LaGuardia is the only New York airport I fly into anymore. Partly because of their improved Delta terminal with better restaurants and a zillion places to plug in. And partly because every time I fly out of JFK, a piece of my luggage goes all Dave Chappelle on me. But mostly because I know that the view coming into New York City is my generation’s version of my great-grandparents’ “arrival on the boat”… meaning, if I’m sitting on the left side of the plane, it’s assured in good weather that I’ll lay eyes on dear Lady Liberty. Her sea foam-colored arm raised toward the heavens, she’s a reminder to me that I’m here to make my ancestors proud. I see her, and I want to work harder. I see her, and every memory of this place – good and bad – comes flooding back. But I see her, and I’m certain that I’m absolutely where I’m supposed to be.
Hello New York; my lover and friend. It’s good to see you on this frigid January afternoon. Let’s grab ourselves a skinny latte, check into our Eastside hotel, and make our faces a whole lotta pretty, ‘cause the hours are limited and baby… it’s show time.
Thursday, January 8th: The Diamond Empowerment Fund GOOD AWARDS
No sooner did my flight land did the texting frenzy begin. It took an hour to get from LaGuardia to the GUMUCHIAN offices which left not a ton of time to work with Jodi on some suites for our VIPs to wear at the weekend’s “big three,” and even less time to get all fancied up for the Good Awards. Eventually my Uber arrived and I was off to 42nd and 2nd, where I was to meet my jewelry bestie, fellow blogger, and roommate for the next two days, Monica Stephenson of Idazzle
(Now, if you read this blog you’re already aware that when the two of us get together mayhem has been known to ensue, right? Good, then you won’t be surprised or offended. Carry on.)
I should have known she was walking through the revolving door when I heard the sounds of trumpeting archangels in the distance. There she was, all five feet, eleven glamorous inches of her, slow-motion walking in my direction as the bellhops carried bags in her shadow while trying desperately not to fall over one another’s snow boots.
“You’re here!” I exclaimed from the check-in counter. “I’m here!” she replied, as she coolly removed her sunglasses. We hugged. We kissed. We immediately went to the bar for wine. I was so excited to have her as a roomie. If we smoked ciggies, sang, and did mud masks we’d practically be a scene out of Grease.
Black was our chosen color for the night, but since the evening was all about Diamonds Doing Good, both of us wore diamond jewels by GUMUCHIAN. Our arrival to the Empire Penthouse Lounge was on the earlier side but we were greeted almost immediately by lovely familiar faces and a few, not as familiar. Monica and I were the last to jump into an already packed elevator car of party attendees who weren’t quite as, shall we say, “vertically gifted” as the two of us. This made for a bit of banter on the ride up to the event, and started the night the way all nights should begin… with laughter.
The bar area and lounge had a warm feel to them with views of the Empire State Building hard to match anywhere in the city. After kisses to JA President Dave Bonaparte and some other guy named Tratthew Matner or something, I zoned in on one of the guests of honor having her picture taken in front of the step and repeat.
Jane Seymour is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning actress. She is an Officer of the Order of the British Empire; a title bestowed upon her in the year 2000 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Jane is also an artist, receiving accolades and great success for her works, painted mostly in oil and watercolor. One of her original works – titled “The Open Heart” – was the catalyst for the design of the jewelry collection “Open Hearts by Jane Seymour” which is available at Sterling stores such as Kay Jewelers and Jared. The collection is only one part of her Open Hearts Foundation, whose mission is to impact young people in the arts, sports, wellness, and education. It is this reason that one of the 2015 GOOD Awards was to be presented to her.
We watched as she stood solo; camera lights flashing while she smiled a still youthful and perfect smile. Monica and I then approached her to introduce ourselves and have a professional picture taken in front of the S & R, but before making our exit, I powered up the front camera on my phone and said… “Jane! Selfie with me?” to which she replied, “Well, I’m not really good at the selfies, but yeah, alright.”
And that, kids, is how you take a picture with a celebrity.
When the time came for the awards to be presented, a hush came over the crowd as Dr. Ben Chavis spoke. You remember Dr. Ben, don’t you? He’s the kind-faced gentleman I mentioned in one of my Tales from the Strip blog posts from Vegas. To my surprise, not only had Dr. Ben remembered who I was, but went as far as to say “I loved what you wrote about Vegas. I tweeted it!” Um, I’m in love. I think I found my next ex-husband. Todd, you’re out. Dr. Ben… you’re in.
