambitions. A rising tide lifts all boats.

3. Get thee to a new country
More travel, please! For business, for pleasure, or my personal favorite, combining the two. There is surely no better way to learn about yourself than when trying to explain the US election process to an Australian linguistics professor on his way to a conference in Germany (true story) or the in-field fly rule in French to a Swiss businessman en route to Spain (also true story).

4. Play a complete round of golf
I/we can totally do this. Right, mom?

5. Finish. My. GG.
I know, I said that last year. It’s one of the few things I didn’t manage to accomplish in 2016, but I did make excellent progress. This is the year.

6. Find my balance
Like many of you, the tussle between work and life can start to make me feel as frayed as the cat’s favorite mouse toy. So in the process of finding myself, my voice, and my calling, I think it’s only fair I also seek out that ineffable happy place, the center of gravity on the high wire we walk when confronted with dueling demands for our time and energy. Someone toss me a balance pole?

I have a lot to anticipate in the coming months, and I can only hope to meet it all with grace, good humor, and the fervent believe that the energy you put in is the energy you get out.

Wishing one and all good times and great karma in 2017. Please feel free to share your own goals in the comments — we can all use a little inspiration!




#Pantone and the Color Bubble

It’s that time of year once again: Pantone, the arbiter of all things color, has announced their pick for the 2017 Color of the Year. Say hello to Greenery:

Image from Pantone press release

Referring to the shade as “nature’s neutral,” Pantone has obviously decided to highlight a color that plays to the middle of the road, inciting very little in the way of strong opinions and offensive to essentially no one.

It’s a safe color. It’s pretty, in an I-don’t-want-to-admit-I-hate-peridot kind of way. It’s lush, verdant, and full of springlike innocence. It looks good with pink. Legions of Lilly Pulitzer ladies* will rejoice.

But is it what we want? Is it even what we need?

I’ll be honest, I was hoping for something a bit more… bold. After last year’s double-pastel campaign, I felt reasonably certain that the next choice would be something I could sink my teeth into. Some pizzaz, some pop, something worthy of a coming year that’s sure to be full of fireworks. Perhaps, dare I say it, a color that would signify the rising swell of strong emotions in the hearts of millions, encouraging us to keep fighting the good fight.

How disappointing.

Now there is something to be said for the nice concepts that Greenery is intended to represent; as an active environmentalist, I certainly can’t argue with the purported message. But according to Pantone, the Color of the Year is supposed to provide

“A symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”

Calming, soothing, spa-like green is decidedly not the mood I’m sensing, at least here in the US and in most of the EU. So, what comforting little bubble is Pantone living in? How do they, as a company and collective body, manage to find a hue so incredibly inoffensive that it actually becomes even more of a statement in its own banality?

The tree of the fashion industry, with its many branches — jewelry, accessories, couture, high and low fashion, etc. — might be in full leaf, but I don’t think that needs to be taken quite to literally. Maybe this color will grow on me, and may bring about some interesting interpretations when blocked with bold black and white, or warmed up with some shiny yellow gold. For now, it feels like a good excuse to take a nap.

Whatever they’re doing to reach that level of Zen, I wouldn’t mind borrowing a dose or two. I might need it this year.


*I confess to wearing a bit of Lilly now and again, but c’mon people. If you don’t live in Hawaii or Key West, how is this color relevant for more than 2 months of the year?

Working Through It

I was not what you’d call a sporty child.

Other than some halfhearted attempts at tennis and a little time in the marching band, dancing with Boston Ballet was my physical torture of choice. And torture it was — injuries were frequent, soreness a constant companion, and my feet have never recovered from those bloody, broken years of toe balancing.

But if there’s one good lesson to be learned in tolerating physical pain for a reason, it’s this: perseverance. When the going gets tough, the tough gets a pen and paper, makes a lot of lists, devises a plan, and relentlessly pursues every item until (a) the plan succeeds or (b) a better one comes along.

My years as a ballerina (and actor, and musician) also imparted the gift of competitiveness — as an only child, this wasn’t something I’d likely develop independently. While I certainly did compete for solos, orchestra chairs, leading roles, and the occasional bragging rights, I found that artistic competition is centered far more on being better than yourself than your closest competitor.

The way to “win” in the performance world is to distinguish yourself from the pack, offering a tiny spark of something other (rather than simply better) than what the people around you might have. The only way to accomplish this is to become immersed in your own inner process — the artistic soul, if you’ll forgive the expression — and nurture it until it rises up and overtakes the performer entirely.

Working as I have been, with one foot in a technical and business world and the other in pursuit of a degree, has given me somewhat of an inner dichotomy. Until quite recently, the two pursuits have been behaving like lines of counterpoint: always opposing, occasionally harmonizing, but never resolving.

But lately some new ideas have been making their voices heard, which has begun to round out the chorus, paint the backdrop, and perhaps set the scene for an interesting new act. Consider this a teaser trailer, a preview before the opening night. I’m working through things and working up to… something.

I’ll let you know how rehearsals go, and hopefully will set a date for the out-of-town trial very soon. Until then, tell me this: where does your own inner spark come from?  I’d love to hear about it.

Media Moment: Girls and Pearls

Particular. Meticulous. Finicky. Fussy. Picky. Persnickety. I’m difficult to please, okay?

I suppose it makes me a good gemologist and jeweler — detail-oriented, and all — but high standards often lead to high expectations, which can sometimes lead to… disappointment.

But I’ve learned to manage those expectations over the years, especially mitigating my hopes for anything related to industry media, PR, or advertising. This is not to say that we don’t have some superlative examples of journalism around, but it’s the cheesy crap from big box retailers that has become the common diner-coffee-consumption we anticipate every holiday season.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I saw this article, discussing Mikimoto’s new approach to their iconic jewel (not to mention a top-ten jewelry standard): pearls. Please take a moment to peruse the short piece, and definitely watch the ad, which will air only on social media.

While many of us in the fashion world wouldn’t exactly call “wear your pearls with your leather pencil skirt” a groundbreaking idea, the ad itself resonates because of its tone and underlying message. Pearls can be sexy, pearls can be mysterious, pearls can be worn outside the boardroom or your sister’s wedding.

My perfectionist self finds plenty of faults with the add, primarily the missed opportunity to show off the fantastically cool clasps available in today’s market. But nonetheless, I rarely see a jewelry-specific spot that gets the tone so absolutely dead on — it’s almost hard to believe that it comes from so unexpected a source, but I’m not complaining.

What did you think of the ad? And more importantly, how did that model get perfectly-winged eyeliner without the apparent use of a mirror?





Civilian Shopper 

If the temperatures quoted by my local weather lady are correct, it’s beginning to feel a lot like autumn (by day), and winter is peeking out in the evening hours.

This has always been my favorite time of year, as a New Englander who feels at her very best when wrapped in multiple layers of cashmere or fleece, sipping hot cider and daydreaming about holiday decor.

But for most of my working life, the holidays have meant a serious uptick in stress levels and a calendar with very little room on it for all the fun events that seem to pop up when the mercury dips below 40. Working in a retail environment means longer hours, more consecutive days, and a generally pervasive feeling of not enough time. Latkes on a weeknight? Christmas party on a Saturday? You want me to join your choir and sing when? Don’t make me laugh. 

But this year, for the first time in forever, I won’t be working on Black Friday. I can go to Holiday Pops — a family tradition for well over 20 years — on a weekend. And I can smile with angelic patience and goodwill while participating in enthusiastic consumerism, tinny Musaq blending with the incessant of beeping of snowplows as background accompaniment.

Poetic descriptions aside, I will miss certain things about holiday retail — namely, the looks on my clients’ faces when they discover the perfect gift, that glow of happiness at finding a shiny new treasure to present to a friend or loved one. Those are the moments that got me through the season; I’m sure for many jewelers, they’re the main reason we stay open late, buy the expensive wrapping paper, and hand-deliver diamond rings at midnight.

So retailers, I promise not to mess up that perfectly- folded table of sweaters, ask you to “check again” for my size, or complain that the music’s too loud and temperature is too hot and line was too long and the box is the wrong color and the holidays are just sooo exhausting, y’know ? 

Now it’s just about time to dust off the family recipes, write up my Nice list, and start enjoying the season. 

New Cover Art

As a little girl, I spent hours of my free time ensconced in cozy nooks and tiny chairs hidden between towering bookshelves in our local library. A friendly librarian noticed my love of reading and encouraged me to reach beyond the age-appropriate sections, taking the time to instruct me in the proper book-shelving etiquette and finer points of the cryptic Dewey decimal system.

But in truth, I was able to locate most of my favorite books not by numerical efficiency, but by spotting the familiar dust jacket on the shelf. Spine out, cover, or back-facing, I could identify the usual suspects immediately, and took comfort in the familiar typefaces and colorful depictions of important scenes from the story.

Years later, I remember roaming the no-longer-towering stacks of a nearby bookstore. and feeling more lost and confused than comforted. The titles were familiar — Alice, Matilda, Jane, David, the gang’s all here — but I no longer recognized the classics from their covers alone. The art had changed, often dramatically, and it occurred to me that these “new editions” would need to appeal to a much different audience than in the years of my own childhood.

