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.

 

Adventures in Diamondland

Cue the horns, I have returned triumphant! The next step in my quest for personal edification is complete.

I spent a fascinating week at the GIA’s NYC campus to complete my Diamond Grading Lab, and while it was an extraordinarily stressful class, I’d give anything to still be sitting at my microscope using the tiniest ruler ever to calculate a diamond’s average table percentage.

The opportunity to advance my gemological studies with the most highly regarded institute in the country (and arguably the world) is of paramount importance to me. Obviously there is value in obtaining this degree in terms of respect from peers, but far beyond that is the total sum of skills and knowledge it imparts.

image

The absolute best part of completing this lab is the feeling of capability. I will need a lifetime of experience and practice, but at the very least I know I have useful skills to apply to my current work and into the future.

Surrounded by a wonderful group of people from all walks of life (the promised shoutouts: Sarah, Brianna, and Gracie, three fab women with amazingly bright futures), including my coworker/friend and ridiculously talented goldsmith Irene, this class left me happy and excited in a way I haven’t been for quite some time.

Photo credit to Sarah, bad editing job by me. We did it, ladies!

Be Bold

The ring featured in the header image of this post is one of our most popular styles. It contains an extremely high quality custom-cut garnet and nearly 3/4 of a carat of colorless diamonds, all set in 18K rose gold. Isn’t it just stunning?

I don’t often talk about the jewelry in the pictures I post, mainly because I feel that so many other blogs and websites do a much better job detailing some of the most intricate and beautiful jewels in the world. But this particular ring, designed by a fabulous, talented, and extremely kind woman named Bellarri (yes, that’s her!), represents something just a little beyond my usual more conservative classic taste.

Raised to always be the cool, poised, and diplomatic daughter, I struggle to speak out and stand up for myself. Doing the same for others has never been an issue — a lifelong activist and advocate for equality, I’m no armchair protester — but to raise myself up to a position of power has never felt comfortable. In short, I need to learn to be bold. And this singular piece of jewelry, with its fiery center, brilliantly outlined details, and larger-than-life presence, is nothing if not bold.

It sounds silly, perhaps, to aspire to be more like a ring. But many people attempt to emulate other inanimate objects — the towering oak, the majestic mountain, the smooth ocean come to mind — so why not a gutsy fireball of a ring that practically sings out to everyone who sees it, “look! Look at me, so tastefully bold, so beautiful and bright and impossible to ignore!” You can’t pass her by, you certainly can’t pretend she doesn’t provoke some sort of reaction, and you absolutely must pay her the attention she rightly deserves. No formerly timid, currently work-in-progress leader could fail to appreciate all she represents.

Vegas Virgin No More!

What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?

Pay back old sleep debts!“**

…Well, that’s the response you’d get from me, anyway. I’m back home and back to work after a fabulous, grueling, exhausting, productive, fascinating, and altogether too short trip to Jewelry Week in Las Vegas. Many who know me are aware that attending this show has been a dream — a serious goal — for some time, and it’s easy to say that the entire trip did not disappoint.

I briefly considered writing some kind of day-by-day recap post, detailing the hours spent in supplier meetings, lunch offerings by category, and what time we went to bed each night. While I’m sure that would make for some riveting entertainment, I’ve decided to withhold that kind of information to maintain the mystery. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises for any future show-goers out there.

Instead, I can offer my impressions of an industry that is so vast, it spans multiple convention spaces in multiple hotels across a week of 10+ -hour days (this would be where the “exhausting” part comes in). It’s far more than glittering jewels, dazzling trays of diamonds, and ropes of precious pearls. It’s an international community, a unifying purpose, a parade of fashion from ultra-conservative to runway couture, a lifestyle and modus operandi that creates its own rhythm for everyone to move and dance to.

Many things surprised me: the variation in personality types from one rep to the next; differences in approach and business model that are totally opposite but equally effective; the integration of modern technology into an ancient craft. I received an almost daily shock each time I checked my watch, thinking it some sometime before noon, then realizing it was rather closer to 6pm. Also, it turns out that walking all day in heels is something I can do, but probably not something I should do (my feet haven’t looked so mangled since my time as a ballet dancer).

In essence, this show reinforced the idea that business and beauty are not mutually exclusive. We accomplished so much for the store in looking at both the short and longer-term goals, but did so in a way that felt refreshingly true to the highest standards of ethics, quality, and service. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to stand amidst the madness and quietly learn at the elbows of industry professionals, and in that regard it’s a privilege to be counted as a member of such a dynamic group.

In the process of making my way from one end of the show to the other and back again more times than I can count, I discovered that it takes a very particular brand of dedication to really achieve success here. In fact, I’ll throw in the good old p-word: passion. Yawningly overused it may be, but the word is apropos for the type of energy I felt. Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone could sustain the kind of hyper-fast pace and intensive focus that is required to just make it through the day, let alone a lifetime of business, without feeling a true emotional connection to the work.

**Bonus points for Name That Film. No cheating!

Following Up: Girls in the World

A few weeks ago, I wrote my own response to the current hot-button issues surrounding the ridiculously poor representation of women in my industry. And then I let it go.

