What's On the Brain

“What’s on the Brain?” April Edition: Sand, Surf, Sea, and Shore

This week is bookended by two separate trips to the coast, and while I’m not naturally a lover of the sun (WRINKLES! GASP!) or the sand (Who here doesn’t find that you’re picking that stuff out of your crevices for weeks?), living so far inland has given me a new appreciation of trips to and anywhere near a beach.


The interiors of Altier and Polo Jewelers.

The Gold Coast has its share of fabulous everything, I recently learned. From oyster bars to luxury hotels, the stretch of beach from just north of Miami up to Vero has some of the whitest sand and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, not to mention fabulous (I just snapped my fingers – twice) jewelry stores. Altier in Boca Raton – a major Patek Philippe dealer – is worth the visit simply for the sheer beauty of the interior, and Polo Jewelers in Wellington is smack in the middle of Polo Country, U.S.A., so trust me when I say that the product (and in-store wine bar… {hiccup}) did not disappoint. All of this sand and surf had me on the hunt for interesting oceanic jewels to add to my ever-growing “Under the Sea” Pinterest board, but the handful I’ll be highlighting below are a whole new breed of special. Grab your towel and your SPF 60, ‘cause we’re going for a trip “down the shore”… 

Let’s start in Pittsburgh!


Paula Crevoshay and her piece, “Ocean’s Consciousness”

Whatthewhat? Hear me out… award-winning jewelry artist Paula Crevoshay’s mind-blowing works will be on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History starting April 13th. Crevoshay, who has created a plethora of aquatic-inspired jewels, is seen here holding her “Ocean’s Consciousness” piece at the museum. The center part of the necklace (which doubles as a brooch) is made from the mineral chrysocolla (a hydrated copper cyclosilicate with the formula Cu2-xAlx(H2-xSi2O5)(OH)4·nH2O (x<1) or (Cu,Al)2H2Si2O5(OH)4·nH2O… as if you didn’t already know) and gives the appearance of the head of an octopus. It’s magnificent. She’s magnificent. It’s wonderful to know that jewelry like this exists and will for a long, long time to come. 

Speaking of Octopodis…


Pieces by SICIS, Sorab & Roshi, Ateliet Minyon, and Shawish

And yes, (looking directly to my editor here,) that is a correct pluralization of octopus since the word is of Greek origin, not Latin. Merriam-Webster verified it. Anyway, speaking of octopuses (also correct!), here’s a treat for your oculi (plural of oculus!): an UH-MAZING 18K gold, Akoya and Tahitian pearl and diamond octopus necklace by Italian luxury brand, SICIS, who recently showed their wares at the BaselWord show in Switzerland. Next up, a diamond, coral, and chrysophrase brooch by Sorab & Roshi because, well, the world just needs more coral and chrysophrase combinations. And how about this 18K rose gold and oxidized silver ring by one of my favorite design houses, Atelier Minyon, eh? It contains .17 carats of diamonds and .49 carats of a variety of different colored sapphires and is real enough to scare your four-year-old away from your jewelry chest. Lastly, I’ve included what may just be the most daring and inspiring piece of jewelry I’ve seen in ages: an 18K pink gold, diamond, and pearl octopus bracelet by Swiss design house Shawish, which is made using technology that allows the bracelet to light up at night from within. No. Freaking. Sh*t. I beg you to visit their website and explore it more. Can you say “BLINGTOPUS?” One of a kind, indeed.

“Fish Are Friends, Not Food”


Fish jewels by Manya & Roumen, Aldo Cipullo, Stephen Webster, and Tiffany & Co.

That one was for the parents (or Pixar lovers) in the room. There are so many lovely fish-themed pieces of jewelry on this planet that it was hard to pick just four. I decided I’d start with a simple, 18K yellow gold and Swiss blue topaz goldfish ring by artists and animal lovers, Manya & Roumen because a.) Manya is a Philly native, b.) She writes children’s books, and c.) I just adore the piece. Next, I included this gorgeous 18K yellow gold, diamond, and rubellite fish brooch by Italian designer (most famous for creating the Cartier “love” bracelet) Aldo Cipullo. It is not a new piece by any stretch, but it’s a piece that caught my eye for obvious reasons. British designer Stephen Webster is known for his Hollywood-loved iconic adornments including his sea-themed items. This Jules Verne 18K white gold and diamond ring is only a sampling of what the designer has created, oceanically. Finally, where would we be without Tiffany & Co., am I right? This angel fish cuff is made in 18K white, rose, and yellow gold and contains diamonds, blue chalcedony, spessartite, blue (and green!) sapphires, and onyx. My head just exploded. Yours? Thought so.

Best of the Rest

The vast, ocean-sized array of sea-themed works are yours for the pinning if you know where to look.


More glorious works by Lydia Courteille, Wendy Yue, Verdura, and Roberto Coin

Designers like the exceptional Lydia Courteille, Wendy Yue, Verdura, and Roberto Coin have taken us on an underwater journey like no jewelry artisans have before. But it doesn’t stop with those four; Roberto Bravo,


Roberto Bravo, David Webb, Michelle Della Valle, and Sevan Bicakci ocean-themed jewels

David Webb, Michelle Della Valle, and Sevan Bicakci have breathed new life into the term “sea life” with pieces that would turn even the most die-hard land-lover into a Jacques Cousteau wannabe. This is jewelry at both its most creative and most joy inducing. Wearing any of this lot would transport my spirit to the Florida coast where it previously had found peace by simply listening to the water roll in as it sipped Sauvignon Blanc by a broken-down pier.

My spirit is looking forward to being there again. As is my soul, my mind, and my body.

Until then, at least I have my jewels…


The Settlers: Why We Should Stop Accepting Anything Less Than Great Product

This isn’t just about jewelry. It’s not just about the product you receive or the service you’re getting, or not getting, from the companies you’ve chosen to work with; it’s about life, in general, and how we’ve become a nation of “settlers.”

I’m writing to you from my airport hotel room. In front of me on my bed is a tray containing the half-eaten Cobb salad I did not pay for. Also on the tray is the empty martini glass which once contained a vodka martini, up, no rocks, slightly dirty, with extra olives, which, by the way, I also did not pay for. But it’s what happened in order to get me here that made me think back to my experiences in the jewelry industry, which is why I decided to share my anecdote. In my now forty-years on this planet I am finally living a valuable lesson learned: never, ever, accept something that’s sub-par simply because you don’t want to be the person who rocks the boat even for a little while. If you don’t, who will? And when they won’t, what happens? I’ll tell you what happens… an hour later you get a salad you didn’t order with a drink that has food in it and a manager who refuses to accept responsibility. But you don’t get it once; you get it again, and over again, and you get it everywhere you go, and with everything you do, in every career, and in every state. You get mediocrity in a country that prides itself on perfection. You get complacency and forgiveness for the sheer sake of not wanting to deal with the argument. You become a settler, and because you and everyone you know does the same, you find that greatness is a rarity and that extraordinary things are few and far between.

Working both in retail and e-tail opened my eyes to what I thought customer service should be. I remember my early days at one of the first places I worked. A total mom-and-pop type of business that struggled with the changing times. What I often heard from the staff was nothing short of constant complaining. “Ugh. So-and-so is coming in today. She’s saying her diamond is loose again. What does she do with her ring?” Notice how the responsibility for the problem immediately became the customer’s? Yeah. It was like that a lot. Come to find out, what she was doing with her ring was wearing it. Nothing more. Nothing less. She wore her ring that her now-husband paid several thousand dollars for and now she was upset that her center stone kept coming loose. How dare she? Yet instead of explaining to the customer (the husband) that it would have been better to set the large round center diamond in a platinum setting from the get-go, the sales associate was placing blame on the wearer, and you know what happened? She, apologized for getting so upset. She gave her engagement ring to the bench jeweler to tighten… just like before… picked it up later that afternoon, and I never saw the likes of her again.

Too often we find that our pride is greater than our ability to take blame. Here was a sales associate who worked on commission whose pride and lack of humility lost him who knows how many future dollars in his pocket. And yet the customer was just as wrong for not speaking up about what her feelings and experiences were. I would watch these occurrences and learn from every one. That’s not to say that there wasn’t the occasional wackadoo scientist customer who put every purchase he made under his 100X microscope – they exist too, don’t get me wrong – but overall it was something that the store/jeweler/salesperson did or didn’t do that caused the original angst and somehow in the end the customer would still just give in. No bueno in my book. That is not how this system should work.

If you’ve spent the money, then you deserve nothing less than great product and great service, regardless whether it’s a meal at a hotel or a ten-thousand dollar designer bracelet. You are always someone’s customer in the same way that you are always offering customer service. Read that over again because that’s an extremely important reminder to all of us. YOU ARE ALWAYS SOMEONE’S CUSTOMER. YET YOU ARE ALWAYS OFFERING CUSTOMER SERVICE. And do you know why that is? Because life… is… sales. You’re a doctor? You had to sell yourself to the board that allowed you to get into that great medical school. You’re a blogger? You’re selling yourself right now writing this blog post, hoping one day you’ll nab your dream job and become a “real writer.” A real estate developer? You sold yourself at your city hearing last night to both the neighbors and the board on the project you want started. Now, flip all of that around… you’re a patient? You’re expecting your doctor to know what he’s talking about and wanting his office to treat you with respect in your condition. You’re an editor? You want your staff to turn in their work on time, without an argument, and without excuses. A resident? You okayed that proposal because you expect the developer to have a safe project and clean up when it’s done. And as one of those on the receiving end you have every right to stand up and be heard when the services you’ve paid for (in one way or another) aren’t as expected.customer-service_edited-1

A few nights ago I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s a pretty little college town, Fayetteville. It reminds me a bit of Austin and a lot of Asheville. Bars and restaurants all along one main drag, with a handful of gems tucked away on side streets. An Italian restaurant was recommended to me which was walking distance from my hotel. As a descendant of Neapolitan ancestors I’m always up for the challenge of what the South refers to as a “real Italian restaurant” and so my curiosity and hunger got the best of me. I walked in and, as I always do when I’m on the road, sat at the bar. It was empty, but still early, and so I enjoyed the quiet until the locals started filing in. The menu was impressive at first sight. When I see that a restaurant serves rabbit I know that, for the most part, I can depend on them to do even the most basic of dishes correctly. My server was my bartender, which is usually how it works when you eat at the bar. He seemed nervous with me; maybe because I asked immediately if they served limoncello and whether or not they kept it chilled. To me, this was a standard question I’d ask at any *real Italian* restaurant, and so his visible nervousness – hands shaking/misplacement of silverware/lack of eye contact – put my first check mark in the “not up to par” category, and unfortunately, the experience never got any better.