Identifying a drooping interest in classic literature, the publishers clearly banded together to calculate what type of visual stimuli today’s buyers require in order to open their wallets. Longtime favorites received the royal treatment, those undying words wrapped in leather bindings, gilded, fanciful lettering, and sold in sets with their peers. Newer contributions become wildly colorful, with wrapped jackets that probably took longer to create than the authors took to write, and were marked with exorbitant prices and “special edition” stickers.

But as a beloved nanny certainly knew, a fancy wrapper and sugared coating can go a long way towards catching a child’s eye in a room full of other distractions. Call it what you will — rebranding, new marketing campaign, or my personal favorite, “updated” — but it works.

This anecdote is what came to mind when I first viewed the latest releases from the world of diamond campaigning. The two new ads are an attempt to reach the Me generation on their level, re-packaging the traditional messaging of love = diamonds into something with equal parts playfulness, sex appeal, and a down-to-earth acknowledgement that relationships can come in many forms.

Regardless of the quality of this content (debatable) and questionable length (a little too long), the surprising clarity of the message is what interests me most. Marriage is no longer the cornerstone of our society’s structure, but that doesn’t mean the concept of long-term love and devotion has fallen by the wayside. It has simply transformed, and in order to remain relevant in a landscape that no longer resembles the white picket fences of yesterday to an astonishing number of people under 40, our communication must perforce change along with it.

While I’m not really a member of the target demographic, I can absolutely see the strengths in this type of merchandising. These ads appeal to me far more than the usual run of predictable romantic interludes and lame last-minute gift plugs, so perhaps they’ll have some real staying power and will begin to turn the attention of the next buying wave back to the idea diamond jewelry as an enduring statement of… well, whatever they want it to say.

I’d love to hear your reactions to this new direction. Have a look, share it around, and please share your thoughts.

Spring Sneak Peak

If it’s September, it must be… the favorite month of those with haute couture appetites, the global sequence of ____ Fashion Week. It’s a time to reflect on the trends of years past, and glimpse the outlines of what we (the little people) will be wearing once the snow melts about 8 months from now. I talk a lot about color here, have you noticed?

As much as I’d enjoy writing post after post about the clothing that graced the runways this year, I’m content instead to contemplate a broader palette — literally. Colossal colorateur** Pantone has once again released its preview of the Spring 2017 colors, and I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunities they present for the fashion, jewelry, and decorating worlds.

Pantone refers to the collection as, “a mixture of vitality, relaxation and the great outdoors.” I’d call them bold, vivid even, and they complement and contrast all day long. There’s something for everyone: bright pops of pink, yellow, and orange; softer notes of blues and greens, and a touch of appealing neutrals that ground the whole collection.

Fortunately for the gem world, nearly every choice has a corresponding gemstone or two to match:


Niagara can be found in star sapphire or moonstone, Primrose Yellow in yellow sapphire, Lapis Blue is lapis, of course, and Flame is an obvious fire opal. Pink Yarrow seems to be Rhodolite garnet, Island Paradise an aquamarine, and Greenery is peridot. Pale Dogwood proves the popularity of Morganite once again, Hazelnut could be found in cognac diamonds, and Kale captures the unusual green sapphire.

You would find a good number of these colors in my own wardrobe, which (when I’m not wearing black, anyway) is often a balance between saturated jewel tones and cozy neutrals. What’s old is new again, as they say, and Pantone deliberately attempted to reinvent and revitalize our world with fresh updates on the familiar.

I’m a little disappointed at the few missing pieces — no true red of any kind, no eggplant or plum, and no grey to be found. Blue is my favorite color, but did we really need three? And for many, the difference between Pale Dogwood and Hazelnut is only a matter of degree. Eliminating a few of these as redundant would have left room for a more well-rounded group.

But overall, I’m satisfied with the direction and selection. It will be interesting to see which color comes out on top — Niagara is supposedly the leader of the pack, but the court of public opinion doesn’t always agree — and how the palette plays out in ready-to-wear and street fashion.

These are the colors we live in. What do you think about them?


**Yes, I made that up. Sounds sexy though, doesn’t it?

Love in Three Countries

Berlin, Madrid, Paris.

Three unique cities in very different countries, each borrowing a border and crossing a few spice palates but somehow remaining totally distinct.

I admit that I had originally anticipated feeling more out of place at a foreign trade show, but after the first day everything felt familiar (except, y’know, in Spanish). It was wonderful to interact with more members of the international community, and while Europe certainly faces many of the same issues we see here at home, they do so from a rather different perspective.

The brief exposure I had to Berlin leads me to believe that innovation will come there, fast and hard, but that the culture will struggle to embrace it. Germany has an austere, rougher style of living that felt difficult to penetrate. I will need more time and thought to sort out my feelings about this place.

