#jewelrypeople, Trade Show Shenanigans

Vegas’ Colorful Moments: Quality Time Spent with the Gems of Jewelry Market Week

(Full disclosure: the AGTA GemFair hosted me to attend and cover their show and others in The Collective as well as COUTURE, but this blog post is not a paid post)

The last time I stepped foot in Las Vegas I was four years younger, three pounds heavier, and my hair was a lot less gray. In “jewelry industry” years, four years is the equivalent of a lifetime. Sales reps can change companies thrice in that time frame. Retail doors can open and close, and industry superstars can rise and fall. Remember when you started high school and you barely had facial hair but by the time you graduated you looked like the guy on the Brawny paper towels package? Yeah. High school is four years long too, and just like in high school, with each year that passes there is growth, change, and a whole lot of learning we didn’t even realize we needed.

Thanks to my hosts, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), I found myself back in a very changed Vegas for a very changed Jewelry Market Week this year. For one thing, there was a new show in town. Or rather, there were three shows (two existing and one new) under one new show roof (the Las Vegas Convention Center) which together became a new entity dubbed, The Collective. The Collective was made up of the AGTA GemFair Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry and Watch Show, and PREMIER, and offered its guests a single badge which would allow them to visit all three shows. Also being offered was the opportunity to catch Shuttles to and from COUTURE. In terms of the AGTA show, those who registered as a buyer online could also sign up for UBER codes to use to and from other buying locations, and with hotels such as the Wynn and the Venetian being on the same end of the Strip, buyers and media could navigate their experiences much more easily this year.

I spent my first full day exploring the AGTA GemFair and visiting with brands such as B&B Fine Gems (a personal favorite) and ASBA Pearls (also a fave) before venturing off to meet with dealers I wasn’t as familiar with such as Sparkles and Colors. Eventually I was joined by my great friend Alan Hart, the CEO of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, who helped me understand a little more about what exactly I was looking at in terms of the intricacies of minerals and gems. At the Sparkles and Colors booth, Alan and I swooned over silky Kashmir sapphires before geeking out over minerals by The Arkenstone Ltd. He proved to be someone to have handy when I had questions about the emeralds I saw at the GEM 2000 booth or about the various specimens I coveted from Dufty Weiss Opals. But on top of the extraordinary gems, jewels, minerals, and rocks being showcased, there were additional benefits to being there. A buyer could swing by to watch the outrageously talented Angie Crabtree paint one of her fabulous colored gemstone artistic creations and then head off to get a chair massage before entering to win a huge amount of money with which to spend on the show floor. For those who were in the market to purchase colored gems while in Vegas, the AGTA GemFair offered jackpots of the attainable kind and then some.

My next three days were filled with day-long visits to COUTURE, COUTUREtime, the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry and Watch Show, and PREMIER; all shows which are under the Emerald Expositions umbrella. My goal was simple: visit brands whose designers use colored gems in their creations, learn more about how and why they use them, and give those brands some social media love. And while that may seem like a simple task when it came time to find jewelry brands, watches proved to be a little more difficult. But thanks to watch companies like Corum, Parmigiani, and the extraordinary Dior, I was able to get my hands on some really special colored stone timepieces that would make the gemstone lover in all of us swoon.

My final show day led me back to AGTA in order to do one last show run. This time, I focused on some of the lesser-known brands who maybe don’t get as much social media love (or even have a social media page). It was on this day that I learned more about Jade by Nikolai (who had the coolest booth at the show) and Artrade Precious (who had the most awesome South Sea pearl skulls). Had it not been for my trip to Vegas this year, I wouldn’t have known about these companies even existing.

I want to thank to AGTA for not only flying me out and putting me up, but for allowing me to discover their world – a world I was somewhat unfamiliar with – in my own way. Never once did this organization do anything but let me be myself. They trusted my work and my coverage and were quick to say how very happy they were with what I did. As a writer in this industry, I value that more than anything. It means so much to me when someone puts their faith in my skillset and my decades-long experience, then hands me the keys to the car and tells me they’ll see me when they see me.

The AGTA took a gamble on me in Las Vegas, and I’m happy to know that gamble (seemingly) paid off.

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GEM(s) – Truly Outrageous! Why the AGTA GemFair in Las Vegas is a Show to Bet On

(Full disclosure: the AGTA GemFair is hosting me to attend and cover their show and others in The Collective as well as COUTURE, but this blog post is not a paid post)

If you were a child of the 80s, you completely got the pop culture reference in the headline of this post. Jem was a tween superstar, and at the time, she gave young girls like me a reason to believe in pink hair, technology (in the form of holograms), and badassery, and she was a huge part of the reason I had any interest in music. Jem by all accounts, was a gateway into rock for young kids, in a similar way that gems are often a gateway into our beloved jewelry industry.

The American Gem Trade Association will host its annual Las Vegas GemFair in a different location this year. The show – which is part of what is being called The Collective – has left its long-running stint in Mandalay Bay and will now be held alongside the new PREMIER Show and the Antique Jewelry and Watch Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center located at 3150 Paradise Road. But aside from the show having a new location, it also has a new outlook and a new mindset. You see, what the AGTA GemFair did was listen – actually listen – to both its exhibitors and its attendees from years past. This is something that for ages, fairs like Baselworld seemingly didn’t do, which led to a grand exodus of many of that show’s exhibitors. AGTA, on the other hand, decided that a move, alone, wasn’t enough. They wanted to offer something more; something along the lines of an experience.

