A Conversation With Two Ladies

I had a conversation with two lovely ladies just the other day. It had been about a year since I last saw one, and the other it’s been around 12 years. We’ll call the first “N” and the second “G.” Here’s how our conversation went.

Me: Hi! I guess it’s been a while. I’m sorry about that, I’ve certainly missed you both.

G: That’s all right, I’ve been getting updates every now and then. You’ve grown up!

N: You’ve been busy.

Me: I’ve definitely been busy. I also have a new job!

G: That’s wonderful, I’m so proud of you! You’re such a hard worker.

N: Oh? A new job? And what are you doing?

Me: Well, I guess it’s a little hard to explain. I work for a company that’s bringing  a special kind of new technology called 3D printing to the market. It’s a way for people to create things using a particular type of machine. My job is to market it and sell it, especially to the jewelry industry.

G: Sounds exciting! I’m sure you’re great at it. You always loved talking to people.

N: Is it expensive? Do they make you travel a lot?

Me: It’s not expensive relative to other machines that do a similar thing. Yes, I do get to talk to a lot of people and travel quite a bit, but I love it!

N: What about your husband? You need to make sure you’re spending enough time with him. That’s really important.

Me: Yes, it is. We try to spend time with each other, and our families too.

G: I’m sure you do. Your mother and father miss you a lot, you know.

N: Well, she can’t be everywhere at once. But as long as you’re happy and doing a good job, it will be good for you.

Imagine having these ladies perched on your shoulders, whispering questions and comments! One is an eternal optimist, reminding me to be kind and thoughtful whenever possible (or even when it’s not); the other is a consummate realist, insisting that I keep a watchful eye on my own words and actions, not to mention the habits of everyone around me. Both continue to guide me with the occasional tug on my ears to correct my course.

Chanel perfume, hand-knitted blankets. Grace and poise, kindness and gentility.

We lost Nana and Grandma in April, just over a decade apart. Both were cornerstones of their respective families, and represented two very different but equally important styles of living: the homemaker and the working woman.

I imagine the conversations I’d have with each of them now, as a woman and wife and worker. They might ask about my marriage and job, the details of my latest vacation or recently read novel, or if I’m keeping up with my studies. In their own special ways, they would ultimately be asking one simple question: are you happy? Because despite their differences, that’s what always mattered most. And that’s the greatest lesson I could ever hope to learn.

 

MJSA Expo Recap: Spring Forward

Hello, NYC. We meet again! Your trains were under construction, your Ubers were late, and your weather threw a hissy fit… but your bagels are delicious, your architecture never fails to impress, and your impact on business was trending positive. So altogether, thanks again for confirming my love/hate affair.

This show was my second opportunity to stand on the other side of the counter, and I’m happy to report that it changes my love of trade shows not one bit. I managed to speak with some fascinating people, meet digital friends in real life, and even make progress in some personal goals — a successful outing by any standard.

One of my favorite things to do at shows is walk around a few times, sometimes stopping to say hello to old friends and make new ones, but often simply to observe how exhibitors and buyers are interacting. You catch some interesting things by casting a wide net, not seeking any particular insight.

For example, it seems that companies who make it their business to fully educate and build relationships (real ones) with their clients have a much more welcoming atmosphere at the booth, even when they’re swamped with people. When I watch a sales rep turn to a lurker and tell them, “I will be happy to explain this further, and you’re welcome to listen to what I’m saying to Ms. Smith here, just please give me a few more moments with her” I see an immediate change in that lurker’s body language. They adjust from a defensive, stop-ignoring-me-you-idiot posture into a polite and attentive listener, willing to wait because they’ve been prioritized.

On the other hand,  I myself stood at a booth full of reps for 4 minutes (yep, I counted) before my presence was even acknowledged. My badge was not immediately visible, so they had no way of knowing if I was a buyer, a competitor, or someone lost on her way to the food court. When someone finally came over, I was reading a piece of literature and he planted himself directly in front of me, crossed his arms, and said (I kid you not), “is there something you want?”

I’m not sure how successful that is as a sales tactic, but you can bet it didn’t go over well with me.