If I’m to pay $37.00 for a pork chop, no matter how tasty the amaretto cream and shitake mushroom sauce is that accompanies it (and it was), I don’t want to have to ask the server how the chef prepares it and have it answered with an “I don’t know.” Know. It’s your job to know. It’s what you do. A glass of the most low-end Pinot Grigio here is twelve bucks. So, know. And when it’s supposed to be prepared medium and it comes out as raw as Eddie Murphy circa 1987, don’t have your response be “is that not how you wanted it?” when I show you that it’s clearly not cooked the way you (eventually) told me it should be. Take responsibility, or, hell, have the chef come out himself and take it. But know. And if you don’t, then do something else, because you don’t belong where you are.

All over, in every genre, every field, and every part of everyday life, many people have simply stopped caring because we’ve allowed them to. I thought to myself that had a fair amount of my friends been sitting at that bar when that pork chop was placed in front of them, they would have just eaten the most cooked parts and left the rest on the plate. That’s a foreign concept to me. Maybe because I grew up so poor. Maybe because it took me decades of hard work, dedication to my field, and frankly, knowing, to be able to afford a thirty-seven dollar piece of meat that I would have paid six dollars for at a supermarket, and not think twice about it. And it isn’t just with food. If you’re a customer, you shouldn’t accept sh*tty craftsmanship from wherever you buy your goods, whether it’s clothing, or jewelry, or home décor. If you’re a retail jeweler and you receive an item from a wholesaler that’s been polished poorly, or set crookedly, send it the hell back and give them a piece of your mind about it. You are represented to your customer, so if you don’t catch their mistakes, you can’t just blame the manufacturer, you also have to blame yourself. Quality control exists in every stage of both the jewelry making and jewelry buying processes. The refiner has to do their job. So does the CAD lady, and the caster, and the polisher. The stone setters must make sure they’re doing it properly, as do the diamond pickers, and before them, the diamond buyers. In every stage of the jewelry-making process there has to be one person who is the knower but the knower doesn’t always have to be the doer, which is why directors, and managers, and executives exist.

I end my story with a full-enough stomach and a gentle buzz at no cost to me thanks to the hotel manager I complained to about my experience with their restaurant. And tomorrow when I awake, there will be breakfast waiting for me as a further apology for my troubles, because the woman I spoke to and dealt with knew what would be the right thing to do in order to gain my further business.

The moral of the story is this, in a not-so-nutty nutshell:

Answer your emails, and respond to your answered emails. Follow up with your customers, and be a gracious customer. Send out your catalogs when you say you’re going to, and acknowledge you’ve received the ones you’ve gotten. Check every piece you make with a fine-toothed comb, and be complimentary when you receive something that goes beyond special. Don’t take the easy way out, but don’t accept the easy way out being taken. Stand up for your rights as a customer, but also make sure you’re the person every customer wants to work with.

And never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever settle.


Let’s Hear It For the Boys: The Guys Bring the Bling On Oscar’s Red Carpet

If there’s one thing I understand fairly well in this universe, it’s men. With a stay-at-home dad and two older brothers growing up, I found (and find) myself naturally more comfortable in their company. Ask me any question about the 1980 World Series-winning Philadelphia Phillies roster, the management team of the 1986 Philadelphia Flyers, or how fast the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane travels, and I’ve got an answer for you. I can use a firearm with great precision, (except for that one time. Sorry, Nana) throw a spiral, and hook a flounder, all while smoking a big, fat, Cuban cigar, so I repeat…

If there’s one thing I understand fairly well in this universe, it’s men.  


The 2014 Oscars red carpet may go down in history as the year of the #manbling which is why I decided to write this particular Oscar jewelry recap about the otherwise usually lesser sex (as it pertains to jewels. And, well, politics.) Happily, jewelry in general was prevalent this year no matter which sex it was adorning, so finding information and images about who wore what was easier than it usually is. It helps that while I was live-tweeting the Oscars red carpet, I had two of our industry’s leading ladies beside me to help me figure out (a.) Who the hell that actor was, and (b.) What the hell was floating in my drink. Wait, I mean (b.) Which designer allowed said actor to buy steal borrow the masterpiece they were wearing. (Thank you Jen Heeber and Cindy Edelstein!) So let’s start at the top, shall we?



Wait, you mean you never knew Brad’s middle name was “Fleming”? You need to spend more time on Wiki, sister. Look that s**t up! It means “From the lowlands; Dutch one”… and what better way to complement a lowly Dutch-named boy who isn’t actually Dutch than with a blinged-out ring that would have made both my Italian father and Junior Soprano murder jump with joy?! Angie (as we insiders call her) allegedly helped design Brad’s monstrous rose gold, twenty-plus carat star sapphire Robert Procop ring which he prominently displayed on the ring finger of his right hand while with his left hand, flipped the bird to those who said he would never win an Oscar. Well done, Brad. You are living, breathing proof that a man can star in a movie with Bruce Willis at some point in his life and still win an Oscar. Bravo! OR as they said in Dutch… “Bravo!” (Editor’s note: Fleming is not Brad Pitt’s actual middle name.)


Apparently missing his flight to Bermuda, the incomparable Pharrell Williams decided instead to attend the 86th annual PhotoGrid_1394139728028Academy Awards. Never one to be shy about jewelry, The Hatted One adorned a yellow diamond ring by red carpet veteraness, Lorraine Schwartz, as well as his signature stacked Ofira bracelets while performing the song “Happy” from the minion-filled movie, “Despicable Me 2.” Here’s hoping Pharrell finds the lower part of his pants at next year’s Oscars. He might want to check with the minions. From what I hear, they also stole Anne Hathaway’s personality and Jennifer Aniston’s original nose.