Vegas Market Week is often the only time of year many U.S. retailers do their buying, but the AGTA GemFair is one of the few shows that isn’t just for retailers. When a jewelry designer is looking for a matching suite of alexandrites for a necklace they drew on the back of a napkin (because designers will sketch on whatever is handy), they often look no further than the aisles of the AGTA GemFair. So making sure the show is comfortable for both retailer AND wholesaler is important to its success. “We just wanted to give the buyer something different, and we’re very excited about the changes.” Said AGTA’s CEO, Doug Hucker.

So, let’s talk about those changes, shall we? First – and probably most exciting – is the amount of buying dollars being given away to registered buyers at the show. The fair, which opens on Thursday, May 30th, will give away $30,000.00 in buying credits to one lucky winner by the end of the day. On Friday, May 31st, a winner will receive $15,000.00 in buying credits, and on June 1st and 2nd, winners will receive $7,500.00 in buying credits by the end of those days. All credits will need to be used by the last day of the show, Monday June 3rd. Also, since the AGTA understands that buyers will be coming from shows such as COUTURE and JCK to the Convention Center and will have to get back, they’ve set up personalized Uber codes which registrants can sign up to received via their online registrations. More food options by way of food carts? Yep. A “cyber-lounge”? I’m still waiting to find out what that is, but they had me at, “lounge.” “Rest and recharge bars”? (They also had me a “bars.”) And what’s this?? CHAIR MASSAGES?! I might just move in and never leave.

Finally, in case you haven’t seen my social media posts or the news about it in the AGTA Newsletter, this year, I’m thrilled to be a part of the group of independent writers/social media influencers who will be covering not only the AGTA GemFair, but also the other shows in The Collective as well as the COUTURE and COUTUREtime shows on behalf of the AGTA. And while I know that “numerically” I may not have the follower counts of some of my colleagues,  but what I lack in digits I make up for in traditional-style content and exposure, which is another reason I feel the AGTA reached out to see if I’d be up for the task. The crew at the AGTA has been an absolute joy to work with thus far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing all the new and exciting things they’re offering this week.

You know what they say… “Vegas, baby!” Cannot wait to color my world.

(All images provided by the AGTA)

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Ninja Babes, Ping Pong, and Lithuanian Seagull Day: Welcome to AGS Conclave 2019

Before this novella begins, I’d like to share a little anecdote with you. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, I ran into Toby Pomeroy, whom I consider to be a leader in pushing for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible jewelry in our industry. When I saw Toby, I greeted him with a big hug as I always do and told him what a wonderful surprise it was for me to see him there at Conclave. “Do you know why I’m here?” He said to me. “Not really, no. Why did you decide to come this year?” I replied. “I’m here…” Toby said, “because last year, I read your recap of Nashville’s Conclave and I thought to myself, ‘there is no way I’m missing that next year.’”

So, if you’re wondering if you can get through this entire blog post, you can. I promise I’ll make it worth your time. And if you’re someone like Toby who either hasn’t attended a Conclave or hasn’t been to one for quite some time, well, this one’s for you. Here’s hoping I see you in Denver next year.

With that said… this is my complete recap of the American Gem Society Conclave, 2019.

DAY ONE – The Great Oyster Shakedown

When I first heard that the 2019 edition of the American Gem Society Conclave was going to be held in Seattle, Washington, I had a feeling it was going to be a little different that the four others I’d previously attended. And as with every year I hear about Conclave, I knew I had to be there.

Seattle, for those unaware, was always an extraordinary city, and while it’s now home to Starbucks, Amazon, and Microsoft, there is no denying that its roots run deeper than big corporations and popular coffeehouses. Seattle is the home of the Grunge era of music, glass artist Dale Chihuly, and some of the best sashimi in the United States.  It’s a growing city that – while always popular – seems hipper than ever, even with its regularly gloomy skies.

My trip to the Emerald City started with an airport meetup. Award-winning jewelry designer Erica Courtney and I decided we’d share a car to Conclave’s host hotel (along with Sheila Siu) and once there, we grabbed our good friend Alan Hart of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain to head out for a little sightseeing. (And by “sightseeing” I mean the sight we saw was the inside of Erica’s friend’s wine bar for several hours and one or six bottles of bubbly.) After (hiccup) leaving the bar, I headed to my AirBnB where I was staying with my two roommates whom we’ll call “The Joshuas” for the sake of this article. Once refreshed, I headed back to the Sheraton Grand Seattle for the first of that evening’s two Conclave-associated gatherings: The Mentor Mixer.

Back in 2017, the American Gem Society along with the AGS Young Titleholders decided to set up a mentor program which would match established and experienced AGS members with specific Young Titleholders. The general idea – as with most mentor relationships – is for the relationship to work both ways. The mentor gets to share their knowledge and guide the mentee while the mentee does their part in keeping the mentor up to date on what’s new and fresh. So the Mentor Mixer is the perfect way to kick off Conclave because it brings together many of the industry’s icons (I’m looking at you, Bill Farmer) as well its new blood.

Following the mixer, a slew of us hopped into an Uber Black (as B&B Gems’ superstar and AGS speaker Dave Bindra sat in the front seat and played D.J. [this would turn out to be a recurring event throughout trip] while the rest of us rocked out to his jams in the back seats) and headed across town for the AGS International Guilds party. The Guilds – for those unaware – are sort of like “chapters” which are set up in various cities throughout the country. Guild members gather periodically and will invite speakers to teach classes or host seminars throughout the year. As one such speaker, let me say that being part of a Guild is a great way to keep the AGS’s ethics and ideals in the forefront of our minds after the yearly Conclave comes to a close.