Like I said, you learn a lot walking the show and observing. I felt the overall pace was upbeat and sustained, despite some sleepy eyes on Day 1 due to the nation-wide inexplicable loss of an hour’s sleep. In speaking with a few well-respected and longtime industry salespeople, I learned that interest in a new and improved approach to doing business continues to grow.

It’s always nice to see nodding heads when I talk about integrating updated technologies with time-tested techniques, but I’m starting to see designers and retailers walk the walk. Many visitors to our booth had at least two generations in attendance, and more than one “Jr.” could be heard emphatically arguing in favor of the latest CADsoftware and CAM instrument while “Sr.” looked a little worried, a little confused, and not a little proud.

Spring forward: yes, it was a good trip after all.

 

Diamond Disruption

BREAKING NEWS: things that were once found only in nature can now be synthesized by humans!

RUN… DON’T WALK… to your nearest web browser in frantic search of “the truth” about mining vs. lab-creating!

REMAIN CALM… AND YOU MIGHT SURVIVE!

—> Music cue: dramatic up-tempo tuneless 8-bar vamp <—

Okay, enough of that. The emergence and apparent popularity of lab-created diamonds is definitely cause for industry-wide conversation, if not some of the more hyperbolic commentary I’ve read in recent comment sections.

We now know that lab-created diamond companies aren’t kidding around. We know that some companies want to harness this force for evil, some for good, and many for profit.

We also should have predicted that the development, production, expansion, and marketing of this product would happen very quickly (which it did) and that it would reverberate through the industry like a Tibetan mountain gong (felt, rather than heard).

I actually received a handful of messages today from non-industry folks, asking for my opinion on the matter and offering up their own (one notable quotable: “now that Leo won gold, will he bedazzle the trophy in his fake glitter?”). After carefully explaining the differences between “synthetic” and “simulant,” I asked for honest opinions about giving or receiving lab-created diamonds. I also asked if they held the same thoughts about their own jewelry as they would that of friends, colleagues, or family members.

Here are their summarized answers, paraphrased and used with permission:

Friend A: I don’t even like synthetic fabrics, so why would I want synthetic diamonds when I can afford the real thing? None of my friends are engaged or close to it, but I hope they insist on the real deal.

Friend B: Well, I guess if they’re basically the same thing, then what’s the difference? It’s not like it’s an inferior diamond, it just didn’t kill children and the environment to get here. It probably end up like the drug industry though, won’t it, where generics are just as good and cost less, but some doctors are paid by the name brand and won’t write prescriptions for anything else?

Friend C: Ew. I don’t like diamonds at all anyway, and I would never want one for my ring.

Friend D: My center stone is a moissanite, but that’s because I didn’t want a blood diamond and didn’t trust any of the stores around here not to have them. If I’d known about lab diamonds, I might have asked for one.

Friend E: Maybe for earrings or something, if it’s cheaper, sure why not. But for something more important/meaningful like an engagement ring, no way. Test tube babies are still humans, but isn’t trying the natural way first better?

Well, aside from learning a lot more about these their real feelings on things other than diamonds, it was a pretty illuminating set of discussions. The most interesting part? All 5 of these responses are from women between the ages of 25-35. Yes, even evil genius friend B over there, drawing functionally accurate parallels between big pharma and big D. Smart cookie, huh?

As for my own opinions, I prefer to dig a little deeper. The jewelry industry as a whole reacts poorly to change, and adding lab-grown diamonds to the mix of lab-grown colored gems might feel like a step too far for some. The mined diamond industry is certainly feeling the pinch these days, so from their perspective, timing couldn’t be worse.

As you might have guessed by now, I’m not really a flag-waving traditionalist. I think that lab-created anything, sold and marketed with total transparency and accurate information, is perfectly good and healthy and legal. I myself have educated my clients about lab-created colored gems, and they have purchased from me in full knowledge of precisely what they bought.

The romantic in me shudders at the thought of a master gemcutter plying his or her trade with rough that did not come from the earth, passing through the hands of expert dealers and feeding the economies of local governments. The cultural connection I so cherish disappears, and for that reason, I am not personally inclined to seek out non-mined gemstones or diamonds.

