Tough, Hard, & Stable

If you’ve ever discussed gemstone jewelry with a reputable and knowledgeable jeweler, you might have experienced a series of questions along these lines:

“How often do you plan to wear the ring?”

“What do you do for work, and what are your hobbies?”

“Do you typically take your jewelry off when you sleep, shower, or travel?”

He or she isn’t being impertinent or nosy, but rather attempting to find out what type of gem might be best suited for your lifestyle. Some gems can withstand a decent amount of daily wear and tear without any ill effects, while others are more delicate (some are extremely delicate) and require some special considerations.

A gemstone’s hardness, toughness, and stability are the three most important factors in determining its durability. Useful information for jewelry lovers, of course, but lately these three characteristics also seem to be relevant to conversations about human strength and resilience.

What follows contains a little cheese, so pour yourself some wine and indulge me, okay?

Hardness in a gem is measured by the non-linear Mohs scale, and indicates its resistance to scratches and abrasions. As humans I’d say our physical bodies can withstand a surprising amount of painful bruises and scrapes — pain and medication notwithstanding — but it takes much more practice to reach a state of mental grit. Unlike gems, of course, we can build up this tolerance over time through experience and repetition. Diamonds are the leader in the gemological pack, and resilience is a great indicator of leadership in people.

A gem’s toughness, or resistance to breaking and chipping, is due to the strength of the atomic bonds of the molecules that make up the gem’s essential crystal structure. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for our human heart, I don’t know what is: truly it’s the strength of our bonds to one another, be they romantic or friendly or even basic human-to-fellow-human, that make us tough. The ability to withstand heartbreak, suffer through previously-broken bonds, and forge even stronger connections is something only people can do, and gems like super-tough jadeite will just have to go along as they always have.

The stability factor is most often an issue when a gem must withstand sudden or intense changes, or is exposed to extreme conditions. In the gemological world this means withstanding temperature or humidity shifts, certain chemicals, and exposure to various light wavelengths. For humans, this is perhaps the most subtle aspect, displayed only during periods of stress; people are more adaptable than gems, but some people are more flexible than others. Fortunately for us, change doesn’t have to leave us permanently damaged like a crazed opal or thermally-shocked tanzanite.

Like many gems, we can receive treatments that help us improve on some of these characteristics. Emeralds can be oiled, diamonds fracture-filled, sapphires re-polished, garnets re-cut. So too can people be healed both physically and mentally, restoring strained bonds, giving and receiving apologies, cutting negativity out and allowing a little more light inside. (Yes, that last one applies to gemstones too.)

No two gems are ever exactly alike, a single piece of rough can be cut many ways, and every color has its place in the spectrum. We can learn perseverance, fortitude, and resilience — or hardness, toughness, and stability — from the world around us. And really, what better way to do so than through the beauty and rich diversity of the gemstone world?

Do People Really Want to Buy From People?

Wisdom: born of experience, frequently hard won, and difficult to share. But those who have it do try to give those of us without it a tidbit every now and then.

In the past month or so, in various trade publications and even in a few conversations, I’ve witnessed this little nugget bandied about:

“People want to buy from people.”

Oh, how desperately I want to agree. I want to believe! As a former retailer on both the large and small scale and as a former educator, making that personal connection has long been my raison d’etre. There was no greater priority for me than to get on my client’s or student’s level, earning their trust and exceeding their immediate and future needs. It’s how I roll.

But as with so many things, I’ve recently started to call into question this longstanding truism, at least in the context of the kind of business I’m currently doing. I’ve spoken in the past about the challenges I continue to face in making the switch from selling jewelry to selling something else, but one of the greatest differences has been the approach to delivering on the client’s expectations.

This is not a business in which developing deep, long-term relationships is a priority. That’s not to say that we aren’t encouraged to build a rapport – in fact, the “discovery” process is a key topic of almost every sales meeting and workshop — but the timeline is intended to be as short as possible, and almost no consideration is given for clients who crave significant personal attention.

And you know what? More often than not, it works.

I want to be crystal clear: in no way am I making the case for lackluster relationship building, poor trust, and zero communication. But it’s important to consider that the modern consumer, regardless of age or demographic, has moved a large portion of their buying habits to the non-serviced world (a.k.a. the internet).

This translates to increased familiarity with products (thanks to extensive internet searching) and a surprising level of pre-established trust in a brand or company. People can and do offer up large amounts of their savings by typing in a credit card number and clicking a few checkboxes — we know they do it with diamonds (and really shouldn’t), but is doing it for a piece of equipment, no matter how crucial, acceptable?

When consumers feel confident, they’re willing to open their wallets. If that confidence comes pre-established (or takes little to no personal contact to reach), they come to the store with cash in hand, and are increasingly unwilling to sit through a discussion about their needs. As “experts” they’re confident enough to buy, and that’s all they want to do.

I already know the kind of havoc this can cause with jewelry buyers who didn’t bother to find out that emeralds are delicate, pearls need restringing, and rhodium wears away. The problems multiply with a piece of machinery that is user friendly when the user is friendly, and prone to tidal waves of sticky resin when they aren’t.

The best conclusion I can reach is that people might not want to buy from people so much these days, but they really, really should. It’s impossible to know everything, so why not let the subject matter experts — you know, the ones who are trained and willing to offer as much information as they can — give you a little help?


P.S. I can’t find attribution for this image, so please let me know if it’s yours. It’s perfect. I hate love how perfect it is.

A Few Words On Your Jewelry

I’d like to take a moment to talk about you. Well, you and your jewelry.

I want to address your apologetic, embarrassed smile when I ask if your bracelet has a special significance. And the way you step back, away from me and the counter, when you compare the ring you’re contemplating with the one already on your finger. Or perhaps I’ll address your lament that you never see your rings clean, and that you certainly don’t want me to see them so filthy — not even when I offer to clean them for you.

You may feel society’s pressure to acknowledge that you and your spouse were “just a couple of kids” when you married, which explains the (supposedly) small size of your diamond engagement ring. You may feel it culturally appropriate to blame your (supposedly) “ugly” hands on age, arthritis, and a penchant for gardening without gloves, which of course is why you’d never try to wear a beautiful ring.

You do not need to apologize to me for your jewelry, and the faults in it that only you can see. Certainly you shouldn’t feel that your precious pieces, each representing a particular moment in your life, are in any way more humble than the shiny new things in my cases.

The ring out of round and prongs worn down to nothing — those represent a lifetime of wear, and they can be fixed. The bracelet links so fragile they feel like frayed cotton threads — they lasted through two wars and a cross-country move, and they can be fixed. And oh, the damn clasp that you can just never do up yourself, so you leave the necklace on all the time even though it’s uncomfortable — your fingers ache, and a bigger clasp would help, and that can be fixed.

You come in, defensive and vulnerable, exposing your beloved memories to a young woman whom you think can’t possibly understand, or won’t even try. You don’t have any expectation of compassion or respect, because you’ve been turned away so many times with a shrug and a callous “just buy a new one!”

You may even hear the same advice from me, eventually. But from me, it comes after all other options have been considered. It comes with an understanding that to you, the idea of taking apart this and making it into that will have to simmer for a while, and that if you’re ready — when you’re ready — you’ll know.

Your life, your memories, lie in the bits and pieces laid out on the counter. To share them with a stranger takes a certain kind of courage, especially when the fear of harsh judgement or offhand hauteur makes you want to quickly snatch your pieces back before I can look more closely.

But I have learned, from the best of role models, to understand you. I have learned how to sense your fears, your frustrations, and those apologies spoken and unspoken. And I can only hope that when it’s my turn to lay my life’s treasures in front of someone else, that they have sensed my hesitations and questions, and will respond with their own compassion.

Is “Favorited” Really a Word?!

Success (n.): the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that sometimes success feels more daunting than failure. Failure is so often an end point, but success must lead to further and greater success in order for it to really count. This translates to more work, greater effort, and in the best of cases, potentially higher reward.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or three from my recent adventures in industry-land. Putting new skills into practice has always been a main tenet of teaching — learn long division, eat it for dinner every night for a week —  and developing my voice and professional relationships will always need doing.

In a concession to my apprentice status, I began speaking up on a small scale, using my least-favorite communication tool to force me to stretch a little: Twitter. A few interactions (tweets? tweet exchanges? does one even “exchange tweets”?) later,  I received some easy and excellent answers to my question from two highly successful known quantities in the industry. I solemnly swear to write posts based on their suggestions, but both deserve some extensive time and thought to pull together.

Anyway, each person’s response was gracious, unique, and thoughtful, which I’ll admit felt somewhat intimidating:
They saw my tweet! They read it, oh god, did I make a typo? No, okay. Someone favorited my tweet! Is that even a word? Why is that a verb now? What the heck is a re-tweet, and what does it mean? What do I say now? Emoticons are unprofessional. Do not use. Wait, did they use one? Does that mean I should, too? I haven’t answered yet. Has it been too long? Do they hate me now?


This brief venture into the unknown caused the old worrier in me to surface, but only briefly. A silly thing, perhaps, to create such mental buzz about a relatively insignificant step, but progress is progress. Finding my voice and raising it to seek out answers to questions, advice and insight, or venture a comment or two is a brick laid in the foundation, and it’s obviously up to me to pursue the personal growth I need to reach my goals.

If I’m going to log this little foray as I success, I have no choice but to follow it up with more — and better — attempts. I’m open to suggestions from reader-experts: how do I build on this experience?

P.S. The former English teacher in me cringes at all this “nouning” and “verbing,” but I think I got the “favorited” thing correct. Right? Right??