The Independents — A Love Letter

You’ve seen their sign, maybe their billboard on your daily commute. Maybe you’ve wandered by their storefront, pausing to peek at the pretty displays and wondering what else could be inside. It’s even possible you’ve stood in line at the grocery store behind their owner, your spouse has played golf or hosted book club with them, or your children have played baseball with their kids.

I’m talking about your friendly neighborhood independent jeweler, and the family that is very much a part of your local community.

With one store location or maybe a handful, these businesses have built their lives and livelihoods by treating you with courtesy and respect, running a shop that puts quality and the customer first. Unlike the revolving door and high-volume sales at the national chains, the familiar faces at an independent jewelry store keep all eyes focused on what the client needs and wants.

They might open a little early for an emergency watch battery change, or stay open past closing so you can pick up that special gift after a long day of work. They’ll send you a note to remind you of an upcoming birthday or anniversary — and they’ve kept a list of exactly what that special someone has been eyeing. Need it hand delivered, gift-wrapped, totally secret, even one-of-a-kind? They can do that, too.

With the ability to source colored gems, diamonds, designer brands, and specialty items from around the world, independent jewelers can and will go the extra mile. Many also staff talented bench jewelers and designers, who will take your dreams and translate them into beautifully crafted reality. Repairs big and small, sizings up or down, a new chain or watch strap: these gals and guys have seen and done it all, and they’ll happily do it for you.

An educated and dedicated team will be present for your most precious life events — you can’t be just a number when they know you by name! Independent jewelers love to share their knowledge, and they know that an educated consumer is a confident and happy client.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a gift, planning a special life celebration, or feel the desire for a beautiful, wearable work of art in your life, remember your neighbors. They’re ready to serve you, and they’re right around the corner — where they’ve always been.

Stack it Up: The #Armparty

It’s been some time since I last wrote a post about my personal collection, and I have some recent acquisitions that deserve a little time in the sun. To be clear, these are pieces I own and wear and adore, and were all created by members of the industry whom I’m proud to call dear friends and colleagues. I link only because I love.

For a long time, bracelets were my least favorite accessory. Not because I didn’t like them — in fact, I love them — but they rarely ever loved me back. Call it #skinnygirlproblems, but stock sized bangles are always too big, chains and links are too long, and cuffs just won’t close up enough to stay put. So for a while, I simply gave up on the idea of a wrist stack, and went on to collect other things.

Enter: the medical ID bracelet. Oh, this hated but necessary piece of stainless steel (ugh, I know) that now accompanies me wherever I go. Once my doctor and family convinced me to wear it, I started to realize that I couldn’t let it just sit there, seated alone in miserably glory. If nothing else, I needed something to distract myself and others from the atrocity.

Fortunately for me, an extremely talented and thoughtful jeweler named Irene was near at hand. I first commissioned a custom rose gold bangle, hammered to a perfect texture and sized just for me. This piece accompanies me almost everywhere, as does its beautiful cousin on my mother’s wrist. Shortly thereafter, I asked my colleague and friend if she would help me create my own hammered argentium silver cuff. Some hilarious mishaps and serious hammering, clanging, swearing, polishing, and finishing later, I gratefully completed the first and only wearable in my collection.

Next in line is a bangle from my travels, purchased in Jackson Hole, WY on an anniversary trip. I spent far longer than necessary chatting with Bri, a young industry newcomer who patiently listened to me drone on about jewelry until I finally decided on a two-tone gold traveling bead Snake River hammered bangle, custom made by a talented goldsmith on site.

And finally, the most recent addition is a pure and shining contrast to my mostly textured stack. My silver slip-on bangle bracelet nestles with the rest as though it were made for stacking — which it definitely is, and makes the most charming chiming sound any time it’s gently kissed by its golden brethren. I’ve had this piece on my wrist since the moment it arrived, and I’m overwhelmingly grateful to designers like Alexis who are so mindful of creating for all shapes and sizes.

As you can see, I’m a dedicated adherent to the MaN club: Metals are Neutrals! Mix them, match them (or don’t), wear them together or feature them singly. They’re a social bunch, those shiny metals, able to play well with others or travel solo as the mood strikes.

It might still be sweater weather here in New England, but I’m daydreaming of warmer temps and shorter sleeves so I can continue to show off (and build on) the glittering group in my #armparty.

 

 

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.

New Cover Art

As a little girl, I spent hours of my free time ensconced in cozy nooks and tiny chairs hidden between towering bookshelves in our local library. A friendly librarian noticed my love of reading and encouraged me to reach beyond the age-appropriate sections, taking the time to instruct me in the proper book-shelving etiquette and finer points of the cryptic Dewey decimal system.

But in truth, I was able to locate most of my favorite books not by numerical efficiency, but by spotting the familiar dust jacket on the shelf. Spine out, cover, or back-facing, I could identify the usual suspects immediately, and took comfort in the familiar typefaces and colorful depictions of important scenes from the story.

Years later, I remember roaming the no-longer-towering stacks of a nearby bookstore. and feeling more lost and confused than comforted. The titles were familiar — Alice, Matilda, Jane, David, the gang’s all here — but I no longer recognized the classics from their covers alone. The art had changed, often dramatically, and it occurred to me that these “new editions” would need to appeal to a much different audience than in the years of my own childhood.

Identifying a drooping interest in classic literature, the publishers clearly banded together to calculate what type of visual stimuli today’s buyers require in order to open their wallets. Longtime favorites received the royal treatment, those undying words wrapped in leather bindings, gilded, fanciful lettering, and sold in sets with their peers. Newer contributions become wildly colorful, with wrapped jackets that probably took longer to create than the authors took to write, and were marked with exorbitant prices and “special edition” stickers.

But as a beloved nanny certainly knew, a fancy wrapper and sugared coating can go a long way towards catching a child’s eye in a room full of other distractions. Call it what you will — rebranding, new marketing campaign, or my personal favorite, “updated” — but it works.


This anecdote is what came to mind when I first viewed the latest releases from the world of diamond campaigning. The two new ads are an attempt to reach the Me generation on their level, re-packaging the traditional messaging of love = diamonds into something with equal parts playfulness, sex appeal, and a down-to-earth acknowledgement that relationships can come in many forms.

Regardless of the quality of this content (debatable) and questionable length (a little too long), the surprising clarity of the message is what interests me most. Marriage is no longer the cornerstone of our society’s structure, but that doesn’t mean the concept of long-term love and devotion has fallen by the wayside. It has simply transformed, and in order to remain relevant in a landscape that no longer resembles the white picket fences of yesterday to an astonishing number of people under 40, our communication must perforce change along with it.

While I’m not really a member of the target demographic, I can absolutely see the strengths in this type of merchandising. These ads appeal to me far more than the usual run of predictable romantic interludes and lame last-minute gift plugs, so perhaps they’ll have some real staying power and will begin to turn the attention of the next buying wave back to the idea diamond jewelry as an enduring statement of… well, whatever they want it to say.

I’d love to hear your reactions to this new direction. Have a look, share it around, and please share your thoughts.

Spring Sneak Peak

If it’s September, it must be… the favorite month of those with haute couture appetites, the global sequence of ____ Fashion Week. It’s a time to reflect on the trends of years past, and glimpse the outlines of what we (the little people) will be wearing once the snow melts about 8 months from now. I talk a lot about color here, have you noticed?

As much as I’d enjoy writing post after post about the clothing that graced the runways this year, I’m content instead to contemplate a broader palette — literally. Colossal colorateur** Pantone has once again released its preview of the Spring 2017 colors, and I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunities they present for the fashion, jewelry, and decorating worlds.

Pantone refers to the collection as, “a mixture of vitality, relaxation and the great outdoors.” I’d call them bold, vivid even, and they complement and contrast all day long. There’s something for everyone: bright pops of pink, yellow, and orange; softer notes of blues and greens, and a touch of appealing neutrals that ground the whole collection.

Fortunately for the gem world, nearly every choice has a corresponding gemstone or two to match:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-8-09-03-am

Niagara can be found in star sapphire or moonstone, Primrose Yellow in yellow sapphire, Lapis Blue is lapis, of course, and Flame is an obvious fire opal. Pink Yarrow seems to be Rhodolite garnet, Island Paradise an aquamarine, and Greenery is peridot. Pale Dogwood proves the popularity of Morganite once again, Hazelnut could be found in cognac diamonds, and Kale captures the unusual green sapphire.

You would find a good number of these colors in my own wardrobe, which (when I’m not wearing black, anyway) is often a balance between saturated jewel tones and cozy neutrals. What’s old is new again, as they say, and Pantone deliberately attempted to reinvent and revitalize our world with fresh updates on the familiar.

I’m a little disappointed at the few missing pieces — no true red of any kind, no eggplant or plum, and no grey to be found. Blue is my favorite color, but did we really need three? And for many, the difference between Pale Dogwood and Hazelnut is only a matter of degree. Eliminating a few of these as redundant would have left room for a more well-rounded group.