Like any ethical jeweler, I abhor the use of marketing or sales tactics that attempt to cloud the truth and shade the facts in order to generate buzz (and therefore, sales). I successfully sold cultured pearls, heat-treated sapphires, and SI2 diamonds for exactly what they are, and never once did I need to resort to used-car-salesman tactics to do so. I see absolutely no reason why the emergence of yet another technological advancement should be met with anything less than our highest standards, as we do what we do best: serve the client.

Now I’m throwing the doors of discussion wide open: what do you think?

 

No Dinosaurs Here

My dear jewelry friends and colleagues, I think it’s time we had a talk. A serious talk.

But first, please read this article, and take a few moments to give it some thought. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.

… All set? Welcome back. Now, let’s have that chat.

Did you notice the emphasized pull quote? If not, please go back and read it again (carefully this time).

In a single sentence, the primary issue facing the industry has been neatly summarized. The cause of those staggeringly bad statistics is staring us in the face. Few seem willing to admit it, and as Ms. Graff points out, nothing is going to happen unless businesses”change their business model to adapt to the demands of retail today.”

Are you paying attention, yet? Have you taken a long look at the sustainability of your current plan, your client base, the increasing demands for innovation? Most importantly, have you decided what you’re going to do about it?

I have long been known as a realist, with very little patience for a glass-half-full outlook (cockeyed optimist I am not). But I’m going to break from my own tradition here, and tell you all that this is not the end of the world. Well, it’s the end of the world as we’ve been operating it for the past several decades, but that not a bad thing. It’s a very, very good thing.

The jewelry industry is not going to die off in the manner of the dinosaur, comically staring down destruction as it hurtles towards us in a fireball of death. If we were to go, it would be by way of slow, painful starvation, the way endangered species dwindle and die off in depressing groups of hundreds.

I’m not going to let that happen. So, forget about it. I joined a company that can will help bring about great innovative changes to both the retail and wholesale/manufacturing side of things, but I don’t intend to simply sit back and watch it trundle along. This is not a time for ponderously slow growth, it’s absolutely time to seize the future with both hands and maybe a foot, dragging it along if we must.

Observe your business. Talk to your sales staff, bench workers, designers. Hell, sit down with the interns and the secretaries if you have them. Ask these interested parties what they love about what they do, then ask how they can personally help make things better. Consult your colleagues, and you’ll find willing listeners with wonderful, creative ideas. Talk about change and growth and new technology with some excitement in your voice, rather than the timid fear that so many feel when bringing up anything new.

I’m here to talk about this, too. I have so much more to learn, and I can only do that by being open about what I still don’t know (and need to know).

This post had a lot of talk, and maybe a call to action (can you here me now?). As jewelers, we are all keenly aware that under-promising and over-delivering is the only way to live — so now it’s time for me to do that. Let’s have breakfast at the shows, or Skype over coffee, and let’s begin to adapt and solve problems.

We’re too awesome to die out, people.

Note: not a real picture of a dinosaur. Photo credit to J. 

 

Adrift at Sea

I’ve tried to write (and re-write, and re-re-write) this post over the last week, and I think it’s time to admit something to you and to myself: I’m a little lost.

Changing jobs is always a precarious balance, particularly when we live in a world that often uses occupation to define who we are. Intellectually, I knew this. But I guess I just never thought about what it would feel like to lose my sense of definition and identity for a while.

I wrote just a few weeks ago about having the courage to make changes and sail off in a new direction, but right now I’m more like a rowboat caught between islands, unsure of my direction but unwilling to just row in circles.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I don’t know what to call myself anymore. For a few years I had a title, an easily understood introduction at parties, an actual noun to use when filling in the blank. It was comfortable and comforting to hide behind that title, because it allowed other people to understand me. Now I’ve had to leave that role behind, but haven’t replaced it with anything concrete — no meat, just spirits.

The wise amongst you will counsel me to embrace this lack of definition, and use it to expand my horizons and force myself to look beyond the job titles for something greater. You might even suggest that this is exactly what I should be doing at this stage in my life — loosening up, removing the rigid boundaries I set for myself, exploring the things I didn’t even know existed.

And you’re right.