While there was plenty of delicious-looking food at the party, a handful of us had one thing on our minds: oysters, so we decided to gather a couple of folks and head out in search of said Seattle shellfish. Well, that “couple” turned into about twenty people, and on a Sunday night at 9:30, we knew we’d have a tough time getting in somewhere. But our resident Seattleite, Monica Stephenson of ANZA Gems, suggested we try the famed Tom Douglas restaurant, Dahlia Lounge. And while the looks on the servers’ faces were of utter shock (and a tiny bit anger) when we arrived (a half hour before they were to close – hence the anger), we managed to still get seated and pretty much ordered all the oysters (and wine, and gin, and tequila) they had to spare. But what I learned very quickly about this – my third – trip to Seattle, is that even when you think the night is coming to a close, it most definitely is not, especially when jewelry and gem people are involved, and even more especially when your uber driver whips out a gold-plated microphone THAT WORKS and you and your multiple companions sing “Now That We Found Love” by Heavy D and The Boys (RIP) all the way back to the Sheraton. Yeah. Day one went something like that. And I’ve got the video to prove it.

DAY TWO – Did She Just Do “The Worm”?

On Monday morning, The Joshuas headed over to the Sheraton a little before I did so I decided to catch a LYFT. My driver – Joe – was a super nice, talkative young guy. In fact, he was so darling I was thrilled to have gotten him again some seven hours later. That’s right. In a city of roughly 725,000 people, I got the same LYFT driver twice. Maybe Conclave should be held in Vegas instead of Denver next year, ‘cause I’m liking my odds these days.

That morning’s breakout and featured speaker sessions included but were not limited to the subjects of brand ambassadors, emerald origins, emotional intelligence, watchmaking, Millennials, platinum casting, and marketing. If you don’t get why Conclave is so valued, read my previous sentence again and maybe you’ll understand a bit better. There is no place in the American jewelry industry that will allow you the wealth of knowledge like that with which you’ll walk away upon your departure from Conclave. Trust me on this. I’ve not lied to you yet.

When it came time for the opening luncheon and keynote address to get under way, I noticed there was a soft, barely audible voice demurely interviewing attendees at the entrance to the grand ballroom. Why, it was Conclave emcee, Joel Zeff! Or as we industry folk refer to him, “Shy Joel Zeff”. Joel was greeting luncheon guests in sort of a “less annoying Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet” type of way and man, he really was doing a phenomenal job of laying down some hard-hitting questions to AGS members. One particularly deer-in-the-headlights-inducing inquiry came in the form of several attempts at finding out if the attendees knew who the current American Gem Society president actually was. Full disclosure: they did not. Fuller disclosure: that was a gift from the improv gods for dear ol’ Jeff Zell (#ifyouknowyouknow) which only strengthened the bromance already existing between John Carter and him. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when they were standing in the mens’ bathroom next to one another last year. Actually, scratch that last line. I think I need to wash my mind out with soap now.

Monday’s Keynote speaker was a man by the name of Dan Thurmon, and my guess is that – had he been alive and in attendance – P.T. Barnum would have really enjoyed this guy. Dan talked about balance in one’s life (work, family, etc.) while juggling balls (bowling and electric) as well as knives, riding a unicycle, and doing backward handsprings across the stage. (Sheesh. I can barely tie my shoes most days.) Entertaining? Absolutely. And while – and this is 100% true – my very own husband can also juggle while riding a unicycle, I’m not sure I’ll try any of that myself at home. Nor should you.

As The Joshuas and I made our way back to our house after the day’s final sessions, we discussed what we’d be wearing to that evening’s events: The Supplier Showcase and the Young Titleholders’ Trivia Night hosted by Hearts on Fire. It was in the car that one of the Joshuites suggested we wear the matching gem-themed pajamas we had made specifically for Conclave, which is when the three of us agreed that yes, we would indeed be *those* people who are willing to stand out and look like the buffoons we’re known as being in order to make those in our company feel gemtastically gleeful. It worked, and we upped Marc Altman’s trivia team t-shirt game in the process. (BRING IT, FLINTSTONE.)

For some reason, this year’s Young Titleholders/Hearts on Fire Trivia Night was being held at a ping pong bar – yes, there are ping pong bars, apparently – by the name of SPIN, that was in walking distance from the hotel. The centerpiece of each table was a glass cylinder filled with orange ping pong balls, which, if you have ever met anyone in the jewelry industry post-happy hour, was about as fitting as if it were a bucket filled with Silly String, Redi-Whip, a Nerf gun, and water balloons. In other words, no one was getting out unscathed and the potential for bruising was pretty substantial.

Trivia night started with some simple rules (don’t use your phones, make sure no one sees Priyanka using her phone, and whatever happens, don’t drop the crystal trophy if you win) but what we never saw coming was the throwback to “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” which came in the form of Hearts on Fire’s Lindsey Davis who performed the “worm” move at the front of the room. That set the tone, people. The night only got better after that.

