The Not-So-Obvious Way that Fashion Has Impacted the Jewelry Industry

Whenever I see a company buck the status quo and take a calculated risk that actually makes sense in the context of the current market, my belief in mankind is reinforced and I thank goodness for Darwinian instincts. Burberry just announced that it is veering away from the insane Fashion Week schedule and instead combining men and women’s runway shows together into two annual events. This is streamlined approach is a reaction to the unsustainable fashion week schedule that has resulted in the burnout of brilliant creative minds such as Raf Simmons, John Galliano and Alber Elbaz. I believe that other fashion houses will quickly follow suit because this non-seasonal approach both reflects current consumer behavior and relieves quite a bit of financial strain and waste in the industry. I am cautiously optimistic that this sudden wash of sanity over the fashion industry will have a positive affect on jewelry designers and the jewelry industry as well.

In recent years, due to the prevalence of e-commerce and digital media, the jewelry industry has realized that branding is crucial to a company’s survival. In this new and exciting digital world we live in no one will find you without a brand presence. As the jewelry industry is moving away from the unbranded mom and pop model to one where brands rule, jewelry designers now have to show during fashion weeks in addition to the traditional jewelry show circuit and their own trunk shows for their private clients twice a year. Is it any wonder that more and more jewelry companies are finding this landscape unmanageable and struggling to survive?

In addition to the physical and mental strain designers are facing, the pressure from multi-category fashion retailers to create collections on the fashion schedule are placing a huge financial burden on jewelry designers as well. I’ve always been quite vocal about my disagreement with this approach. Fine jewelry is much more capital-intensive than fashion and it is absolutely absurd to expect jewelry designers to come up with two or three collections a year. It puts a huge financial strain on designers and when the pieces don’t sell because of their higher price points it is the designers who suffer. Fashion retailers bear none of the financial risk because they take all the jewelry on consignment need only return the jewelry to the designers to wash their hand of the inventory.

The designers on the other hand are caught in a vicious downward spiral because they are now stuck with “last season’s” inventory that no one thinks is relevant anymore. They then have to offload the inventory somewhere either by discounting or selling to a secondary market like Gilt or outlet malls. Once a brand’s discounted jewelry floods the market its brand equity will suffer and it is unlikely that the brand will ever be able to regain the luxury cache it once had. In order to maintain margins and survive they have no choice but to start cutting costs, using lower quality materials and manufacturing and before long brand is a shell of its former self with little integrity or pride in its product remaining.

What is the solution then? Taking cue from Burberry’s brave decision to do the sensical thing is a step in the right direction. Designers should review their business models and retail relationships and ask whether those arrangements make sense for their business after reviewing the long-term financial costs of working with certain retailers. Seek out partners who are willing to have aligned interests, have shared values and are structured in ways that will support growth and build brand equity.

This has been our mission at Swoonery and the designers who work with us agree. There is no feeling like hearing from our brands that they finally feel that a retailer is on their side and building with them rather than at their expense. It is my hope that by lifting much of the financial risk off our brands’ shoulders and creating win-win situations for everyone at each stage we will recreate the jewelry industry into one that is beautifully efficient–one where unique aesthetics abound, quality and integrity in craftsmanship can shine and people can once again discover and develop personal connections to fine jewelry in a meaningful way.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

The Journey of Female Entrepreneurs

Around October of 2014 I decided to embark on a journey that would forever change my life. Up until that point I spent six years working as a corporate lawyer on venture capital, private equity, and mergers and acquisitions transactions in NYC and Shanghai; fell in love with startups and started investing in them in 2008; then left my career in law to help Jewelry Tyrant Daddy grow his high-end jewelry manufacturing business; started my own jewelry atelier; and was pretty much in a good place because I was learning, growing, and enjoying my work. However, I knew that I was just getting started. I loved working with clients to design bespoke jewelry that reflected each of their individual aesthetics and continued to try to grow my atelier but I kept seeing the same points of friction frustrating my clients in the jewelry buying process and the same inefficiencies were holding back my company from growing. So I committed to doing something about it. I decided to take everything I learned about technology, venture capital, investing in startups, and the vertical fine jewelry pipeline and build a startup that would solve both the problems that clients face when they are trying to buy jewelry and the inefficiencies that designers and brands are burdened with when trying to build and scale their jewelry businesses–I would build my own jewelry technology startup.

This blog has always been about baubles, bling, and banter and I grappled with whether or not I should expand its scope to include my life as a startup founder and female entrepreneur. Starting up a tech company for the first time is scary enough as it is and I have so very much to learn along the way. Not only do I have to come up with a solid concept for a business, I also have to build a team that has the necessary skill set to help me develop the product and build the business, figure out how to fund my startup, create a company culture that will allow my team to feel supported in order to actualize on their potential, manage my investors, put out fires (and boy will there will be fires…), live a well-rounded balanced life, and stay sane in the process. Most startups fail. Most never see the light of day. So this begs the question: Why the hell would I blog about my process of building a startup and risk failing publicly for all the world to see?