But overall, I’m satisfied with the direction and selection. It will be interesting to see which color comes out on top — Niagara is supposedly the leader of the pack, but the court of public opinion doesn’t always agree — and how the palette plays out in ready-to-wear and street fashion.

These are the colors we live in. What do you think about them?

 

**Yes, I made that up. Sounds sexy though, doesn’t it?

Love in Three Countries

Berlin, Madrid, Paris.

Three unique cities in very different countries, each borrowing a border and crossing a few spice palates but somehow remaining totally distinct.

I admit that I had originally anticipated feeling more out of place at a foreign trade show, but after the first day everything felt familiar (except, y’know, in Spanish). It was wonderful to interact with more members of the international community, and while Europe certainly faces many of the same issues we see here at home, they do so from a rather different perspective.

The brief exposure I had to Berlin leads me to believe that innovation will come there, fast and hard, but that the culture will struggle to embrace it. Germany has an austere, rougher style of living that felt difficult to penetrate. I will need more time and thought to sort out my feelings about this place.

Madrid was a classic dichotomy of old and new: the under-35 crowd spoke English, dressed with an international flair, ate and drank merrily, and seems to embrace the new waves of technology and openness that are becoming the hallmarks of that generation. Their older counterparts have elected to remain single-language speakers, and as a group tended to distrust the progressive and ignore the innovative. This made for some interesting conversations about jewelry and 3D printing, let me tell you!

I was in Paris for pleasure and not for work, but even as a consumer I’m never really off the clock. My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised by our preferential treatment — wonderful and attentive service, friendly conversation, pleasant bi-lingual interactions — and utterly sickened by the blatant racism displayed toward members of minority groups.

Travel serves to inspire and educate, and I felt the impact of both on this little adventure. The international jewelry community (and larger luxury group) is in desperate need of some unification in order to strengthen the message that we are a cultural and economic force for positive change. We can have such a profound influence on the future of our environment, and by definition our massive reach across so many cultures and countries should mean that we can collectively shun the isolationist policies that are howling at the door to civilization.

This may all sound heavy-handed, but it’s hard not to wax eloquent after such a broadening experience. I certainly consumed my share of German Rieslings, Spanish Cavas, and French Champagnes (all of which I’m happy to chat about, should you ever be interested) but the important takeaways from this trip will remain long after the last taste of chocolate and bubbles have faded.

Who Broke the Crystal Ball?

There are a lot of things to like about my job: intelligent and talented colleagues, innovative and fast-moving core industry, free food and booze… y’know, the usual expected combination of perks at a tech start-up.

But the very best parts of my day revolve around the conversations I get to have with jewelry industry folks. They come from a huge range of specialties — retailers, designers, manufacturers, students, teachers, artists — and once we get to know each other a bit, many of them are willing to take a few moments to chat about the general state of the industry.

These conversations have given me both deep insight into the inner workings and relationships within the network itself, and a bird’s eye view of the US (and often global) jewelry industry as a whole. Useful and interesting stuff.

In a totally unscientific way, I’m been taking notes on these discussions and keeping track of what people seem to be saying. Here’s an overview of some of the most common topics and their subsequent commentary:

“The industry is changing.”
This is by far the most popular statement. It seems that nearly everyone is in agreement about the state of flux and evolution, keeping in mind that anyone talking to me right now is probably already embracing a certain amount of technology and the momentum to implement it.

But I perceive a certain level of apprehension mixed in there as well, particularly when some of the smaller shops are considering their long-term business plans. Comments such as “I’m buying this because my son/daughter thinks we need it” and “I hope you can teach an old dog new tricks” imply an understandable hesitation, but they also address the larger climate of uncertainty in the market.

“Nobody buys X anymore, they only want custom.”
If you’re handy with CAD or a designer-in-training, prepare yourself for desperate job offers and high expectations — but not necessarily an understanding employer. There is a definite skills and knowledge gap happening here, and it’s what I refer to as Magic Box Syndrome.

This tendency to demand good/fast/cheap/easy from technology is frustrating both for the people who don’t understand why it isn’t perfect, and for those of us trying to convince users that it’s still pretty darn good. That expensive computer program with beautiful renderings can’t make you a better designer if you don’t understand the fundamentals of jewelry construction (including CAM, casting, and at least some benchwork). Our little orange box can’t magically reproduce something your designer dreamed up if it’s unprintable, uncastable, and probably unwearable.