Thanks to the members of our team (some say we came in 2nd place but I like to say we came in 1st place, once removed) which included John “I was late to my own event” Carter, Joel “I still get prizes even when I lose” Zeff, Craig “Livin’ in the South” Danforth, Jennifer “Hey, I got the Pez question right” Pusenkoff, Stephanie “And I got all the other questions right” Kennedy, and three random guys no one knew (seriously… were they even in the industry? I feel like they snuck in on AGS’s dime). All in, Day two of Conclave was a rip-roaring good time that taught us a thing or two about how quickly and powerfully the women in the jewelry business can throw a jar of ping pong balls at a person’s face, particularly if his name rhymes with Shmichael Crichards.

DAY THREE – The Dangers of Meeting Gem Dealers in a Forest

While the majority of the jewelers assembled in the Emerald City launched tiny plastic spheres at one another for fun, I decided to leave immediately after trivia was over so that I could get up bright and early for Tuesday’s Keynote Breakfast event which I absolutely did NOT want to miss.

It’s not often a person gets to see celebrities anywhere near as funny as comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of the hit improv series “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (oh, uhh, other than the Conclave emcee, of course), so The Joshuas and I arrived in time to grab seats right up front in the hope that we’d get picked for the audience participation part of the performance (editor’s note: we did not). However, our disappointment was short-lived once we saw that our friend Anna Samsonova was the first victim volunteer to be selected. There is no way to be able to put into words just how hilarious this skit was. All you need to know about this is that it involved two members of the audience who had to physically (and cautiously) move Brad and Colin based on what they were saying. Oh, and, you should probably know that what they were saying had to do with National Lithuanian Seagull Day. Really. You had to be there. Trust me on this.

Another gem of a moment (all puns intended) during the comedic presentation was when Colin and Brad selected Alexis Padis and Stephanie Kennedy to do the sound effects for their story about jewelers who have to meet some shady gemstone dealers… in the forest. Because as we all know, the forest is where the finest of all the gemstones in the world are found. (Insert eyeroll emoji here.) Oh, one more memory: Charles Stanley dancing backup to a rap about “Babes Wolverine” which also featured the talents of Michael Richards and Clayton Bromberg. GOOGLE IT. Just sayin’.

The rest of the morning’s sessions included discussions about transparency in relation to gemstones, identifying lab-grown diamonds, the up side to texting your customers, hiring millennials, selling to women, and many others. Again, as mentioned above, as it relates to all things diamond, gem, and jewelry, Conclave covers every base every day, and does so with the help of experienced speakers.

Tuesday’s Titleholder’s Luncheon (sponsored to the American Gem Trade Association) started with AGTA CEO and 2018 Shipley Award winner Doug Hucker joking about how he could sell tickets to those who’d like to beat the pulp out of emcee Joel Zeff when Joel screams into the mic first thing in the morning. Clearly this became a running joke for the rest of Conclave, but in reality, the joke turned into an opportunity for Jewelers for Children to raise a bunch of money in raffle tickets thanks to Zeff at once point pressuring folks in the crowd to buy them and to Doug agreeing to match a certain number of raffles sold. The Titleholder’s Luncheon also recognized those who became new AGS Titleholders as well as those who had reached a certain number of years holding that title. Also presented at the lunch were the Young Titleholder of the Year Award which went to a deserving Meredith Schlessinger, CG, for her work with the Young Titleholders, and special recognition also went to Lisa Bridge, CG, for the part she has played over the years in developing the Young Titleholder Community. The Guild of the Year Award was presented by Marc Altman to Susan Barnett and the Michigan Guild, and The Sallie Morton Award was presented to Phillip Bosen, CG, for his work with the International Guilds.

The last class of the day, for me, was one I’d been waiting all of Conclave to see, and that was the Exotic Colored Gemstones class being taught by the inimitable Dave Bindra. If you’ve never been to any of Dave’s seminars, you’re really missing out on something special. Think of them as a marriage between your favorite rare colored gemstones and the old school R&B mix you play the first time you invite a date over for dinner and… uh… coffee. IT’S JUST THAT GOOD. Dave’s chill demeanor, soothing voice, and ability to mix humor with style and a killer soundtrack makes for a flawless presentation every dang time.

Tuesday night was what is known as the “free night” at Conclave, meaning people can attend dinners or private parties on their own, which is exactly what The Joshuas and I did. A huge “thank you” to ANZA Gems, the Seattle chapter of the WJA, and Accounting for Jewelers for co-sponsoring a killer shindig at the home of Monica Stephenson (and thanks to Monica and Dave for opening your beautiful home up to the multitude of us who attended). We drank lovely Washington State wines and ate beautiful foods while overlooking Puget Sound by the fire until it was time to call it a night.

DAY FOUR – The End is Coming (But First… WATCHES!)

The final day of Conclave is always filled with joy, sadness, and the occasional daytime glass of champagne (aka, #daybubbles). The earlier part of the day brought me (and several others) along on Monica’s journey into the gem mines of Africa via her breakout session before sitting us down for the Robert M. Shipley Award Luncheon. This year’s Shipley Award was elegantly (and at times, hilariously) presented by Bill Farmer to Kelly Newton of Newton’s Jeweler’s in Fort Smith, AK. Funny thing… I’ve not only visited Fort Smith (“What is a big city girl like you doing in a town like this?”) but I’ve actually visited Kelly’s store… TWICE! And Kelly is more than deserving of this award.

But let’s get to the part you’ve all been waiting for (not really, but it’s my blog and I can say what I want) and that’s the recap of how my watch panel went.

