Every day, people surround us wearing art, history, and culture, but we usually don’t pay attention. Most people think about jewelry as an afterthought or accessory. But jewelry can tell a larger story, one reflecting the connection between contemporary culture and that of yesteryear. Is jewelry clothing, art, status symbol, or something more? The jewelry world seems to be hidden in plain sight and little understood. The Jewelry Journey podcast explores the many aspects of jewelry and its status as art. We talk with those who live and breathe this form of adornment: makers, dealers, gallerists, academics collectors and more. The goal is to elevate the conversation beyond Etsy or big diamonds and see jewelry in a new light, so that we can appreciate the little pieces of wonder that float by each day.
Episode 143 Part 1: The Theory of Jewelry: Why Do We Love to Wear It, and What Does It Mean?
28:42What you’ll learn in this episode: How we can examine almost any political topic through the lens of jewelry Why it’s important that jewelry be embraced by academia, and how every jewelry enthusiast can help make that happen (even if they’re not in academia themselves) Why a piece of jewelry isn’t finished when it leaves the hands of its maker How Matt works with collaborators for their column, “Settings and Findings,” in Lost in Jewelry Magazine How jewelry has tied people together throughout time and space About Matt Lambert Matt Lambert is a non-binary, trans, multidisciplinary collaborator and co-conspirator working towards equity, inclusion, and reparation. They are a founder and facilitator of The Fulcrum Project and currently are a PhD student between Konstfack and University of Gothenburg in Sweden. They hold a MA in Critical Craft Studies from Warren Wilson College and an MFA in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Lambert currently is based in Stockholm Sweden and was born in Detroit MI, US where they still maintain a studio. They have exhibited work nationally and internationally including at: Turner Contemporary, Margate, Uk, ArkDes, and Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden, Museo de la Ciudad, Valencia , Spain and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, US. Lambert represented the U.S in Triple Parade at HOW Museum, Shanghai, China, represented the best of craft in Norway during Salon del Mobile, Milan, Italy and was the invited feature at the Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece during Athens Jewelry Week. Lambert has actively contributed writing to Art Jewelry Forum, Garland, Metalsmith Magazine, Klimt02, Norwegian Craft and the Athens Jewelry Week catalogues and maintains a running column titled “Settings and Findings” in Lost in Jewelry Magazine. Additional Resources: Matt’s Website Matt’s Instagram Transcript: Matt Lambert doesn’t just want us to wear jewelry—they want us to question it. As a maker, writer, and Ph.D. student, Matt spends much of their time thinking about why we wear jewelry, who makes it, and what happens to jewelry as it’s passed from person to person. They joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the inspirations behind their work, why jewelry carries layers of meaning, and why wearing jewelry (or not wearing it) is always a political act. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is a two-part Jewelry Journey Podcast. Please make sure you subscribe so you can hear part two as soon as it comes out later this week. Today, my guest is Matt Lambert, who is joining us from Stockholm. Matt is a maker, writer and performer currently pursuing a Ph.D. Matt’s jewelry journey has taken them from country to country. What sticks in my mind is one of my first encounters with them on an Art Jewelry Forum trip. I saw them in a hotel lobby in Sweden wearing one of their iconic creations, a laser-cut leather neckpiece I flipped over. We’ll hear all about their amazing jewelry journey today. Matt, thanks so much for being here. Matt: Thanks so much for having me, Sharon. It’s a pleasure. Sharon: Your jewelry journey has taken you all over the world. I’m always amazed when I hear how you hop from country to country. So, tell us about it. How did you get into it? Matt: Originally I was trained as a psychologist. Sharon: Wow! Matt: It’s kind of strange, but it makes perfect sense for what I do now in human sexuality and gender. I was researching body politics and what it means to be a person and be represented through media or in other cultures. I started off in that community, and I took a metalsmithing course on a whim. There was a woman in one of my classes who was taking it as her art elective. I thought we were going to be making something completely different by forging silver. I was like, “Wait, what? You can do that?” I really fell into it. I was a researcher for the APA doing government research— Sharon: APA being the American Psychological— Matt: The American Psychological Association. After community college, I went on to Wayne State and studied under F.M. Larson for metalsmithing. At the very end, Lauren Kalman joined. She is tenured and was well-known at Wayne State University in Detroit. The work I was doing was very rigorous. I worked in a rape and trauma research lab with no windows in a basement, and I wasn’t finding a way to talk about people and bodies and those things in the ways I had hoped. It was fulfilling me, but not in every aspect of my life. So, I kept pouring myself into this strange thing of contemporary jewelry. I never thought I would go to grad school. I wound up going to Cranbrook Academy of Art, which is just 40 minutes down the road from Wayne State. Even then, I thought I was going to go across the country for art school. I fell in love with the program at Cranbrook. Iris Eichenberg, who teaches there, told me, “You have to fail really bad in order to learn what’s good and what’s good for your practice.” It was so liberating that I could apply all the research I learned and used and still use it today, but to put it and manifest it in jewelry. That opened Pandora’s box. Sharon: How did you decide to go from studying psychology and being at Wayne State to go to such a renowned art school that you don’t know? It’s for art jewelers, basically. Matt: Yeah, it’s renowned. I think it shares the number one space for metalsmithing and jewelry, and it’s renowned also for hollowware and gate making. It has a long history of Americana metalsmithing. With Iris being there for contemporary jewelry, it sounds a little bit pretentious. The relationship I was in wanted me to stay local. It was like, “You should apply.” I really thought through everything weird and wonderful that I wanted to be doing, and I was like, “If I’m going to stay, then you have to take this all on.” Iris was like, “O.K., let’s do it.” Even if didn’t work out, it was like, “I can just go back to psychology if this doesn’t work.” Cranbrook has an international reputation which also meant traveling a lot. In between semesters, I was the assistant for Christoph Zellweger, who’s based out of Zurich, Switzerland. I don’t know if they’re still there now, but at the time, I was their assistant in Switzerland during my years there. My partner was Monica Gaspar, so I got a theorist who I also got to work with. Then I kind of traveled everywhere. Before I started at Cranbrook, the first time I was in Europe, we had to go to KORU7, which is the jewelry triennial in Finland. They also do seminars. So, for me, it became a very global, European to North American perspective. Sharon: I’m always amazed at your country hopping. Was this something you were considered a natural at? Were you finger painting at age five and your parents were saying, “Oh, they’re going to be an artist”? Matt: I do have a background in wildlife illustration. I was homeschooled until sixth grade, but I was put in a lot of enrichment programs, so I did have ceramics; I had languages; I had all sorts of courses and electives. Growing up I trained in something called monart, which is not taught in public school; it’s only for private training. It’s a way of drawing where you draw from negative space, which I think contributes to my work, as I think through negative space. I was doing a lot of wildlife illustrations. I have quite a few childhood publications, like realistic waterfowl and birds of prey. I dabbled a little bit with Sidney Shelby. The Shelby has an art program for auto illustration, too. So, there is some of that. I thought I was going to go into drawing and painting before I went into psychology, but I had an evaluation at community college when I started and they kind of broke my dreams. They said I was terrible and said, “You shouldn’t be an artist.” I would always say, “If you’re told you shouldn’t be an artist, you probably should be.” So, I went into psychology as a shelter to do that. I’m a big advocate for trade schools and community colleges as places to find yourself. I fell in love with metalsmithing there, and I knew I would never leave it. My mother’s cousin was actually a former a Tiffany’s jeweler, so there is a little bit in the family. She was a cheerleader for me. She was like, “You’re doing what? Oh, have you found a hammer and silver? Great.” She trained under Phil Fike, who was at Wayne State University when she was there. It’s always interesting what she thinks I do because I’m not a very technical, proper silversmith like she was. When I finally went to school and said I was going to do this officially, she gave me her studio. Sharon: Wow! You have two master’s degrees and now you’re working on a Ph.D. Can you tell us about that? One is critical art, or critical— Matt: Yeah, critical craft theory. I graduated Cranbrook in 2014 from metalsmithing and jewelry, and I had electives in sculpture and textile. At the same time, I should say, I had also apprenticed as a leatherworker doing car interiors, like 1920s period Rolls-Royces, so I had a leather background I was able to bring to Cranbrook. A lot of my work was varied, but there was a lot of leather involved. After that, I had a partial apprenticeship in semi-antique rug restoration. There’s a lot of training in leather-working material. So, I graduated, and I met Sophia. We had met a few times, and then she ended up being the evaluator/respondent for our graduation show. So, she saw my work as I wished it to be, and she offered me a solo show. She said, “An agent is coming to see the gallery. Come help out. Come see this world,” which is how we met. Sharon: And her gallery is in Sweden, right? Matt: Her gallery is in Stockholm, yes, in Sweden. I had a show, and that was amazing. There’s a government program called IASPIS, which is an invite-only program that the Swedish government runs. It’s the international arts organization. I was invited there because they were looking for—they added applied arts, and I was the first jeweler and metalsmith to be there. That’s a three-month program where you’re invited to live and work, and that gives you great networking opportunities not only with Sweden, but also with Scandinavia at large for museums and shows. I was the first foreigner at Tobias Alm, who was a Swedish jeweler and the first Swedish artist in jewelry to be there. That just upped and changed my life. I got into museum shows and met people and had a career for about four or five years and loved it; it was amazing and I wanted more. I love theory. I am a theory addict, so I was like, “A Ph.D. is the next logical thing.” I was applying and making finals, but jewelry is a hard sell, if you will, in academia. Warren Wilson College is in North Carolina in the States. There is a think tank out of the Center for Craft, which is located in Asheville, North Carolina, and they deal with all kinds of craft. They’re a great epicenter and source of knowledge for American craft discourses. Out of this came this development of this program. They partnered with Warren Wilson College to create a master’s, which is a two-year program at Warren Wilson College, which is just 20 minutes away from Ashville. It’s low residency, so there’s two weeks per term you’d be in person and the rest you could live anywhere, which was perfect for me because I was traveling so much. So, you do two weeks on campus in the summer and live in the dorm, and then you do two weeks—when I did it, at least, it was with the Center for Craft. We had a classroom there. Namita Wiggers is the founding director, and we got to work with amazing theorists: Linda Sandino, Ben Lignel, who’s a former editor for Art Jewelry Forum, Glenn Adamson, the craft theorist, Jenni Sorkin, who lives in California teaching, Judith Lieman—this is an amazing powerhouse. There’s Kevin Murray from Australia, who runs the World Crafts Organization. I was a bit part in it. He also edits Garland, which is an Australia-based publication for craft. It was an amazing pulling together of craft theory. At this time, I also thought I was dyslexic, so I was trying to find a new way to write being neurodivergent. Writing has now become— Sharon: You do a lot of it. When I was looking last night, I could see you’ve done a lot of writing. My question is, why did you not stop and say, “O.K., I’m going to make things I like”? What was it that attracted you to theory? Maybe it’s too deep for me. Matt: I think we’ve positioned the Ph.D. to be the next step always, but I don’t think academia is for everybody. A master’s even, I always questioned, do we as makers always need to be in academia? For me, though, my drive is that I think jewelry is in one of the best theoretical positions to talk about a lot of very difficult contemporary issues. Craft in general, but I think jewelry because it’s so tied to the body. It’s so blurry because it’s design; it’s fashion; it’s craft; it’s art; it’s a consumable good; it can be worn. It challenges how we exhibit it. If you need to wear it to experience it, how does a museum show it? For me, it’s this little terror or antagonizer that I think theoretically, from my background, is a great place to stay with, and I think that it’s been neglected in certain spaces. It’s the only field to not be in the Whitney Biennial. It ties perfectly with certain forms of feminism and queerness, which is the theoretical basis I come to it from, to talk about these things. It can’t be always defined, and that’s what I love about jewelry. People find it surprising when I’m like, “I love talking about commercial jewelry or production jewelry,” because if that’s what turns your gears, what you love to wear or buy or make, I want to know why. I want to see jewelry expand and envelope all of this, so that we can be at the Whitney Biennial. We also could be everywhere else. Sharon: Can’t you do that without the Ph.D.? I’m not trying to knock it. I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Matt: Yeah, I think someone else can do that as well. For me, though, I truly love theory. I love the academics. For me, that is an actual passion. It’s what drives me. It’s not necessarily the physical making; it’s the theory behind why. I’m actually questioning my practice. Should I be making physical objects now, or should I just be celebrating people that make physical objects? My making practice is almost entirely collaborative now, working with other jewelers or performers or choreographers or educators and using jewelry as a way of introducing or as producing an output. How does jewelry fit into research? I think research output is an interesting thing for me. I can go on about this all day. So, for me, I want to make an academic foothold for jewelry. I want to do that work. I see that as my facet. I don’t think everybody needs to go and do that. I want to see everybody find the thing they love as much as I love academia and theory. I want to push on so we can expand the field together. Sharon: I think that’s great. It’s great to hear, because it’s a strong voice giving credibility to the field, as opposed to, “Oh, you must be interested in big diamonds if you’re talking about jewelry.” You’re talking about it on a much deeper level. It’s hard to explain to people why you like jewelry or jewelry history, so it’s good to hear. Last night—I say last night because I was refreshing my memory—I was looking at one of your articles about the “we” in jewelry. Can you tell us about that? Matt: Absolutely. I write for multiple publications: Metalsmith Magazine, which is in the U.S. and is part of SNAG, the Society for North American Goldsmiths; Norwegian Craft; Art Jewelry Forum. I run a column called Settings and Findings out of Lost in Jewelry Magazine, which is based in Rome. I also write for Athens Jewelry Week catalogues, which has gotten me into writing a series for Klimt, which is a platform for makers, collectors, wearers, and appreciators based out of Barcelona. They invited me to write a five-part series after they had republished an essay I wrote for Athens Jewelry Week. Those people gave me an amazing platform to write, and then Klimt was like, “What do you want to do?” and I was like, “Five essays about what we do with jewelry.” One of them is the “we” article. That came from being in lockdown and the theorist Jean-Luc Nancy, who wrote about something called “singular plural.” It’s just saying that we don’t ever do anything alone, and I think jewelry is a beautiful illustration of that. I moved during the pandemic to do the Ph.D., and I found myself wearing jewelry to do my laundry because I got to do it with a friend. It’s so sappy in way, but it’s true. It’s a way to carry someone else with you, and jewelry is not an act done alone. I mean, we’re trained as jewelers. We’re trained by someone, so we carry that knowledge with us. We are transmitters as makers, but then we have collectors and wearers and museums and other things, and they need to be worn. It needs to be seen in some fashion or valued or held. My personal stance is that jewelry, once it leaves my hands as a maker, isn’t done. I’m interested as a researcher, as a Ph.D., in how we talk about that space in between. If you wear one of my pieces, and someone listening wears one of my pieces, and that same piece is in a museum, how we understand that is completely different. Jewelry creates this amazing space to complexify, and that’s when you talk about bodies and equity and race, sex, gender, size, age. All the important things that are in the political ethos can be discussed through jewelry, and that’s the “we” of jewelry. We have this controversy about the death of the author and authorship doesn’t matter, but speaking through craft, we are never alone. To me, it’s like I make through the people I’ve learned through. I am a transmitter to the people that I teach and to me, that’s what craft