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.

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.

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!

Are You an Exhibitionist?: Jewelry Week 2K16

They meant “exhibitor.” I’m almost positive. Then again, this is Las Vegas…

My second trip to the big show resembled my first in only one significant way — I learned a whole hell of a lot — but in all other aspects, this could have been a completely different show. Traveling with such considerations as booth setup/breakdown, package arrival coordination, general booth management X2 (more on that later), and a personal agenda all mixed together make for a busy, buzzing brain. And yet, it’s still one of the highlights of my year.

Like other bloggers, I think it’s best to break up a longer recap into more manageable, bite-sized bits. This year in particular I’ve had a million things to think about, so it will take some time to corral them into some kind of order, sort, press, fold, and eventually stack them neatly for future reference.

As a gentle introduction, I’ll share with you a special little secret I’ve been keeping: thanks to far too much childhood exposure to Dr. Suess, I’m a dedicated closet rhymester. There’s nothing I love more than rhyming couplets, so to keep myself amused I’ve acquired the habit of crafting little phraselets and writing them down, usually never to be shared or seen again. But this time I’m putting them all together — no alterations, no edits, and in chronological order — to form a poetic tribute to my 8 days in the desert.

High heels, aching feet
Snapping pics to Insta-Tweet
Shaking hands and toothy smiles
Feeling like I ran for miles
Greeting friends, toasting “cheers!”
More fun than I’ve had in years
Early morning walk with friends
Talking Broadway, techy trends
Colored gems are back in action
Millennials are gaining traction
Selling, buying, closing deals
Debating diamonds: fake or real?
Sultry evening in the sand
I finally got to hear that band
Fresh designers go all in
Mandalay, the Trop, the Wynn
Packing up could take all night
We stayed awake until our flight
Business over, time to run
I hope next year is half as fun!

Travel the World, Pantone Style

Remember when I wouldn’t stop talking about color, and you thought my posts would never end? Well, you were right. But with the latest announcement of 210 new colors from Pantone, the Be-All-End-All Final Word on All Things Color (or so they seem to claim), can you blame me?

Of the approximately 10 million colors the human eye can see, the 52-year-old company has named, numbered, printed, collated, and collected a total of 2,310 colors including the newest additions. A drop in the proverbial bucket to be sure, but impressive when you consider the level of standardization they must achieve in order to standardize these colors. The highly consumable formats — cards, swatches, folders, books, etc. — are used by fashion and interior designers (and many others) to quickly and accurately describe colors.

Many of the new shades are intensified versions of familiar faces, with major expansion in the pink and orange categories. I sense a lean toward the exotic, with lots of richness and food-relevant hues that play well both with each other and as standouts with a neutral. Credit is given to the worldly and well-traveled Pantone creative team — and they do indeed spend time in countries around the globe, noting the color trends in food, fashion, and even technology. However, I’d like to think that a more globalized palette is simply long overdue in such a connected and visually-focused age. These beautiful new additions simply reflect a more complete view of the world as we see it.

As a kid who came of age in what I call the Crayola era, I grew up surrounded by such delicious-sounding color names as “macaroni and cheese”, “wild blue yonder”, and “razzmatazz”. Anything called “pink flamingo” or “fuzzy wuzzy” was just irresistible to me, and I pleaded for box after specialty box as much for the creative names as the vivid colors and gently pointed tips each new set would bring. The colors could transport me to favorite book settings and faraway places long before I later traveled there myself.

These days, the Pantone colors will set you back a bit more than your average ten-year-old’s allowance. It’s worth noting that these two prismatic powerhouses have never officially collaborated, though many color-savvy stylists will often reference both names of a similar color in order to evoke just the right shade. But perhaps, like a page from a coloring book, this newly-expanded array of colors will carry you away to a favorite childhood memory… or even a whole new destination, right from the comfort of your living room.

Try This One Weird Trick

Clickbait: modern internet users love to hate it. So why do absurd claims and questionable tactics persist? The answer lies in consumer (read: human) habits. Though we vehemently deny it, a tiny piece of us still wants to find that too-good-to-be-true panacea for our perceived woes, and we never really stop searching for it.

Well, I’m sorry to say I can’t offer you a cure-all — I’m in the jewelry business, not snake oil. What I can give you are some neat little tips (definitely not tricks) to help solve some common jewelry woes.

Woe #1: Help! My previous jewelry gets all tangled up whenever I travel. I’ve tried everything!
Woe-away: Meet your new best friend, the drinking straw. Depending on the style and length of your necklace, you can either (a) drop one end of the chain through the straw and re-clasp it, which will keep it from tangling; or (b) cut a small notch in the top & bottom of the straw, drop the whole necklace through, gently tug the chain down each notch, and lay a small piece of tape to keep them in place. Stack multiples together and secure with a rubber band, and off you go. No more tangles!

Woe #2: I’m on vacation and really don’t want a sunburn, so I’m wearing lots of lotions all the time and getting very sandy. But now my diamond rings look disgusting! What do I do?
Woe-away: You have options galore on this one. In order of most to least effective, they are:

  1. Leave your diamonds at home next time, and just wear a pretty but non-gemstone band. Easier to clean, and no risk!
  2. Purchase a portable cleaning stick with brush attached. Use it to gently remove all the build up, rinse, and pat dry.
  3. If applying lotions in a safe place (hotel room), simply remove all jewelry first and allow lotion to dry/set before putting them back on. Be mindful of where you place your jewels during this process (ring holder or jewelry case good, edge of sink bad).
  4. Rinse hands thoroughly with soap and water, taking extra care with rings to rinse well. A very soft, old toothbrush used to brush gently will help dislodge some of the gunk.

Woe #3: My ring is doing loop-the-loops around my finger in the cold weather, but it usually fits fine in the heat. What do I do?
Woe-away: While it’s best to bring this sort of problem straight to a trusted jeweler, there’s a good chance that he or she will suggest some version of sizing balls or bars. Think of them as speed bumps on the inside bottom of the ring, as they help to “grip” the finger a little better when it’s loose, but maintain enough breathing room for when the ring feels snug. Keep in mind that someone people find the little nubs uncomfortable at times, but since they’re typically fairly easy to remove, it’s often worth a shot. Useful for arthritic knuckles, too.

I think that’s enough secret-spilling for one day, don’t you? If you have a jewelry woe, feel free to ask in the comments or send a message. The solution might just help you AND someone else!

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.

Just Desert: Centurion 2015 Recap

You know, there may be something to that “mindfulness” stuff my mother talks about. It teaches you to feel gratitude and be alive in the moment — every moment — and that’s exactly how I felt during my first ever trade show.

Yep, I was the rookie. The newbie. Wide-eyed and slightly terrified, I made my debut in this larger-than-life world of equal parts glamour, artistry, and hard-core business. And believe me when I tell you that I loved every second of the whole experience, and that it has served to fuel an already raging passion for what i (we) do.

I decided to recap this trip in one lengthy post, so I’ll be skipping some of the actual details (morning and evening speakers, what we ate for dinner, who had the best/worst photo on their badge, etc.) in order to concentrate on describing my impressions of the whole shebang.

Day One: My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…
…and at 3AM, go we did. A snowy and sleepy drive to the airport was followed by a packed but uneventful flight straight to the land of cacti. We were met at the airport by the hotel shuttle and a gaggle of fellow showgoers, and were chauffeured to the beautiful oasis-like resort. Rooms found, luggage delivered, and sandals firmly on feet, we explored the grounds and lunched poolside in the sun. This did much to aid in recovery after a long day of travel, and allowed me a chance to catch my breath before the real fun would begin.