PhotoGrid_1394139674236 (1)Now, here’s a nice Italian, Philly-raised boy who does his ancestors proud in the jewelry category. Bradley Cooper isn’t just the person connected to the arm that held the phone for Ellen’s now record-breaking Oscar selfie, he’s also an actor who has genuine talent, a supermodel girlfriend, and a 1937 Classic Chopard L.U.C. watch. That, at least, is what the world knows about Bradley Cooper’s jewels because of what they can read on various websites running Oscar wrap-ups. What most don’t know, however, is the significance of the thin, plain, yellow gold wedding band that he wears on his right hand. That band belonged to Bradley’s father, Charles, who passed away at the age of 71 in January of 2011. If that doesn’t make your head explode with even more adoration, I’m not sure what will.


I’ll admit it… I’m big enough to confess that I scoffed at all of the white tuxedo jackets at this year’s Academy Awards. I PhotoGrid_1394139930370sarcastically tweeted over and over and over that I had expected Ryan Seacrest to clear my table and that Matthew McConaughey forgot to bring me the Bananas Foster I ordered, but the moment I saw that flowing-haired figure walk on the red carpet in white, it was as if the archangel Michael himself shook his finger at me and told me to stop. Oh, Jared Leto… how I crave thy cheekbones of high and bowtie of red. And how I fell in love just a little more deeply when I noticed your matching platinum and ruby shirt studs by Neil Lane. What courage it took to speak of the issues in Ukraine and Venezuela, all the while knowing that the orchestra was only 30 seconds to Mars playing you off. Congratulations on a well-deserved Oscar victory, darling. You are the only you out there right now.

Honorable mention goes to Leonardo DiCaprio who wore Jennifer Meyer cufflinks and ate an Oscar Meyer hot dog shortly after ripping up his acceptance speech… again. Hey, at least he was able to hold some sort of Oscar that night. Poor Leo. Poor, poor, incredibly wealthy and good-looking Leo. What ever shall he do?

To wrap up, it was a star-studded, and star-collared sort of night, and in my opinion, far from disappointing in the jewelry category, regardless of sex.

Until the next red carpet, my loves…


The Jewels, the Dress, and the Statuettes: With a Name Like “Oscar,” It Has To Be Good.

“What a thrill. You know you’ve entered new territory when you know that your outfit cost more than your film.” – Oscar speech of Jessica Yu, winner, 1996 documentary film, “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien”

The tale of how the world’s most coveted golden statue got its nickname is not one I suggest you tell your future actor and actress children at bedtime. It’s rather boring, to be quite frank, and it’s over in seconds, so I’d go with something juicier. Maybe a James Franco poem. In any case, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the statue – standing at 13.5 inches tall and weighing a whopping 8.5 lbs – was dubbed “Oscar” (originally being known as the Award of Merit) by Margaret Herrick. A librarian who became the director for the Academy, she observed that the statue physically resembled the build of her uncle Oscar, and so, the title stuck. Rather uninteresting unless you’re the grandchildren of Mrs. Herrick, eh? But despite the mediocrity in the naming, Oscar has some other compelling features. For one, it is plated in 24K pure gold. Wait, it’s not made entirely of gold, you say? Oh, silly you, if Oscar were made of gold at today’s gold prices it would be worth $181,000. And while that’s probably the daily lunch budget on a Martin Scorsese film, (have you ever seen Leo DiCaprio eat? Gluttonous.) that amount still seems a bit much to spend on a statue that’s going to sit in your Italian marble curio before it’s stolen by your housecleaner on the third day after its arrival. Not that Leo would know what that’s like. Zzziiiing! 

The above is the back story on the first of the three Oscars I’ll be discussing here today. My second Oscar is one I’m most familiar with, for he is nothing short of nobility in my fairytale Land of Jewels.

Oscar Heyman is most famous for designing the diamond necklace that housed the 69.42-carat Burton-Taylor diamond for Cartier in 1969. It was worn by Elizabeth Taylor (Happy Birthday, LIZ!) to the Oscars in 1970 as an accompaniment to her Mediterranean tan, Welsh husband, and violet-colored, Edith Head chiffon gown. Oscar was one of a plethora of children born to a Latvian family that migrated to the United States in 1906. Along with his brothers, Harry and Nathan, he started a New York-based platinum manufacturing business in 1912, which still remains one of the few design houses in New York dedicated to using hand fabrication and European-style craftsmanship. Today, the name “Oscar Heyman” is often associated with old Hollywood glamour and red carpet accessories. One trip to a Pinterest search box will bring you hundreds of gloriously vivid images of Oscar Heyman pieces, past, and present, with platinum still holding steady as the company’s metal of choice for its exquisitely-made adornments.

Óscar Arístides Ortiz de la Renta Fiallo, or as he’s known to the awake, Oscar de la Renta, has dressed everyone from Jacqueline Kennedy to Sarah Jessica Parker in his fashions. He is no stranger to bright lights, expensive lenses, and red carpets, which is why I’ve chosen him as my third Oscar in this post.  A couturier to American and Hollywood royalty, this Oscar was born in the Dominican Republic to socialite parents – a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father – allowing him the opportunities needed to set him on a path towards fashion hierarchy.  De le Renta was mentored by Cristóbal Balenciaga while in Madrid before joining Antonio Castillo in Paris as a couture assistant at Lanvin, and his gloriously dramatic designs are guaranteed to make more than one appearance this Sunday night at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, or as they are more commonly known… 

The Oscars.