Jane Seymour graciously accepted her award by sharing with the crowd an anecdote about her mother, while images of the two of them together rolled behind her. She explained that her mother would remind her that “love had no boundaries” and that whatever happened, if she kept an open heart, love would always find its way in, which was the inspiration for not only Jane’s painting, but also her jewelry collection.
Jeweler’s For Children’s David Rocha received the night’s other GOOD award for his work with children’s charities and tireless fundraising efforts in the jewelry industry. I’ve known David for a few years now but we didn’t really know one another’s story. This past August, David learned a little about mine and in turn, I learned, firsthand, of the wonderful work done by Jewelers For Children. My son was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was sixteen weeks old. The first several years of his life were a blur, and a nightmare, but thankfully the seizures eventually came to a halt and now, at eight years old, my son is a brilliant third-grader with a passion for running. To raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation, each year he and I run the Magnolia Run 5K together. When I posted the link for Roman’s fundraising page to Facebook just three days before the race was to take place, the first donation that came through was quite substantial, and quite familiar…
It was from David Rocha.
Watching David be recognized by the Diamond Empowerment Fund was personal for me, and I was thrilled to stand in the crowd and celebrate all that he, Jane, and the DEF are doing to help children both abroad and here in the United States. Three students – hailing from Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe – were also on hand to share their stories of how the Diamond Empowerment Fund enabled them to further their education through sponsorships and programs. Emmanuel Ewald Mushy’s goal was to get a better education in order to return to his native Tanzania and “change the system.”
After the awards part of the evening was over, the socializing continued. Maybe some of us took to the dance floor. Maybe some of us tortured the young, cute waiter who taunted us with warm chocolate chip and M&M cookies. Maybe some of us borrowed a buck or two to give to the bathroom attendant and somehow wound up with an extra forty dollars before the night was over (??). And maybe a bunch of us eventually made our way down a freezing, Manhattan street to a tiny, warmly lit oyster bar, and maybe we drank and we laughed and we talked and we made memories. Maybe. I guess you just had to be there to know for sure.
I’m thrilled to have attended this heartwarming event as well as to share the news of the DEF’s consumer site, diamondsdogood.com. I want to thank the beautiful (inside and out) Nancy Orem Lyman for her kindness and for enlightening me on this foundation which is now a part of my jewelry story.
Monica and I drifted off after recalling many of the wonderful experiences of the night. I can’t speak for her, but I know I fell asleep with a smile on my face and a giggle in my heart.
Wait, where did this pocket square come from?
Friday, January 9th: The GEM Awards
“It’s snowing. Rad.”
“Rad? I’ve got to go to the Village for brunch. I’m not prepared for snow.”
The two of us looked out of our tiny, 14th-floor window at the snow-covered brick building across the street. It really was beautiful, in reality. Atlanta doesn’t get a ton of snow, and despite what people believe about Seattle, it really doesn’t, either. Plus, it’s New York. I mean, who doesn’t love New York when it’s snowing, right? Unless you live in the city, of course. Or if you drive Uber. You must hate that shit if you drive Uber. Or if you’re one of those Time Square fake Elmos. I mean, the snow must be hell on your already ratty costume. Though it might actually clean it a little. The naked cowboy dude must hate snow, too. Hard nipples suck. I’ll tell you more about those later on. Anyway, where was I? OH! It’s GEM AWARDS DAY!!!! (Does happy dance that I finally get to write about it!) GEM AWARDS! GEM AWARDS! THREE CHEERS FOR GEM AWARDS! And how does one prepare for the GEM Awards, you ask? Beer with Michael Schechter, naturally.
I don’t drink beer. For me to drink beer I have to be one of three things:
- In Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany on my birthday
- Standing in front of our Heavenly Father at the holy gates after He gave me the choice between drinking beer or drinking poison
- With Michael Schechter
I’ve never acquired a taste for beer. And, no offense, beer-drinking lady friends, but, there is nothing that makes me cringe more than when a woman is dressed to the nines, all decked out in designer everything with pristine makeup, Jimmy Choos, and perfectly coifed locks, and I see her holding a beer bottle. It makes me want to smash it in her youthful-looking face, I’m not going to lie. GET A GLASS, FOR F*CK’S SAKE. Save the beers for bars, girls. Bars and boats. Bars and boats and Michael Schechter. That is when you are allowed to drink beer. And if you find a boat with a bar and Michael Schechter on it, you can drink it straight from the keg, for all I care. Knock yourself out.
