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.

 

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.

 

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.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor(ly) Made

You have a secret. You’ve been carrying it around for quite some time now, and it’s starting to really get you down. You’ve tried to push it away, but it comes back like a bad penny every time you turn on the TV, walk through the mall, or flip through a magazine. It’s difficult to admit it, but… you just hate your ring.

Now don’t be alarmed that I’ve guessed your innermost thoughts. I’m not psychic — well, not entirely — I just know that look. You’re gazing at some of our beautiful rings, imagining what they’d look like on your finger, and you casually glance at the sentimental, formerly-fashionable piece of misery currently perched where that gorgeous double-halo with split-shank in platinum should be.

You sigh, or frown, or maybe even grimace. What can you possibly do? After all, someone very special gave you that ring. He or she (probably) thought long and hard before that purchase, and it (hopefully) made you very happy at the time. It still holds a wealth of meaning for you, and always will.

But times have changed, and so has your style. And recently someone told you that the shank was wearing quite thin, and the prongs are really not as heavy as they should be. It would be a bit silly to spend money on a fix when a whole new setting isn’t really so much more, wouldn’t it? And the new one would suit your style, and of course make you just as happy as the day you received the first one.

I understand. And I can help.

Give us just a little slice of time, and we can create the ring of your dreams. Rather than a symbol of the early days of your relationship, this ring will celebrate the love that has grown and flourished over time. It will honor your past and pay tribute to your future, and it will make you happy to look down at your finger all over again.

So give me your tired, your poorly made, your ugly jewelry yearning to be new again. It’s time.

**Speaking of a do-over, I spy… a whole new look for Karat Cake! Hope you like the mini-makeover!**

Welcome, spring!

As a native New Englander, I’ve grown up in a world that revolves very much around the seasons. We slog through tough winters, squelch through wet springs, sigh about humid summers, and stumble around the leaves of fall. Seasons also have nicknames — “mud” or “tourist” or “black fly” — that often describe the shared misery of the region in its respective states.

May typically brings with it the transition out of our winter boots and hats, and into shorter hemlines and brighter colors. It also brings another round of gift-giving occasions: Mother’s Day, graduations, weddings, showers, and of course birthdays (ahem, like mine!).

I’ve been asked more often than I can count to recommend a gift, and typically I’m happy to oblige. But lately it seems that my gentle questions — how old? style? hair length? current or dream profession? hobbies? — go unanswered, simply because the buyer is totally unprepared for them. One notable interaction ended when a customer realized she wasn’t entirely sure if this was for a high school or college graduation, and left to call her sister for more information.**

So if I may, a little advice from one who truly wants to help you select a perfect present, but needs a tad more information in order to do so:

1. Know the basics. Gender, age, and basic physical description help. Bonus points for hair & eye color; double bonus for skin tone.

2. Know (at least one of) the specifics. Favorite color, preferred metal type, ear piercings, lefty or righty, birth month, sports team, degree, hobby, pastime, career.

3. Know the occasion. While it doesn’t always dictate the gift, it can help with direction (and, to a certain degree, price point). Bonus points for details like wedding color(s), school colors or mascot, religious symbols, family traditions, etc.

4. Diamonds, pearls, watches. Repeat this, mantra-like, to yourself as you shop during this time of year. You’ll see these items placed front and center in advertising due to their immense popularity and widespread appeal, so you might as well consider them. Lockets, charm bracelets, and money clips are all great options as well, and often customizable to boot.

Friends and family (and perfect strangers), do you have a gift-giving conundrum? Ask away, free of charge! 🙂 Also, feel free to share a story of a memorable gift you’ve received — everyone loves a good tale for inspiration.

**As it turns out, it was neither: the giftee had been cast in the leading role of her school theatre production. The gifter returned just to tell me this and promptly left, saying she “didn’t feel it merited a gift” after all. Break a leg, kid!

Meet the Designer: Lecil Henderson

From time to time, we are fortunate enough to host the designers from some of our favorite lines here in the store. These events are very special for both our customers and for ourselves, because they allow a kind of access and interaction that’s virtually unheard of in most industries (how often did Steve Jobs personally sell an iPad?). Who better to educate us and sell the pieces than the designer himself or herself?

We recently hosted one of my favorite industry people (in general) and favorite jewelry designers (in particular): Lecil Henderson of the Henderson Collection and LUCA by Lecil. This gentleman is a well-known man about town, so to speak, and for every good reason imaginable: unfailingly polite, incredibly knowledgeable, and chock full of stories and anecdotes from his 30-year career in the business.

Lecil travels around the world bringing his designs to store events like ours, many of the largest and best trade shows, and of course he visits his factories in Italy where the pieces themselves are hand-crafted. He has an extremely loyal following, and his work exemplifies thoughtful, painstakingly-detailed design and the best quality Italian craftsmanship.

I feel extremely lucky to spend even a brief time in the presence of this guy — every time we’ve met I have learned something new about his products, design concept & inspiration, or the industry as a whole. I’m not sure I was able to express my appreciation for the time he takes to make every single person he meets feel like his closest friend, but the huge success of his beautiful pieces pretty much speaks for itself.

A few more pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Decked Out

Well folks, there’s no escaping it now: the calender has changed, snow has fallen, and summer’s golden tan has faded away. The holidays are here!

I always wonder what will be the surprise hit of the holidays. Rubies the color of candy apples, emeralds set in halos of gold, sapphires that rival a winter dusk and the starlike diamonds that surround them… how will people deck the halls and deck themselves out in the jewels that shine just as bright as the twinkle in old St. Nick’s eye?

I posses a somewhat unique viewpoint on the season as a whole, stemming from a very culturally mixed childhood and my own approach as an adult. Fortunately, I ended up mostly on the ho-ho-ho side of celebrating, rather than the humbug.

My family is a religious mixed bag, which has made for some fascinating dinner table conversations and not a few weddings. I was raised in a very secular household, but spent a few formative years going to temple, Sunday school, and becoming b’nai mitzvot, We always had a tree and a menorah, Purim costumes and Easter candy. In my heart. I have always known that life is better for everyone when we coexist with peace, love, fellowship, kindness, and a general will to follow the Golden Rule — everything else is just a different verse in the same song.

(Speaking of music, I am unapologetic when it comes to my devotion to the sounds of the season. My mid-2000s-era iPod carries a pretty hefty mix of both secular and sacred holiday music, and you can bet your bells it’s been set on shuffle since yesterday.)

You already know that a mention of food is inevitable around here, so I’ll spare you some of the gooey, sugary, spicy, scrumptious details of the planned goodies for now (but only for now). Baking the yummy stuff is never a chore at this time of year, as my family and co-workers (my best victims testers of all) will tell you.

Wait a second — isn’t this a jewelry blog? Don’t worry, you’re still reading the right page. I wanted to share a taste of how I approach this time of year because it forms a solid foundation for how I try to remain true to myself and my family’s happiness even as I work longer and longer hours and the stress levels rise as we inch closer to the single digits of the shopping countdown I keep on my home screen.

Holidays and retail are all but inseparable in this modern age, and we can probably agree that’s not for the better. But I choose to spread goodwill and cheer by helping the excited, nervous, happy revelers who become my clients to celebrate the special events in their lives. Every person who receives something chosen with care and love, wrapped up and shiny and so perfectly hidden until the big reveal, is a way for me to put a little sparkle back in my own life. If giving is receiving, then I have wonderful people to thank for sharing their joys with me.