I had the honor of moderating a panel which included four gentleman whose voices ring loudly in either the jewelry or the watch industries. The idea behind this panel session – titled, “The Watch Market in 2019: Modern, Vintage, and the Future of Watches” – was to hear opinions of those representing four genres of the watch world: the retailer, the journalist, the collector, and the vintage expert. Topics largely discussed were Rolex’s popularity, the future of high-end watchmaking, Baselworld’s recent releases, affordable watch brands that are currently reaching the end consumer, and why buying and selling vintage can be a smart way to go. My panelists included three-time Conclave speaker Eric Wind of Wind Vintage, James Stacey of Hodinkee, watch collector Jeffrey Binstock, and AGS president John Carter. After the panel’s conclusion, a group of us ventured down to the Sheraton’s bar and let’s just say a mini watch fest broke out, with several AGS attendees gathering around to try on and compare some truly extraordinary vintage timepieces.

After a quick visit to the President’s Party followed by a wonderful meal with my panelists at Seattle’s famed Public Market, it was time for me to bid the city, my friends, and this year’s Conclave, adieu.

Many, many, MANY thanks to those who make Conclave possible. Everyone from the AGS staff to the committee to the photographers, media crew, lighting folks, speakers, and board members all band together and pull off something really special, year after year. It has been an honor to be included as one of the event’s speakers more than once and an even greater pleasure to be able to write about it and talk about it yearly on this blog and in my podcast. If anyone were to ever turn my podcast questions on me and ask me what my favorite industry event is, there is no doubt in my mind what the answer would be. I’d pick the event that would pull together people whom I genuinely value; the one that I feel does the most for jewelers as a community. I’d pick the event that offers every attendee a sense of belonging – AGS member or not – and the one that recognizes people for their worth and their value and not just because they think that recognition can sell tickets or a table. I’d pick the event that provides education, mentoring, and leadership as well as the one that isn’t afraid to have some fun and let its guests blow off a little steam. But mostly, I’d pick the industry event that has always made me feel like I deserve to be there; the one that has offered me a family to call my own.

Hands down, every time, I’d pick Conclave.

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Why I “Conclave”: One Jewelry Writer’s Reasons for Attending the Industry Event of the Year

The first American Gem Society Conclave I ever attended was in 2015 in the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time, I wasn’t a full-time writer, but being there was one of the reasons I wanted to become one.

Conclave was unlike any industry conference to which I’d been. It was low-maintenance. Low stress. I didn’t feel the need (as a then-salesperson) to “work”. In other words, I felt strangely as if the retailers and I were on even ground. I had no product to sell, which took the pressure off me, and they had no product to buy, taking the pressure off them. We were equals. Colleagues. Friends, even. Friends who sat side-by-side in educational classes and drank single-malt scotch together at nightly events. Friends who compared notes, pondered the future of our industry, and shared various success stories. It was clear to me in 2015 that Conclave was special, and that now that I’d caught the bug, it would be hard as heck to get rid of it.

The following year, Conclave was held in Washington D.C. and it was the first one I would attend as a newly-minted full-time writer as I was invited by the AGS. This was also the first year the event would have Joel Zeff as its emcee and if I didn’t think I was sold the year before, I knew then and there the organization would need a crow bar to get rid of me. 2016 was also the first year I took part in the Young Titleholders Trivia Night after being asked by then-Conclave Chair John Carter to be a part of his team. We took first place at that event, beating the smack-talking “Team Josh”, and a jewelry industry “rivalry for the ages” was forged.

In 2017, Hollywood was Conclave’s temporary home, and its speakers were some of the best to date. Jay Leno headlined, causing a bit of a stir with his humor, and The Queen – Cathy Calhoun – clutched her pearls (and by “pearls” I mean “hundreds of thousands in diamonds”) when it was announced that she’d be the recipient of that year’s Robert M. Shipley Award. Hollywood’s Conclave gave us moments like “Mary Poppins”, zipper shirt tucks, Dave & Buster’s engagements, and a throwback Scott Berg with straightened hair (an image I’ll never be able to unsee), but it was also the first Conclave in which I was a speaker, and with an attendance that spilled out into the hallway (largely due to people wanting free drinks), it was one I won’t soon forget.

Flash forward to this week – 2018 – and the grand ol’ city of Nashville, Tennessee. This year’s Conclave was attended by over 700 people from all over the United States, Canada, and beyond, and it was just as enlightening, entertaining, and educational as it has always been. But before I bullet point some of my favorite memories, happenings, and lines from this week, I just want to thank the extraordinary team at the American Gem Society as well as the Conclave committee and their new chair, Alexis Padis, for doing what you do so well: bringing together the best and brightest lights in the business and providing them an opportunity to share their knowledge so that our industry thrives together as a unit.

Now, here are some of my favorite 2018 AGS Conclave moments that you may or may not understand, but trust me, if you don’t now, you likely will at some point in the future:

  • “Day Bubbles”
  • Bill Farmer and toilet paper – honestly, just don’t ask
  • Realizing that John Carter’s table etiquette is better than mine and that I’m not the only person who noticed
  • The beautiful tribute to Herb Bridge
  • Dave Bindra’s colored stone class making me almost weep in amazement
  • “What’s a hashtag?”
  • Fake-driving a car to Asheville from Nashville while feeling angry, happy, sad, and petrified all in a matter of two-and-a-half minutes
  • Steak for lunch. (Because Susan paid)
  • Fried chicken and country music date night with Danielle Miele and John Carter
  • Marie Osmond’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
  • Meredith Schlessinger’s idea of what a nail gun sounds like
  • Forevermark’s promise to promote gender equality in their organization
  • FINALLY getting a shout out by Joel Zeff during the AGS breakfast (but unfortunately not being in attendance to hear it)
  • Sarah Nanasi Russell receiving the YTH of the Year Award
  • Anna Samsonova and Gina Hawkins receiving the Guild Award on behalf of the Seattle Chapter
  • Being given “The Big Room” for my breakout session and almost filling it. Almost.
  • The comfortability of Ben Smithee’s mattress and why clarity in a sentence matters
  • Doug Hucker’s “pants split” story during the mentor session
  • The visuals that went along with Doug Hucker’s “pants split” story during the mentor session
  • Seeing Doug Hucker receive the Robert M. Shipley award even after he shared the “pants split” story during the mentor session
  • Leos and Libras and Love (OH MY!)
  • Alexis, Denise, Marc, Byron, Josh, Dave, Ben, Anna, Sarah, Jeremy, Hannah, Lisa, Megan, Jordan, and all of you millennials who keep me feeling young and relevant… I genuinely adore you all
  • Dickel’s whiskey
  • “You can’t superglue that one back together”
  • Being schooled on my choice to wear seersucker and being okay with that because #northerner
  • Oddly shaped potatoes
  • AC/DC with Joel, John, and Scott
  • Finally meeting and spending time with Alan Hart of Gem-A
  • Watching my good friend, John Carter, become president of the American Gem Society

If you do not attend the AGS Conclave or you are not a member of the American Gem Society, I highly recommend looking into becoming the latter so that you’re able to take part in this experience. It is an important event in our industry, but most importantly, it’s inclusive. There are no cliques here at Conclave; no egos and no hierarchy. Those attending come together in unity to discuss how to best protect and preserve our beloved industry through ethical practices and modern methods.

Again, thank you to the AGS for accepting me as a speaker, and thank you to my friends and colleagues for making it one more Conclave to remember. Hope to see all of you in Seattle next year.

#ICraveConclave

 

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Trade Show Shenanigans

A Year Without Vegas: Reports, Rumors, and Rumblings heard from Jewelry Week 2017

Every May for the last five years I went through the motions of preparing my mind, spirit, and feet for what was usually a week or more of schmoozing retailers, cozying up to brands, and/or fighting off the occasional handsy old-timer who thought he was above the law because of his name or status in the jewelry industry. And every year I would return from said week exhausted and oftentimes broken, looking for whatever it was I needed to replenish my drive and rebuild my faith in the career decision I made more than two decades ago; a decision I still don’t regret despite its twists, turns, and occasional turmoil.

This year, however, was quite different. For this year, the closest I came to the Venetian was spending time with actual Venetians in the City of Canals in the country of my ancestors; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear about Vegas. I certainly heard a whole lot about Vegas, so while this may not be a “Tales from the Strip” in the traditional sense, I’ve decided to call it “Whispers from the West,” as this year seemed to be a kinder, gentler experience for many, many people.

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“Give me your take on this year’s Vegas in five words or less… GO!”

That was the text I sent out to nearly fifty folks in my contacts list, post Vegas shows, in order to get a generalized feel of how the show went for them. This group included store owners, retail salespeople, designers, wholesalers, members of the media, and PR and marketing professionals whom I’ve known for some time and who rarely, if ever, miss a Las Vegas Jewelry Week. Here is just a sampling of the responses I received:

“Change or be changed.” – Sam Jansen, MBM Diamonds

“Quiet yet productive; always fun.” – Shannon Smith Waters, Hale’s Jewelers

“Groundhog Day with some surprises.” – Michael O’Connor, Celebrity Stylist

“Cautious optimism.” – Alexis Padis, Padis Jewelry

“I did not go.” – Ben Simon, Windsor Jewelers

And yet if I had to combine all the declarations in one pot and call it a meal, I’d probably name it Forge Ahead Soup. The overall vibe I received as a non-attendee was a concoction of zeal and hope created from a base of uniformity with a dash of uncertainty thrown in. “It seemed like there was less foot traffic and fewer buyers but the buyers in attendance were focused and wrote orders,” said one attendee who didn’t wish to be named. “Low traffic/high yield” said another, and one relatively new designer I reached out to said that she had experienced her most successful trade show to date. I also had a well-known retailer come back to me with two variations that he said fit the five words or less suggestion: “no one was buying diamonds,” although there were “price points for today’s economy,” which despite his usually fearful outlook, he accepted as a positive.

Other statements made by a handful of industry veterans I spoke with had to do with the designs on display. While the artistic and often complex level of jewelry creations seems to have reached an all-time high, some retailers are concerned that their buyers aren’t ready for inventive fine jewelry that may not translate well to either their younger buyers who have smaller budgets, or to their conservative customers who may not understand the artistry/price ratio. “There are so many gorgeous designs out there right now,” said one retailer I contacted who has a store in the south, “however, I always have to ask myself… ‘is it sellable? Can my team sell this?’”

But, Las Vegas Jewelry Week isn’t just for new jewelry and gemstone buyers, manufacturers, and sellers, thanks to the focus that has been paid to watches by both the COUTURE show and JCK in the last couple of years. And while Swiss watch exports saw a slight decline (-1.1%) in May in the United States, according to a report by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH, on average, the industry has seen a worldwide increase in their numbers. This year shows a 9% growth from May of 2016. That is good news for brands and boutiques alike, and with more and more companies pulling out of Baselworld for a variety of reasons, those folks running the watch shows in Vegas may have unknowingly found themselves with an opportunity unlike any our industry has been familiar with in the past.