I picked up Mikey at his office and we walked a few blocks to District Tap House for lunch. There, I made him give me the rundown of how the next night’s 24K event would go, and picked his brain about writing for money (BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Writing for money?! Who on earth writes for money?? HILARIOUSNESS!). I also asked where he thought the industry was headed in terms of the old way of thinking… in other words, will women ever dominate an industry created for them? I pointed out that the highest paid positions are still held largely by men, and that’s when Mike dropped a truth bomb of wisdom unlike any I’ve ever heard spew from his bacon-consuming mouth…
“Yes, but there is a layer of penis in the industry that is slowly going to die out.”
There you have it, gals. In black and white. All we need to do is wait for this penis layer to *die out* and we’re in. The money is ours. It’s so simple. It’s always been right there in front of us. (And by the way, I’ve already copyrighted “Layer of Penis” so that I may use it as the name for my all-male, jewelry designer rock band I plan to front, so don’t even THINK about taking it.)
Needless to say, lunch was a BLAST, but it was time for Mike to get back to the job he acts like he works at and I was getting pretty close to GEM Awards prep time, so off I headed in my Yellow Cab chariot to turn myself into Cinderella for the evening.
My gown for this night was a white Ralph Lauren that had a crystal neckline and slit on the left leg. For my jewels, I selected a pair of gorgeous Gumuchian platinum line drop earrings with diamonds and huge rock crystals as well as a massive Bubble collection domed diamond ring. Monica decided on a Wendy Yue original ruby rose necklace to accessorize her beautiful black and white strapless gown. As we were getting our hair and makeup done, we realized at one point we were both standing in the room sans clothes but avec heels. It was quite the site, I have to admit. We laughed and I immediately said… “Oh, if Dallas could see us now….”
We thankfully arrived at Cipriani at the same time as our other #VegasGem, award-winning designer and beautiful gal, Wendy Brandes.. I looked up at the room and was mesmerized. Enthralled, even. Cipriani looked like something I’d only seen on television during awards season. It was a majestic space, decorated splendidly, with huge screens that stated, simply…
The Gem Awards
I was here. I was really here. Nineteen years in the business, six jewelry jobs, and two blogs, and I was finally standing here, with the people I’ve admired from a distance and looked at only on the pages of my favorite publications. Sure, I knew a lot of the guests, but not everyone. And this was different. I was here to cover the event; to write about it. But I was also here to enjoy all that jewelry is and is capable of being.
Recently, just after the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, I wrote a short piece on my FB page about satire, and humor. It began with the following statement: “The jewelry industry is one of the few industries out there that exists, primarily, to bring people joy. We buy jewelry for ourselves when we get the bonus we wanted at work. We buy jewelry for others when it’s their birthday or anniversary. We wear jewelry on special occasions, or when we’re attending important events. We give jewelry to our family members so that they may remember us after we’re gone; so that they think fondly of us and smile, and potentially pass it down to the next generation of wearers. Jewelry brings happiness, memories, and a sense of satisfaction to those who make it, own it, buy it, give it, and wear it. And the industry, for as serious as it can sometimes be, is also known for its whimsy and playfulness.”
On this night, in this space, all of the above rang true.
Monica, Wendy, and I were met on the red carpet by a cameraman and a gorgeous South African. For the first time, the GEM Awards were being broadcast via livestream on the Jewelers of America website, and industry sweetheart Hayley Henning was playing the role of Ryan Seacrest. “Hello gorgeous girls,” said Hayley, and there we were, for all of America to see, with the major difference being that when Hayley asked us who we were wearing, NO ONE mentioned the dress, and EVERYONE mentioned the jewels.
I’d like to take a moment to give a major shout out to my friend and colleague, Amanda Gizzi, who did an unbelievable job pulling everything together flawlessly for this event. Amanda, you are AMAZING, and if you know me, you know that I only whip out that word about once a year, so you’ve already used it up for me for 2015… that’s just how awesome you are, babe! Great, great job.
If you haven’t already heard, the 2015 nominees for Design were Alexis Bittar, Todd Reed, and Stephen Webster (or as they’ll soon be known… “Layer of Penis”), with Webster walking away with the prize and exclaiming via livestream “This industry has been f*cking amazing!” That prompted cheers from the crowd as well as a text from my husband (who was watching from home) saying, “That man just said ‘f*cking’ on live T.V. Thank God there was no five-second delay. I might have missed that.” The nominees for Marketing and Communications were Forevermark, Tudor, and Shinola. Super model Carolyn Murphy accepted the award for Shinola, who took the prize. The nominees for Media Excellence were Claudia Mata of W Magazine, Maria Doulton, of The Jewellery Editor, and Jack Forster of Revolution Magazine USA. The GEM award in this category went to the lovely Ms. Mata who gave a truly fantastic acceptance speech. And the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Neiman Marcus’ Larry Pelzel who has worked in the high-end luxury jewelry business for 34 years, having joined Neiman Marcus in 1980, or, as Mike Asscher calls it, THE YEAR HE WAS BORN.