Oh, not that I decided to suddenly ignore the problem, or cease to care that my own gender can’t seem to shatter the glass ceiling of business leadership despite decades of policy and social reform. I simply decided to let my feelings simmer, and step away from the rapidly-overheating kitchen argument that the internet can often turn into a firestorm.

But thanks to a deeply-felt and insightful weekly meeting by our (Millennial AND female) owner and a commentary article by JCK Editor-In-Chief Victoria Gomelsky, I decided to briefly revisit the topic that had caused a “mild sensation,” as Gomelsky understated.

It seems that she shares many of my own sentiments, particularly regarding the assignment of blame. As she rightly points out, top-whatever lists are not scientific rankings, but rather a general gathering of people across as industry who wield certain types of power: influence, money, authority, etc. It is blindingly obvious to me that more women would make the list if there were more women out wielding that kind of power, which brings about the inevitable sad conclusion that we simply don’t have it yet. Emphasis on yet.

It’s easy for me to sit here and discuss the members of my gender in the second person — we don’t have it, we need to work hard to get to the top, we need to lead, etc. — but sometimes I fill in that nominative with a silent they instead. In other words, I fall into the exact same trap that many women do, which is to count myself out of an elite group of powerful individuals because I’m not already one of them. Sure, I pay lip service to having “career goals” and “leadership aspiration” but what have I done lately to put my money where my big, hopeful mouth is?

In truth, I haven’t done enough. I wake up and force myself to repeat overused empowerment phrases and pithy mantras, but we all know that if wishes were diamonds, we wouldn’t bother to sell them because the market would be saturated. (Isn’t that how the saying goes?)

Well, forget it. I’m not going to sit back and watch other women become powerful while I sit and watch. I’m going to cheer them on while I run beside them, straight up the seemingly-endless staircase, winding our way to the very top. Together. And I’m not going to just continue to say things like that in an online blog that almost nobody reads. Sooner or later, I’m going to prove it to myself and everyone else. How’s that for empowerment?

I invite your thoughts about this whole subject, because I agree with something else important from Gomelsky’s article: only through honest discussion can these issues come to light, and perhaps, find a path to solution.

P.S. Picture is of an actual fortune cookie I received just after I found out I’d be going to my first show. True story.

Just a Girl in This World

I’ve been tapped on the shoulder by an invisible but powerful presence this week. She won’t leave me alone, and she won’t stop pointing out all the things she thinks need some attention. She never did take no for an answer, and she’s not going to start now. The torch has been passed, which means it’s more than time to address the next iteration of a too-familiar topic.

Women. Specifically, women in power (the few) and those who want to be (the more-than-a-few) in an industry that expends vast amounts of time and money marketing and selling to… women.

I found a few spare moments to gobble up the April addition of JCK Magazine, the self-proclaimed (and accurately so) “Industry Authority.” It contained the usual run of interesting articles, personnel updates, and beautiful, glossy images of beautiful, glossy jewels. It also featured their “Annual list of  50 (or so) CEOs, retailers, designers, and tastemakers who shape and innovate the jewelry and watch biz.” Their words. Direct quote, headline, page 78.

Now, the numbers game:13 of the 53 total names are women.

Long before I opened the book, I knew the number would be low. As a proud member of the Women’s Jewelry Association I’m well aware of the industry stats on female leadership, but I’m lucky enough to live in a woman-centric bubble: with our original store owner now slowly working his way into retirement, we are an all-female workplace — owner, Master Bench Jeweler, staff.

So perhaps my current situation, combined with a personal history of female empowerment from strong family role models and a terrific single-gender high school experience, has tucked me into a comfortable little world in which girls really do run the world. I assumed that slightly less than half of those named would be women, because I know so many who embody all those fine traits listed in the tagline. I can’t even begin to describe my shock at the actual results, but perhaps not in the way you might think.

I’m not at all convinced that the poor showing of women on this list has much, if anything, to do with a gender bias on the part of the listmaker(s). While I would personally nominate a handful of women not mentioned in this round, I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that there simply aren’t enough women in leadership positions to choose from. Certainly all of those named deserve to be there, so the sad fact now stands underscored by such a ridiculously poor showing: if there were more lady leaders, they’d be on that list. That’s a painful conclusion to reach.


In an eerily relevant conversation with a friend just this week, I lamented the large gap I perceive in my own ability to influence versus be influenced. I noted that my long-term ambitions involved becoming a “mover and shaker” or “tastemaker” or “respected authority” in this industry, and that I felt the impatience frequently associated with my generation to make progress towards such a goal.

In reality, of course, progress is made in tiny steps every day. But who wants to crawl when skipping and jumping looks like such fun?

Well, this list certainly brought reality calling — wind from sails, and all that. Not that I feel somehow defeated; just the opposite. I’m more determined than ever to increase the number of women on that list, through a combination of strong and vocal advocacy of female leadership and by a more personal degree of… one.

I can stomp and shout, stand on my proverbial soapbox and preach equality and courage (all for one! Vive la femme!), or pen verbose blog posts about my life (#careergoals?) in hopes of inspiring myself and others to work harder, climb the ladder, and shake the tree.

I can also remain steadfast in my vision, work harder, self-motivate, learn more, reach out, and support the women and men around me who work tirelessly to better the world, the industry, themselves.

P.S. You can, too.