Everyone has been buzzing about female entrepreneurs these past few years. There have been countless articles on the rise of the female entrepreneur, debate over what Silicon Valley thinks of women (scroll down in the comments section of the Newsweek article to read my response–I was miffed), a growing movement around teaching women how to become entrepreneurs and how to invest, creation of resources for women founders to find funding, etc. But here is the thing, of all the resources out there and the success stories that are newly trickling in, I think there is value in a female founder putting herself out there and going through the process publicly so that other girls, women and even dudes can follow along; because as Chelsea Clinton said at the Lincoln Center Women in Philanthropy and Female Leadership Breakfast, “It is hard for us to envision what we cannot see.” So if my posts make it less scary for even one woman or girl somewhere out there to make the leap and start her own company, then whatever consequences I face as a result of undergoing this process publicly will have been worth it.

I intend to write as accurately as I can and as often as I can about the things I have to learn in order to build a tech startup and take it to launch and beyond, post links to resources that I have found helpful, hash out my decision-making processes, and be as honest as possible about the emotions and the ups and downs that I encounter along the way. This is not an arrogant attempt to show the world how it’s done. Let’s be honest, I have no idea how it’s done because I’ve never done it before and every day I encounter something new that I know nothing about and have to get up to speed ASAP. This is me, your ever-quirky and often ridiculous Bling Fairy going about my business and blogging about it so that others can witness the process. There will be times when I am wrong and there will be times that I’m killing it, but it is my hope that by writing about my experiences as I encounter them and doing it publicly not only will I learn from the process as I look back on it but someone else out there will find value in it too. So here we go…

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

Are Irradiated Diamonds and Gems Safe to Wear?

Fancy colored diamonds have blown up in recent years.  Natural (meaning completely untreated) fancy blue, pink, red, and green diamonds have been hitting record highs at auction.  A 9.75 carat fancy blue pear-shaped diamond sold for US$32,645,000 (or US$3,348,205 per carat) this past November from the collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon at Sotheby’s; and in October, an 8.41-carat internally flawless pink diamond sold for nearly $17.8 million at the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Hong Kong.  Now, for those of us civilians who don’t have ten or twenty million bucks sloshing around in our jewelry budget to throw down on fancy-colored natural diamonds, many jewelers and diamond companies are turning to irradiated diamonds and gems as an affordable alternative for consumers.

Are Irradiated Diamonds and Gems Safe to Wear?

9.75 carat fancy blue natural diamond from the collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon.Are Irradiated Diamonds and Gems Safe to Wear?

8.41 carat, internally flawless fancy pink natural diamond.

Irradiation is a process whereby radiation is used to alter a diamond or gem’s crystal lattice thereby creating color centers and changing the color of the gem.  Diamonds are irradiated to product fancy blue, green, or black diamonds and the diamond can further be annealed to produce yellow, brown, orange, or pink colors.  There are four ways diamonds are irradiated these days, all four involve bombarding a part of the atoms (protons, neutrons, electrons, or gamma rays) with radiation to change the diamond’s crystal lattice.  The most common gemstones to undergo irradiation as a form of color treatment are topaz (irradiated to become blue), quartz (irradiated to become amethyst), colorless beryl (irradiated to become golden beryl or heliodore) and pearls (to become a grey-blue or black).

We’ve all heard about the terrible effects of radiation on living things.  Long-term, low-level radiation has been shown to result in cancer and genetic mutations according to the EPA yet, humans undergo radiation therapy as a form of cancer treatment as well.  So how does this relate to jewelry?  Are irradiated diamonds and gems safe to wear?

Once a stone’s crystal lattice has been altered, the atoms are unstable and emit radiation.  Over time, the unstable atom decays and eventually becomes stable, this is called radioactive decay.  The decay of radioactive elements happens at a fixed rate and the amount of time it takes for a radioisotope to decay depends on the radioactive element.  Radioactive half-life is the time it takes for half of the unstable material to degrade into a stable material.  Cobalt 60 (Co-60), a common radioisotope that is used to produce fancy color irradiated diamonds.  It has a half-life of 5 years–which means you have to set it aside for five years for half of the unstable material to become stable.  But it sometimes takes several cycles in order for the radiation to reach low enough levels that are considered “safe” for humans–it all depends on how much radiation the gem is exposed to in the first place and what levels are considered “safe.”

Are Irradiated Diamonds and Gems Safe to Wear?

4k White Gold Earrings, Treated Pink Diamond Stud Earrings (2 ct. t.w.); available here.