And what happens when, inevitably at this time of year, the conversation turns to the holiday season?

I’ve learned to brace myself.

While the majority of my clients are buying a 3D printer to expand or improve their businesses, I come across the occasional purchaser who is simply trying to save it. Three separate shops in the last week have lost their CAD people, and are trying to catch up on CAD/CAM themselves before the rush. Two other businesses I know are about to begin casting their own work, because outsourcing takes too much time (and therefore money). And of course, my manufacturing clients are facing increased labor and metal costs, high demand for fast turnover, on custom pieces and a huge uptick in small-batch multi-unit orders that will probably end up as quick mountings for engagement season.

“We’re in for a wild ride,” they say.

But the saner voices — less panicked, more curious and optimistic about the future — are predicting a time of general change toward custom or customized jewelry in a way that might just save the entire industry from itself. As I’ve mentioned once or twice, adapting our old business models to the new wave of consumers is the only realistic way to preserve the beauty of treasured jewelry pieces and still grow as an industry.

It is my good fortune to be in communication with such a wide variety of interesting people, and to hear firsthand how many of them are keeping their eyes on the prize and working to turn this big old ship around. I can guide and support them through at least a small part of that process, and hope that their eventual successes will pave the way for others.

Anticipation

September.

Yes, I think some visceral awareness of the calendar changing over to fall still lingers in me, triggering a kind of atavistic reaction born of decades (centuries?) of educational clockwork.

I vividly recall the first August I spent completely outside of the school system, neither student nor teacher for the first time. I couldn’t sleep, had trouble concentrating, and was snappish and stressed… for absolutely no reason. My mother was the one to finally solve the problem, pointing out that I had been anticipating the start of the school year for the overwhelming majority of my life at that point.

For a few precious years I was able to lose most of that embarrassingly painful reaction, blissfully unconcerned, only noticing the season change by falling leaves and early evening chill.

But now, it comes again.

I’m not heading back to school full time, or taking up teaching again. Instead, I’m heading off to Europe on a multi-week journey that will land me on a total of 5 flights and 3 major cities (not including layovers and day trips) and only one country in which I’ll be able to converse somewhat fluently.

Berlin. Madrid. Paris. I’m coming for you!

The first two cities are specifically work-related, which makes them doubly exciting. Our EU HQ is in Berlin, and I’ll be visiting very briefly to train my sales counterparts in the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

That will be followed by a tradeshow adventure in Madrid — my first international show! — to train a Spanish reseller on… the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

The remaining portion of my time abroad is to be spent avec mon mari, wining and dining and reveling in a city I have dreamed about living in visiting for my entire life.

To say that this is an incredible opportunity would be an understatement, but that doesn’t remove the tiny bit of anticipation I’m feeling as I make my packing lists and take care of all the pre-travel details. It’s the old butterflies-in-the-stomach, fingers crossed I picked a cute outfit, ohmygodwhereismypencilcase feeling rearing its obnoxious head.

I can safely say that facing down this beast as a confident and capable adult is making it much easier. But I’m open to any advice my more experienced readers might care to offer, and I don’t just mean the reminder to buy and pack a converter that works in all 3 countries (check!). How did you manage your first solo travels abroad, and what did you do to make a great first impression? What should I bring with me or leave at home? Did you survive on a single carry-on and laptop bag, as I intend to do?

Feature photo courtesy of mon père, who will certainly remind me to take my own version when I get there!

A Tale of Two Evenings

I might be leading a double life.

Right in the middle of an otherwise normal (read: boring) week, I spent two back-to-back nights out, quite a bit past my bedtime. I’ll say up front that I thoroughly enjoyed them both, and that I wish every night out could be as successful as they both were, in their own ways. But the experiences couldn’t have been more different.

On Wednesday afternoon, I ducked out of work a little early to make it home in time to grab a snack and my favorite notebook. It was time for my first meeting as a board member of the WJA Boston chapter, and I was trying very hard not to feel a little anxious.

After a few hours spent planning and brainstorming with a handful of some remarkable women, I can say without any hesitation that this is going to be fun. There is a shared vision amongst these leaders to bring the local industry together, promote women in business, and focus on collaboration and creating a true community. I can get on board with this board, if you know what I mean.

With great courtesy, these women welcomed me as a young but eager member who is ready to contribute to their (our!) goals. I can’t thank them enough for the incredible amount of work they put into this organization on top of owning and running their own businesses and lives, but I hope they understand how much I appreciate them as mentors and role models as well.