Our table (#powertable48) comprised Wendy Brandes, Monica, WJA President Andrea Hanson, Helena Krodel, designer Malak Atut, designer Jules Kim, Bernadette (Pix) Mack, designer Allison Neumann, and yours truly (or as we’re soon to be known… “Layer of Vagina.”) Amanda knew to put us waaaaaaaay in the back because, well, she probably figured we’d go apeshit once Michael O’Connor starting comparing sex to jewelry design in his award presentation speech. I mean, I nearly did go out for a cigarette at that point, since two of the guys up for it were Todd Reed and Stephen Webster.
Oh and hey, since this IS my blog, and since I really don’t care who thinks what about how I write it, I’m going to go ahead and throw some thoughts out to the people I saw at the GEM Awards, so here goes:
Michelle Peranteau: I love you! You’re the best and I miss you. And I need you.
Matt Tratner: Don’t ever ignore us again. Stalkies will haunt you. You’ve been warned.
Rob Bates: ROOOOBBBBBBBBBBBB BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATES!
Brandee Dallow: Where the f*ck were you last night?
Craig Danforth: Don’t go anywhere near a bathtub, dude. Not tonight.
Dallas Selsey: I’m sorry I poked you in the eye. No bra. Cold outside. You get the point. (Literally.)
Stephen Webster: Damn, you fine.
Carolyn Murphy: DAYUM girl. You finer.
Haley Henning: You are flawless.
Terry Chandler: Enough with the slit comments.
Fran Pennella: No one wears fringe like you do.
Beth Bernstein: So nice to meet you!
Bill Farmer: You complete me.
Cameraman: Thanks, bro. You know what for.
Uber driver: YOU HAD MINTS!
Wendy Brandes: That bitch.
Bernadette Mack: You had me at “throat punch.”
Dave Bonaparte: Give Amanda a raise.
That’s all the shout outs I have at this time. Now, off to Whiskey Blue, girls! Taxi!
Monica, Malak, and I hailed a cab and arrived at the bar at the W hotel only to be bum-rushed upon arrival by three Yale hockey players with offerings of drinks. Um, take it down a notch, boys. We’re old enough to be your babysitters… uh, no, that might only add to the flirtation. Wait, we’re old enough to be your stepsisters… no… no… that could be a turn-on, too… um, jeez… okay, we’re married? And old? Still not getting rid of you, huh? Okay, just gonna step on over here a moment and hang out with my girlfriends…. NO. NO. Not my literal… ah, hell, can we just go somewhere else?
Before the evening ended, we, as a group, were faced with that inevitable industry question that is so frequently asked. The conversation goes a little something like this:
Random bar guy: “Are you here on business or pleasure?”
Random bar guy: “Oh. What business are you in?”
Random bar buy: “Pretzel? You’re serious? You’re in the pretzel business?”
Me: “Yep. All about the pretzels. Can’t have a world without pretzels.”
Random bar guy: “I didn’t realize the pretzel business was so glamorous.”
Me: “Oh, you have no idea.”
This is when you know it’s time to say goodnight. Monica and I made it back to our room only to stay up talking another couple of hours. On two hours of sleep, Monica said her goodbye and there I lay, alone, thinking about doing it all over again for one more night. But not just yet. I’m going back to bed, for now.
Saturday, January 10th: 24K Club of New York Banquet
I had a day to myself in the city, and it was nice. I walked from the hotel down to Grand Central Station and opted for a gin martini and lunch at their world famous Oyster Bar. Wearing a black Lycra turtleneck and last night’s mascara, I felt a little like Audrey Hepburn only without the beauty and grace. Or the talent. Or money. Okay, I felt nothing like her but felt I was channeling her independence. A half-dozen oysters were probably the last thing I needed at that moment but I couldn’t resist. I knew that these were my last 24 hours in this wonderful city – a place that both scares the hell out of me and brings me immeasurable joy. New York represents so much to me, and leaving it is often as hard as leaving my kin.
Post lunch coffee was spent with my friend and fellow Philadelphian, Jennifer Heebner. I don’t get to spend much time alone with Jen but when I do, it’s always worthwhile. Jen speaks my language, just like Peggy Jo Donohue does. We South Jersey/Philly types understand one another. We’re what we call “no bullshit” and that can sometimes come off as “bitchy.” I speak bitchy, and Jen speaks bitchy, so there’s an understanding between us and that usually makes for some great conversation.