But that doesn’t make this feeling go away, and it really doesn’t make the more practical consideration of introducing myself any easier. I can’t stop my natural craving for a label, even a strange-sounding one that requires explanation. I just haven’t come up with one yet (suggestions are welcome, creative friends).

I continue to explain to friends, family, and coworkers that I’m still very much a part of the jewelry world. If anything, my resolve to make an impact and breathe new life into this beloved industry has strengthened, and my drive has actually increased thanks to the bold new direction I’ve taken.

Still, I look forward to a time when a few more puzzle pieces of life will fall into place, giving me a peek at the bigger picture of my life.

Happy Trails

Everyone is familiar with the old chestnut, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Usually it’s used in the context of loss — a person, a thing, a relationship — but I’d like to turn that around and apply it to losing a feeling.

Stress.

Of course, I knew I was stressed. I talked about being stressed, feeling stressed, and Oh, the ache in my shoulders! Everyone around me expressed concern, sometimes with sympathy but often with increasing frustration at my inability to truly grasp how unhealthy my life had become.

I was allowing the things in my life I hated most to completely control me, and I let it happen for far too long. I got so accustomed to the weight of the world on my shoulders that I couldn’t imagine daily life without it, so I stopped trying.

But no more! To paraphrase a truly terrible pop hit, I can breathe for the first time (yeah, yeah). Now that I’m moving past the horrors of leaving a job, moving, and starting a new job in the space of two weeks (not a path I recommend, by the way), the realization that I am in control of my life again is dawning. That weight has been lifted and it feels damn good.

In related news, prepare for a focus shift on this here blog. I still consider myself a member of the jewelry industry, but my attention will be directed toward the advancement and adoption of new technologies and how we as a group can move forward into a new era of creating, buying, and selling.

You’ll see the hashtag #womenintech popping up, alongside #jewelrypeople and of course #3dprinting. I’m still working on some sort of jewelry-tech hybrid hashtag (#3Diamonds?), and genius suggestions are welcome. Find me on other social channels and please do say hello! I’m busting out of the retail box and I’m ready to forge ahead, blazing new trails.

There’s a lot of hard work and excitement headed my way. Carpe opportunitatem!

 

True (Blue) Tech

Now that I’ve covered the philosophical angle of my recent life changes, it’s time to begin introductions for my exciting new focus: technology & jewelry.

If you’ve asked me about my industry at any point in the last few years, you probably got an earful about my frustrations with jewelry people’s tendency to ignore, withhold, refute, squelch, circumvent, or otherwise deny the demand for the adoption of new technologies. Everything from mining and manufacturing to sales and advertising is in desperate need of an update, of the kind that will integrate all the good stuff of the “old” ways — personal service, strong relationships, gemological & bench expertise — with the many benefits of the new and forward-thinking.

This is not to say that the industry doesn’t already utilize some of the wonders of today. Advances in laser welding, gemstone treatment, pearl farming, metallurgy, CAD/CAM, and e-commerce have been adopted to great effect, though not as universally as I would like. We’ve come a long way, but there is far to go.

Today’s customers are rapidly losing interest in a world they see as a paragon of by-gone ideals, and nostalgia only opens the wallet to far. I want to see an engaged clientele who demand excellence in service, quality, source transparency, and storytelling… you know, all the things we do best.

wp-1453380921150.jpg
Top to bottom: castable resin, rough casting, polished ring

So I have joined a company that is “new tech” to the core, with the goal of bringing their fresh-eyed approach to the world of jewelry. These people are smart, savvy, and looking to make an impact on how we make stuff (all kinds of stuff), which will have a massive impact on how we design, create, advertise, and sell stuff. Replace “stuff” with “jewelry” and you have my full attention and dedication.

What does this mean for my daily life? Well, more denim and flats (and fewer diamonds), for one thing! It means I can turn my focus to the building blocks of the industry, perhaps helping to affect change and influence the direction we take in the coming years. I want to see the jewelry industry emerge from years of tech denial and embrace the power of doing things in new ways in order to achieve long-term stability and growth. I want more people wearing beautiful things that are made well.

Buckle up, people. No more hiding behind half a century of how-it’s-always-been-done. Wake up and smell the lasers, folks — I’m coming for you.

 

 

A Toast to Courage and a New Life

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
–William Faulkner

There is a longstanding tradition in my family of being asked to present speeches and toasts at various occasions and events. It happens often enough that I garnered an early obsession with Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, that beloved compilation of all things wise and witty that can be opened at need or stood upon to reach the top shelf.

It took me more than a few tries of random page-opening to find the right words for this moment in my life, but I think Faulkner’s are a simple and elegant summary.

I have a new job and a new home!

Packing up husband, cat, and the million things it seems we’ve acquired over the last five years, we’re moving to a new town in our old home state.

Packing up skills, memories, and my trusty loupe, I’m changing jobs to forge a bright new path in my industry.

I never thought I would come to love the place we’ve been living as much as I did. The small town, slow pace, and ridiculously short commute made daily life pretty easy. I certainly never thought that a job I chose by accident would deliver an industry, career, and passion.

Now I gather my courage, finding myself in equal parts gripped by fear of change and uncertainty and uplifted by the prospect of wonderful new opportunities and a dramatic lifestyle shift. Our new living arrangement will allow for much greater freedom and access to so many things we love (food, art, culture) and my new job marries my love of the jewelry business with my desire to move it forward through technology and rapid growth.

I get a little philosophical I guess (a side effect of all that Faulkner, no doubt), but inside my brain is humming with constant activity and my gut is doing some strange alchemy with lead and butterflies. So much to do, so many changes all happening at the same time, and not nearly enough hours in the day or ink in my pen to keep it all straight. It’s time to be better than myself, to pull back the bowstring and launch. Off we go!

I’ll bookend this post with another Faulkner line, always apropos in times of change and personal growth: “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.

 

Red Light, Green Light

Ah, yuletide cheer. We in the retail business are supposed to be full of energy, joyfully helping each and every smiling customer who begs us for one last look in the box before we wrap up a special surprise.

Easier said than done.

There have been countless essays by workers across the whole spectrum of retail, each one detailing why they have it the worst. My usual non-sleep-deprived self would link to at least a few of them for you, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.

I prefer to believe that at this time of year, we’re all in this together. There is little if any energy to spare as it is, so we might as well expend what we have on a strong sense of solidarity.

Many customers are experiencing higher-than-normal demands and pressures at this point, with some inevitable temper flares and even a few tantrums. I find that this type of interaction can sometimes be avoided by deploying a mental game of the childhood favorite “Red Light, Green Light.”

It goes something like this: when a customer begins to react poorly to a situation (usually in response to not finding a desired item in stock), that’s a red light and it signals me to give that person some space. When he or she enters the red light frame of mind, no suggestion — no matter how utterly perfect and on budget — will be a success. That customer needs room to breathe, not another smiling associate clutching diamonds and pearls.

On the other hand, a customer gives the green light when he (sorry, it’s usually a he at this point) asks for suggestions, is willing to listen and respond to questions, and remains interested in a purchase even if the first item shown isn’t The One.

It is possible for a green light to turn red if he or she gets truly frustrated, but a seasoned sales person usually won’t let that happen. An angry red lighter often needs time and kid-gloved handling, but even they can be satisfied with a bit more charm and graceful interaction.

As 2015 winds its way to a close, please take this gentle reminder to keep kindness in your heart as you dash about on a mad chase for the last few gifts on your list. We — all of us — are here to serve you to the best of our abilities, and then finally make our way home to our own family gatherings. Besides, it’s a well known fact that red light customers rarely make the nice list!

Wishing my wonderful readers a happy holiday season, with warm wishes for a sparkling 2016.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

… well, technically yesterday — the Third Day — the GIA gave to me…

a scholarship for 2016!

The e-mail came late yesterday afternoon, announcing that I had been granted some scholarship funding for the Graduate Gemologist program. I am already in the midst of my studies, but this means I can continue them and (hopefully) complete the program sometime in the coming year.

I am a little shocked, totally thrilled, and extremely grateful for the recommendations and support of my family and fellow industry members, all of whom contributed to the application effort.

Education and the pursuit of knowledge: what a wonderful gift to receive for the new year!