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” – Oscar Wilde

Instead of doing what I did prior to the Golden Globes, which was write a post that would predict the hots and nots on the impending red carpet, I decided I’d have a little fun instead with my Oscar post by giving you all a bit of a background on the name while associating it with two other very big parts of this blogger’s Oscar night: jewels, and dresses. Thanks to Google, Pinterest, and websites like 1stDibs.com, Jewels du Jour, and the popular auction house, Christies, I was able to find some fabulous images of Oscar Heyman jewelry that I thought would have been better picks to accompany a few of the Oscar de le Renta gowns that had graced the red carpets of Oscars past. So without hesitation, here is how I would have styled these beauties, making them part of an Oscar trifecta. Let’s go back to ten years ago…


Sandra Bullock is a hard person not to like, right? I mean, she’s super sweet, speaks fluent German, (seriously… Bing it, because it will blow your mind,) and adopted a baby of color from New Orleans. There is nothing we don’t like about her, which is why when she stepped foot on Oscar’s red carpet in 2004 wearing this (pre-season) white Oscar de la Renta feathered gown, no one blinked an eye. It was white, and pure, and lovely, which made the choice oh-so-very fitting. But how could Sandra have added to her look? Pearls. And not just any pearls; pearls and diamonds by Oscar Heyman. Sandra could have gone the way of this 18K white gold and cultured pearl statement piece simply to watch Joan Rivers’ head explode with joy. This is how I would have styled her. But then again, this is my fantasy, so get your own if you disagree.


Penelope CRUZED the red carpet in 2005 with this Oscar de la Renta numero esplendoroso in a lovely pale shade of amarillo. However, her neck and ears were more naked than she was in 2005’s Chromophobia, which is why I chose this colored sapphire and ruby floral statement necklace by Oscar Heyman. The hues are muted enough that they wouldn’t have taken away from the gown but substantial enough to have complimented her beautiful olive skin and annoyingly adorable accent.


The Year of the Tiger could have been known as the Year of the Tigress with vixens galore dominating Hollywood in 2010. The consummate bachelorette, Cameron Diaz made us all want to marry her in this gold-dusted Oscar de la Renta strapless gown, but I was hoping to see more from the jewelry. My choice for Cameron would have been these platinum and diamond tassel-like ear pendants by Oscar Heyman because of the contrast they would have had against her elegantly curled blond hair. I wouldn’t have gone for a statement necklace for the simple fact that the dress itself looks like one big gold piece of jewelry, but larger, more prominent earrings would have made an otherwise practically flawless look, well, flawless, sans adverb.


And finally, we come to last year’s Oscar red carpet, which peaked on the whole the moment Amy Adams stepped her pretty little tootsies on it. Look at this gown. Just, take a moment and stare at it, will you? Oscar de la Renta outdid himself with this one. It’s sort of gray and kind of violet but oh-so-frilly and marvelously Hollywood. And while I did love the dangles that Amy’s stylist chose to put on her ears, I can’t finish this blog post that way, so, for the sheer point of being consistent, I selected a pair of Oscar Heyman star sapphire and diamond earclips as my would-have-been choice to compliment Amy’s 2013 Oscar Awards gown.  I love them. And her. And I can’t wait to see what she comes up with this year.

So, that was fun! I’ll be doing my best to live-tweet the Oscars as much as possible this Sunday while at the JA show in New York City, but just in case I don’t have a ton of time to do it, I hope that this gives you readers the Oscar warm-and-fuzzies until the next red carpet tweet-fest.

Grab the popcorn, log in to Twitter, and keep the cheap champagne on ice… here come the Oscars!


A Chubby Boy with Wings and Arrows: Valentine’s Jewels for Those Who Hate Hearts

Valentine’s Day posts are rough. I mean, yeah, you got your “Top Ten Coolest Heart Designs” post over here, but, that’s been done a million times over. You of course also have your anti-Valentine’s Day posts showcasing jewelry for the relationshiply-challenged, and those can be quite interesting, especially since so many of them usually include pieces from my friend, Wendy Brandes. But what about jewelry for peeps who just like jewelry? I mean, does it have to be hearts? Can’t a lady be happy with some diamond hoops or a big flashy morganite right-hand ring? Sure she can, but how does that make for a blog post any different than say “Five Fun Gifts to Get Mom on Mother’s Day”? It doesn’t, so I’m going to keep with the lovey-dovey-schmoopie-centric eyelash-batting holiday theme by showcasing some pieces in this post that give a proper shout out to the little Greek fat boy with the goddess mother and the satchel of arrows: Eros. Or as he’s more commonly known in 1950’s doo-wop songs and tales of love from Roman mythology… Cupid.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is love said to be a child
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Who here has never experienced love at first sight? I’d tell you to raise your right hand but it’s likely that your cold and blackened heart gave out years ago, sparing this world another future ruthless tyrant. So many of us know what it’s like to feel love’s first injury; to look at a human being whom you’ve only just met and feel your stomach go out for martinis as they hand you their business card and say goodbye to you, likely forever. Those of us who aren’t emotionally dead inside know full well how dangerous a strike by Cupid’s arrow can be, but we also know he has a job to do in seeking out those non-believers, and introducing them to the concept of falling in love with nothing more than an impassioned, adoring look. Good ol’ Cupid. He deserves to be pedestaled.


If you’re a new lover or a lover on a budget, the perfect way to honor the tiny winged warrior is by purchasing a pair of Mariella Pilato’s “Cupid’s Arrow Earrings” in sterling silver for your special someone. For less than the cost of dozen delivered roses, you can copy the quote above from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in your own handwriting (the ladies go NUTS over that) into a blank greeting card (oh my God… no store-bought sentiments?? She just fainted.) and let her know that the earrings represent the arrow that pierced your heart the first time you touched her boo…tiful face.


