Deserted: The Tradeshow that Wasn’t (And My Vision for What it Could’ve Been)

My suitcase is empty. Dresses hang in the closet, high heels and sandals remain neatly stacked in their boxes, and I can’t even find my bathing suits. Folders containing last year’s notes and floor plans and meeting schedules are curling at the corners. A thin layer of dust coats the badge flair pins from February’s Tucson trip.

The playground known as Sin City is dark, and it won’t be lighting up as it usually would for Jewelry Week 2020.

Part of me — a big part — is sad about the loss of the industry’s largest US tradeshow, normally a time for transacting business and socializing with old and new friends from around the world. For many it’s the only time we’re all together in the same place, this annual gathering of sparkling gems, bright lights, long days, and late nights.

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me wax passionate about how much I love tradeshows, because despite the aching feet and exhaustion, I always leave feeling invigorated by the conversations I have with people about topics that are relevant and important to so many of us.

But now I’m left to wonder: what would this year have looked like? What would’ve been the vibe, the gossip, the things learned and relationships forged?

Would the analysts and tastemakers have called it the “New Roaring Twenties” and commented on the welcome comeback of Art Deco style? Would synthetic diamonds still dominate the trade conversations, or would the rise of consumer demand for ethical mining and disclosure reign supreme?

Or perhaps we’d focus on the benefits of so-called “alternative” bridal trends, celebrating colored gems and women proposing and the nonsense of the term “mangagement ring.” We’d be thrilled to make better margins on unique jewelry and we’d endlessly debate the benefits of pushing custom design vs. the rise of cheaply-made “crafty” jewelry popularized by certain online pinboard websites.

Oh! And the panels and speakers and thought leaders would be a diverse and surprisingly balanced mix of genders, ages, nationalities, experience levels, and industry sectors. We’d learn from each other without judgement, teaching and talking and pushing the boundaries of how we operate as a luxury industry in a rapidly-evolving world.

We wouldn’t limit ourselves to telling Boomers how to market to Millennials or Gen X how to capture Gen Z. We wouldn’t say there’s no room at the table for virtual showrooms or 3D printing or photo-realistic rendering or holograms or scanning or Instagram Live or optimizing website for mobile or (deep breath) TikTok.

We would absolutely not insist that watches are doomed, natural gems and diamonds are doomed, retail is doomed. Instead, there would be productive conversation about how these sectors need to adapt in order to thrive, and just maybe we’d throw out some innovative solutions that would help businesses pivot and grow.

My vision for Jewelry Week 2020 is inclusive, holistic, and uplifting. It would be an inspiration, a banner year for positive thinking and optimism, growth and expansion.

When you imagine what this year’s show (or hell, the whole year) could’ve been, what do you see?

 

Count Your Diamonds

When you are tired

And you can’t sleep

Just count your diamonds

Instead of sheep

And you’ll fall asleep

Counting your —

NO! Not this again! Well, there’s your earworm for the day, classic movie buffs.

I don’t think I’ve ever counted to ten so many times in one day. Or one month. Other than kindergarten teachers and personal trainers, who does that?!

Oh that’s right, I do.

When I’m not processing product, running reports, analyzing said reports, or sending emails, you’ll often find me thus: nose half an inch from the desk, tweezers in one hand and loupe in the other, sorting/counting/matching various gemstones. My old Russian ballet instructors would die of heart failure if they saw the posture I have to assume in order to complete these tasks. Ah, sacrifice.

Every time a friend or relative dares to ask me to explain (again) why fine jewelry costs what it does, I attempt to give them a rational and even-handed responses about the number of individual people, countries, and hours worked that even a seemingly simple piece requires. Invariably I highlight the hours of practice and study required to master each task related to every jewelry component, the miles every piece must traverse to reach its final home, and the often-dismissed need for all of these people to actually make a suitable profit from their respective businesses.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this explanation, I’m not sorry for the inevitable deviation into the specifics of trade agreements, FTC rulings, benefits of small vs. large-scale mining operations, ethical sourcing, disclosure, and the pitfalls of not matching table sizes for a diamond eternity band if you want it to look right.

At least those people never ask me again, right?

In truth, I’m well aware that my passion for what I do tends to overflow at the most inopportune times, I’m unapologetically dedicated to what I do because I’m totally incapable of turning away the tiniest bit of knowledge or insight regarding my industry as a whole (and, globally, the entire luxury market). That childhood history of knowitallism** mostly means I really, really like to read.

Outside of my day job, the work I do for my business clients serves as both creative outlet and growth opportunity. When I write, be it ad copy, product descriptions, or ghostwritten blog, it’s a chance to express myself through my favorite medium and connect with other business in the industry. Working with my unique clients gives me access to all corners of the luxury world — and frankly, to call it work is inaccurate. It’s my calling (there, I said it).

So forgive me my soapbox diatribes on the state of Millennial shoppers in China or lab-created marketing fallacies or the 1,238th 1mm diamond that I just dug out of my computer keyboard with my tweezers. As my trainer likes to quote from dear old Zyzz, “Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”

 

**Should I copyright that?

The Serpent of Serendipity

I have always wanted a snake ring. <—Not a weird statement from a jewelry person.

The industry is full of them: classic Bvlgari, modern Temple St. Clair, biker-chic silver, antique 10k embossed motifs.

Over the years I’ve seen my fair share and coveted a few, but none of them have ever been quite right for me.

Why a snake, you ask? Throughout history, the serpent has been a symbol of transformation. It is often used to represent passion and rebirth, a story of life and death wrapped in a mythical creature who stands as a guardian of the sacred and oracle of cunning, wisdom, and healing. Found in history from alchemy to modern medicine and recorded in almost every culture ever to exist, this deadly and delightful animal winds its way into the subconscious the way a living version curls around a branch.

While I’ve never been interested in snakes as pets or guests in my sleeping bag, they have an undeniable power to fascinate (or enthrall – I’m not-looking at you, Kaa of the Jungle Book). It’s easy to see why they’ve been a successful adornment motif since the days of Cleopatra or long before.

So last month, as I acknowledged the first official anniversary of the closure to my very difficult year, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to stumble upon a new little friend.

Found in the course of my day-to-day work activities, this piece smiled up at me and asked to be saved from the rather final fate of the fires (um, literally). It needed some TLC. It called to me, and at just exactly the perfect time to commemorate my own rebirth of sorts, it was ready.

_____

It’s easy to get lost in the daily drudgery of work and life. While I spend my days surrounded by things that many people covet, I sometimes forget that a piece of jewelry represents (at its best) less of a “thing” and more of a moment, a feeling, a milestone.

The joy that this acquisition has brought me far outstrips its monetary value, and perhaps that’s the final lesson it needed to impart: after all the numbers and analytics, remember to treasure the memories.

I’ve laughingly called it my “divorce ring,” but perhaps the better moniker is the Transformation Ring. The symbolism – and of course the ring – just fits.

Missing Pieces

A colleague of mine recently posed this question to a large and varied industry group: what’s missing from today’s jewelry market?

Deceptively simple, his query struck me rather forcibly because I had just begun to write a blog post (the one you’re reading now) as a brief study in what I felt has been underrepresented or even entirely absent from mainstream jewelry.

My response was internet-appropriately brief, but in this space I thought a little more elaboration was due. We tend to think of jewelry in terms of categories, so what follows is a sort of commentary breakdown, combining some unofficial bird’s-eye-view concepts that borrow heavily from my daily work with a dash or three of personal, yes-I’m-a-Millennial-get-over-it opinions. Ahem.

Engagement/wedding: I know you love it, but the halo in all its possible iterations has been done — and done very well — to death. The style I never see is a band, thin or wide, with beautiful engraving that goes far, far beyond the vintage flowers-ropes-vines trifecta. Little or no gemstones are needed, but instead, well-executed metalwork with designs that speak to clean, bold, or even whimsical patterns are nowhere to be found.

Fashion: give me sleek, modern designs that emphasize amazing color and perhaps clean geometric patterns. Give me dark and light, negative space, comfortable, and hefty. Show off the amazingly diverse rainbow of colored gems we have available, with non-standard cuts set deep into pieces that highlight texture and celebrate something, anything, that reflects personality.

Symbolic: more like a subcategory, but the idea of talismanic jewelry has always been both appealing and relatively scarce. Sure, the average consumer often takes any special gift and turns it into a symbol (that being the point, more often than not, of giving jewelry in the first place), but I don’t often see designers inventing completely new symbols for people to use in honor or celebration of something specific. And so help me if I see one more poorly-rendered Ribbon of Whatever dangling off a charm bracelet…

Looks Custom But Isn’t: okay, I made up this category, but go with it. If more designers did what only a select few have ever done — which is to say, blasted into the stratosphere high above the comfort zone — we’d have so much more clever things to wear. You all know I’m the biggest advocate for full custom jewelry, but often it’s best to let the creative geniuses around us take the lead and make a concept come to life. Sometimes a designer has created something that is so utterly perfect, so fitting for a person, that it looks and feels like it was custom made even when it wasn’t. That’s quite an achievement.

Now, naming names isn’t normally my thing, as I don’t accept payment in any form for this blog and I strongly prefer to stay as neutral as possible. But I’ll make an exception here by listing a few designers whose work I truly admire as being some combination of unique, progressive, and striving to rise above the commonplace. In no particular order, I’ve been very interested in the following**:

— Collette, for beautiful and edgy
— Retrouvai, for bold and graphic
— Temple St. Clair, for whimsical and extravagant
— Marla Aaron, for cool and inventive
— Wendy Brandes, for modern and irreverent

These folks are doing things outside the proverbial box more often than not, and you don’t have to fall in love with every single piece to appreciate the brilliance behind much of their respective works. These designers also have individual pieces or entire lines that are wholly, uniquely their own, which means a knock-off is very easy to spot. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it’s also horrible and illegal and I’m really sick of the design theft that often occurs when big box stores want a designer’s look without actually paying them for it. (End rant).

For the record, that’s an incredibly incomplete list. Don’t message me with any form of “but HOW could you not mention my favorite designer, XYZ?!” or even “ABC doesn’t deserve to be named!!” All designers are striving and struggling and working and shedding blood/sweat/tears/diamonds in what they do. I have many, many designer friends whose work I find incredibly appealing, but I’m not in this game for the promotional benefits. This is just an informed opinion, folks.

For consumers and industry vets alike, I would really love to know: what do you think is missing from the market? What do you want to see, or wear, or buy, or design? Please chime in here, in this openly democratic forum.

**I won’t even put a link. Check them out, or don’t.

Brief Baubles: Jewelry & the Sharing Economy

Millennial. Startup. “Uber of X.” Viral. Cord Cutter. Experiential. Influencer. Gamification. Hacking.

Today’s colloquialisms provide a unique challenge for content producers, forcing us to navigate a tightrope strung high over a cavernous hole of hashtags, hits, and SEO-driven buzzwords. It sure does grate on you, after a while.

So please grin and bear it as I throw another one out for your consideration: the sharing economy. Defined by others as “collaborative consumption” in direct opposition to Veblen’s original “conspicuous consumption,” the concept applies to anything you make use of but do not own. Big-ticket items like cars and houses were the first aboard this bandwagon, and predictably other 1status items have followed suit.

The latest to join the game is the jewelry and watch world, following in the footsteps of successful concepts like Rent the Runway for designer clothing and BagBorroworSteal for, you guessed it, high-end pocketbooks. These companies allow their clients to order items online to be shipped to their homes, worn for a limited time, and shipped straight back. Talk about fast fashion.

The obvious issues do come up from time to time: theft, accidental destruction, genuine loss. But rental-based organizations often forge strong relationships with the designers they carry, and many offer or require various premiums that amount to insurance for just these situations.

I have been asked on more than one occasion my opinion of this type of consumerism, mainly in regards to its impact on the future of the luxury industry as defined by its success with younger generations. My response may surprise you, though certainly not my mother, whose special designer duds I’ve been trying to steal borrow for years: I’m all for it.

Taken in the short term, it’s true that renting and returning merchandise offers little gain for luxury sellers who are strapped for cash and customers. But by allowing these online (read: no overhead) entities to handle the logistics for them, both major and emerging designers can build a larger following based on exposure and experience. It’s this magical combination that gains the trust of today’s HENRYs, and will turn them into more educated (and therefore more satisfied) purchasers later on.

Try it, then buy it… when you can afford it. Or when you love it and don’t want to return it because you have to have it for yourself (or for someone else).

A number of luxury accessory companies have entered this new market. I was most impressed by a startup called Eleven James, as they currently focus solely on mid to high-level timepieces. Watches are not a fading fad as some might claim, but their role in our daily lives has shifted from necessary time-telling device to pure fashion (or status) statement. Eleven James capitalizes on this concept, and provides a concierge experience with multiple tiers that aim to match a range of budgets and tastes.

Flont is another newcomer, providing temporary access to a swath of designer jewels. A recent news release from Rapaport’s Diamond.Net says:

“Flont, which offers a jewelry-renting service, has raised $5 million from investors to grow its inventory and staff and help fund an expansion into the Chinese market.
The company describes itself as a pioneer of the “Jewelry as a Service” model, in which it lets consumers wear jewelry for a fee for a fixed period, or take out membership for unlimited rental.”

So that pair of Bvlgari earrings you can’t currently afford, but would go perfectly with your cocktail dress at that wedding this weekend? Rent them. Want to wear a diamond necklace that’s the real deal for your wedding? (Do I even have to say it?) Hello, something borrowed.

“’Borrowing incredible jewelry, and experiencing it first-hand, is the best way to discover brands and designers, while developing a lifelong affinity,’ said Cormac Kinney, founder and CEO of Flont, in a statement last week.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Readers, what do you think? Would you rent a watch of piece of otherwise unattainable jewelry, either for a special occasion or just because you could? And equally importantly, would it influence a future decision to buy it (or something like it)?

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?