The clock was winding down so I headed back to start the process of getting ready for the third night in a row. My feet ached the good ache. My stomach was flat from the lack of food consumed due to socializing, but all systems were go and all thumbs were up. This would be my second 24K Club event in a year, but my first with the massive metropolitan chapter. I opted for a cognac colored strapless gown with train (I know, I know Michael O’Connor. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I will never do a train again) with muted gold medium heels and small gold clutch. My hair was down and curled, and my jewels – Gumuchian, of course – were 18K Rose Gold and Diamond, from the Gallop collection.
The last time I stepped foot into the Waldorf Astoria was to take dance classes from master Broadway choreographer, Frank Hatchett. I don’t even want to tell you how long ago that was, but it was long ago enough to say that I had forgotten the grandeur of the hotel. The pre-banquet suites were in full-on party mode by the time I arrived. I was invited to spend some of the early hours in the Rio Tinto suite with my friend Brandee Dallow. It was nice running into Victoria Gomelsky there as well as THE Michelle Orman and THE Beth Anne Bonnano (EAB in the house, yo…). I eventually made my way down to Howard Hauben’s Centurion suite where I mingled with clients, and took pictures with my dear friends Dallas and Craig. Then, as the room became overly crowded, I slowly moved out into the hallway where I ran into my brother in nerdhood, Mike Schechter. “Dude, I can barely move in there.” “Can’t talk. Gotta go. Myriam’s got me doing tasks.” My boss, Myriam Gumuchian, was in charge of taking care of the 24K VIPs and with 1,000 attendees, we barely saw one another all night. As I made my way down the hall toward the Richline Room, I felt a tug at my arm.
There is no sight for me like that of my PJD. Any nervousness or doubt completely escapes my body, and I am finally myself, f-bombs and all.
It was truly a mind-blowing experience. So many people from our piece of industry and business were compiled into this one place. Owners and designers, and 5th-generation jewelers. Editors and publishers. Cutters and artists. They are all here in this one hotel for this one night, once a year. Even the industry’s best dressed/best looking man is here! There he is, look! With his dad, brother, and sister! And he’s wearing sparkly Michael Jackson shoes! Boy, oh boy, this is going to be a fun night.
As we made our way to our tables, I was happy to see some familiar faces around me. Joe Carullo was one, and Hedda Schupak another. Joe makes me DIE. Joe always says that the best compliment he’s ever received in his life is the time I told him that he doesn’t creep me out. I mean, by rights, he should totally creep me out. He fits the bill, ya know? Mid-fifties, divorcee, single, salesman. That’s got creeper written all over it. Hey, look, I know myself, and I’m SURE I fit someone else’s bill of what creeps them out, too. I mean, yeah. I’ve been known to be inappropriate. Anybody here surprised? But Joe, he’s so good. He never crosses the line, and that means a lot to me. So, Joe’s my guy, and it was good to see him.
The VIPs were introduced, the blessing was said, and the dinner began. Toward the end, however, my phone started blowing up. I have some g-damned funny people in my life, and I thank big baby Jesus every day for them. You know who you are if you’re reading this. You have a knife and a wrist and you just may use them.
The entertainment was… shall we say… interesting. Um, I won’t really express an opinion one way or another on the choice of entertainment since I was someone’s guest but I will say that I never knew how much I disliked socks until I witnessed what I did.
When it was time to have a drink, I found my way to the Bull and Bear, where the other folks my age (not really… they were much younger) were one step and three vodkas ahead of me. As I ordered my scotch, I found myself with an audience. I hate that. Not.
Me: “Do you have Oban?”
Male server: “Yes ma’am. We do.”
Me: “I’ll have that, please. And how big are your rocks?”
You’re welcome, my friends. Consider it my gift to you.
By 2 a.m., I had mingled, danced, talked, laughed, socialized, schmoozed, sang, and swore. I loved every moment of the last three days and hated to see it come to an end. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so, declining the offer of those much younger than I to go out clubbing until I likely could stand no more (Julia, Rebecca, Allison, Lita, Kendra, Sam, Mike, and Guido… thanks for the invite. Hope you kids all had a blast,) I pulled a Cinderella, took my pumpkin, mice, and shoe, and walked out into the cold, crisp city night, making an ever-so-less than perfect exit, but still an exit, nevertheless.
Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible. Thank you to the three of you left reading this… my longest post in history at over 4,700 words. But thanks mostly to my husband – my support system – for without whom I would never be able to experience things like these. You make it all possible, and I would call you “amazing” but I’ve already used that word on Amanda Gizzi this year.
Seacrest, out, peeps. Oh, and, this industry IS f*cking amazing, Mr. Webster.