For the partner who has put some time in and maybe has a bit of an appreciation of antiques or even the arts, I’m a huge fan of the cameo work of Southern-Italian jewelry maker Amedeo Scognamiglio. This gorgeous 14K yellow gold and blue agate Cupid ring might just earn you enough brownie points to get away with flowers and chocolate next Valentine’s day. Maybe. I know if my guy got it for me there just might be something special waitin’ in the bedroom for him tonight. That’s right… uh-huh… it would get reeeeal warm in there tonight, ‘cause I’m surprising my man with… well, with actual heat since we haven’t had any for two days because of these damned storms but it got fixed today. Surprise! (??)

OKAY! Onto more chubby-dude jewelry! If she’s not a ring wearer (um, then she’s stupid), Vicenza-born tagliamontenecklaceTagliamonte offers an entire Cupid-themed collection of pendants, bracelets, and charms made with the company’s signature Venetian glass in Italian gold and a variety of colors. And hey, if anybody knows jewelry and love, it’s the Italians (said the Italian writing this blog).

You want more, you say? Oh you didn’t, that was just the voice in my head? YOU GOT IT! How about you pop the question this Valentine’s day? Oh, come on… I know it seems like it’s the obvious thing to do, but you know she’s expecting it, so stop being difficult. NO, YOU ARE! Look at this ring by Zoe & Morgan. It’s got a center white diamond, six small black diamonds, and two Cupid’s arrows on the shank. It’s darling! It makes me want to say yes all over again and I hardly even know you! Yes, of course I’ll marry you! And she will too if you just put the Cheetos bag down long enough to drop to one knee. Zoe and Morgan Fine Jewellery Diamond & yellow gold cupid ring

That’s all I have for you today, lovers and adorners. If you’re not the type to want to put your heart on, then hopefully these ideas will help you get your Cupid on. Either way, have yourselves a wonderfully passion-filled Valentine’s Day and night.

Watch out for flying arrows. They get you when you least expect it.


How This All Got Started

“A Bucket of Steam”: Proving Your Worth in the World of Jewels – Part 2

After three years of being a runner, I felt it was time for me to move on to something more substantial in the jewelry industry. The line you just read was a blatant lie. After three years of being a runner, errand girl, yes-(wo)man, verbal punching bag, script editor, gopher, hustler, and sometimes butt of the joke, I quit my first job in the industry without a damned idea of what I’d be doing next. Thankfully, I was in a relationship where I could take a few months off and not be financially affected, so that I could think about where I’d like to be and hope to heaven wherever that place was needed someone with my skill set. But let’s be honest here… what exactly were my skills? Well, I knew how jewelry was made, for one. Being a runner allowed me to learn the ins and outs of the craft, so, I had that going for me. But what I didn’t have was a college degree, so if I wanted to work anywhere in this trade that didn’t involve selling ninety-nine dollar U through Z color, SI9 clarity “diamond” studs at a kiosk in the mall the rest of my life, I needed to get a little crafty, and show just how well I could sell by technically selling something that didn’t yet even exist …

…myself, in future form.


I have only genetics to thank for what I looked like at twenty-seven years old. I stood about 5’10” with broad shoulders and a slight frame. An Italian father gave me my dark hair, warm skin, and a generally bad attitude. A German mother gave me my gray eyes, height, and a belief that you will go as far only as hard as you are willing to work. Everything else, however, was gained from my life’s experiences, and everything I ever had, I mostly got with just a little luck.

veronicalakeIn early 2000, I was asked to do a photo shoot for a major jewelry trade publication out of King of Prussia, PA. I had done some modeling over the years but never took it seriously enough to consider as a career, so I obliged, knowing it would give my folks something else to add to the scrap book. Four girls took part in this shoot and at just a few years shy of thirty, I was, hands down, the eldest of the group. The magazine was Jewelers Circular Keystone, and the shoot was for their media kit to be released later in the year. When it came out, a friend of mine in the trade brought me a few copies so that I could keep a couple and give one to my parents. Inside the folder were several 5 x 7 cards, each emblazoned with a different model’s face. There I was, in black and white; hair all Jessica Rabbit-like, looking like an old movie star. It was cool. It’s still cool when I think about it, but I never knew just how handy that card would come in until the day I applied for a position with the most well-known jewelry designer in the Philadelphia area.


Three months had gone by without a single call for a job. I had faxed (yes, F-A-X-E-D), mailed, and physically brought in my resume to every major jewelry retailer near where I lived with no luck. I didn’t technically do sales in my previous job, didn’t finish college, and frankly, looked like crap on paper, so I started to get really nervous and when I get nervous, my brain starts exploding.

Did I make a mistake by leaving my last job?

Should I just go back to school?

Is this even the industry for me?

What’s the meaning of life?

Did my parents adopt me?

Will Luke and Laura ever get back together?

See what I mean? Crazy-talk was taking over, until that one day I decided to take the subway up to Center City and do a walk-about in Rittenhouse Square. That is when I saw “The Store.”

I had noticed its name before. I knew it had something to do with jewelry, and I knew it wasn’t for people like me; you know, broke people. This place was a place I was unfamiliar with. The main-liners shopped here: the people from Yardley, and Merion, and Bryn Mawr. Occasionally I would come across their ads in a Philadelphia magazine that I picked up in my dentist’s office or purchased if I had a few extra bucks in my pocket. This name wasn’t just a name synonymous with Philly itself… it was, by all respects… a brand, and so I let my curiosity get the best of me, and walked my under-dressed body through the elegantly decorated doors.

Welcome to LAGOS,” said a voice behind the counter.