is. Also, craft is a way of looking at the world, at systems, and who we learn from and how we learn. I think jewelry is one of the most obvious “we’s.” Sharon: This is a question that maybe there’s no answer to, but is jewelry separate from craft? There’s always the question of what craft is. Is craft art? Is it jewelry? Matt: That depends on whom you ask. I personally do not believe in the art versus craft debate. I am not in that pool. I believe craft is a way of looking at anything in the world. I think craft is learned through material specificity. I usually enjoy metalsmithing. It’s through copper or silver, but it’s really spending time with something singular to explore its possibility. It’s a way of learning how things start, how things are produced, how labor works, where there are bodies and processes, so you can pick up anything in the world and look at anything and see people and humanity. Even through digital technology, someone has to write a program. It gives you a skillset to look at the world, and that’s how I approach craft. You’re going to find so many different definitions, but coming from that perspective, that is what I believe, and that’s why I think craft is so valuable. To answer if jewelry is craft, yes and no. You can talk about jewelry through craft, but you could talk about jewelry through fashion. You can talk about jewelry through product design. Again, I think that’s why jewelry is beautiful and problematic, because it can be so many things at the same time. Sharon: I’m intrigued by the fact that you’re interested in all kinds of jewelry, whether it’s art jewelry or contemporary jewelry. When you’re in the mall and you see Zales and look in the window, would you say it all falls under that, with everything you’re talking about? Does it transmit the same thing? Matt: Through a craft lens, you can look at any of that. You can go to Zales and the labor is wiped out. You’re no longer going to your local jewelry shop. The person is making your custom ring, but when you look at that ring, you have an ability to go, “Someone had to facet the stone and cut it, a lapidary. Someone had to make the bands. Someone had to mine the stone. Someone had to find this material.” It allows you to unpack where objects are coming from and potentially where they’re going. You can understand studio practices because you’re relating more directly to a maker, who has more knowledge of where their materials come from, rather than the sales associate at the Zales counter. It’s a simpler model, but it is the same thing to me. The way I look at it, that is craft’s value to my practice. I’m very careful to say it’s my practice because there are so many definitions, but that’s what I think is sustainable in this training. You can be trained as a jeweler and not make jewelry, but it’s still valuable in your life because you can apply it to anything. Sharon: I was also intrigued by the title of an article you wrote, “Who Needs Jewelry, Anyway?” So, who does need jewelry? Matt: Yeah, that’s one that kicked it up to the next level. There are moments in my career where I can feel the level upward, like I enter a space that’s different. That was an essay that was written for Athens Jewelry Week. That was the first essay I wrote before I had the feature at the Benaki Museum. At Athens Jewelry Week, those women worked their tails off to make that event happen. I wrote that when I was at the tail end of my second master’s, and I was frustrated. I think we see that students are frustrated and people are questioning, especially during Covid, especially during Black Lives Matter, especially during the fight for indigenous rights, do we need jewelry? What does this mean? It’s a commodity. It can be frivolous. It’s a bauble. It can be decorative. Like, what are we doing? I think that is something we should always question, and the answer for that can be expressed in many ways. It can be expressed from what you make, but also what you do with what you make. How do you live the rest of your life? There isn’t a one-lane answer for that, but that’s what that essay was about. We don’t need jewelry, but we really do. The first half of the essay is saying what the problem is, but the problem is also where the solutions sit. It’s all about how you want to approach it. That is what that essay was saying. You can consume this and wear it; it is what it is, and that’s fine. You can participate in systems and learn and discover and know who you are wearing and support them. Wearing jewelry is a political act no matter what jewelry you’re wearing. Where you consume is a political act. Political neutrality is still a political statement. That article specifically was for art jewelry, and it was saying, hey, when you participate, when you buy, when you wear, when you make, it means something. You’re bringing people with you; what people are you choosing to bring? It was stirring the pot, and it was very intentional to do that. Sharon: I couldn’t answer the question about who needs jewelry. You’re asking me, but certainly I can think of people who say, “I don’t need it,” who have no interest or wouldn’t see the continuum behind a ring or a piece of jewelry. This is a two-part Jewelry Journey Podcast. Please make sure you subscribe so you can hear part two as soon as it comes out later this week.
Episode 66: The Preservation of Vintage & Contemporary Costume Jewelry with Rosie Sayyah, Owner of Rhinestone Rosie
18:20What you’ll learn in this episode: The history of costume jewelry from its invention in the 19th century to the modern era. How rhinestones vary by type, quality and color. Rosie’s approach to repairing jewelry so that it looks like new. What rhinestone and costume jewelry trends we’ll see in the coming year. About Rosie Sayyah: Rosie Sayyah has been selling and repairing vintage and estate jewelry from her shop, Rhinestone Rosie, in Seattle since 1984. In the early 1980s, Rosie felt her family tradition of dealing in antiques calling to her. Upon leaving her corporate career in television, she decided to open a jewelry store that not only had unique, exciting items for sale, but also where she could restore greatness to jewelry that had fallen into disrepair. Teaching herself about vintage costume and estate jewelry culture and repair through books, hobby shops, and hands-on experience, Rosie has become a national expert in the field. In the late 1990s, she began appearing regularly on “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS TV and continues today as one of their expert appraisers. Additional resources: Website Instagram Facebook Twitter Transcript
Episode 41: Dichotomy as Inspiration in Art Jewelry with Bill Harper, Artist and Enamelist
23:28Bill Harper began his career as an abstract painter, but in the early 1960s switched to enameling to achieve more intense colors. Fascinated by the supernatural aura of ritual objects, such as amulets, charms and tribal power figures, he began to produce brightly enameled necklaces and brooches in gold, silver and gemstones, as well as nonprecious and found objects that evoke a similar and mysterious power. Many of his recent pieces are mythical and ironic self-portraits that suggest intense introspection. A dedicated educator, Bill taught at Florida State University from 1973 to 1992, and published “Step-by-Step Enameling: a Complete Introduction to the Craft of Enameling” in 1973. Bill’s work has been widely exhibited, including a one-person exhibition in 1977 at the Renwick Gallery of Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and an internationally traveling retrospective in 1989. His work has been featured in collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among many others in the United States and Europe. Bill’s most recent solo exhibit, “The Beautiful & The Grotesque,” closed in June 2019 at the Cleveland Institute of Arts’s Reinberger Gallery. Bill was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship in 1978 and NEA grants in 1979 and 1980. In 1980 and 1985 he received fellowships from the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. What you’ll learn in this episode: How Bill became a self-taught artist. Why Bill doesn’t identify as a jeweler. Bill’s creative process for creating art jewelry. How dichotomy influences Bill’s work and creates stimulation of the senses. What design concepts Bill has in the works. Additional resources: Website The Beautiful & The Grotesque Catalog
0:38We can't wait to bring you new episodes this year!
Episode 25: Ancient Jewels as Modern Wearable Art with Marc Auclert, Designer & Founder of Maison Auclert
23:35Marc Auclert is a jewelry designer, gemologist, historian and founder of Masion Auclert, based in the Vendôme area of Paris. Founded in 2010, Maison Auclert is the first jewelry company offering a collection of museum-worthy antiquities mounted as modern works of wearable art. Early in his career, Marc helped launch Chanel’s fine jewelry department. His career path has taken him to places such as London, where he was the head of jewelry for Europe and Asia with Sotheby’s Diamonds, as well as Tokyo, where he was the CEO of De Beers Diamond Jewelers. Marc is a certified gemologist by the prestigious Gemological Institute of America in New York. What you’ll learn in this episode: The process for creating ancient jewelry, and why Marc was drawn to work with jewels from this historical time period. How Marc determines which pieces to mount as jewels. Why you should evaluate a piece based on aesthetics and technical feasibility. Why Marc considers his pieces to be “cerebral” jewelry. Trends in the world of jewelry, and why a focus on younger buyers is important. Additional Resources: Website: www.maisonauclert.com Instagram: @maisonauclert Upcoming Exhibit: Biennale Paris, September 2019
Episode 142 Part 2: The Language of Jewelry: How the Editor in Chief of JCK Finds Inspiration with Editor in Chief JCK, Victoria Gomelsky.
31:12What you’ll learn in this episode: The history of JCK and the JCK Show How Victoria identifies trends to highlight in JCK Why the line between women’s jewelry and men’s jewelry has blurred, especially among younger consumers How travel influences jewelry design The most exciting new designers Victoria has her eye on About Victoria Gomelsky Victoria Gomelsky is editor-in-chief of JCK, a New York City-based jewelry trade publication founded in 1869. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Robb Report, AFAR, WSJ Magazine, the Hollywood Reporter, Escape, The Sun and Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally, an anthology published by Seal Press. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a BA in political science in 1995 and earned her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University in 2002. She specializes in jewelry and watch writing but her greatest love has always been travel — 60 countries and counting. Victoria was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1978 with her parents and twin sister, Julia. She divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles. Additional Resources: Victoria’s Website Victoria’s Instagram Photos: Victoria Gomelsky watches: Transcript: Victoria Gomelsky, editor in chief of esteemed jewelry trade publication JCK, was bitten by the travel bug during her first-ever trip—when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. Since then, she’s visited more than 60 countries, often traveling to visit jewelry shows and report on jewelry trends. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how her career in jewelry started with a mysterious online job posting; why Gen Z is changing the way we categorize jewelry; and where to find her favorite jewelry destinations. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is a two-part Jewelry Journey Podcast. Keep your eyes open for part two, which we’ll be posting later this week. Today, our guest is Victoria Gomelsky, editor-in-chief of the well-known industry publication JCK. Victoria is an accomplished writer. She’s written about jewelry for the New York Times as well as an extensive list of respected publications. She also covers another of her passions, which is travel. She’s had a quite a jewelry journey, as she was born in Russia and has been to more than 60 countries and counting. We’ll hear all about her jewelry journey today. Victoria, welcome back to the program. Sharon: I have to ask you, why Las Vegas in July or in June? It’s hot then. Victoria: You know it’s hot. It was this year that it was actually pushed back to August, which was so much hotter. It was hard to even fathom. I think the timing is such because it works well for the majors, the majors being the signets and the chain jewelers who really need to plan out their holiday buying much earlier than your average small boutique owner. A lot of it has to do with the schedule that makes sense for the industry. It’s Vegas because it’s hard to imagine another city that is appropriate for a giant tradeshow— Sharon: That’s true. Victoria: That’s easy to get, that has ample hotel room space. There are certainly smaller conferences that have been around the country. The American Gem Society has its annual conclave in a different city every year, but it’s much, much smaller. It’s convenience and ease of access, and I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t love Vegas, but it does feel like my year is incomplete without my week at JCK. I’ve been going since 2000, so it’s hard to imagine a year without it. Sharon: How far in advance are you planning your publications? Are you thinking about the December issue in August? Victoria: Well, if we had a December issue, yes. Sharon: If it was an issue online? Victoria: Online we can pull together pretty quickly. If it’s a big feature, we like to plan it at least a month in advance, but so much of online is responding to what’s happening in the world. Especially with the pandemic, it was really hard to plan because, as did everybody, we hit those walls where we thought, “This may not be relevant in a month.” Things were so changeable and volatile. Online has a much different pace, but in terms of the print issue, we’ll start planning the issue that heads out the door on the eve of JCK Vegas 2022. It’ll probably go out in late May, and we’ll probably start thinking about that in January in terms of big picture ideas. Just this morning, I was asked to give a sketch of content for a section on colored stones. It’s hard to do that really early. You want to be timely. You want to be thoughtful about what people are thinking and what’s happening the world. Especially if an issue’s coming out in the spring, I feel like after the holiday makes the most sense, because the holiday in the jewelry industry, as you can imagine or know, is everything. It’s still the bulk of sales. The bulk of news comes out of this fourth quarter. To plan content without knowing how the holidays have gone is going to miss the mark, unless you’re planning something general and vague. So, I like to wait until early January to start thinking about what makes sense and what people are talking about, what the news is. Sharon: In terms of the holidays, since they’re around the corner right now, you must have some features that are holiday-related that you think about early on, maybe in September or August. Victoria: We do. If it’s not about the holiday, it’s about what people might start thinking about for the holiday. We do a lot of trend coverage on JCK, a lot of specific trend coverage, whether it be men’s jewelry or something else. I’m actually working on a series of special report newsletters that go out every Monday in November all around the men’s jewelry theme. We’ve covered colored stones, pearls, bridal. We tackle everything with a slight angle towards the holiday, questions like: Is this worth stocking? What are the trends? What kinds of things might retailers keep in mind as they prepare? JCK is very much a style and trend publication, but it’s also a business publication for people who happen to own jewelry businesses. We do a lot of marketing coverage, technology, social media apps that people need to know that might make them more efficient in their business. You could take jewelry out of a lot of what we cover and put in another field, whether it’s fashion or home good or anything, and it might apply in terms of the strategies people might want to use to target customers, what they need to know. We try to cover it from all facets. It’s always been a publication for businessowners in the jewelry space, so there’s a lot of general business information we try to make sure our readers are aware of. Sharon: If you’re looking at trends, I’m thinking about the non-jewelry person that would go to Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar or something like that—I’m dating myself, I realize—who can go online. I still think in terms of putting it online, like everybody else. Tell us about men’s jewelry. Are men wearing more jewelry than before? Victoria: Yes, they really are. It’s funny, because I’ve been 20 years covering jewelry, and every four or five years, I’m either asked to or I initiate a story about the men’s jewelry renaissance. There’s always been something to say over the last 20 years. I do a lot of freelance writing for the New York Times. I did a piece for the Times about seven years ago, and there was a lot to say. There were a lot of jewelers introducing new men’s collections and different takes on the subject, but no time has felt quite as relevant to that topic as now. I think if you look to some of the most famous pop artists we see today, whether it’s Harry Styles or Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, any of these pop culture personalities, they are draped in jewelry, and not just any jewelry. A lot of them are draped in pearls, which for many of us are the most feminine gem around. There is this great, very interesting conversation about genderless or gender agnosticism in jewelry. Should we even define jewelry as a men’s piece versus a woman’s piece? Why not just make jewelry? Maybe it’s a little more masculine/minimalist. Maybe it’s a little more feminine/elaborate or diamond-set, but let it appeal to who it appeals to. Why do you need to tell people who it’s for? It’s a conversation. I also write about watches quite a bit, and it’s a conversation the watch world is grappling with, more so this year than any other year. Do we need to tell women that this is a “lady’s watch”? Why don’t we just market a watch, whether it, again, has feminine design codes or masculine design codes. Let whoever is interested in it buy it. We don’t need to tell people what categories they are allowed to be interested in. It’s been a very interesting conversation. I think fashion is embroiled in this conversation too, and it’s been exciting to see. When I talk about men’s jewelry, I think what happens is that much of the industry still needs these categories because at retail, for example, a retailer might get a bunch of jewelry and they need to know how to merchandise or how to display it. For those kinds of problems, you still want to say, “O.K., well, this is my men’s showcase,” but I think slowly things are changing. I don’t know if in five years or 10 years, we’ll even need those topics anymore. I think we’ll just have a showcase of jewels. Again, they might be more minimalist or plainer, and they might appeal to men or women or people who consider themselves nonbinary. Sharon: That’s interesting, especially with watches, because when women wear men’s watches, that’s a fashion statement today. Victoria: Very much so. I did a huge piece on female collectors for the Times in early 2020, and all of them wore men’s pieces and felt a little grieved that they were being told what a woman’s watch is. A woman’s watch is a watch worn by a woman; that’s it. I think the same might be true for jewelry. A men’s jewel is a jewel worn by a man and so on. It’s been an interesting thing to see evolve, and certainly there’s a lot of momentum behind it. I think we’ll slowly see these categories dissolve. Sharon: There’s a lot. I haven’t seen men wearing brooches. Some of what you’re talking about, to me, still has a way to go. Victoria: A lot of it is being driven by Gen Z, Millennials, younger generations who look to their style icons like Harry Styles, as I mentioned. They’re draped in a feather boa and necklaces. As that generation comes up they’re going to age, and they’re eventually going to be 30 or 40 and they’ll be quite comfortable with jewelry because, 20 years later, they’ve been wearing it all these decades. But yeah, today, if you ask your average guy if he’s going to wear a pearl necklace, I’m sure the answer’s no, but I think these things do change. They change quicker than we expect them to. It’s so much of what we see and what seems O.K. A lot of men might want to do that or might think they would look good in a pearl necklace. I keep coming back to it because pearls are, again, the most feminine of gems, at least in terms of the lore we talk about, how we talk about them. Yet you see them on people like the Jonas Brothers or, for that matter, big, beautiful, iced-out Cuban chains. You see those on rappers or on hip hop stars. There is this communication out in the world where if you’re just a regular guy and you’re cruising through your Instagram and seeing these images, it all says to you, “This is O.K. This is right. Go for it if you’re feeling it.” I think there is a lot more leeway in today’s society to express yourself the way you want to. I think it’s wonderful. It’s quite exciting to see those barriers break down and have these conversations. It’s been cool to write about. Sharon: It would be interesting to have this conversation in 20 years. You reminded me of a conversation I had recently with an antique jewelry dealer about cufflinks. I said to her, “Cufflinks? Who wears cufflinks? I’m in Los Angeles.” Well, you’re in Los Angeles too. Even the most staid businessperson, you don’t see him with a cufflink, ever. I don’t know. Victoria: Maybe about a month ago, my boyfriend and I were invited to the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which just opened in September in the heart of Miracle, right next to LACMA. It was a big gala affair sponsored by Rolex, which is a huge supporter of the Academy and the Oscars and now the museum. It was wonderful; it was like a little Oscars event, except it wasn’t televised. It was black-tie glamor. Hollywood glamor was the theme, so my boyfriend rented a tux; he doesn’t own one, of course, because we’re in L.A. and it’s a pandemic. Who needs a tux? But he got a tux, and I was gutted that I didn’t have cufflinks for him or that he didn’t have his own. He rented some, I think; he had a few shirt studs he was able to get from the rental place, but it was the first time. I thought, “Oh my God, cufflinks!” and we had a wonderful time. It was really exciting to be back in the world in such a fabulous way. It really felt special. Sharon: I didn’t realize it had opened. I was at LACMA, the L.A. County Museum of Art, this weekend and there was a big crowd around the Academy Museum, but I didn’t realize it had opened. My antique jewelry dealer friend was also saying that she has collectors who collect antique cufflinks. I thought, “That’s interesting.” I didn’t know that was a collector’s item in some circles, I guess. Victoria: Yeah, when I think about it, there are a lot of great ones in London. If you ever go through Mayfair or Old Bond Street and you find those antique dealers there—there’s Deakin & Francis, an old U.K. firm that specializes in cufflinks. I’ve never owned any, but now that we’re talking about it, I feel I need to buy my partner some. Sharon: I stopped buying my husband them 20 years ago when they just sat on his dresser not worn. I said, “O.K., I tried.” You’re a traveler. You’ve been to how many countries? Victoria: I lose track. It depends a little on how you count countries. I think I’ve counted Macao separately from China, even though it’s a special administrative region of Hong Kong. Somewhere around 60. It might be about 61 or 62. A lot of countries I’ve been to—I mean, I’ve been to Switzerland at least 20 times, Brazil five times, Russia four times. I keep going back to places even though it’s always very exciting to take another country off my list. As I mentioned earlier, I was a backpacker after college. My first trip was to Central America with some girlfriends with backpacks on. We took off for three months. We went to Costa Rica and Panama and Venezuela, and I ended up in the Caribbean for a couple of weeks. I had already started a little bit of traveling. Initially, we came from Russia as a kid. I think when we left Russia in late 1978 as part of the exodus of Soviet Jews from the Soviet Union, we were allowed to seek asylum in the States. We took this journey via Vienna and then Rome and ended up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, of all places, because that’s where we had an invitation. We had to have a formal invitation because we were political refugees. I think very early on, even though it was never articulated to me—it was something I felt in my bones—I thought that travel was a way to lead a better life. It was a road to a better life, as it was for us. Early on that knowledge imprinted on me, on my soul. In high school, I started saving money to go to an exchange program in Spain. That was my first real trip outside—I’d gone to Mexico with my family, but I had never traveled outside of that. So, I had the bug. After college, I was always interested in slightly more offbeat places. One of my favorite places in the whole world—and I dream about going back all time—is India. I love places that still feel like they’re not discovered. Clearly, India’s very discovered, but it’s not as easy to travel there as it might be to go to Europe. I love Europe and Paris and London as much as the next person, but there’s always something that feels a little easy in those spots. I love Southeast Asia. I went to Vietnam in the 90s a couple of times. I loved it. I love Malaysia. I love the food there. I love the smells and the culture. I love things that feel different. India couldn’t be more different than our lives. A lot of the same people go between the two, between L.A. and India, for example, and you’ll find a lot of creature comforts in places like Mumbai. The culture and the heritage and the history, the way of life and the way people look at life is so, so different, and I’m really drawn to that. I like going places that test me a little bit. Sharon: How do your jewelry and travel intersect? I’m sure you’re traveling to the shows like Basle. India must be a great place for jewels. I don’t know about the shows there. Victoria: My first trip to India was for a show. There’s a famous show—famous, I guess, depending on the circles you move in—in Mumbai called the India International Jewelry Show. That was my first reason to get to India in 2004. I ended up going back to do some reports on the diamond trade there. Mumbai is a real hub of diamonds, so I was going back to do research and then Jaipur in the north. Rajasthan is famous for its colored-stone industry. There are tons of colored-stone dealers and cutters and jewelers there, including the very famous Gem Palace, which I visited a couple of times. My most recent trip to India was in 2017 to Jaipur to attend a conference on colored stones. It happened to intersect with a fair I had always wanted to go to called the Pushkar Camel Fair. Nothing to do with jewelry, although of course you see lots of jewelry in India. Jewelry’s a ubiquitous thing there. When I went to this conference in Jaipur, my partner ended up meeting me. We spent a few days in Jaipur together, went down to Udaipur, which is a wonderful town in the south of Rajasthan, just stunning in terms of its history and heritage and hotels and palaces. Then we finished off in Pushkar, also in Rajasthan, at this camel fair. My entrée was for jewelry, but I try to explore as much as I can around it. India’s just remarkable. I’m very pleased that jewelry has such a natural and obvious connection to India because anytime I can have a work trip, take me there. Then if I can add on to it, I do. My son is only three—he’s not even three; he’s three in November, but I’m thinking, “How old does he have to be to go to India? What is too young to take a young, little guy to India?” Maybe when he’s seven, hopefully. Sharon: That’s an interesting question. It could be three. There are people who are 33 who won’t go because they’re too afraid. It’s on my list, but you’re so adventurous. Victoria: I wouldn’t have pegged myself as the adventurous sort, at least not in high school. I was very type A. I was student body president. I was a cheerleader. I was very on track at least to go to college and who knows what after that, but I never really thought of myself as a risktaker and an adventure seeker. After spending time in Southeast Asia—I went to backpack there in the 90s, through Vietnam and Cambodia and Malaysia and Singapore—it just settled in my bones. I wanted more and more and more. Those places feel adventurous, but once you get there, they’re not as challenging—well, they are challenging in that there’s a lot of poverty; the heat is oppressive; it’s hard sometimes to figure out your way around if the signage isn’t clear and you don’t speak the language, but I genuinely feel like the world is full of very good people. Maybe a few bad apples in there, but most people are very kind. So, it’s easier than it seems. Sharon: Do you think if somebody is a jewelry designer or looking at the field or profession, that travel would inform what they do? Victoria: Oh, 100 percent yes. There are some jewelers who very much look to other cultures or travel. I think of Lydia Courteille, who’s a Parisian jeweler who does insanely elaborate, beautiful gem-set pieces usually after a trip somewhere. She’s done pieces based on the Mayan heritage. I believe she traveled to Guatemala. She’s done pieces based on myths from Russia and India, and a lot of her collections really are inspired by travel she’s taken. There’s another jeweler who’s part Mexican, part French, named Colette. She has incredible jewels, a lot of them takes on various places she’s visited. I think if I were a jeweler, I would certainly use travel as a jumping-off point to create a collection. I can’t think of anything more evocative than a jewel that reminds you of a place you’ve been or the color of the ocean. A lot of people go to Greece and create a beautiful blue jewel that reminds them of the Aegean. Why not? Sharon: I’m thinking of Thierry Vendome, where he goes and finds rusted pieces on his travels and then he’ll come back and incorporate them. One piece had a grenade— Victoria: An exploded grenade. Sharon: An exploded grenade, yeah. Tell us who we should keep our eyes on, the top three you think of we should keep our eyes on. Victoria: I just wrote about a jeweler that I only saw in person recently in Las Vegas at the Couture show, but I had Zoomed with them. They are Mumbai-based. It’s a company called Studio Renn. It’s a husband and wife named Rahul and Roshni Jhaveri, and they create jewelry for art lovers that really does live at the intersection between art and jewelry, philosophy, design. Sometimes you have to talk to them to hear the inspiration, but for example, one of them—they had stumbled across an object on a walk around Lake Tansa, which is a lake on the outskirts of Mumbai. There was this conversation they had about what it means to give something attention. Does that put value on the piece? And for them, it was this exploration of the meaning of value. They took this piece that was an organic object. They didn’t tell me what it was. They cast it. They 3D scanned the whole thing and then encased it in precious metal, put rubies inside it in a way that you could only see them if you shone a light on the piece. There was this written source of very layered, complicated but also beautiful jewelry. They’re just very interesting. They’re really thoughtful. Sharon: How do you spell Renn? Victoria: R-e-n-n. Sharon: I have to say it’s the second time this week that somebody has mentioned them as somebody to keep your eye on. Victoria: Yeah, I was thrilled to speak to them, and I ended up doing a piece for the New York Times on them. An Up Next Profile is what the column is called, because even though they’ve been around for a few years and they’re not brand new, they’re obviously new to people in the States. They are exploring this market. They worked a tour for the first time. They’re really lovely and interesting and do beautiful work. Another jeweler that’s gotten a ton of attention—I know her pretty well personally. She is a client of a very good friend of mine. Her name is Lauren Harwell Godfrey, and her collection is called Harwell Godfrey. She’s gotten a ton of attention over the last year. In fact, I just saw that she was nominated for a GEM Award, which is like the Oscars of the jewelry industry. The ceremony takes place in January in New York. She was nominated in the design category. Really fantastic use of color, lots of interesting motifs that feel very signature to her, lots of geometric work. We ended up commissioning a piece for my mom for her 75th birthday that my dad gifted to her this last summer. it wasn’t a super bespoke piece, but there were bespoke elements to it. It was by Harwell Godfrey. She’s a really lovely woman, super-talented designer based in Marin in Northern California. I’ll name one more. He’s a really interesting guy. He does a ton of work with AI, artificial intelligence, in a way that scares a lot of people that are used to jewelry as this handmade, soulful object. His point is that there’s no less soul in it, even though a computer helped to generate an algorithm that created a pattern that he inputs into this machine. His name is Nick Koss. His company is called Volund Jewelry. He’s based in Canada and has a very interesting background that I cannot even attempt to encapsulate because it’s rich and complicated, but he does really interesting jewelry. A lot of it is using 3D modelling software, AI, but in a thoughtful way. Again, there is lots of meaning baked into the way he sees things. He could talk about it very intelligently. He does custom work. You can go down a real rabbit hole with him. Check him out on Instagram. It’s V-o-l-u-n-d. I have a soft spot for one jeweler because I wrote a whole book on them that was published by Assouline probably six or seven years ago. It’s a company called Lotus Arts de Vivre. They’re based in Bangkok. They’ve been around since the early 80s, I want to say. It’s a real family business. The patriarch is originally from Germany. He moved to Bangkok in the 60s and fell in love with a woman who had been born in Thailand but was the product of many years of intermarriage. Her grandfather was a Scottish captain who fell in love with a tribeswoman from north Thailand. Her other grandfather was an Englishman who married a woman from Malaysia. So, she was the distillation of generations of inner marriage between European and Asian backgrounds. They have this huge compound in Bangkok, and they have two sons that now help run the business. They do extraordinary objects in jewelry. They started out as jewelers, but they do everything from home goods to accessories for people’s cars. They use a lot of natural materials in addition to the finest gemstones. They use Golconda diamonds or emeralds from the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan combined with snakeskin and buffalo horn and different woods. They’re huge on different exotic woods from across southeast Asia. They find the finest craftspeople across Asia, whether it’s lacquer artists from China or Japan to carvers from Indonesia. They will employ those crafts in their work, and it’s just stunning. They used to be with Bergdorf Goodman for many, many years. They are still available in the States. In fact, they won at the recent Couture show for some of their work. So, they’re still here and they’re everywhere. They have boutiques in different hotels, especially in Asia, like the Peninsula in Hong Kong or Raffles in Singapore. They have a presence, but they’re not as well known, I would say, in the States. Sharon: I’ll check them out, especially if you wrote a whole book about them. Victoria: The family is beyond interesting. It’s the von Bueren family. He’s a raconteur, somebody who you could listen to for hours. He’s very, very interesting and has seen a lot, and their clients are very interesting. They appeal to a lot of high-society people across Asia, so they have these events. They have a space, a showroom, at their factory in Bangkok right on the river, and they host these soirées that are just magnificent. Sharon: Wow! I’m sure you know all the ins and outs. You can go down a long list of jewelers and manufacturers. You could tell me about all of them. Victoria, thank you so much for being here today. This is so interesting. I’m sure our audience will enjoy hearing what you have to say about JCK since it is such a stalwart. Thank you very much. Victoria: Thank you, Sharon. This is lovely. Thank you for giving me such an opportunity to talk about myself. Sharon: So glad to have you. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.