With all this being said, and with all that I learned and heard about the business side of Jewelry Week in Sin City this year, there was and still is the feeling that something was missing.

Oh, that’s right…

Me.

Here are five more words to sum up Vegas according to John Carter of Jack Lewis Jewelers:

“No Palumbo equals no fun.”

That’s not to say that I didn’t do my fair share of drinking during my plethora of visits to wineries across Italy, but come on, we all know that sipping a pour from a two-hundred-dollar bottle of Super Tuscan in the cellar of a 300-year-old winery doesn’t come with quite the same excitement stigma as slamming a shot of whiskey you accepted from someone you may or may not have known, at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of Eye Candy’s dance floor while sweating through your Spanx, now does it? And while both are experiences that – combined – will eventually make up the story of my life (as written by a yet-to-be-discovered, best-selling murder-mystery novelist… you’ll see), it is times like the latter situation that make for the most interesting stories in the end.

Here – in no particular order – are some of the events and occurrences that either happened during past Jewelry Weeks, or that may have happened at this one, which made my missing out all the more difficult:

  • High-fiving Chaka Khan during her performance of “I’m Every Woman”
  • Duck-facing with WJA Awards for Excellence Nominee, Wendy Brandes
  • Hating Michael Schechter
  • Running a 5K for charity, past prostitutes at 6:00 a.m. on Las Vegas Boulevard
  • Spending way too much money on the shittiest martini I’ve ever had
  • Eating M&M’s for lunch and knowing that’s the only nutrition I’ll get all day
  • #TallGirlClub
  • Being recognized as either “that blogger” or “that blogger who throws alcohol to the crowd during speaking engagements”
  • A concert in a pool
  • Any night with any member of the Asscher family
  • Liking Michael Schechter again
  • Struggling to get proper lighting for watch shots
  • #OriginalVegasGems
  • Taking a full glass of Scotch into the cab and knowing no one would have a problem with that
  • The Oris Party
  • Glow-in-the-dark phallic symbols
  • Bobby’s Burger Palace
  • Visiting my AGTA FAM (looking at you, Bindra clan)
  • Partying with my AGS YTH FAM
  • Hanging out with my WJA FAM
  • Having dinner with my actual FAM FAM (because my Uncle lives in Vegas)
  • Seventeen-dollar Starbucks cappuccinos
  • Sharks, and I’m not talking about the ones at Mandalay Bay
  • Singing frogs, dancing fountains, gambling celebrities
  • Wondering if my feet can make it another four days

Here’s hoping that those of you I haven’t spoken with who did attend Jewelry Week this year had a wonderfully successful show, in whatever way that means and whichever way that occurred.

Let’s hear it for cautious optimism.

Let’s hear it for forging ahead.

Let’s hear it for watches and jewelry.

Let’s hear it… for Las Vegas.

 

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Retailer Experiences

The Holiday Throwdown: Why We Should All Take a Page out of Provident Jewelry’s Book

Now that I write full time I don’t find myself in jewelry stores as often as I once did. Occasionally I will visit the shops of my friends if I’m in the cities they’re located in but unless I’ve been invited to attend an event or I’ve been hired to speak about the different topics I know about, I don’t often wander into places unless there’s a reason.

Thankfully, there were several reasons to be at Provident Jewelry in Jupiter, Florida this month.

Back during the WatchTime New York show I had a moment with MB&F’s Phil Ogle where I started picking his brain about a few different stores he works with. Provident, to me, seemed unlike many of the retailers I’d visited in the past. The company was not a family jeweler but rather a joint effort between several guys – young guys, too – and yet they seemed to have their finger on the pulse of what the southern part of Florida was shopping for. They carried big-name jewelry brands but also independent watch brands. They were catering to Baby Boomers and Generation X, yet thinking and marketing like Generation Y. And when the shit hit the fan for every aspect of the jewelry industry in 2008 and 2009, Provident seemed to be thriving and expanding; a notion nearly unheard of during the recession. So, I wanted to see for myself what this place was all about. I’m happy to say that I finally got my chance.

*********

When I received the telephone call from Nick Linca – one of the owners and well-known faces of Provident’s Jupiter, Florida location – I was sitting on a bench under a set of stairs at the infamous Watergate Hotel in Washington in between sessions at the New York Times conference on the future of the luxury industry.

“So, Barbara, Phil and I were talking, and I’d like for you to come out and visit us during our holiday events next week. We love what you do and I read your writing religiously. Plus, you’re well respected by a lot of people we know and work with, so I think it would be fun to have you here. Max will be here and the SVP of Chanel, as well as a lot of other people you’ll want to meet. We’ll fly you down and put you up. What do you think?”

I mean, how do I say no to that? I get the opportunity to visit one of the stores I’ve virtually watched grow over the years, get to spend some time around one of my favorite watchmakers in the world (#maxcrusheveryday), and get two days and nights in eighty-degree weather in December. Um, yes please!

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Nick and Max. They get it.

As mentioned in my piece over on WhatsOnHerWrist.com, when I arrived at the Jupiter location, I found Nick deep in conversation with the aforementioned Phil and the one-and-only Max Büsser. Lara Pansolli – Provident’s head of Marketing – showed me around the store and gave me a little background on what to expect over the next couple of days.