So, that was Wednesday. Inspired and full of brain activity, I arrived at work on Thursday morning feeling pretty damn good. And then, shortly after a round of morning meetings, I remembered: the sales outing. Cue the uh-oh music.

As a reward for blasting past our collective sales goal last quarter, the team was given a 3-hour evening on the water to drink and be merry. Well, to drink and dance and sing and laugh and bond and essentially feel like college kids again… which, for some of the team, was like turning the clock back about three days. But a few cocktails and airbrush tattoos later, we sure did have a great time.

I know what you’re thinking. Waitaminute, you went on a booze cruise?

Yes I did. And I wouldn’t trade those hours of hair down, bottoms-up, early-2000s singalongs for anything. When I promised to say yes more often, I really meant it — for my career and my personal life.

As many of you are aware, our move back to the city was in part motivated by my desire to take on a larger role in the jewelry industry and give my career some new energy. I needed to meet more people, learn more things, and hit the ground running in a vibrant and forward-thinking community.

I can’t believe how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to find not one but two of these groups which, despite functioning in every possible way as polar opposites, have contributed significantly to my overall ambitions and quality of life. And while they occasionally stress me out and keep me up at night (again, for very different reasons), I realize that they also provide balance for each other. And this, in turn, balances me.

 

Halfway There: Goal Posts

Snow.
Ice.
Boots.
Earmuffs.
Michelin-Man-inspired outerwear.

Remember these things? Other than a useful mental exercise to keep myself cool, I’m recalling the cold December days in which I wrote this post about my personal and professional goals for the coming year. We’re well into the 80s here at the midway point of 2016 (already!), so I thought it was time for some updates.

1. Give a talk/speech/lecture to a crowd of more than 10

Just this past Monday, I did a brief presentation about my company’s newest materials and updates related to the jewelry industry. Somewhere around 40-50 people were present at this event, so I’d say that definitely counts!

This one stays on the list, because one is never enough. I would like to do many, many more of these (longer! bigger! that’s what she said!) but it was a great starting point.

2. Publish something longer than 500 words, with a byline 

My company published my whitepaper on how to sell custom jewelry, complete with photographs and byline. It got picked up and referenced by a few other 3D printing publications, which was really neat.

As with #1, this one is by no means finished. Ideally I’d like to see my words reproduced in a jewelry industry publication, so it’s time to get to work on that.

3. Finish my G.G. 

My home lab setup will be arriving very shortly (note to self: clean off designated lab space) which means I can make even more progress towards this one. I’m aiming for the end of the year. Diamonds, gemstones, and jewelry… oh my!

4. Meet new people 

Possibly one of the most fulfilling goals I’ve ever set, simply because I created it without any real plan to reach it. But with my new job came many new people to meet and get to know, which has been a surprisingly joyful and experience for this high-functioning introvert. My happiness in succeeding here is largely due to the quality of people I’m around every day, but I’m also just a little proud of myself for learning to say “yes!” to a whole lot of new experiences.

5. Talk about what I do, what I love, who I am 

Many people would argue that I usually don’t shut up about what I do, what I love, and who I am, but those people would only have recently met me (see above). Allowing my passion to come to the forefront of my personality (see below) has been a challenge, and not without its fair share of pushback. But I’m working through it and learning more about myself along the way.

6. Embrace my personality 

Perhaps both the easiest and most difficult goal on this list. It’s been so long since I’ve been willing to be my authentic self that it’s taken a little time to figure out just what that personality really is, these days. I consider myself a work in progress — forever — and so have come to embrace the journey of my personality, complete with more attention to its changes and nuances than ever before. Self-awareness is a process, but I might be learning to enjoy it.

 7. Improve the quality of my downtime 

I can hit a tiny bumpy ball with a stick (er, sometimes). I can crack a perfectly-timed joke to a crowd without feeling self-conscious. I can have more than one alcoholic beverage in a day and not feel guilty. I can list five new favorite date restaurants (and about fifty more we want to try). I frequently have plans that might almost resemble a social life, if you squint and tilt your head 20 degrees to the left. Yep, I’d say this one is well on its way to become a great habit.

Satisfactory progress all around! This year has been a big one for changes in every single aspect of my life, and I have a funny feeling I’m nowhere near finished with it (or perhaps it’s nowhere near finished with me). I don’t believe in a lot of things, but karma is a concept I fully embrace. So I’m “putting it out there,” as a dear friend would say, that as long as I’m trying to give the best of myself, I’ll be open to receiving the best the universe can offer.