Episode 142 Part 1: The Language of Jewelry: How the Editor in Chief of JCK Finds Inspiration with Editor in Chief JCK, Victoria Gomelsky.
24:30What you’ll learn in this episode: The history of JCK and the JCK Show How Victoria identifies trends to highlight in JCK Why the line between women’s jewelry and men’s jewelry has blurred, especially among younger consumers How travel influences jewelry design The most exciting new designers Victoria has her eye on About Victoria Gomelsky Victoria Gomelsky is editor-in-chief of JCK, a New York City-based jewelry trade publication founded in 1869. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Robb Report, AFAR, WSJ Magazine, the Hollywood Reporter, Escape, The Sun and Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally, an anthology published by Seal Press. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a BA in political science in 1995 and earned her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University in 2002. She specializes in jewelry and watch writing but her greatest love has always been travel — 60 countries and counting. Victoria was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1978 with her parents and twin sister, Julia. She divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles. Additional Resources: Victoria’s Website Victoria’s Instagram Photos: Victoria Gomelsky watches: Transcript: Victoria Gomelsky, editor in chief of esteemed jewelry trade publication JCK, was bitten by the travel bug during her first-ever trip—when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. Since then, she’s visited more than 60 countries, often traveling to visit jewelry shows and report on jewelry trends. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how her career in jewelry started with a mysterious online job posting; why Gen Z is changing the way we categorize jewelry; and where to find her favorite jewelry destinations. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is a two-part Jewelry Journey Podcast. Keep your eyes open for part two, which we’ll be posting later this week. Today, our guest is Victoria Gomelsky, editor-in-chief of the well-known industry publication JCK. Victoria is an accomplished writer. She’s written about jewelry for the New York Times as well as an extensive list of respected publications. She also covers another of her passions, which is travel. She’s had a quite a jewelry journey, as she was born in Russia and has been to more than 60 countries and counting. We’ll hear all about her jewelry journey today. Victoria, welcome to the program. Victoria: Hi, Sharon. It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much. Sharon: I will go into my normal questions, but my first question is—and it seems like a silly one—but you speak Russian, then? Victoria: I do. It’s actually not that silly. I came here when I was five with a twin sister. We arrived at JFK in December of 1978, pretty much the height of the Cold War. So, my sister and I really did not want to be Russian, as we were five, six years old. We didn’t want to be different from our classmates. So, we started speaking quite quickly in English, and that’s how my language developed. I could understand Russian, but in terms of speech, I am not a great speaker. Those are really two different centers in the brain, as I realized. I can be a very good tourist. I can go to St. Petersburg or Moscow, ask for directions, order food at a restaurant, but if you want to have a deep conversation with me about business or anything that requires an extensive vocabulary, it’s not going to be me. But I can understand pretty well. Sharon: It always fascinates me. Did you speak any English when you came here? Victoria: No, but having a twin sister and being five, you’re a little bit of a sponge. I’ve read that before age seven, if you pick up another language before that age, that’s more or less the cutoff. You can learn to speak quite fluently very quickly, and we did. We didn’t know any words. We stopped in Vienna on the way out of the Soviet Union, and then we lived outside of Rome for a few months, so I probably picked up some Italian then, too, come to think of it, not that it stuck. But when we got to the States, it all happened very quickly. I really don’t remember learning English. It was almost as if I picked it up by osmosis. Sharon: Wow! It’s a great way to learn, in terms of thinking about how it is to learn a language. Your English has solidified in a sense. Victoria: Exactly. Sharon: Were you artistic then? Were you already artistic? Do you consider yourself an artistic person? Victoria: It’s a good question. I don’t know. I consider myself creative. My sister—again, I have a twin sister; she’s really the artist of the family. She’s much more visual. She’s a graphic designer, an artist. She creates collages and all kinds of things with her hands. I’m not dexterous at all, so my creativity is on the page, what I write and how I see the world. So, I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do consider myself a creative. Sharon: Does she call you up sometimes and say, “What were you thinking about that layout on the page?” Victoria: Oh yeah, she’s super-critical. Trust me, I do not design or do anything around the home that doesn’t get her buy-in, because if I don’t get her buy-in on it, she’ll come over and say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you put that on the wall.” She’ll never let me hear the end of it. So, I make sure to get her buy-in on any artistic or design-oriented decision I have to make. Sharon: She must be a great resource for you in terms of what you do. Did you come to jewelry through writing, or did you have a love of jewelry? How did that work? Victoria: I came through writing. It was all quite random. I’ll share the story because it’s really my story; it’s my original tale, I guess you would say. Sharon: It’s a journey. Victoria: My journey. This was the beginning. I was in living in L.A. I was 25. I really wanted to move to New York, and I was too scared to move without a job or without knowing anybody. I really wanted to continue my writing career. I had been a journalist. Even though I majored in poli-sci at UCLA, I had always worked for the Daily Bruin. I had done internships at various news organizations, some of them in the television field; some of them were written publications. I applied to one MFA program in total, and that was the Columbia University Master of Fine Arts program in their non-fiction writing department, specifically. That’s the only school I applied to, because I wanted to move to New York and I wanted to continue writing, and that felt, to me, like the only possible way for me to do that. I moved to New York in August of 1998, did two years of this Master of Fine Arts program, and then didn’t want to leave. I was still working on my thesis and finishing my degree when I started applying for jobs that were in the writing field. Mind you, this was 2000, so it was the very first wave of web jobs. It was Web 1.0. I didn’t realize it yet, but it was on the verge of crashing. That crash we had in 2001 was coming, but I didn’t see it then. There were a lot of jobs; a lot more jobs than people to fill them. I happened to go on Monster.com. I’m not sure if it’s around anymore. It was a job search site. I had a profile on the site, and I happened to come upon a posting that said, “Luxury goods website seeks writer/editor with two to three years’ experience. Click here to forward your profile to this employer.” I had no idea what that meant. It was very vague. At the time, you faxed people your résumé. I guess you could email, but a lot of times it was still faxed. There was just no information at all. It was literally a button. I clicked it and thought, “O.K.” and I forgot about it promptly. A few days later, I heard from a woman named Lisa at a company called Gemkey.com. I had no idea what that was, but it turns out Gemkey was a startup in the jewelry space. It was meant to be a website where retailers would go on and source their inventory online, which was laughable because 20 years later, that’s still something that most retailers don’t do. It was way, way, way ahead of its time. It was founded by Fred Mouawad, whose father is Robert Mouawad. Robert Mouawad is a Lebanese businessman who donated a ton of money to GIA. His name graces their campus in Carlsbad. GIA being the Gemological Institute of America. Sharon: That’s why it sounded familiar. I was going, “Where do I know that from?” Victoria: Yeah. Anyway, Fred was the son. He was an entrepreneur. He was based in Bangkok, and he had this website that had an office in New York. They were looking for some editors to fill out the news section of their site. I was hired as their pearl and watch editor, and I had no idea about either category. I didn’t even know pearls were cultured. I really had no language to describe them. I knew what a watch was, but I knew nothing. I could have named Rolex, Cartier maybe, and maybe Timex. I had been backpacking around the world in the late 90s prior to going to grad school, so I was living very scrappily and was quite frugal. I was in my early 20s, not really in the jewelry scene. One of my first trips was to a pearl farm in Australia to see the Paspaley farm located off the coast of Northern Australia. On the way there, I stopped in Bangkok to visit Fred Mouawad’s main headquarters and meet some of my colleagues. On the way out, I stopped in Hong Kong to go to the pearl auctions, and I was hooked. It was a wonderful introduction to the world of jewelry, quite literally the world of jewelry. I had loved travel until then, and here was a way to combine my love of it with a way to explore this new category, this new universe. So, I came to jewelry through writing and then through travel. Sharon: That must have been so exciting, to be writing about something you found you loved as opposed to—I don’t know. I’m trying to think of some of the things I’ve had to market over the years where it’s like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Victoria: Yes, I think that was one of the things I learned quite early. My job with Gemkey didn’t last long because it got bombed not that long after. I think I was employed with them for eight months or so, and then I got laid off because the company was losing money. I ended up getting hired almost right away by National Jeweler, which at the time was close to a hundred-year-old publication. It’s still around, not in print form, but it’s around in digital form. It was founded, I believe, in 1906. It’s really an industry trade like JCK, one of the stalwarts of the business. I got hired as their gemstone editor. I got to National Jeweler, and I realized the company—National Jeweler at the time was owned by a bigger corporation that owned lots of different publications, everything from the Hollywood Reporter to Billboard Magazine to a publication called Frozen Food News. I realized there are so many different niches in the world, and as a writer, I was grateful I didn’t slip into the frozen food world, but the music world is great. If you enter music via Billboard, what a great way to learn about music. I happened to enter through the trade of jewelry, and that was a wonderful way to get down into the trenches of an industry that is quite esoteric, quite hard to penetrate, and it still is. All these years later, there’s still so much to learn about jewelry, but starting out through a trade was the key. When you’re a trade reporter, you get to talk to dealers; you go to tradeshows; you learn from a very ground-up level, as opposed to being an editor of Vogue, where you don’t get to see the real world. You spend your time in the limelight. You get to see all kinds of topical designers, but you don’t always get the nitty-gritty details, that insight into the supply chain and insight into how a gemstone might emerge from the ground and the steps it takes to become a beautiful jewel. That all came through the trade, so I was very grateful to have that experience and the years and years I spent going to the Tucson shows to research the world of gems, to Basle to speak to high-end jewelers in Europe. There were all kinds of events. I have had a very unique perspective on this trade and the world at large through the lens of jewelry. Sharon: Do you find that writing about jewelry has its own language, in a sense? It’s like writing about sports. I couldn’t write about sports. Victoria: Very much so. The lingo takes a long time to understand. People think of jewelry as a very superficial subject. I think people who don’t know about jewelry will perhaps think, “Well, it’s just a bauble. It’s just something you put on to sparkle, to add a little or to show off your status, whatever it is.” But there are so many layers to jewelry, and the way you talk about it gets ever more complicated the more you know. There’s a whole language around diamonds and gemstones and the ways you describe color, not to mention all the ways you talk about the fabrication of jewelry. That’s always eluded me a bit. I’ve been to factories, and I’ve been to places where jewelry is made, and that still feels like a topic that’s difficult for me to access because I don’t have a brain to understand mechanics or engineering. When people are sitting there at the bench trying to tell me the steps of the process, I always get a bit lost. It does feel like a very complicated venture, but I have been fortunate enough to see a lot of that. Sharon: No, I can understand. I was at some design show, and there was a jeweler talking about how much of jewelry is engineering. He was talking about getting the piece to balance, but it’s also when you’re talking about extrusions when a piece of jewelry is being manufactured. So, you went into nonfiction. Was that something where you said, “I’m not a fiction writer”? Victoria: Yeah, pretty much. I love fiction and I love poetry, but it never felt like a natural pursuit for me. I was always interested in telling stories, and the stories that really compelled me or held my attention were always nonfiction. I think we all know that truth is stranger than fiction. We’ve all had the epiphany many times throughout lives, I’m sure, where we realized that the stories in front of us are as compelling as anything made up. My entrée into that world was initially through The Daily Bruin, which was a huge college newspaper at UCLA. I learned the basics of being a reporter and a journalist and hunting down sources and doing interviews, but at the same time I didn’t love the grind of a daily journalism beat. It was good training, but when I applied to Columbia, I specifically did not apply to the journalism school. I applied to the arts program, to the Master of Fine Arts program, and I was drawn to the writings of, say, a Joan Didion or a Tom Wolfe or polemicists or memoirists—a lot of fiction authors who write beautifully in nonfiction or have beautiful examples of nonfiction in their repertoires. I was drawn to the kind of writing that was true, that was honest, but that still held all the same elements of a good fiction tale. It had characters, dialogue, a plot. I probably don’t do as much of that kind of writing as I hoped I would, or as much as I wish I could, because I’m making a living. I write journalism; I write stories, but in all the stories I write, I really try to spend a lot of time with the people who are my sources and get their stories. I really try to convey a sense of story, even if it’s a short piece that’s running in a newspaper. I do as best as I can in that limited word space with a storyline. Sharon: Tell us about your job as editor. Are you pulling together all the departments, like you see on TV editorial meetings? Victoria: It’s a little bittersweet, because JCK—for those of you who aren’t familiar, I’ll tell you a little bit about what that stands for, because it’s a mouthful. JCK goes back to 1869. It wasn’t always JCK, which, by the way, stands for Jewelers’ Circular Keystone. Jewelers’ Circular was a publication in the 30s that merged with another jewelry publication called Keystone. From then on, they were called Jewelers’ Circular Keystone, until the 70s when they shortened it to JCK. So, that’s what those three initials stand for, but initially, it goes back to 1869 in Maiden Lane, New York, where the fledging jewelry district was growing up. There were watchmakers and jewelers who needed a publication to help them source their materials, help them sell. Various publications formed around them, and they eventually merged and aligned. What we know as JCK today really comes out of Maiden Lane in the 1870s. It’s pretty stunning to think about. I joined the magazine in 2010. I had moved back to Los Angeles after nearly a dozen years in New York because I was ready to move. I moved back in late 2009. I had lost my job with National Jeweler after the financial crisis, and that was fine. I had been there for eight years or so, so it was time to move back to California where I grew up. About six months after I landed back in L.A., I ended up getting asked by a friend of mine who was the publisher of JCK if I’d be willing to take a temporary job with JCK as their editor. They were looking for a new editor. They were looking for somebody in New York, but they needed somebody to get them over the hump of a few issues. I thought, “Great, this is a perfect bridge job as I find my footing back in L.A.” Well, as it turns out, it was not that hard to manage a publication from L.A. because I knew the industry. I had my contacts. I even knew my colleagues because I had worked with them. They were editors at JCK, but I had met them many years ago, as I was one of their cohorts in the jewelry media space. So, I knew the people I was working with. After six months or so, everybody thought, “Hey, this is actually going pretty well,” so they brought me on full time. Luckily, I had an apartment in Brooklyn Heights that I had sublet out and hadn’t gotten rid of, so I was able to come back to New York once a month for about a week. For about six years, I was truly bicoastal, from 2010 to about 2016. In that time, JCK continued to be—its tagline is “the industry authority.” It’s been reporting on this business for so long, and it was exciting. At first, we started out with 10 print issues a year. We had contributors; we had staff writers; we had a whole publishing team. Slowly over the years, that print frequency has shrunk. It became seven issues a year. Then it shrunk down to four print issues a year; mind you, with a robust website and a very strong daily news presence online, but print has always continued to shrink in this environment. As of this year, we went down to one print issue a year. That harried newsroom where people are running around and there are photoshoots happening, that did happen and still does happen, but just not to the frequency and level that you might imagine of a busy magazine publishing schedule. The good thing is that we’re published by a company called Advanced Local that is based at One World Trade Center in New York. Of course, nobody’s been in the office for a good long while now, but when we are in the office, it’s the same parent company, Condé Nast, so we use the same studios to do our photography. We rely on the same talent in terms of photographers and stylists that Vogue and GQ do. So, we have a really good team of people. They’re not directly staffed. They’re not members of the JCK staff, but they are people that are available to us. We have a wonderful creative director, again, somebody who’s a freelancer, but works with top magazines, a wonderful photo editor. When we do get back to being in the office, I’ll certainly fly out to New York and partake, or at least be a witness to the photoshoots we do for our covers and our jewelry still lifes. But the hectic, frenzied nature of that has certainly calmed down. We do have, like I said, a robust online presence. We have a well-known news director named Rob Bates. He’s covered the world of diamonds and jewelry news for 23 years, coming on 30, I think. We’re staffed by some of the best in the business, but it definitely is a small, very scrappy operation. Sharon: So, during Covid, you’ve been doing this through Zoom, I take it. Victoria: Yeah, everything is through Zoom. We managed to get a bunch of photoshoots in right at the very beginning of March of 2020 that luckily saved us in terms of what we could produce through 2020. Then we did a photoshoot in May. There was that lull where things were looking pretty promising before the Delta variant, so we were able to do a photoshoot then. Like I said, now we’re looking to 2022. We have a big issue coming out. It always comes out on the eve of the JCK Show. The JCK Show is the big Las Vegas tradeshow. It shares our name. I don’t want to get too complicated with this, but the show was founded in 1992 as a spinoff from the magazine. The magazine existed for all these decades, and the team involved thought, “Hey, isn’t it time we use our clout in the industry to form a tradeshow?” And so they began this tradeshow in Las Vegas that then grew to be such a big presence in such an important industry meeting place that the tradeshow ended up being bought by different exhibition companies, and it eventually landed with Reed Exhibitions, which is a big company headquartered in the U.K. with U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. They run a lot of tradeshows and exhibitions, and they ended up buying the magazine and then hiring a different company to publish it. That may be more than your listeners want to hear. It’s kind of complicated, but the point is we are related to JCK, this big tradeshow, but we’re also an independent editorial voice, so we aren’t bound to only write about JCK. Sharon: That’s interesting. What about Couture, which is part of the JCK Show, isn’t it? Victoria: It’s a separate company. In fact, National Jeweler, when I worked there, was owned by the company that—it’s gone through many iterations. The company that runs Couture is called Emerald Exhibitions, and they’re headquartered in New York. That was the company that owned National Jeweler at some point. There’s a lot of overlapping relationships in this world. Couture and JCK are separate companies, separate entities, but they happen at the same time in Las Vegas to make it easy for members of the jewelry industry to shop the shows. There are different points of view. Couture is very much focused on couture-level, high-end designer jewelry. JCK has that, but it also has everything else you might imagine, everything from packing to loose diamonds, loose gemstones, dealers from Hong Kong, Turkey, China when the Chinese are able to visit. JCK is much more a mass marketplace for the entire industry, and Couture is much more focused on high-end design. They’re complementary and I love going to both.
Episode 141 Part 2: How Emerging Jewelry Designers Can Cut Through the Noise with Writer & Editor, Amy Elliott
26:26What you’ll learn in this episode: Why the most important thing a jewelry designer can invest in is high-quality photography How Amy finds the topics she writes about for JCK’s “All That Glitters” blog How designers can find the story that helps them break through the crowded marketplace Who today’s most exciting emerging and independent designers are How the jewelry industry changed during the pandemic, and what retailers must do to engage young consumers About Amy Elliott Amy Elliott is a writer, editor and brand storyteller who specializes in fine jewelry and fashion, and is fluent in other lifestyle categories, including food, weddings and travel. As a former staff editor at The Knot, Bridal Guide, Brides Local Magazines + Brides.com and Lucky, Amy is known for delivering high-quality editorial content across a variety of print and digital media. After recently serving as the Engagement Rings Expert for About.com, Amy joined the freelance staff of JCK as its All That Glitters columnist, while contributing articles about jewelry trends, estate and antique jewelry and gemstones to its prestigious print magazine. Amy also serves as the Fine Jewelry Expert for The Bridal Council, an industry organization composed of luxury bridal designers, retailers and media, and her byline has appeared in Gotham, Hamptons, DuJour, Martha Stewart Weddings, GoodHousekeeping.com and more. Additional Resources: Amy’s Website Amy’s Twitter Amy’s Instagram JCK Article: Cicadas Swarm on Sienna Patti Gallery in Lenox, Mass. JCK Article: Christopher Thompson Royds’ Flowers Bloom at Sienna Patti Gallery JCK Article: Look What Happens When Annoushka Gives Peridot A Go Examples of posts that reflect the intersection of jewelry with history, culture and current events: Bob Goodman Wants Jewelers To Join Him in Disrupting the Status Quo: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/bob-goodman-jewelers-disrupting/ The Ten Thousand Things x Met Museum Collaboration Is Coming In Hot: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/ten-thousand-things-x-met-museum/ Go “Sea” Some Serious Silver Treasures At Mystic Seaport Museum: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/sea-as-muse-silver-seaport-museum/ New Jewelry From Rafka Koblence, Olympic Wrestler Turned Designer: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/new-jewelry-from-rafka-koblence/ Transcript: As author of the “All That Glitters” blog for JCK, Amy Elliott has a front row seat to the jewelry industry’s up-and-coming trends and designers. She’s also been lucky enough to work with some of these designers, helping them refine their brands and create stories that resonate with customers. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what designers and retailers should do to stay relevant with younger consumers, how art jewelry has influenced high jewelry, and what jewelry trends to watch out for in the coming months. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: When you say you like strong, new collections, what catches your eye when somebody’s presenting a new collection to you or sends you a press kit or email? Amy: Every time I’m ever interviewed for something, I always say this, but photos are so important, beautiful, beautiful photos. Whatever budget you have, use it for the photography. I love glamorous jewelry. I love high jewelry. I love glamor, big, bold, extremely extravagant jewels; from an editorial standpoint, I love them. I love to excite the senses with beautiful jewelry that makes you stop in your tracks. So, the jewels have to be beautiful, and you need to have beautiful photos to accurately portray that. It’s just a strong point of view. Boucheron came to me, and they have a whole series inspired by a cat that belonged to the Maison Boucheron early on in their life. His name is Vladimir, and it’s a whole collection that takes this Persian cat with his swept fur. There’s a story there; there’s a heritage story. I love that. I love to take a new collection and look back at how it came to be. I love figuring out what a designer’s signature is, whether they’re well-established or they’re just coming out. Every once in a while you’ll find a newcomer with a strong point of view and you’re like, “I’ve never seen this before. I’m so excited to tell that story.” Sharon: I think it’s so important to say or to reiterate that for everybody, no matter what kind of jewelry you’re selling, whether it’s fine jewelry or antique jewelry. I’m thinking of some of the tradeshows when I’ve talked to dealers and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the money for photos.” Amy: I don’t know what to say. I’ve been saying it for 20 years and it’s still a problem. There are some designers that are really overexposed and there are some that are underexposed. I’m always excited to discover somebody I’m not following on Instagram. How exciting! A lot of times, they’re international. I’m connected with a PR firm in Paris right now. They’ve been calling me a lot, and it’s a goldmine of designers that don’t get featured a lot over here. I think I’m the only editor at JCK that covers estate and antique jewelry. I’m always covering auctions and exhibitions in that vein and all of the art fairs. I’ve written about Sienna Patti up in the Berkshires several times. It really is a pleasure, and anything goes. I have an action-packed calendar for the holidays. Sharon: It sounds like it, yes. Sienna Patti, I know she’s in the western part of Massachusetts. Amy: Yes, she’s in the Berkshires. Sharon: She has an art jewelry gallery I’d love to get to someday. How does art jewelry fit in here? Does it catch your eye if the right photos are sent to you? Do you see it taking more of the market or having a higher profile? Amy: It’s interesting. The one thing I will say, and it’s so hard to speak in terms of trends when you’re dealing with very expensive, high-end, collectible jewelry, but what I have noticed a little bit of is the selling of sweet sets, something that might be convertible, a multipiece set. Christopher Thompson Royds does that. You get a beautiful box, and then it’s an earring that can be worn three or four different ways. Annoushka did a collaboration with Fuli Gemstones. Beautiful, bright green peridot like you’ve never seen. It was not really a collection; it was an eight-piece set. That is what the customer is being asked to buy into, and that feels very collector, very connoisseur, a very specific kind of angle. It’s a very specific customer that is going to want to invest in jewelry that can be worn but is presented as an art object or sculpture or something to display in your home as sculpture, but then you can take it out and wear it. I see that as a direction with very, very high-end jewelry that’s being shown in galleries, this notion of buying a boxed set. Sharon: When you said sweet sets, I was thinking edible sweets. That’s interesting. Amy: Sets of jewels. Sharon: There’s an idea. Tell us who the emerging, independent designers are today. Who should we keep our eye on? Who’s overlooked? Who’s being so creative, knocking it out of the park, but you don’t hear talked about? Who’s collectible? Amy: I know this is a very informed and qualified audience, Sharon, so I’m sure these names are going to be familiar to many in your audience, but I think the industry has collectively embraced the work of Harwell Godfrey. Sharon: Now, that’s one I don’t know. Amy: Lauren Harwell, I think she’s based in LA, and she has a strong point of view. It’s beautiful inlaid jewels, weighty, substantial, geometric, absolutely a strong point of view, Sharon. Sharon: I see her on Instagram a lot. Amy: Yes, Harwell Godfrey is probably one of the strongest voices to emerge in the pandemic era. Before that it was Anna Courey, absolutely with her diamond ear cuffs. I think she set us on a course with that. Glenn Spiro is an under-the-radar but highly, highly couture jeweler. There’s a book out from Assouline on him that Jill Newman wrote. I think his name is going to become more well-known among collectors. He’s a private jeweler based in London, I believe, and I think we’re going to be hearing more about that. Anytime there’s a book or an auction, the names are elevated; the names are surfaced and get a little more traction, so I definitely would be watching Glenn Spiro. Nikos Koulis has been around for the last three or four years. He’s Greek, and it’s sort of neo-Art Deco, very geometric, very strong uses of color, edgy, really modern. Bea Bongiasca with her enamel and ceramic pieces— Sharon: How do you say that? Is she here? Amy: Bea. I think she’s based in London but is Italian. She works at Central St. Martin’s. Alice Cicolini, also British, does extremely beautiful work with enamel. I think her work is going to be really collectable in the coming years. I think she has a strong point of view. Sharon: Can I interrupt? What does that mean, a strong point of view? What does that mean to you? Amy: It means singular and inimitable. Sharon: You know it’s her when you see the piece of work. Amy: Yes. It’s very singular and striking and absolutely inimitable. There’s a lot of borrowing of ideas that goes on in the jewelry industry. I think the people I’m mentioning here, their voices present themselves to me as something unique. You can’t replicate it; you’re not going to see that show up in some form on Amazon. Maggi Simpkins, we all fell in love with her in the Brilliant and Black exhibit at Sotheby’s. She did the most beautiful pink diamond ring. Everything is centered in these fan-like, feathered cocoons of gems. It’s very feminine and lavish and beautiful. So, Maggi Simpkins is someone, and then Studio Renn. My editor at JCK, Victoria Gomelsky, writes for the New York Times and she did a piece on them. She really has seen everything. They are part of an exhibit that is now ongoing at Phillips that Vivienne Becker curated. I think Studio Renn is a newcomer that is going to be sticking around for a while. Finally, there’s Fabio Salini, who’s also part of the Vivienne Becker capsule at Phillips. Those are just a few. It changes all the time, but the pandemic era has brought incredible work from the designers in our industry, and they are just now hitting their stride. After all that time creating and dreaming and ruminating, refining their voices, cultivating their Instagram audiences, getting feedback from buyers—now they’re out there in the world and ready to be embraced. Sharon: What about pre-pandemic? Everybody’s at home in their living room thinking and designing, so I could understand why it’s emerging right now, but what about pre-pandemic? Do you see a big difference? Amy: Yes, the industry has modernized considerably since the before times. The biggest difference is that a mom-and-pop jeweler in the middle of country who had a website but never updated it, they’ve gone in there, hired a firm, hired a chat bot, completely modernized. The pandemic era forced the industry to fast-track into the digital age. That is a huge, huge difference, making it so you are available to your customers, wherever they may be, whether that’s texting or someone dedicated to Instagram inquiries. A lot of this is being done on Instagram now, and that was not true in January 2020. Since jewelry emerged as a category that is a portable asset, it’s not a flash in the plan; it has staying power. It’s not like buying a trendy handbag, but using your discretionary income to buy jewelry became a thing and was embraced a lot of people during the pandemic as they were sparkle scrolling, as they call it, on their phones. Sharon: I haven’t heard that term. Amy: A lot of people used the time to upgrade their engagement rings and wedding bands, so the bridal industry saw a huge boost. The jewelry industry is really healthy right now, I think, in terms of sales, but what I have noticed is not everybody has a wedding band. Not everyone has a budget to upgrade to a big, giant, 20-carat eternity band, so I’m noticing a lot of brands creating price points under $1,500. They’re creating little capsules, creating diffusion lines, if you will, so a customer with modest means can have that same meaningful purchase, that same, “I’m investing and treating myself to something that will last, my first diamond bracelet or my first diamond pendant.” I’m seeing more of those opportunities at the retail level. Sharon: That’s interesting. In terms of the emerging designers you’ve mentioned, is this trickling down to the rest of us who don’t have $15,000 to go out and buy a trinket tomorrow? Amy: There’s definitely a spectrum. I think estate jewelry in general is so hot, and there are a gazillion ladies on Instagram. They’re moving delicate, little gold charms for $200 a pop. There’s so much. I hate the term low-hanging fruit, but there is so much attainable luxury out there at the regular-person level. If you’re the type to spend $200 on a bunch of drinks on a Saturday night, you can easily do that and buy yourself a beautiful paper clip chain estate piece on someone’s Instagram feed. Also, even further than the art jewelry investment piece, there’s a run on pink diamonds, practically, and yellow diamonds were a big story coming out of JCK. That color, yellow, that bright, hopeful, joyful feeling that yellow presents, suppliers and manufacturers—cases were filled with yellow diamond engagement rings. A lot of people are talking about a potential uptick in yellow diamond engagement ring sales, both from the rarity of the investment angle and from the pure joy of it, the feeling that it gives. Also, there’s this idea that today’s young woman getting engaged doesn’t want anything to do with what her mother had. Any ring that remoted resembles that chunky, big, platinum, three-stone diamond ring from 1990, she wants something completely new and different feeling, and yellow diamonds fulfill that. They check that box. I have heard from some of my diamond tiara friends that people are buying very high-end and special loose, fancy-colored diamonds from an investment standpoint because it’s a portable asset and they are decreasing in supply. Like I said, there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities. Sharon: It’s interesting you mention that diamonds are not so much in demand for young women getting engaged or getting married today. Sometimes I look at my diamond wedding ring, which is actually an upgrade from my first one, and I look at it and go, “This looks really dated.” What are you seeing in terms of what’s more contemporary or modern? Amy: Here’s what everyone’s doing. Everyone is taking their old jewelry and up-cycling it, whether their old engagement ring, in your case, or they’re taking their grandmother’s engagement ring that was given to them and creating a whole new design and style. Heirloom stones are recast as something new and wearable. It could be an engagement ring; they could be breaking apart a clustered diamond pin and creating a “diamonds by the yard” style necklace. That is a huge trend right now because it also covers sustainability. You have this precious item in your possession, but it just isn’t your style. You have the materials to work with a designer to make it something new you can wear and enjoy. I feel like every independent designer I speak with nowadays has taken on commissions along those lines. Entire businesses are being built around that very concept of reimagining old jewelry. Sharon: What about non-diamond wedding rings or engagement rings? Are other stones being used besides yellow diamonds? Amy: I think we can anticipate a sapphire—I hate to say a sapphire boom because jewelry is slow and static, but blue sapphires. The Crown season four, I think, came out last winter, and it centered around Diana. There’s a whole generation of young women out there that were not clued into that story, and that blue sapphire engagement ring from Garrard was back in the spotlight again, even though Kate Middleton wears it as hers now. Anyway, there’s a whole generation of consumers for whom Diana’s blue sapphire ring was not on their radar. Then there is a movie coming out with Kristen Stewart in the starring role called “Spencer” that will center on Diana. I think that’s going to put the blue sapphire engagement ring on people’s radar again. Honestly, any time the royals or once-were royals are in the news—and they are—it definitely trickles down into consumer appetite. Sharon: Amy, you’ve seen a lot from both sides of the desk. You’ve seen the big people; you’ve talked to people on the business side; you’ve talked to the designing side, the creative side, and I know you’ve written several books and things like that. If you had to distill it down into one book or a couple of paragraphs, what would you say are the main challenges? How would you advise people like this? Amy: I love to give advice. I’m solicited in other ways. To retailers, I would say listen to your customers and tune into the social climate. The customers are giving you information you need every time they set foot in your store. Ask them what they like, what they’re into. There’s an adversarial relationship, almost, between the younger consumers of today and the old-school jewelry retailer, and change is necessary. Try to learn and understand them. If they want a salt and pepper diamond ring and you think it’s ugly, that’s fine, but you still have to find it for them if you want to retain them as a customer. I think a willingness to change is vital; a willingness to modernize is vital on the part of the retailer. Diversity and inclusion and social justice is very important to the majority of young consumers. You can look at what Zales and Kay Jewelers and these mainstream guys are doing for clues; the same with Tiffany. You can look at what they’re doing. That’s all informed by serious market research that is telling them that today’s younger consumer prioritizes diversity and inclusion, and they’re watching companies to see if what they’re doing aligns with their values. I’m certainly not the first person to say that, but it is critical; it’s essential. To designers, I would say please use whatever discretionary funds you have, again, towards shooting your jewelry with a professional photographer. That is the most important thing. Don’t worry about a campaign. Don’t worry about hiring models. Literally just still-life photos and giant, big files are what you should be spending your money on. Stay true to your signature and try to be as authentic as possible, but also take advice. Just don’t design in a vacuum. Look at what’s out in the world and try to see where your point of view fits in. The market is saturated with a lot of same old, same old. How can you break through that? How can you break through the basic and come at it in a different way? It could be as simple as everybody knows alphabet charms are popular and wonderful and a new jewelry wardrobe essential, so what’s your thought going to look like? How’s your thought going to reflect who you are? What does the alphabet charm reflect for you, and what’s the story? Did you see it on a poster for a 1960s Grateful Dead show? Did you go to an exhibit and see an illuminated manuscript? There are so many ways, I think, to get inspired and find your voice. Sharon: That’s great. That’s very good advice for both sides of the desk. Amy, thank you so much for being here today. Amy: Thank you, Sharon, it’s a pleasure. I’m always happy to talk about jewelry and give my opinions. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.