I belong here,” replied my brain to itself. And so, it got to working. What can I do to get myself noticed? What can I do to get myself in?


Google was still in its early stages in the year 2000. “Googling” a brand like LAGOS didn’t bring a ton of results, but what it did bring was the address and telephone number of its corporate headquarters in North Philly. One thing that I did know about the brand from the trade shows I was allowed to attend with my previous employer was that their show booth was big, and secluded, and that their sales team was intimidatingly beautiful. “This…” I thought… “This could be my *in*” and this is where those 5 x 7, Vanessa Redgrave-esque media kit cards would come in handy.

I borrowed a career-style pencil skirt from my sister-in-law and wore my most conservative button-downed shirt. I straightened my hair, wore a touch of makeup, and tried my absolute best to de-South-Philly my speaking voice. In my hand was a manila envelope containing a crisp, newly printed version of my resume on a medium weight card stock, and a well-written cover letter explaining in minimal words what I was looking for and what I would be able to bring to the table. Attached to the back was my JCK headshot card, in the hope that whoever was in charge of hiring would at least give me a second thought based on my appearance. It was a long shot, but I didn’t have a choice. If my looks could even partially get me in, then I knew my abilities would keep me in, but my past experiences on their own would have never been enough. I had no choice but to pull out all the stops.


The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers



“Hi, is this Barbara Ann?”

“Yes. This is Barbara.” (Cringing at the fact that I even included the “Ann” part on my resume. So effing stupid. So. Freaking. DUMB.)

“Hi, this is Marcia with Lagos. We received your resume and wanted to know if we could set up a time that works for you to come in for an interview.”

And in my mind, with a smile on my face that could have melted the Antarctic, the song continued…

 Then there were those that made me feel good
But never as good as I’m feeling right now
Baby you’re the only one that’s ever known how
To make me wanna live like I wanna live now
I said yeah yeah (yeah yeah) yeah yeah yeah yeah the waiting… is the hardest part…

To be continued…


How to Not Get Kidnapped: The Jewelry Carrier’s Guide to Knowing You’re a Target

The scene is the midway point between my booth and theirs on the second morning of a jewelry trade show in a major U.S. city. The conversation usually starts out something like this:

Middle-aged male jewelry sales rep:  “So, you’re out on the road?”

Me: “Yep.”

Middle-aged male jewelry sales rep: “Really? And you don’t have any problems with that, ’cause, you know, you’re an attractive woman?”

Me: “Um, so far, nope.”

Middle-aged male jewelry sales rep: “Hmmph. Interesting. What city are you based out of?”

Me: “Atlanta.”


Me (thinking to myself while listening to the MAMJSR’s tale of terror): “Here we go again. I have GOT to find a new line of work…”

* * * * *

Back in late October I took a two-day counter-surveillance class in Atlanta taught by a Southern-based security and threat management group called Skydas International. When it was first suggested that I take the course I thought to myself “what are they going to teach me that common sense hasn’t already?” The answer was… a whole hell of a lot.

Michael Bryant is a former police officer and military tactical commander specializing in protective security. He was recruited by the state department to train Afghani soldiers and worked in diplomatic security until 2012. Skydas is his company and he employs folks just like himself – women and men – with experience in surveillance, law enforcement, and military operations. These people are no joke. And they make it clear to you that they’re no joke from the moment you step foot in the class, but that doesn’t mean that the class wasn’t also fun, which I will talk about in detail a little later on.

I set up my laptop, as well as my camera, and started to type as Mike started to talk.

South American Theft Groups. In this class and in your line of work you’re going to hear them being referred to as ‘SATGs.’ They are highly organized, operationally competent, military-trained, skilled in surveillance, and have financial backing. They are predominantly, but not all, Colombian nationals. They can be of either sex, and can look like any other American: black, white, or tan skinned. They mostly started out as street thugs and pick-pocketers and have been known to obtain legal identification from Puerto Rico so that they can live in the United States without the risk of deportation.”

I lifted my chin up off of the keyboard just in time because the next thing Mike did was show us a video of a jewelry rep just minutes after he’d shot the SATG members who tried to rob him, and I couldn’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth…

“Oh my God. That’s Steve.”

* * * * *

If you’ve been in this business long enough and you’re a Road Warrior like so many of us, you always know a guy who got hit. You either know a guy or you know a guy who knows a guy or in the most unfortunate of circumstances, you are the guy. Back in August, I met a guy, and his name was Steve. Steve’s a MAMJSR (see above) but one look at him and you can tell he’s special. Steve’s booth was near mine and like most reps at trade shows, you learn to make small talk during the lulls or after setup.  Speaking for myself, I live for these moments. People intrigue me no matter what they look like or how they’re dressed. I’m forever a student in my mind, and what these older guys can teach me is still valuable, so I listen. Steve’s story on this particular day was worth paying attention to. It’s one I think of almost every time I’m on the road and it’s one that so many now – from Mississippi to New York to California – know a version of.

SATGIt starts out in a parking lot in Memphis. It ends with two dead Colombian gang members. Somewhere in between was a man doing his job; a job that he’s done for 40+ years that fills him with pride, and that’s put his daughter through college. This story in Memphis had a somewhat happy ending, although what can really be happy about it when two people are dead, right? I guess the upside is the lesson that it taught; that if you’re aware of your surroundings, you won’t be the victim. Steve was aware. He was hyper-aware. He tells me it started when he saw the black gloves. “It was the summer” he says. “I thought, ‘why do these guys have gloves on in the summer?’ But it didn’t even take me as long to think it as it just did to say it. In a heartbeat I felt the one stab me on the leg and the other one on my back, but my hand was already on my gun and I shot the one under my arm, and then the guy on my leg. That was it. It was over. That fast it was over. But for them. Not for me. They didn’t get me. They’ll never get me.”