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Cup of coffee and a quick map check

Day Two: Walk This Way
This was it. First real day, first appointments, first impressions. Anxiety and anticipation mixed in my stomach with the morning’s coffee and breakfast. It seemed like everyone else knew each other, everyone felt totally calm and at ease, and my tight smile and clenched hands would be a dead giveaway for my nerves. Two deep breaths and a short walk later, we arrived at ground zero.

I will not go into excruciating detail about each appointment, for the obvious confidentiality issues as well as a desire not to bore my readers. But I will say that each moment of the day was a wonder to me: business conducted, questions asked and answered, hundreds of pieces of beautiful creations flashed before my eyes. The warmth and hospitality extended to us by nearly every vendor was a welcome surprise, as was the gracious introduction by my bosses to each new face I could finally put with the names and voices I knew so well.

This day was a mix of current and potential lines, so I made sure to pay close attention to what was said and done in each booth. Meeting after meeting, hour by hour (break for lunch — hello, 75 degrees, it’s been a while!) we looked, listened, and talked. Well, they talked, and I occasionally spoke a few syllables when asked. My energy was directed at learning the ropes ASAP so I could potentially be more than another user of oxygen and actually contribute something useful.

Sleep that night came quickly, and I felt like I’d run a marathon. Twice. In heels. Well, I suppose I did, in a way, and man oh MAN did my feet hurt.

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Shine on, pretty things. Coming to a store near you...
Shine on, pretty things. Coming to a store near you…

Day Three: Hit Me, Baby, One More Time
A change of dress (and shoes), another coffee-fueled breakfast speaker, and the next full day of appointments was on. I felt better — slightly more in control of my nerves, definitely clear about the tasks ahead, and totally absorbed in the business of doing business. The day went much like before, with fascinating people to meet and gorgeous baubles to behold.

A highlight of this whole experience was definitely the pleasure and privilege of meeting many of the designers of these miniature works of art. Each was as different as could be, but was the true embodiment of his or her own brand. I met a bold and audacious woman with hair and makeup as vivid as her colorful gems; a friendly and earthy artist who knew each and every detail of her extensive collection; a young gentleman groomed to within an inch of his life but with the charm and charisma of a born politician. Meeting them, however briefly, was meeting many of the celebrities of this industry, and it was an honor and a pleasure to do so. And hell, it was pretty damn cool.

That evening we politely applauded the winners of the show’s design awards while keeping up a running commentary on the many personalities and cultures around us. I find people fascinating on an average day, but the concentrated diversity represented here was truly astonishing.

Day Four: When It’s Over, is it Really Over
One day more, and I was exhausted but terribly sad it was ending already. We had appointments to keep in the morning hours, then a bit of “free time” in which to run right back to some of those new lines and attempt to frantically write up orders before the show officially closed. I sensed the rise in stress across the board, retailers and vendors both running near empty and determined to milk every last second of what felt like the fastest three days in history. Tempers were clearly being kept barely in check (or not at all) by a few, but most seemed to embrace the madness. I was stressed and still rather overwhelmed, but had never felt more involved in the turning of the world.

The show came to a close, bags were packed, and we trekked back up the hill for a final evening farewell. Special guest former president (W.) Bush spoke to a captive audience, then we were released to dine under the desert stars and next to heaters on a beautiful closing night. I toasted my two bosses and attempted to articulate my thanks, but I’m not sure anything I said could convey my true gratitude for the entire amazing opportunity.

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Like I said, beautiful pieces of art.
Dinner al fresco
Dinner al fresco

To summarize the experience, the word whirlwind comes to mind. I have had some pretty high-energy work events in my career (I’m looking at you, store grand openings) but nothing matches the high-velocity intensity of this three-day adventure. The jewelry was stunning, the accommodations luxurious, and the pace record-breaking… but nothing can top the wonderful people and their collective hard work and incredible dedication. Nothing about this was easy, which just goes to prove that it’s absolutely worth it.