Madrid was a classic dichotomy of old and new: the under-35 crowd spoke English, dressed with an international flair, ate and drank merrily, and seems to embrace the new waves of technology and openness that are becoming the hallmarks of that generation. Their older counterparts have elected to remain single-language speakers, and as a group tended to distrust the progressive and ignore the innovative. This made for some interesting conversations about jewelry and 3D printing, let me tell you!

I was in Paris for pleasure and not for work, but even as a consumer I’m never really off the clock. My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised by our preferential treatment — wonderful and attentive service, friendly conversation, pleasant bi-lingual interactions — and utterly sickened by the blatant racism displayed toward members of minority groups.

Travel serves to inspire and educate, and I felt the impact of both on this little adventure. The international jewelry community (and larger luxury group) is in desperate need of some unification in order to strengthen the message that we are a cultural and economic force for positive change. We can have such a profound influence on the future of our environment, and by definition our massive reach across so many cultures and countries should mean that we can collectively shun the isolationist policies that are howling at the door to civilization.

This may all sound heavy-handed, but it’s hard not to wax eloquent after such a broadening experience. I certainly consumed my share of German Rieslings, Spanish Cavas, and French Champagnes (all of which I’m happy to chat about, should you ever be interested) but the important takeaways from this trip will remain long after the last taste of chocolate and bubbles have faded.

Who Broke the Crystal Ball?

There are a lot of things to like about my job: intelligent and talented colleagues, innovative and fast-moving core industry, free food and booze… y’know, the usual expected combination of perks at a tech start-up.

But the very best parts of my day revolve around the conversations I get to have with jewelry industry folks. They come from a huge range of specialties — retailers, designers, manufacturers, students, teachers, artists — and once we get to know each other a bit, many of them are willing to take a few moments to chat about the general state of the industry.

These conversations have given me both deep insight into the inner workings and relationships within the network itself, and a bird’s eye view of the US (and often global) jewelry industry as a whole. Useful and interesting stuff.

In a totally unscientific way, I’m been taking notes on these discussions and keeping track of what people seem to be saying. Here’s an overview of some of the most common topics and their subsequent commentary:

“The industry is changing.”
This is by far the most popular statement. It seems that nearly everyone is in agreement about the state of flux and evolution, keeping in mind that anyone talking to me right now is probably already embracing a certain amount of technology and the momentum to implement it.

But I perceive a certain level of apprehension mixed in there as well, particularly when some of the smaller shops are considering their long-term business plans. Comments such as “I’m buying this because my son/daughter thinks we need it” and “I hope you can teach an old dog new tricks” imply an understandable hesitation, but they also address the larger climate of uncertainty in the market.

“Nobody buys X anymore, they only want custom.”
If you’re handy with CAD or a designer-in-training, prepare yourself for desperate job offers and high expectations — but not necessarily an understanding employer. There is a definite skills and knowledge gap happening here, and it’s what I refer to as Magic Box Syndrome.

This tendency to demand good/fast/cheap/easy from technology is frustrating both for the people who don’t understand why it isn’t perfect, and for those of us trying to convince users that it’s still pretty darn good. That expensive computer program with beautiful renderings can’t make you a better designer if you don’t understand the fundamentals of jewelry construction (including CAM, casting, and at least some benchwork). Our little orange box can’t magically reproduce something your designer dreamed up if it’s unprintable, uncastable, and probably unwearable.

And what happens when, inevitably at this time of year, the conversation turns to the holiday season?

I’ve learned to brace myself.

While the majority of my clients are buying a 3D printer to expand or improve their businesses, I come across the occasional purchaser who is simply trying to save it. Three separate shops in the last week have lost their CAD people, and are trying to catch up on CAD/CAM themselves before the rush. Two other businesses I know are about to begin casting their own work, because outsourcing takes too much time (and therefore money). And of course, my manufacturing clients are facing increased labor and metal costs, high demand for fast turnover, on custom pieces and a huge uptick in small-batch multi-unit orders that will probably end up as quick mountings for engagement season.

“We’re in for a wild ride,” they say.

But the saner voices — less panicked, more curious and optimistic about the future — are predicting a time of general change toward custom or customized jewelry in a way that might just save the entire industry from itself. As I’ve mentioned once or twice, adapting our old business models to the new wave of consumers is the only realistic way to preserve the beauty of treasured jewelry pieces and still grow as an industry.

It is my good fortune to be in communication with such a wide variety of interesting people, and to hear firsthand how many of them are keeping their eyes on the prize and working to turn this big old ship around. I can guide and support them through at least a small part of that process, and hope that their eventual successes will pave the way for others.