To say I was amazed would be an understatement. This guy – in his sixties for sure – was standing here telling me this story like it was a scene from a late eighties Martin Scorsese movie that he’s watched on his VCR sixty or seventy times. Never did I think I’d see the actual footage from it with my own eyes.

* * * * *  

“Oh, you know Steve?” Mike said.

“Yeah, well, no, not really. I mean, I met him about two months ago at a show. He told me the story though,” I responded.

“Well don’t say anything. Don’t want to spoil it for everyone else.”

“Agreed,” I said. “Okay. Roll tape.”

Somewhere on YouTube is the video of the moments immediately following the attempted robbery of Steve the MAMJSR. It’s a news segment that shows the two SATG gang members on the ground in pools of their own blood. At the time the video was shot – apparently there was a news van in the area of the attempted robbery – the two suspects were still alive and writhing in pain. They interview Steve who seems only slightly shaken. They also interview the neighbors of the jewelry store that Steve was visiting. One said that the store had brought violence to the area. Another said they’d like it moved away from their home. You can see the police questioning the suspects clearly before the ambulances arrived. It was surreal to watch and even more disturbing to know that the men you saw on screen would die from their wounds that very same day. As much as I’m not a fan of firearms I’m even less of a fan of having my throat sliced and my corpse dismembered. I’m sorry for the graphic description, but I think it’s important for you to know what you’re up against if you do a job like Steve and I do.

Needless to say you could hear a pin drop in the room which, in Mike’s mind, was the perfect time to break for lunch.

We walked outside to find an extremely large black SUV with tinted windows waiting to take us to a nearby mall food court.  We dined on Chik-fil-A and Mike walked us around, showing us how to lose someone if you think you’re being followed (and always assume that you ARE being followed). Duck into a corner here. Put your back against the wall there. Stop and tie your shoe. Talk to a sales associate about a random power tool question you just made up. Enter the mall through a major department store. Hang out below a security camera for a few minutes. Assume it’s that guy. Think it’s that lady. Just because she has a baby doesn’t mean she’s not the perp. Just because he’s carrying a shopping bag doesn’t mean he’s buying a juicer. Don’t keep your head down. Make eye contact. Stop texting. Be aware when you get out of your car. Don’t park near a tree or a structure. Park where you can’t be blocked in. Circle the lot, looking for shady people sitting in their vehicles. Look across the street. Is there a hill? Is there a place where someone can watch you? Be aware. Be aware. Be aware. BE FREAKING AWARE.

When we returned to our classroom Mike checked his email and sure enough, there we all were. He had his team following us the entire time; taking our pictures and being well within reach of our personal items. One picture was of the back of my neck, close up, which meant that the person following me was directly behind me in line. It was violating, to say the least, but more importantly, it was eye-opening.

I… had not been aware.

The next several hours of the course involved tips on how to spot the outlier. It was filled with snippets of what we should all be looking for and thinking: Neutralize the threat, or get away from the threat. Trust your gut. Every active shooting event, act of terrorism, or violence has signs. Find the signs. Every social setting has a behavioral norm. Figure out the norm. Context is the key in violent situations. Don’t focus on a cause or a weapon but rather on the person. Every event follows a sequence. Know your exits. Know when to get out. Dissuade your potential attacker with eye contact. Run. Find shelter. And if you have to, fight for your life.

I couldn’t type fast enough and found myself breathing heavier. I wanted to find someone following me and ram my car into their kneecaps. I also had had about four cups of coffee at that point which made for some really painful Q&A for my classmates. We studied the different types of GPS devices available, went over procedures for future travel planning, and learned the best and quickest way to map out more than one route when we’re on the road and using GPS, and then, Mike asked us to go outside again.

As a group we all hopped back in the SUV, but individually, Mike had us take turns behind the wheel with the emphasis on spotting the perp and then losing the perp using local roads, both major and minor. This is where the fun began. One of our classmates was an active police officer so even if we sped or broke the traffic rules a little, we were covered.  When I found my guy I called it out: “Red Chevy Impala” to which Mike then responded, “Okay, now lose him.”

Ever watch Starsky and Hutch? Not the stupid Ben Stiller remake, but the 1970’s original television series? You have? Well then you’ll know what I mean when I say I was pulling a Starsky and Hutch on this guy. I’m pretty sure the lady in the back seat almost vomited from motion sickness when I made that last U-turn that resulted in a 360 degree skid. It was awesome. And memorable. And I can’t thank Mike and Skydas Group enough for teaching me the things they did; I’m pretty sure the skills I now have will, at some point, keep me out of danger and may even one day save my life.

If you’d like more information on Skydas Group International, visit their website or call and ask for Mike: http://skydasgroup.com. If you’ve never taken counter surveillance training before, I suggest you look into it, whether you are a rep, or a jeweler, or even a designer. The SATGs have caught on to the fact that we reps don’t carry live merchandise any longer, and so crime on our end of the biz has gone down, however, crime against sales associates and store owners has risen as a result, so a course like this benefits everyone in our industry, no matter what position you hold, or path you take.

Whatever it is that you do in this business, remember this: your life is not a dress rehearsal. Remember that no phone call, text, or email is important enough to distract you from your surroundings. Remember that your kids expect you home, and that your spouse never stops worrying. But most importantly, just remember to be aware, because if you follow that one simple reminder, everything else will fall into place.