So who is checking to make sure these irradiated diamonds and gems are within acceptable levels?  The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the distribution of irradiated diamonds and irradiated gems.  The NRC requires the stones to be set aside for a couple of months to allow any radioactivity to decay and distributors must conduct radiological surveys before selling any of the treated stones on the market.  While I am happy someone is attempting to regulate this, I am still a bit skeptical about how strictly the NRC enforces its requirements and it is unclear as to how stringent the NRC is about requiring diamond distributors to have a license.

Naturally, I am not a nuclear physicist so my opinion should not be taken as scientific fact.  However, given what I know about the jewelry industry and the possible dangers of prolonged radiation exposure would I wear irradiated diamonds and gems?  Irradiated gems, definitely not because they are a bit too accessible.  However, when it comes to irradiated diamonds…  I was trolling the AGTA booths yesterday during the Tucson Gem Show sourcing precious gems for private clients and sussing out new developments in gem cutting when I happened upon a swoon-worthy necklace made of irradiated blue diamond beads.  I will admit that I was about to throw down some cold hard cash and walk out with that baby glistening around my throat; but knowing what I know about the treatment process I thought I would sleep on it before making a purchase.  So my final verdict?  Would I wear irradiated diamonds?  Nope.  Especially not every day around my neck where many important glands reside.  However, the very instant I have ten or twenty million to throw down on a large natural fancy blue or pink diamond, you better believe I will be living, breathing and sleeping in that thing twenty-four-seven!

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

Double-Sided Earrings: Being Two-Faced Has Never Looked So Good

The next time a guy uses the lame line, “I hate to see you go but I love to watch you leave,” you can take it as a compliment about your new double-sided earrings.  This jewelry trend is nothing short of a godsend for all ladies of excess.  Why only accessorize a single side of one’s ear when one can bling out both?  Jewelry designers are embracing this idea by turning the boring earring back into a jewel in its own right–when worn, both the earring and the earring back is visible thereby transforming our little lobes into double-sided display vehicles.  Swoon!

Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So GoodBaubleBar Crystal tri-pod ear jackets; available here.

Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So GoodBaubleBar Cairo Ear Jackets; available here.

Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So Good

BaubleBar Pave Spike 360 Studs; available here.
Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So GoodBaubleBar Teardrop Reverse Studs; available here.

Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So GoodGivenchy Double-Sided Earrings; available here.

Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So Good

Maria Black Double-Sided Earrings; available here.Double Sided Earrings: Being Two Faced Has Never Looked So Good

Givenchy Double-Sided Earrings; available here.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

For Millennials, the return of ear cuffs may feel reminiscent of the 90’s when grunge, goth, and punk revival made spike or skull and crossbones ear cuffs practically de rigueur.  While I can just squeak into the Millennials basket (I hop in and out depending on whether it suits my current mindset and stance in a discussion naturally), my study of jewelry history has made it possible for me to disassociate ear cuffs with the grunge movement and hence, embrace them far more readily.

Ear cuffs can be dated back to the ancient Greeks, they were a favored adornment of the aristocracy and widely worn as a symbol of affluence.  Ear cuffs were also worn by the indigenous people of Mexico, Thailand, and India many centuries ago.  In the 1950’s, costume jewelry designer, Marcel Boucher, coined the term “earrite” for another type of ear cuff which wraps around the ear.

While both ear cuffs and earrites are gaining momentum in the arena of aural accoutrement, it seems that Mr. Boucher’s earrites are stealing the show–they first started trickling down the fashion pipeline during the Spring/Summer 2013 shows at Rodarte and Jason Wu but mark my words, this little trend is just taking root.  Hit it early and you may be able to get some quality time with your blinged-out ear cuffs and earrites before every blogger want-to-be starts plastering their social media with their sparkling elfin ears.

Fine Jewelry

Ear Cuffs in EarnestAna Khouri, Mirian 18-karat white gold diamond ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in EarnestNikos Koulis, white gold and white diamond Fontana ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Izel, 14-karat gold diamond ear cuff; available here.

Costume Jewelry

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Ryan Storer, Swarovski crystal ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Ryan Storer, Swarovski crystal ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in EarnestEmanuele Bicocchi, flower ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Givenchy, crystal and mother-of-pearl ear cuff; available here.Ear Cuffs in EarnestBjorg, silver ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Vicki Sarge, gold-plated Swarovski crystal ear cuffs; available here.

Ear Cuffs in Earnest

Ryan Storer, rose gold-plated Swarovski crystal and pearl ear cuffs; available here.

Look for Less

 

Ear Cuffs in EarnestBaubleBar, winged crystal ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in EarnestBaubleBar, crystal Orion ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in EarnestBaubleBar, Hermes ear cuff; available here.

Ear Cuffs in EarnestJewelIQ, laurel ear cuff; available here.

Someone should make hearing aids for women this pretty…just a thought.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP