Category: Fine Jewelry

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

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

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

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I am often moved to tears by pieces of jewelry from the past.  The irrational effort and passion of the designer, the otherworldly amount of skill of the jeweler, the serendipity that wove the fate of gem, precious metal, and wearer together.  But seldom am I moved to tears by the work of a contemporary jewelry designer.  There is only one living designer whose jewelry can makes believers of us all–Joel A. Rosenthal the creator of JAR.

JAR is like an underground cult, a secret society.  Few will have heard of it and even fewer will have the privilege of owning a piece.  However, amongst serious jewelry connoisseurs–people who revere jewelry as an art form, those who float in the heady dream that a spectacular piece conjures, those who believe in the integrity of master artisans–JAR reigns supreme.

From November 20, 2013 until March 9, 2014, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will exhibit over four hundred pieces of jewelry by Joel A. Rosenthal.  It will be the first retrospective of the designer’s work in America and he will be the first contemporary “gem artist” exhibited at the Met.

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Tulip Brooch 2008 with diamond and ruby*

 

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Diamond Bracelet 2010*

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Zebra Brooch 1987 crafted from banded agate, diamonds, silver and gold*

Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

JAR Geranium brooch 2007 Diamonds, aluminum, silver, gold Private Collection*

Most of the pieces being exhibited are on loan from their owners.  Imagine the pangs of anxiety they will feel when they reach in their safes for a piece only to remember that it is beyond their reach.

For those who cannot make it to the Met for the exhibit or for those who want to keep a piece of JAR in their homes, one can purchase the coffee table book hereJewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I leave you with a quote from the designer:

“Unlike beauty, art and luxury are possessable, but beyond, the opposite of sleep, indifference, and imitation.  They do not care about perspective, nor does passion.  These three, beauty, art, and luxury, are inseparable from happiness.

Jewels are for the passing possessor and onlooker, both the epitome of now, the breath breathed as they sparkle, and that promise of more, of more time.”

– Joel A. Rosenthal

 

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

*Photos courtesy of The Jewellery Editor, B-JEWELED, and Jewels du Jour

Costume Jewelry vs. Fine Jewelry

 

Most costume jewelry designers will tell you that there is no need for fine jewelry and almost all fine jewelry designers will tell you that costume jewelry is garbage.  My jewelry tyrant father, having been a veteran in the high-end fine jewelry business for over 30 years, frequently throws his arms up in exasperation when I saunter into the office wearing costume jewelry.  My personal stance on the issue of costume jewelry vs. fine jewelry is that each serves a different purpose so I collect both.  Let it never be said that JZP discriminates against costume jewelry!  Here is the rationale:

Costume jewelry is made with crystal, glass, plastic, acrylic, and base metals.  As a result, it is more affordable than fine jewelry.  Keep in mind that designer costume jewelry these days often will run up to a few thousands dollars so it’s not necessarily cheap.  However, as we’ve seen from Barbara Berger’s collection, costume jewelry can be highly collectible as well.  Due to the cheaper cost of materials, costume jewelry designers can go all out and over the top so most of the costume jewelry that you will see are statement pieces.  Another characteristic of costume jewelry is that the styles tend to embody the trend of the moment.  I buy trendy styles in costume jewelry because I know that I won’t feel guilty if the piece looks dated next season and is cast aside, whereas a $20,000 diamond encrusted skull or piglet-shaped ring may not be the wisest investment for the long-term.

Costume Jewelry vs. Fine Jewelry

 

Lulu Frost, solar wave necklace; available here.

Fine jewelry is about love, timelessness, significance, and investment.  Love–one purchases fine jewelry out of love whether it be love for oneself, for the recipient, or love of the piece of jewelry.  It is something you can see yourself wearing for a long time–something that will give you warm fuzzy feelings whenever you look at it or receive a compliment on it.  A gorgeous piece of fine jewelry can signify a milestone in life (engagement, marriage, the birth of a child, a birthday), a milestone in one’s career (I got a promotion so will treat myself to something significant), or even a mental milestone (I’m going to take better care of myself).  Gems, diamonds, and precious metals like silver, gold or platinum will always appreciate in value if they are high quality.

Costume Jewelry vs. Fine Jewelry

 

Roberto Coin, rose gold and diamond pave bangle; available here.

Which leads me to my don’ts:

1. Don’t buy costume jewelry that is meant to pass for fine jewelry–if you’re going to buy costume, go for a statement piece and be unabashed about the fact that it is costume jewelry.  Costume jewelry that is masquerading as fine jewelry is easily detectable and may lead to bouts of paranoia.

2.  Don’t buy low quality fine jewelry–I’m not saying everyone can afford or has to buy exorbitantly expensive fine jewelry.  However, you should always buy something that doesn’t look or feel cheap to you.  This is about your expectations and standards not anyone else’s.  Don’t settle for lower quality in materials or workmanship than you are accustomed to.

Costume jewelry should be fun and fine jewelry should be extravagant–one is a cupcake and the other a soufflé.  There is a time and place for both.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP