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!

Jewelry and the “F” Word: Fashion

In a conversation with a fellow industry professional last week, I made this comment about the attitudes of certain types of clientele:

“We work in fashion. Why should we expect them to treat their jewelry any differently than their shoes or handbags?”

Death stare.

“We don’t work in fashion, we sell real jewelry.” Meow.

To me, this attitude is wrong on several counts. First of all, jewelry by definition falls under the broad umbrella of fashion items, along with any other accessory or article of adornment. It’s also governed by the same basic tenets (brand focus, trend awareness, color and style aesthetic), follows seasonal cycles, and even maintains a demographic pattern heavily based in income and access. All of these are hallmarks of fashion, regardless of price point.

To say that we are an industry apart implies that our buyers are not behaving in the same way as fashion buyers, and that is simply not the case. While some would like to think that selling a person on the sentiment or investment alone will close a sale, the simple reality is this: if buyers are convinced that one is enough, then repeat business is dead in the water.

The only way to build and maintain a healthy and growing industry is to encourage the idea that no purchase need be the last. You bought a wedding band? That’s wonderful, meaningful, and special — but what about another one for the other side, say for your anniversary? I’m tickled pink that you love your favorite dress watch, but wouldn’t you like something a little more casual — but no less beautiful — to wear every day? And wouldn’t those classic diamond studs look marvelous this evening when they’re dressed up with a set of diamond and sapphire enhancers? Of course they would!

My customers don’t own one pair of shoes, one bag, or one coat (especially in New England. Come on people, we have seasons!). Leave your arguments about consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and class divisions at the door: our entire industry — beauty and yes, fashion — relies on convincing the customer that he or she should have at least one more. Ten dollars or ten thousand (ten million and up, too), there is no time for semantic distinctions between your branch of the tree and mine.

 

Pantone Says What?!

Well, they’ve done it again. The authority on all things color, Pantone has caused a minor stir in the fashion and design world be releasing a pair of complementary hues for their latest iteration of Color(s) of the Year.

I must have made my mild obsession with color pretty clear, because I’ve already received a handful of messages asking my opinion on the concept (how flattering!). My first thought? “Well, duh.”

That’s not to say I could have predicted the exact colors Pantone would select (unlike some wizards who apparently could), but people have been clamoring for the softer and warmer tones for some time now — you might have heard of the resurgence of rose gold, for example. So I’m totally on board with Quartz.

Serenity, on the other hand, is a tougher sell for me. Not the color itself — my favorite color is blue, after all — but the indication that little miss quartz needs a co-star at all.

Sure, I understand the balanced-genderized-color-tone argument. And the colors swirl together in a very graceful, artistic way, which will be seen as a godsend for the fashion world after the struggles with last year’s color, Marsala. But I would have liked to see Quartz stand alone, to prove that the consumer world can handle a pastel in all its quiet, refined glory.

Nonetheless, prepare thyselves for an even greater influx of all things morganite and moonstone. They’re beautiful, easy to style, and they’re here to stay.

 

Between Two Posts: Goal!

Actually, this is a post with more than one goal.

I mean that literally: it contains an outline of my professional and semi-personal goals, for the purpose of giving me a reference point for the future, general peer pressure, and filling the posting void this week.

I tend to vacillate between highly specific and über-generic goal-setting, thanks in no small part to my belief that most measures of success are not quantifiable. Put another way, I don’t like strict numerical goals because they scare the hell out of me. Nonetheless, here we go:

1. Give a talk/speech/lecture to a crowd of more than 10
Back in my teaching and public speaking days, this was more of a daily habit than something to work towards. But with a new industry came a change in role and shift in opportunity, meaning I haven’t been called upon to speak in a forum in a while. Not only do I miss it, but I feel that I can’t continue to be a “silent contributor” if I want to make any kind of impact on my industry. This voice needs an outlet!

2. Publish something longer than 500 words, with a byline
And no, a long-winded blog post on here doesn’t count. I’m talking about a paying gig that more than 5 people might actually read.

3. Finish my G.G.
Kind of obvious, but I want that knowledge and those skills under my belt. On your mark, get set, study!

4. Meet new people
I originally wrote “make new friends,” but that felt a bit limiting — why do these new people need to be my friends? They could be mentors, clients, associates, maybe even a new barista. I enjoy networking and generating great conversation out of thin air, but I don’t do it enough.

5. Talk about what I do, what I love, who I am
And eliminate the word “just” from my vocabulary. I’m just going to leave this here… thanks, Uma.

6. Embrace my personality
I stopped apologizing for my quirks a long time ago, but I continue to downplay the aspects of myself that I fear might resurrect the middle school bullying days. I’d say that’s far more uncool as an adult than any of the things that made me uncool back then.

 7. Improve the quality of my downtime
Golf with husband. Music with Dad. Shopping with mom. Coffee with those new people I plan to meet. Hiking and reading and singing and shooting (photos) and all of those things I love that have lately fallen by the wayside.

It’s a lot to pursue, but I don’t intend to limit myself to the upcoming calendar year. I like to think of long-term goals as “life improvements.” (Not to be confused with history’s notorious Five Year Plan, despite the five-stone diamond pendant in the featured image.)

What do you think of my goal-setting skills? Do you have any insight or advice for me? I’m all ears!

 

 

Brain Freeze

Well, here we go again. It’s been ten days since my last post, and I don’t expect this one to do much in the way of readership generation.

There is a simple fact I must face: during the holiday season, I go into survival mode. All extraneous brain activity ceases, including the portion that comes up with catchy titles and useful content.

Other bloggers seem to successfully navigate this time of year, but perhaps many of them don’t work the retail frontlines. And perhaps they have a normal working schedule, enabling them to surround themselves with family and friends when they’re not actually at work.

Anyway, this is more of an apologetic post than anything particularly useful or even entertaining for my readers (both of them). I love the joy on a customer’s face when we find just the right gift for someone special, and I cling to those moments to guide me through this exhausting, stress-ridden season.

So my dear customers, you’d better not shout. You’d better not cry. Santa and Hanukkah Harry are watching — and so am I.

 

Fine Lines and How to Walk Them

If a person is referred to as “walking a fine line,” it’s up to context to determine if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The tiptoe between genius and insanity? Probably good. A skilled diplomat? Definitely a compliment. But dancing on a knife edge… odds are not in your favor.

Given the opportunity, any sales person will regale you with plenty of stories about near misses: almost spoiling a surprise, almost missing a deadline, almost not double-checking. He or she might even admit to occasions of “foot-in-mouth disease,” wherein an innocent comment caused all kinds of embarrassing havoc, though of course not enough to lose the sale. We like those tales of disaster averted, because it reinforces the human aspect of what we do.

I would argue that anyone working under the umbrella of fashion — clothing, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, etc. — is intimately familiar with the often necessary kid-gloved handling of a customer. It’s tough to avoid, really, considering the emphasis this industry places on aesthetics and personal appearance; one wrinkled nose or ill-timed hesitation could derail a sale simply by conveying anything less than supportive appreciation.

This focus on looks not only dehumanizes the entire process of sales (and buying), it creates an atmosphere of artificiality — that fine line has been crossed, and it is increasingly difficult to bring a client back to the real meaning (romance) and purpose (celebration) of the moment.

My promise to myself and my clients this season is to muster up my former dancer’s grace, and remain firmly in balance between the beauty of what I’m selling and the reasons I’m selling it.

 

I write a jewelry blog — for consumers, for industry members, for everyone.  Normally this space wouldn’t contain any commentary on current events, because as a social and political activist, I give myself plenty of alternative outlets. But I feel compelled to express my horror at the events that have unfolded across the world over the weekend, particularly as I experienced the live updates about Paris while frantically attempting to contact my parents as they slept in their hotel beds in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Once I ascertained their safety, my thoughts turned as they always do to a piece of music that expresses my personal feelings about the world in which we live.

 

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

 

I took the featured photo last Wednesday, never dreaming it could be used to represent one of the many nations currently mourning the loss of life. There is beauty in all things, and I am positive that there is beauty yet to be discovered in this world, regardless of the actions taken by those who attempt to remove it.

Je crois en la paix.

 

My regularly scheduled posts will begin again tomorrow.

Take it Off… Take it All Off

Are you ready for something scandalous?

If you’re sensitive to some rather suggestive content, I strongly recommend you stop reading right now. Of course, if you clicked on the blog title already in anticipation of the titillating, then by all means stick around.

What I’m about to ask of you — Ms. or even Mr. Reader — is very personal. You might disagree with it, feel wronged or slighted, and potentially get a little bit offended.

That’s okay. I’m going to do it anyway. It’s for your own good, I promise.

Here it is:

Next time you’re at home, preparing yourself for a long session of sweaty, steamy, soapy, messy hard work… take off your jewelry. All of it.

Strip yourself bare of any adornment, particularly the kind made out of gold or  silver and gemstones. I don’t care of you do it as quickly as possible or turn it into an all-out, music-timed strip show. Just do it.

Ask a friend or lover (or both) to check you over for missed spots before you go. He or she should visually and physically ascertain that you are no longer wearing any jewelry on any part of your body that might come into contact with something sticky, smelly, icky, corrosive, or permanent. And they should be very thorough, just in case.

Now, this might be a great time to corral your precious treasures in one place and give them a once-over. If everything looks to be in good shape, how about warming up a little water and dish soap in a bowl and leaving it all in there to soak while you go about doing whatever chemical-ridden, paint-splattered, dirt-covered activity you had planned.**

Of course, if you just can’t hit pause long enough, just place everything gently in a velvet-lined tray or peanut-packed shoebox on your bureau. It’ll be there when you’re finished.

Once your various vigorous activities are concluded, don’t forget to wash up. Perhaps invite that helpful person back in to make sure you’re thoroughly cleaned — you know, just in case you missed a spot.

Once you and your jewelry are dry, celebrate your reunited status by recounting every detail of every story you associate with each piece. That helpful person will certainly want to stick around for this part, I’m sure.

Now that you feel satisfied by your accomplishments for the day, reward yourself with dinner, drinks, and an evening of light-hearted and casual shopping at your local fine jewelry store. After all, you worked hard today. You deserve it.

**Gold, platinum, diamonds, and hard gemstones ONLY, please. Leave the soft-cloth-cleaning of the pearls for another day, keep the opals and amber high and dry, and put down the toothbrush before you touch anything 18k. K?

The Art of the (Original) Pin

For the first 15 1/2 years of my life, I started every November 7th with a phone call. The conversation usually went something like this:

Me: “Hello?”
Her: “Hi Caylee, it’s Grandma. Happy half birthday!”
Me: “Oh, Grandma… thank you! But happy birthday to you!”

I seem to recall blowing out more than my fair share of candles as a younger girl, and receiving far too many small gifts and “birthday” cards as I got older. Grandma always enjoyed her birthday parties — we celebrated her with chocolate cake and her favorite accessory, a pin, every year — but she never once forgot to wish me a happy day of my own.

Grandma was a woman of many domestic talents. She could sew, knit, crochet, quilt, or needlepoint just about anything, and had a decently green thumb with her small array of flowers and house plants. Cooking wasn’t her strong suit (she had siblings aplenty who mastered that art instead), but no baby in the family went without a soft, hand-knitted blanket and every newlywed couple had a beautiful afghan for their home.

I have Grandma to thank for my ability to crochet (she despaired at teaching me to knit), a thorough knowledge of the twisted plot lines from daytime soap operas, and a deep appreciation for what I now call the Art of the Pin — every outfit and occasion had a matching adornment, found in organized drawers in her small jewelry box.

Often brightly-colored and fanciful in design, pins can be worn to great effect both singly and together. One small brooch tacked to a lapel is a modest statement; a cluster of mixed-and-matched sparklers is bold and dramatic. My woolly winter coat feels incomplete without a snowflake, and the easiest way to dress up a little black dress has to be a brightly-colored scarf and tasteful gold pin to hold it in place. Any way you wear them, pins are perfection.

Grandma did not see my sweet sixteen, my graduations, or my wedding, but I’m absolutely certain that she would love my profession. Of course, she’d also be on the receiving end of some fabulous new pins.

Featured image — Plique-a-Jour enamel on 18K gold butterfly, with diamonds and freshwater pearls by Nicole Barr.

The Anatomy of a Present

As the countdown to the largest gift-giving holiday in the US continues (I’ve got my eye on you, countdown widget, and your cheery “53 Days!” message), I’d like to conduct a totally unscientific analysis of the item known as the present.

We all know it’s what’s inside that counts, so it’s time to go shopping. Whether from the comfort of your footie pajamas in bed or while out on the town, enjoy hunting for that perfect something for your special someone. I have some suggestions for this part, but they belong in a different post.

And now, we wrap!

You never get a second chance at a first impression, so make the presentation count. I would say the percentage of joy from anticipation alone goes up at least 25% for a beautifully-wrapped gift; add another 10-15% if that bow looks professionally tied. (Source: family and friends’ ooh-and-aah volume levels the year I spent three hours perfecting the multi-loop bow).

Roll out your lovely paper, grab the nearest pie plate or toddler to keep the ends from curling back up, and try to cut a semi-straight line. Measure twice and cut once — or, if you’re my father, don’t measure and cut once too many times and start again. Cursing under your breath is optional.

Now that your gift is swathed in its outer coverings, take your preferred rustic twine/shiny ribbon/string from the cat’s toy and wind it around the box a few times. Tie a simple bow if you really like the recipient, or tie increasingly difficult knots if you want some entertainment later (thanks, mom).

Bonus points for coordinating wrapping colors to the tissue paper, ribbon, and tags. Extra bonus for heavy, metallic foil wrapping paper, just because it’s my favorite.

Now that we’ve torn through our beautiful and thoughtful outer layers in frustration and thrown them to the floor in a heap for the cat to play with, let’s consider the box.

Some boxes come with their own predetermined meaning — little blue boxes, I’m talking to you — and need little else to build anticipation. Other cardboard constructions need all the help they can get. Loosely pre-folded along crooked, perforated lines, these department store packages take a whole lot of love to make them attractive trappings for what’s inside. I strongly suggest heavy usage of clear sticky substances.

If you’ve managed to fold, cut, tape, and tie your way to this point, congratulations. Take a step back and admire your handiwork, noting any crooked seams and errant ribbon curls (“Six. Inches.”). If your package looks like it belongs under Martha Stewart’s tree in her latest December issue, you’re good to go.

If not, you’re faced with two options.

Option one: gather up all of your gifts, make a list of which person is supposed to get what, and truck them all down to your local mall where a troop of friendly Scouts will happily wrap them all in reindeer-themed paper with matching stick-on bow for the low, low donation cost of whatever you have left in your wallet.

Option two: remove all attempted wrappings. Place item(s) in cute, holiday-themed bags. Shove fistfulls of tissue paper on top. Pour a glass of your favorite adult version of eggnogg, and pat yourself on the back for surviving another round of holiday gifting.