Episode 141 Part 1: How Emerging Jewelry Designers Can Cut Through the Noise with Writer & Editor, Amy Elliott
26:06What you’ll learn in this episode: Why the most important thing a jewelry designer can invest in is high-quality photography How Amy finds the topics she writes about for JCK’s “All That Glitters” blog How designers can find the story that helps them break through the crowded marketplace Who today’s most exciting emerging and independent designers are How the jewelry industry changed during the pandemic, and what retailers must do to engage young consumers About Amy Elliott Amy Elliott is a writer, editor and brand storyteller who specializes in fine jewelry and fashion, and is fluent in other lifestyle categories, including food, weddings and travel. As a former staff editor at The Knot, Bridal Guide, Brides Local Magazines + Brides.com and Lucky, Amy is known for delivering high-quality editorial content across a variety of print and digital media. After recently serving as the Engagement Rings Expert for About.com, Amy joined the freelance staff of JCK as its All That Glitters columnist, while contributing articles about jewelry trends, estate and antique jewelry and gemstones to its prestigious print magazine. Amy also serves as the Fine Jewelry Expert for The Bridal Council, an industry organization composed of luxury bridal designers, retailers and media, and her byline has appeared in Gotham, Hamptons, DuJour, Martha Stewart Weddings, GoodHousekeeping.com and more. Additional Resources: Amy’s Website Amy’s Twitter Amy’s Instagram JCK Article: Cicadas Swarm on Sienna Patti Gallery in Lenox, Mass. JCK Article: Christopher Thompson Royds’ Flowers Bloom at Sienna Patti Gallery JCK Article: Look What Happens When Annoushka Gives Peridot A Go Examples of posts that reflect the intersection of jewelry with history, culture and current events: Bob Goodman Wants Jewelers To Join Him in Disrupting the Status Quo: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/bob-goodman-jewelers-disrupting/ The Ten Thousand Things x Met Museum Collaboration Is Coming In Hot: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/ten-thousand-things-x-met-museum/ Go “Sea” Some Serious Silver Treasures At Mystic Seaport Museum: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/sea-as-muse-silver-seaport-museum/ New Jewelry From Rafka Koblence, Olympic Wrestler Turned Designer: https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/new-jewelry-from-rafka-koblence/ Transcript: As author of the “All That Glitters” blog for JCK, Amy Elliott has a front row seat to the jewelry industry’s up-and-coming trends and designers. She’s also been lucky enough to work with some of these designers, helping them refine their brands and create stories that resonate with customers. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what designers and retailers should do to stay relevant with younger consumers, how art jewelry has influenced high jewelry, and what jewelry trends to watch out for in the coming months. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, our guest is Amy Elliott, founder of Amy Elliott Creative. She is a writer, editor and thought leader who specializes in fine jewelry and fashion which makes most of us envious. That’s a great profession. She is a contributing editor to the industry publication we all know, JCK, and writes the blog “All That Glitters.” We will hear all about her jewelry journey today. Amy, welcome to the program Amy: Thank you very much for having me, Sharon. It’s a pleasure to be here. Sharon: So glad to have you. I’m always envious of people who are writing about jewelry or makers and designers. That’s fabulous. I have no talent in that area, so when I hear about people writing, I think, “Wow, it’s great.” Tell us all about your jewelry journey. Amy: My jewelry journey is a mix of personal and professional. I’m an avid collector of jewelry. My mother is a big collector of jewelry, so from age 12 on, jewelry was always a part of my life and something that I gravitated to. As a professional, jewelry has been central to my career as a journalist and a writer since the very beginning, starting at The Knot in 1999. Sharon: The Knot being the bridal publication. Amy: Yes. At that time, it was just a website. I was there when they moved into magazines. I helped coordinate the gowns and accessories for fashion shoots and got a taste of engagement rings and diamonds, the 4Cs. That was my first introduction to jewelry on a professional level. Then I took a job at Bridal Guide Magazine, which is a leading print publication still around, privately owned. I was a senior editor there. I had many duties, but one of them was to produce a jewelry column, and that is when my education in jewelry really began. I began forming connections within the industry to educate myself on the 4Cs, pearl buying, colored gemstones. I’ve always been drawn to color, so that’s when I became a student, if you will, of gems and jewelry and how jewelry fits into conversations about fashion trends and cultural and social current events. That was when I really got into jewelry as a métier. I was one of the founding editors of Brides local magazines, which was a Condé Nast publication of regional wedding magazines that no longer exists. Because we were short on staff, I would call in all the jewelry for our cover shoots. Even though I had a leadership role there—I was the executive editor—I also made it part of my job to call in jewels for art cover shoots. I kept that connection, and then on the side I would freelance for luxury publications. It became the thing that I liked to do the best. I loved the people in the industry. I would always learn something. No matter what I was doing or writing about, I would learn something new, and that’s still true to this day. There’s always something for me to learn. I discovered that jewelry is the perfect combination of earth science, history, culture, and straight-up beauty and aesthetics. It’s a very gratifying topic to cover. I love the way it intersects with current events and with, as I mentioned, the fashion conversations at large. Sharon: When you went to Vassar, did you study writing? They’re not known for their metalsmithing program, so did you study writing with the idea “I just want to write”? Amy: Pretty much. I was always pretty good at writing and facility with language, so I went there knowing I’d be an English major. For my thesis I wrote a creative writing thesis; it was like a little novella. I’ve always had a love affair with words and expression of thoughts, and I loved reading, so I knew I would do something that had to do with words and writing. I actually graduated thinking I would be a romance novelist. That was what I thought I would do. Then, of course, I started out in book publishing, and I found it really, really slow and boring, just painfully slow, and I decided perhaps that wasn’t for me. Then I took a job in public relations. I really loved the marketing aspect of it and the creativity involved. Of course, it involved a lot of writing. Eventually I decided I wanted to be on the editorial side of things once and for all. I had always written for the high school newspaper. I had done an internship at Metropolitan Home Magazine in the design department in college, so magazines were always lurking there and were always the main goal. I ended up there; it just took a couple of years for me to get there. Once I did, I knew I wanted to work for a women’s magazine. I love things that would fall under the heading of a women’s magazine, relationships, fashion. The wedding magazines I worked at were a great fit for me because it’s pure romance and fantasy and big, beautiful ball gowns and fancy parties. It was a good fit for me, and I was able to take that and home in on jewelry as a particular focus elsewhere in my career after those first years. I will say Vassar is known for its art history program. I was not a star art history pupil by any means, but I took many classes there. I find myself leaning on those skills the most as a jewelry writer, looking closely at an object, peeling back the layers and trying to understand what the artist or jeweler is trying to say through jewelry, much like you would with a painting from the Renaissance. So, I am grateful for that tutelage because I found myself drawing on it often, even though I was definitely a B- student in art history. Sharon: It seems to me if you’re not going to be a maker, if you’re not going to be a metalsmith or a goldsmith or if you’re not going to be selling behind the counter, it seems like art history is a fabulous foundation for jewelry in terms of the skills you draw on. Amy: Absolutely. Historical narratives and every historical event that’s going on in the world can be—you can look at jewelry from the past and tie it into something that was going on, whether it was the discovery of platinum or the discovery of diamonds in South Africa. It all intersects so beautifully. Vassar taught me to think critically; it taught me how to express myself, to develop a style of writing that I think is still present in my writing today. I always try to get a little lyricism in there. A good liberal arts foundation took me into the world of magazines and eventually digital publishing. I stayed with Condé Nast for a long time. Then I went to Lucky Magazine and was on staff there for a little over a year and a half. I was exposed to fine jewelry on a more fashion level, like the kind cool girls would wear, gold and diamond jewelry that wasn’t big jewels by Oscar Heyman. It was a different category, but still within that universe. That was a great education, to look at fine jewelry in a fashion context. They had layoffs in 2012 and I was forced to strike out on my own, but I’ve been freelance ever since, doing a mix of copywriting for fashion brands and writing for various publications. I’ve been writing for JCK since 2016. Sharon: Wow! Amy, we want to hear more about that, but just a couple of things. First, thank you to our subscribers. I want to thank everybody who’s gotten in contact with me with their suggestions. I love to get them, so please email me at [email protected] or DM me @ArtsandJewelry. Also a big shoutout to Kimberly Klosterman, whose jewelry is featured in the exhibit “Simply Brilliant: Jewelry of the 60s and 70s” at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It’s on now through February 6. You can listen to our interview with Kimberly on podcast number 133. Now, back to our interview with Amy. Amy, what I like about what you said—you expressed it very well—is the intersection of jewelry with current events and history. I know I always have difficulty explaining to people why I’m interested in jewelry or jewelry history. They think, “Oh, you like big diamonds,” and it’s hard to explain how it tells you so much about the period. Amy: Yes, I think acknowledging how global our industry is and learning about different cultures has been so critical to becoming fluent in this world and the gemstones that come from Afghanistan or Ethiopia or Mozambique. Just learning about the sapphires from Sri Lanka—it’s so global and all-encompassing. I read the Cartier book, and their story is so fascinating. I am interested particularly in World War II and how that impacted the jewelry industry, how Susan Beltran saved the business of her lover, how the events of World War II Germany impacted Paris and the jewelers there, how the Cartiers would do the birds in the cage and all that stuff. I think you can look at historic jewels and see reflected back at you current events and moments in our history. Sharon: Definitely. I imagine when you look at something, it’s not just seeing the jewel, but you’re seeing the whole background behind it, how it sits within that context, that nest of history with World War II and platinum. It’s an eye into the world. Amy: Even someone like Judith Leiber, who fled Hungary during wartime and became this amazing designer of handbags in New York. So many of the jewelers that are leaders and pillars of our industry came here because of the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. It really does intersect with what was happening in the world. The jewelry industry is a microcosm of all those events, even going to back to the Silk Road and Mesopotamia and the Armenians and the Ottoman Empire. It is a rich tapestry of moments. Historic jewels in particular can give you insight, not just into an artist’s vision, but into a moment of time. Sharon: I didn’t know that about Judith Leiber; that’s interesting. You left Lucky Magazine and opened your own shop. You do a lot of writing and editing. How do the graphics also play into it? Do you art direct? If clients come to you and say, “I need a brochure,” I assume you’re doing all the copy and editing, but do they bring you the photos? How does that work? Amy: My background in magazines definitely has given me a pretty robust skillset in terms of working with graphic designers and art directors, conveying ideas and working with them to solve problems. You do emerge with a sense of the visuals, and a taste level is part of it when you’re covering fashion and jewelry and things related to style. So yes, I think as a copywriter, one of the things I bring to the table is that I will be able to advise you on the quality of your photos and your look book on the crops, on the model even. Also there’s the hierarchy of information; that’s definitely a form of direction. It’s not very glamorous, but I’m good at understanding how things should be stacked and arranged on a page in terms of hierarchy of messaging. I do have a lot of opinions, I guess, about what looks good and what doesn’t. If that feedback is welcome, I’m always happy to share it. Sometimes a client will send me an email for review, and I know they just want to get it out, but I’m like, “No, this is spelled wrong, and the headline should be this, and this needs to go there,” and I’ll mock it up on the screen as to where things should go. The best editors and writers, especially when you’re dealing with jewelry and fashion and beautiful objects, you have to have a strong sense of the visual. Sharon: I know sometimes clients push back, but I assume they come to you because they want your opinion or they’d do it themselves, right? Amy: Yes. My favorite clients to work with are emerging designers who are just getting out there. They have so many ideas, so many stories to tell, and I help them refine their vision, refine their voice. For many of them, it’s the first time they’re coming to market, and I can help them present themselves in a professional way that will be compelling to buyers and to media. Sharon: What type of issues are potential clients coming to you for? Is there an overarching—problem might not be the right word—but something you see, a common thread through what they’re asking? Amy: There are a number of things. One could be a complicated concept that needs to be explained, something technical like the meteorite that’s used in a wedding ring. “We have all this raw material from our supplier. How do we make that customer-facing? How do we make that dense language more lively and easier to digest?” Sometimes it’s collection naming. “Here’s my collection. Here are the pieces. Can you give them a name? Can you help name this product?” Sometimes it’s, “We want to craft a story around this,” and I’m able to come at it with, “I know what the story is here. We’ve got to shape you to be able to present that story to the world, whether it’s a buyer or an editor.” Usually there is some sort of a concept that is involved; it just hasn’t been refined and it’s not adjustable. They’re so focused on the work and the design vocabulary, they need someone to come in and look at it holistically and figure out how they’re going to package this as an overarching idea. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “I need to write a letter. These are the things I want to get across to buyers or new accounts or an invitation to an event.” I can take these objectives, these imperatives, and spin them into something compelling and customer-facing and fun to read. It’s a mix of imaginative work and down-and-dirty, let me take this corporate document and finesse it and make it more lively and more like something a consumer would want to read on a website. Sharon: They must be so appreciative. Their work may be beautiful, but they have to condense it to say what they are trying to express and get that across to somebody who may not know the language, so somebody wants to pick it up and say, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” Amy: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now in the industry, but it’s so important. The marketplace is so crowded, and it’s not enough to be like, “I have a new collection of stacking rings,” or “I’ve expanded these rings to include a sapphire version.” You have to come up with some sort of a story to draw in an audience, and then you can use that story on all of your touchpoints, from social media to your email blasts to a landing page on your website. There are a host of jewelry professionals out there that can advise in different ways, to help you get into stores, to help you with specific branding, refining your collection from a merchandising standpoint. There are so many professionals out there that specialize in that, but I think what I bring to the table is knowledge of the industry and a facility with language. It’s almost like I’m a mouthpiece for the designer or the corporate brand and a conduit to the consumers’ headspace. Sharon: It sounds like a real talent in the areas where there are gaps in what a designer and retailer/manufacturer needs. Telling the story may be a buzzword, but it’s words, and you have to use the right words. Tell us about the JCK. You write the blog “All That Glitters,” which is very glittery. It’s very attractive. Tell us about it. Amy: Thanks. I was JCK’s center for style-related content. Obviously, there’s no shortage of breaking news and hard business news, because JCK’s first and foremost a serious business publication. Sharon: With the jewelry industry. Amy: With the jewelry industry. I’ve evolved the blog to be—my favorite things to cover are new collections. I like to interview designers about inspirations. I like to show a broad range of photos from the collection. A lot of it is just showing collections that I love. Maybe I’ve seen them at Fashion Week; maybe I saw them at the JCK shows or at appointments in the city; maybe I saw something on Instagram. I love to cover design collaborations. Those are one of my favorites things to cover: how two minds can come together to create a new product, like when Suzanne Kalan partnered with Jonathan Adler to do a line of trinket trays. I am interested in cultural events. I like to cover museum exhibits. I covered the Beautiful Creatures exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Because I live in Connecticut, I was able to make it up to Mystic Seaport. They have a beautiful collection of silver trophies by all the best makers, from Tiffany to Shreve, Crump & Low and Gorham. I was able to go up there and see that collection. It’s a blog about culture. It’s a blog about things I love. I’ve written about TV shows that have to do with jewelry. I like the title “All That Glitters” because it gives me a lot of leeway in terms of what I can cover. I’ve written about writing instruments. Fabergé did a collaboration with whiskey brands and I wrote about that. I try to leave it open, but if there’s a strong, new, exciting collection, especially from a high jewelry brand—I’m going to be writing something on one from David Webb coming up. They just released a new collection called Asheville, inspired by his hometown. I like to do a deep dive into a designer story or to show a new collection. My colleague, Brittany Siminitz, does beautiful curations. Sometimes I’ll do curations, meaning a roundup of beautiful products that correspond to an overarching theme. I love to do those, but I am happiest when designers come to me with a new collection and something that people haven’t seen before. I particularly love discovering new voices and emerging designers that haven’t been featured in the press before, so I can be that first introduction.
