Happy National Chocolate Day

Nine out of ten people love chocolate. The tenth person… is lying.

I’m a chocoholic in the first degree, but these days I find myself lusting after a different form of everyone’s favorite treat: chocolate gold.

Yep, you read that correctly. Unlike certain other candy-flavored jewelry items I may have mentioned in the past, chocolate gold is the real deal — it’s colored using similar compounds to rose or red gold.

Follow Up: Good. vs. Goods, The Other Guy’s Perspective

Well, this is convenient. Hard on the heels of my recent editorial on the current state of marketing in the jewelry industry, a features writer over at Racked (a fashion/lifestyle headline-style site) took on the issue from Signet Jewelers’ perspective — you know, the largest monopoly conglomerate covering such household names as Kay, Zales, and Jared.

The article is worth a read, especially if such figures as “$5.7 billion in annual sales” and “3600 stores” pique your interest. But free advertising and product placement aside, what does Signet try to say about their products and their massive share of the industry? They’re all about the (straight, middle class) man.

Women react to their marketing — all 10+ channels of it — with opinions ranging from “cheesy” and “gimmicky” all the way to feeling downright offended by the way the ads portray women and their relationships with men. The fairytale gifting scenarios and mass-appeal life event celebrations ring hollow for most, as is clearly removes any sense of responsibility on the part of the gifter to make an effort and understand a woman’s unique style. The emphasis is all on a come-hither ease of use, rather than any real meaning, romance, or sentiment.

The idea is to make the experience so comfortable, so ridiculously easy for the (straight, middle class) male shopper that he loses all ability to reason and simply buys what he sees the girl on the TV screen loving and crying about, with no consideration for his (ahem, or her) giftee’s desires and needs.

And this is how those poorly-chosen gifts end up here with us. They need broken delicate chains replaced with something sturdier to stand up to a tugging toddler. A watch strap that actually fits him. Three diamonds replaced in the micropave shank because she’s a hairdresser and they keep falling out. A setting lowered or swapped because the latex gloves she wears to the hospital every day are getting shredded by the prongs.

I appreciate the need for mass-market appeal, as I mentioned in my earlier post, because I believe it helps romance the whole idea of jewelry and not just that particular piece from that particular store. But this… is not what I mean. Offending an entire gender with patronization and general lack of nuance is not helpful. Convincing men to enter a store at holiday time and stand in line, zombie-like, to receive this year’s version of last year’s hit, is not the kind of experience this industry stands for.

My soapbox is starting to bend under the weight of my heavy disdain for these tactics, so I’ll leave you with this thought (from the article) for now: “Every time I see [one of their ads] on TV, I want to throw something at the screen… [t]hey are infuriating because they are an insult to my intelligence and emotions! I am not that easy to buy and gift-giving just isn’t that magical.”

[Editorial] Dear Advertisers, Sell the “Good” Not the Goods

Thank you, marketing geniuses and PR gurus. Thank you for your creative, imaginative, catchy, pithy, poignant, colorful, and popular efforts in finding a way to sell stuff to people. You are the driving force behind the way business operates today, and the sidecar companion to consumer trends. I can’t over-state how much I appreciate the difficult tasks you’re given, and how beautifully — and often, brilliantly —  you carry them out.


In receiving the credit, you are doomed to hold equal share of the blame. Consumer behavior is your wheelhouse, and it’s on your head I squarely place the blame.

In your infinite branding wisdom, you have decided which names mean quality, and which do not. You place one style above another, often at the direction of said brand, without looking at the bigger picture. You push and push for something a client asked for, without ever considering what, exactly, you’re pushing on the unsuspecting consumer.

We, the retailers, are left to deal with your mess. We spend as much time in the day correcting misconceptions and re-educating the buyers as we do actually selling our own product. We have to explain, and present, and demonstrate, and explain again why a sterling silver chain from Big Name Company is totally undifferentiated from the one I have in stock. And why a name on the box means status to you and very little to me. Why our pearls are, in fact, nicer than the ones from the guy’s name you can’t pronounce, and why that is.

