Just Another Week in Paradise (NV)

April showers bring May… tradeshows. And June tradeshows. The ones that take place in a desert city mirage, full of glittering monoliths and towering representations of fairy tales and larger-than-life fantasies. Food, drink, and sparkling gems at every turn battle for dominance with late nights and long walks down streets that glow with neon promise.

In other words, fifteen-plus-hour days in heels with ceaseless talking, extensive walking (83782 steps), desperate hunger and thirst, exhaustion, dehydration, pain, stress, and general desert malaise. We call it Jewelry Week.

This year was a good one, all things considered, both for the business I was there to represent and for my own interests. I feel extreme gratitude for my show team, who collectively practiced their best “patience faces,” brought their dress-up clothes, and tolerated my singing and dancing at the Margaritaville table.

Additionally, I was honored to attend this year’s #VegasGems evening out — a dinner table full of some of the coolest, most intelligent, interesting, and influential women out there. Just listening to your stories was a pleasure, and I wish we’d had so much more time so I could continue soaking in your fabulousness and learning from the very best.

Oh, and I discovered that running a 5K up and down the strip at 5:30am is a little different from walking it, no matter how hard you train or how much water you drink. Time doesn’t fly quite as fast without conversations about broadway musicals. Who knew?

But as always, surrounding myself with the people and things of the jewelry world gives me a refreshment and renewed sense of purpose. If nothing else, this show brings me back to my center. When I manage to take a brief tour around the other halls of the show, greeting the folks I’ve come to know and giving myself some time to absorb the atmosphere, I feel reconnected to the pulse of what I love to do.

So now it’s back to the grind: day job, studying gems in the lab, freelancing, and building that little business into something bigger.

 

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.

Spongelike: A Learning Addiction

I love to learn.

While not the most overused sentiment in history, it’s probably on the eyeroll-inducing list. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and that’s often the perception of someone who goes around declaring an undying passion for acquiring knowledge. It’s taken me years to get over that and embrace my addiction to learning, for which my parents deserve equal parts thanks and blame. (They’re both know-it-alls, too.)

When I first spoke to them after Vegas — at about 12:30am local time — they valiantly tried to ask the requisite travel questions. How was the flight? (Fine.) Are you sure you have everything? (Yes.) Are you hungry? Do you want us to stop somewhere? (Yes. No.) But once those pleasantries were safely out of the way, my father asked his favorite two-parter: How was it? Learn a lot?

I suspect neither of them are conscious of it, but the fact remains that nearly every experience I’ve ever had has been met with this question. Whether I spent a day at a symposium or summer camp, one or both would ask what I learned. Not if I learned — that was a given — but what parts of the day proved edifying (and, it was implied, worthwhile). This emphasis on treating life like a big open classroom has stuck with me over the years, and I’m now able to contain, spongelike, every droplet of experience and turn it into stored information for later use as knowledge, wisdom, or anecdote. Useful, no doubt, and probably the sole trait that prevents boredom from overtaking my life.

So I answered them as best my tired exhausted brain would allow, which involved a version of, Yes (yawn) Dad, I learned a lot (yawn), and it was an awesome (yawn) experience (double yawn). He took the hint, and I drifted off.

I think I’m finally ready now, as I settle back into the daily workload, inch my way toward my G.G., and return to normal sleep patterns, to give my parents the answer they deserve.

Mom and Dad, I learned more in this past week than in the last year. I observed different kinds of business being conducted by as many personalities as there are facets on a diamond. I watched hordes of people begin to glaze over as they paraded past hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. Even the security guards appeared unfazed by day three. I talked with designers who are so devoted to their craft that they take a “five minute chat” and turn it into an hour and a half meeting. And some company representatives appeared to care so little, I wondered why they bothered to show up. I watched as some people warmly embraced the next big idea, new generation, novel trends. And some blatantly rejected the presence of women, of youth, and especially youthful women. I was ignored and dismissed by some, but welcomed, encouraged, and treated as a full equal by others. Disorganization was frustratingly rampant at times, and a clear, concise meeting was a refreshing change. I learned that it can be equally difficult to keep my mouth shut as to speak up, and that I should balance a gut feeling with my knowledge of social politics. I learned how fast and how long I can walk in heels in a freezing cold room while hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, and stressed… and that I can still function at a reasonably high level while doing all of that because I love it, it excites and drives me, and that I would do this all day, every day if I could.

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.

Wearable Tech Turns Back the Clock

I can see it now: twelve people, ranging in age and gender from the young male post-grad recently promoted to the 30-year female VP, sit around a long, sleek conference table in a downtown highrise. They sip seltzer waters — Pelligrino, natch — and whip out shiny Cross pens to take shorthand notes on legal pads bound in Italian leather. They are the Decision Makers, the Callers of the Shots, the Mucky-Mucks who run the biz.

Halfway through the meeting, it begins.

Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.

A collective pause.

Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzz.

Nobody moves, or takes their eyes off the VP presently holding forth on shareholder terms. Nobody wants to be accused of having a cell phone (because it must be a cell phone, right?) ringing or alerting or notifying during such an important meeting.

Glancing around the table, aware of the distraction everyone is refusing to acknowledge, that VP spots a plain plastic band poking out from underneath a starched white shirt with mother-of-pearl cufflinks. It’s wrapped around the wrist of a forty-something partner, and Ms. Veep recognizes it as one of the ubiquitous health-freak-fitness-tracker-band-thingies. Aha! The culprit must be that sad object alerting the man he’s been seated for longer than the recommended 25 minutes or something.

The VP stares at the offending partner. The whole table stares at him. He looks around, wondering what on earth everyone’s looking at, because his device’s battery is long dead from lack of use, and can’t everyone tell it’s coming from the kid behind him?

Indeed, seated just a chair away, that newly-promoted young gentleman is still feigning total engagement in the older, platinum-haired lady’s speech about people he doesn’t know. It’s his wrist that is vibrating, the pattern alerting him to yet another pre-noon wedding e-mail from his fiance. He knows it’s before 12 o’clock because he glanced at that wrist — and all it told him was the time.

How can this be?

In her recent article for JCK Online, Senior Editor Jennifer Heebner (one of my personal idols) gives a report on a budding partnership between the established Swiss watch industry — long reputed to set the highest standard in timekeeping and timepiece manufacturing — and the infant wearable technology moguls of Silicon Valley. Their new partnership appears to focus on bringing the new high-tech software of life trackers into the old-world wristwatch, giving consumers the option to connect their cellphones to their wrists while not appearing to do so. Or, put another way, you can have your classic analog watch and sleep tracker, too.

I have been keeping an eye on the development of wearable tech for some time, mainly for professional interest. I will say, however, that as a woman who treats her watch like another piece of jewelry, I have been uniformly disappointed in the styles offered by most companies — up through, and in particular, the new Apple Watch.

So this development speaks to my personal issue with the tech (namely, it’s just plain ugly) on top of addressing the broader industry complaints about a lack of cache and quality in the overall build. It appears as though form and function might make a better couple than previously thought, if the broader and perhaps older market can be tapped via their interest in upholding the quality wristwatch tradition.

Would you wear an analog-and-tech watch? Do you use a life tracker of any kind right now? Did you pull out your phone to make sure it’s silenced while you read this? Tell me more!

Swiss timepieces by 88 Rue du Rhone, a Raymond Weil affiliate
Swiss timepieces by 88 Rue du Rhone, a Raymond Weil affiliate

Featured Image from JCK Online: Helevetica No. 1 Smartwatch from Mondaine