Episode 140: Part 2 - Creating Modern Jewels with an Old-World Feel with Multiple Award-Winning Jewelry Designer, Cynthia Bach
27:05What you’ll learn in this episode: Why much of Cynthia’s jewelry has an old-world, Renaissance feel Cynthia’s advice for aspiring jewelry designers How Cynthia designs her pieces around her customers’ style Why creativity is the driving force behind change How understanding jewelry history can help designers find new forms of expression About Cynthia Bach Cynthia Bach has been a jewelry designer for more than four decades. After studying art in Munich, Germany, Cynthia received her BFA degree in art and jewelry making from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, where she met and apprenticed bench jewelry making with master jeweler Jim Matthews. In 1989 Jim and Cynthia were recruited by Van Cleef & Arpels in Beverly Hills to run design and fabrication of the jewelry department. In 1991 Cynthia launched her own collection with Neiman Marcus nationwide. She has been the recipient of numerous awards from the jewelry industry including the coveted International Platinum Guild Award, the Spectrum Award, and the Couture Award. Her designs have been recognized and awarded by the American Gem Trade Association. She is internationally known and respected and in 2014 was invited to Idar-Oberstein, Germany to judge the New Designer Contest. In 2015 her work was part of the international traveling exhibition “The Nature of Diamonds” organized by the American Museum of Natural History and sponsored by DeBeers. An important piece of her work resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 2019 Cynthia’s jewelry was featured in Juliet de la Rochefoucauld’s “Women Jewellery Designers”, a magnum opus book of women jewelry designers throughout history. Additional Resources: Website Instagram Twitter Facebook Pintrest Photos: 18 karat yellow gold Crown Collection maltese cross crown ring with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds 18 karat yellow gold Flower Bouquet Collection flower hoop earrings with multi-colored gemstones 18 karat yellow gold Gitan Collection, filigree paisley's with diamonds and rubies 18 karat yellow gold Royal Charm Bracelet Transcript: Cynthia Bach has loved jewelry for as long as she can remember. That enthusiasm is what helped her land an apprenticeship with master jeweler (and later, her husband) Jim Matthews, scored her a 25-year partnership with Nieman Marcus, and continues to fuel her desire to create timeless yet innovative designs today. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the old-world techniques that inspire her designs; her experience working with Van Cleef & Arpels, Neiman Marcus, and red-carpet stylists; and her advice for budding jewelry designers. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: That’s interesting. I’m thinking about a few things. First of all, that Fabergé and Schlumberger had an eye, whether it was for a shape or they were just extremely creative. What do you feel you have an eye for? Cynthia: I have an eye for shapes. My jewelry designing is classical and lyrical. I’m not doing post-modern shapes like the wearable art exhibit we saw. I think of my designs as more refined. I love to design jewelry for women. When I’m designing for them, I see what their style is and I want to design around their style, which is not necessarily the normal thing to do. When I design a piece of jewelry, I usually design something I want to wear. Having worked with Nieman Marcus for 25 years, after starting my collection with them, there was always fashion. Every season, I would follow the fashions that so that even though my designs are very classical, they would also be very now. What are the girls wearing now? What are the trends now? But I still wanted it to be timeless and able to be worn a hundred years from today. Sharon: Have you ever found yourself altering your designs or pieces because you’ve sketched something out and you say, “Oh, that’s too small or too large for what people want today. That’s not what people want”? Cynthia: I kind of design what I want to design, but because I’ve worked so hands-on doing trunk shows across the country and working with women, I know everyone has a different size earlobe and a different shape face. I will take a design and I’ll make a smaller version and a medium and a bigger to go with the woman’s style. Not every woman can wear a big earring. In that sense, I just take my design and make it more adaptable for different people. I usually design what I want to design because I figure if I want to wear it, other women want to wear it, too. Sharon: It sounds like that’s been successful for you for decades. You said that you design around a woman’s style. I guess what I want to know is if you saw a woman wearing jewelry that’s very different from yours. Let’s say modernist, angular, large. What do you mean you design around that? Cynthia: To clarify that a little bit more, I would say the last 25 years where I’ve really been a designer, I’ve worked with a lot of stylists for red carpet dressing. We would work with clothing designers, like when I did Cate Blanchett in the beautiful Gautier. I made the body jewelry—they’re Indian-inspired—and she did the big chain down her back. I remember a lot of beautiful gowns coming in, and even though I would use my jewelry, I always wanted the jewelry to make a statement. To me, it wasn’t all about the dress, but also to make a statement for the wearer. So, when I say I like to design around a woman’s style, a lot of that came from working with stylists and doing red carpet things. It also comes from working hands-on with women at the Nieman Marcus stores. They would come in and have a dress they were wearing to the ball, and they needed jewelry to go with it. You can’t just throw anything on them. It’s got to go with the dress; it’s got to go with them. I find the way I wear jewelry is I like very big jewelry. I like big rings, big earrings, lots of chains. I layer everything. There are women out there that are much more—they love an exquisite piece of jewelry, but they’ll wear one exquisite earring and one necklace. Sharon: What’s wrong with them? Cynthia: You’re another person who’s very theatrical in your jewelry. Sharon: I understand what you’re saying, but I’m surprised to hear you say that because your jewelry seems very feminine and dainty. I can see how you can stack the rings and everything, but I’m surprised to hear you say you like larger jewelry. That’s all. Cynthia: I mean when I’m dressing for myself. This is where I’m making pieces for other people. My collection I’m working on now is a lot of flowers with beautiful fall colors, orange and yellow, sapphires and reds and purples, all these colors together. I will take all those chains and wear like seven of them together, whereas if I were selling them in a store, maybe a woman would buy one chain. Ultimately, we have to make a living, but for me, selling my jewelry is my living. To some extent, you have to keep in mind who your audience is as well. Again, I can’t always dictate the way I want them to look. Sharon: I was just thinking how impressive it is that you’ve been selling to Nieman Marcus for so long. That’s a long run, and hopefully it continues for another 20 years. There are so many people who sell for one season and never see it there again. Cynthia: Like I told you, Sharon, I made up my mind at the age of 12 that this is what I wanted to do. My determination came from—it was very difficult being a woman. When I sold my collection to Nieman Marcus in 1991, we were brought out to Beverly Hills with Van Cleef & Arpels. The family-owned business went off to sell their company, so we were basically without a job. That was my window for, “O.K., you have nothing to lose. You’re out of a job. If you want to be a jewelry designer, you’re going to do it now.” Well, that was on Monday. On Friday, I called Nieman Marcus in Dallas and flew out there. I had been making a little crown collection, because I had made a crown for a client for an anniversary present back in 1982. It was a design of a Trifari crown pin that he gave to his wife. He said, “I bought this for my bride in 1955, and now I can afford it in emeralds, rubies and diamonds.” It was a little Trifari crown pin, and I made her this little crown and she wore it every day on a chain. I just thought it was the neatest thing. This was in 1982, and I said, “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to make crowns.” So, I started researching them at the library, all the different heraldic imagery and all the crowns throughout the world that kings and queens wore, and I brought them to everyone, to the masses. I had presented them to Van Cleef & Arpels, and they were like, “We would never do a crown,” but I made them anyway. After we lost our job at Van Cleef & Arpels, five days later, I flew to Nieman Marcus. I had 13 crown brooches. Some were fantasies; some were actual miniature crowns from Saudi Arabia or Persia, the English crown. I talked to the buyer, who was actually the president of the jewelry department at that time. In 1991, they did not have a developed jewelry department. There were jewelry designers; there were fashion designers, but jewelry was very generic, so they didn’t have creatives in jewelry that stood out. I said to them, “You need a stable of jewelry designers like you have in fashion.” The same thing I did with my husband, “I want to make jewelry. Here are my crowns.” I was all enthusiastic about it, and he was like, “I’ll give you $6,000,” and I said, “I’ll take it.” That launched my career, but it was in 1991 when, like I said, there weren’t really any established jewelry designers at the time. I think Nieman’s had Jean Mahie and Henry Dunay was there, but that was it. So, they grandfathered me at that time, and it just took off. The 90s and the 2000s was a wonderful time to be in the jewelry business. It was a wonderful time to be in business in anything in 2000, before 2006. So, that is how I got into it. I don’t know that I could do something like that in 2021. It’s always timing. Sharon: That’s true. Do you think you couldn’t do that because it’s not possible to call Nieman Marcus today and say, “I want an appointment with the buyer”? Cynthia: With 13 pieces? No, I think because the competition now is steep. Women are more independent now. In 1991, it was still hard as a woman to head a company and to be taken seriously as being able to run a company. Even though I worked with my husband, I called the collection Cynthia Bach because it was a time for women when if they did not stick up for themselves and be a little more aggressive and persistent, they would disappear. I guess I’m a feminist, I don’t know. But at that time, I had to fight really hard. I worked with a lot of men and good old boys. The jewelry industry was made up of men. It was a whole different time, and Nieman Marcus, at that time, was still family-owned as well. It was small. Now, it’s become much bigger, more investors, owners, more corporate, so I don’t think you can start with 13 pieces. I think you have to have a pretty big collection to move forward, and a business plan. Sharon: Right, it sounds you started the seeds of— Cynthia: A revolution, a jewelry revolution! Sharon: Really. Because when you think about Nieman’s today, the jewelry department is so well-developed in terms of all the different designers. Cynthia: Yes. Sharon: I was just going to ask you. We both attended a panel at Bonhams on wearable art jewelry. I was asking what attracted you, because your jewelry is so different. Cynthia: I am very much interested in jewelry history, jewelers throughout history, and the whole evolution of jewelry in any form. I love the silver jewelry that came out of Mexico. I love the period of the 30s and 40s. Like I said before, that is when casting was developed, and that is when jewelry was in a more industrial period, the shapes and the forms, the industrial revolution. Jewelry parallels music and history and art and fashion, so all of that interests me, and it doesn’t just have to be my type of jewelry. I was very fascinated with the jewelry of the particular artists that I learned about through the Bonhams exhibit, the wearable art, the Crawford Collection. I learned about these artists I really didn’t know about, and that was exciting. Sharon: Was there something in particular that called out to you, a designer or something a panelist said? Cynthia: I really loved the work of Art Smith. I think he worked in New York, and it was sculpture. His jewelry was sculpture, body sculpture. There were also some Native American Indian jewelers from the 30s and 40s that did lapidary work, the interesting turquoise with wood and the bracelets that were so colorful and beautiful. Some of the lapidary work they did was very now, like that guy that did the space travel bangle. There was one necklace I just fell in love with, and it’s from William Spratling. It was a big necklace with little beads, and I thought to myself, “What a fabulous design! That design would look so good with my filigree beads that I do.” I’ve always loved bib-style necklaces. A lot of times when I look at jewelry, I’ll see my piece of jewelry incorporated in some of the shapes or designs. It’s all very visual to me, the bibs. Sharon: Those are fabulous pieces, and a broad spectrum too. Go on. Cynthia: I was just going to say relatively unknown artists. It was so refreshing to have Bonhams bring these out to the public awareness. Sharon: Yes, I hope we see a lot of more of it. It was nice. Cynthia: Me, too. Sharon: Since you’ve been designing for so long, what do you think motivates you today that’s different than what motivated you decades ago, when you first started? Cynthia: Right now, I’m working with more color. I love colors mixed together. Like I told you, I’m working a lot with flowers. I think because history and fashion play such an important part in my designing, I look at the kids, what they wear now, harkening back to the 1980s. I feel myself very influenced right now by 80s jewelry. I feel like it’s also intertwined, like I said, with music and art and fashion and jewelry. They work together. During the Blue Rider period, the abstract expressionism with Kandinsky and Klee, you had music of that time that reflected it. Creativity is what makes changes in the world, even though we repeat a lot of fashion. Some of what the kids are wearing is very unique. They wear a lot of body jewelry with tattoos and earrings that climb all the way up their ears. That is really new and fresh. Every generation is evolving into a new creative style. I think the depth of a designer is to keep coming out with new designs and to keep being creative. It’s paramount and important to me to constantly be coming out with new designs, and I get that influence from what’s going on in the world around me. Sharon: You sound very open to seeing new things as opposed to, “Oh my God, look at that person with all those tattoos.” Cynthia: It’s basically body art. Yeah, it fascinates me; purple hair, green hair. Sharon: You can be very creative with hair and body art and all that. Cynthia: Absolutely. It’s the time of personal style and expression now. Sharon: Do you think it’s different now? People think of the 60s as being a time of personal art and expression. Do you think the 70s had less of that or the 80s had less of that? Cynthia: I think every decade, every era has that. Even if you look at the Rococo and Baroque periods in France, where they had their powdered wigs and their beautiful couture, they were out of the box. The music was out of the box, and that’s how change happens in the world. Sharon: I like that change happens through creativity. You can look at different ways of saying that. Is it through creativity in tech or is it creativity in fashion? I guess it’s everything. Cynthia: Yeah. Sharon: You mentioned that enjoy studying jewelry history. Do you think it’s important for jewelers and jewelry designers to be steeped in that, to know the history of jewelry, to see the trends through the ages? How important do you think that is? Cynthia: I think it helps. It certainly helps me to visually look at a lot of different styles and see what’s been around for hundreds of years, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. Some people are just creative, and they come out with their own unique style. I don’t know if you’ve looked at what Boucheron is doing now with this kind of glasswork. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It really is wearable art. They’re pushing the envelope as to jewelry and wearable art. A lot of the young designers coming up now are especially working with the fashion houses, and the fashion houses are saying, “Hey, we need to incorporate some important jewelry with our fashion.” It’s unique. So, the answer to your question is I don’t know if it’s important to know jewelry history. I think the most important thing is to be forward and to come up with something creative that is unique and your own. Sharon: What do you when you find your creativity has stalled? If you have writer’s block in terms of jewelry, what do you do? Cynthia: In the past, I can say that when someone commissions me to do a piece of a jewelry or I have a new collection I want to come out with and I just don’t know what to do, sometimes I just put it in the back of my head and go around my business. It is haunting me in my head, and then all of a sudden, I’ll be sitting there and I’ll look at a chair or something. I’ll see a shape and a light goes off in my head, and that’s it; that’s the concept. It’s almost a subconscious process. This has happened with me time and time again. I’ll be sleeping and somehow something will hit me, “This is it.” Sometimes it takes a week or two. I don’t think it’s taken over once I make my mind up that I need something new over two weeks. It usually goes into my subconscious brain, and I guess my conscious brain is looking for ideas. Sharon: That is the way it works. You’re meditating and something comes, or you’re in the shower. Exactly, it’s when you’re not looking. Cynthia, thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with us. This has been really enjoyable and fascinating. It’s great to talk with somebody who’s been through decades of jewelry design. Cynthia: Does that make me old? Sharon: No, it doesn’t. Cynthia: The creative mind is never old. Creativity is always young. Sharon: Yes, that’s definitely it. Thank you so much. Cynthia: Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this very much, and I look forward to next time. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.