Untangling your mess has become a part of my daily routine. While I consider an educated buyer a better buyer, the learning curve can be steep — and that’s only with the willing ones, those who want to get to know their purchases. The rest leave me stuck between an honesty rock and moral hard place, where I won’t bad-mouth another store but refuse to perpetuate one of their many myths, truth-stretches, or occasional outright lies. Consumers’ heads are spinning, and the consequences are lower confidence and fewer purchases.

I think it’s time for advertisers to reverse course and focus on selling what I call, simply, the good. Sell beauty, romance, hopes & dreams, a lifestyle, a destination. Sell my customers on individuality, unique style, stunning color, attainable quality, and above all, sell them value. In doing so, your rising tide will lift all boats, allowing the entire industry to reclaim its previous place as worthy of trust and esteem. The fashion world is leading the way for individualism, constantly making room for personal expression and edging away from the concept of “out vs. in” culture. Jewelry is a branch of the fashion tree — a strong one, at that — and should be following suit.

We can’t afford to encourage the widening of the luxury/disposable gap, and that’s what your offhandedly thoughtless, us-versus-them advertising copy gets us. Allow consumers to embrace an idea, not just ideology, and they will return the courtesy by trading hard-earned dollars for dream fulfillment. A diamond was once forever, and should be again.

It’s time for an update, marketing mavens. Jewelry at all levels should sell because it is desired and loved, a symbol once more of occasions, commitments, successes, and my personal favorite… just because.

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!

Little High, Little Low

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, in answer to a common question I get from friends and family. They always seem curious about the jewelry I actually own and wear, bringing attention to both my personal style and my ability to function as a representative of my industry. It occasionally makes me feel like a snarky celebrity, fielding those banal “who are you wearing?” softballs tossed out to attractive starlets on crimson carpets. More often, it allows me a wide-open opportunity to introduce new styles (or old ones) to the people around me, gauging their reactions in a market research microcosm.

I would like to imagine that the visionaries behind a designer name are never caught without their style house’s brand somewhere on their person. In my mind, they live and breathe their work, incorporating it so naturally that they literally embody their brand. Those of us on the lower rungs of fashion are not so fortunate, and must be content with aping our betters until we can afford to make our own statements. But therein lies the beauty of the “high/low” concept of fashion: mixing timeless, well-made, investment pieces with on-trend and less expensive flair is nothing if not an egalitarian approach.

It’s a method I’ve adopted, and it seems to work pretty well. Wearing classic pieces most of the times means that a change makes a much bigger impact — people tend to notice. It’s easier to do more with less, which also means that every new acquisition gets its fair share of the spotlight it deserves. On the other hand, those timeless pieces have a great ROI in their lose cost-per-wear, and it’s rather nice to have a few signature things. Where would Jackie be without her sunglasses or Marilyn without her lipstick, after all.

I can honestly say that I love my brass-and-glass ear cuff, and I love my gold bangle bracelet. One will certainly won’t outlast the other, but then, likely so will the trends from which they emerged. And that’s perfectly okay with me, because it means I’ll have some lovely new trends to follow (or not), keeping my wardrobe fresh and exciting and ever-evolving. I make no apologies for mixing, even when friends ask why I’d wear something from there when I work, well, here. Besides, when I go to work inside a glittering jewelry box every day, I’m allowed encouraged to gently wear what I sell — jewelry isn’t meant to sit in a case, after all, and it always looks better on than off.

High-fashion echelon arguments to the contrary, one can posses a unique style without a wardrobe of one-of-a-kinds. This obviously applies not only to clothing, but perhaps even better to accessories of all kinds. I doubt anyone with the black quilted Chanel on her arm has had cause to regret that purchase, but perhaps the Lucite heels from a few decades ago have long since been retired. (Well, maybe they’re back out again now, but they’ve been dust-collecting for 25 years.)

So yes, I tell those who ask, I do wear the real and the “fake.” I love them both for their own unique properties, and strongly encourage people to experiment as their own tastes and budgets allow. I readily admit which pieces is which, if questioned, using the opportunity to educate and spread the good word of jewelry to all. I suppose jewelry can be like an investment, if only in this one way: diversify!