“Tonight will be an intimate event; only about sixty people (though it’s starting to look closer to eighty) and it will be comfortable for the customers who aren’t into large crowds. Tomorrow night, however…”

“What happens tomorrow night?”

“Oh, just you wait and see. Tomorrow night’s going to be crazy. I mean it, too.”

As I perused the showroom I found my jaw lagging behind me and scraping the floor from time to time. Not only did I notice jewelry from luxury brands Chopard, Crevoshay, Gucci, and Buddha Mama, but their timepiece selection was sublime, and for all the right reasons. Nick, himself, made clear to me that the watch part of their business was based as much on personal preferences as it was on what profits the retailer could turn because of it. They only put in watch brands that they feel a personal connection to and they must believe in the story of the brand or else it doesn’t work. This is probably why they do so well with names like MB&F and Arnold & Son watches, and why they welcomed the designs of Fiona Krüger into their world recently. But what’s just as important as the story the brand tells is the story that the store tells, which I got to know more about when I sat down for about an hour with Nick and one of his partners, Seth Berman, inside the Jupiter store’s “Dream Factory” cigar lounge.

20161207_204653Adornmentality: “This room is incredible. I mean it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Do people really smoke in here? It doesn’t even smell a little bit like cigars.”

Nick Linca: “Oh yeah, they smoke in here, all right, but it’s a negative air pressure room, so you’re not going to smell anything unless someone lights up in front of you.”

Adornmentality: “So, why would you put something like this in a jewelry store?”

Nick Linca: “Because men hate to shop, and they really hate going to jewelry stores, so while their wives or girlfriends are looking around or trying things on or making a wish list, they get to come back here and get away for a little while. They can get a drink at the bar (pointing toward the fully-stocked marble wet bar directly outside of the Dream Factory), come in here, and have a nice cigar. It’s part of the experience. It’s part of why our customers always come back; because they know they’re important to us.”

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Nick and me in the Dream Factory

The cigar lounge’s impressiveness doesn’t stop at its walls of dark wood, massive flat-screen television (which at the time [to my glee] was looping a video of Max Büsser [sigh]), and negative air pressure ventilation, either. It also contains dozens of cedar-lined cigar lockers which are given to customers who spend $250,000 per year or more. Now, you might think to yourself, “Really? That’s all they get? A cigar box?” But no, that’s not all they get, because as mentioned above, it’s not just about the cigars, or the watches, or the bar, or the jewelry… it’s about the whole experience, and the experience that goes along with that small cedar box is really quite mammoth.

Dream Factory members (meaning those who get a key to one of those sought-after wooden cubes) get to take part in Provident Jewelry’s “First Thursday,” which means that on the first Thursday of every month, members and a guest might be part of, say, a Poker Night. Only instead of your second cousin Louis pouring Wild Turkey and Pepsi into red solo cups while Little Petey Shoepeddler tries to count cards before Johnny Knuckles beats the crap out of him, you get a fully-catered, top-shelf experience that might just include the World Series of Poker champion. Or maybe it’s Polo Night with three members of the International Polo Club, or Italian Night with Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and gorgeous Italian men and women pouring hundred-dollar bottles of Antinori Tignanello. My point is, this is part of what the “box” gets you, and you get it every… damned… month. But on top of that very cool and special member perk (as well as a few others), in my mind the most notable experience for members is the one that gives back to the community.

Every cigar lounge key holder, one night per year, can have full access to the Provident Jewelry Jupiter store – and all of its amenities – to throw an event that will raise money for the charity of their choice. Provident will supply the member with a one carat loose diamond for which they can sell raffle tickets. Each person who buys a ticket receives a diamond-looking gem. There could be 99 of those gems (CZs or diamond simulants) but only one will be an actual diamond, which Provident will verify when the winner is chosen. This, to me, above all of the marble, or fine wood, or big names, or nice scotch, was the most impressive thing about this company. They give back, and they give back big league (I threw that one in for you, Nick). They know their customers, they like their customers, and they know that success means very little unless one helps those less fortunate than oneself. They had my adoration before I ever stepped foot into their store, but now they had my complete and utter respect.

Nick also gave me a bit of the company’s backstory as well as a little of his own. Provident was originally a small store, started in West Palm Beach by a man in the diamond and jewelry biz by the name of Art Samuels. In 1999 after bringing his son, Rob, into the family business, Rob reached out to a salesman he knew by the name of Scott Diament and together they eventually bought most of Art’s final shares of the business. With more stores on the horizon (they opened a second store in Naples on Florida’s 20161208_200331west coast and a store in Jupiter which eventually became their flagship location), Scott reached out to his cousin – Seth Berman – to try to solicit him to come on board as a partner. Seth had been in Colorado finishing school and had never considered getting into the jewelry business, but after trying it out for a few months he realized how much he was meant for it, and so he came on board and attained his Graduate Gemologist degree from the G.I.A. through their long-distance education courses. Then, Nick – through connections, experience (eighteen years working for one of the most recognizable jewelry companies in the United States), a keen sense of what it takes to sell anything (forget the ketchup popsicle/white suit cliché, I’m talking dude could probably sell an $80,000 watch to a blind guy), and a little bit of luck – was hired as a salesman but was then quickly offered a partnership in the company. Add on Geoffrey Fear, who currently runs Provident’s newest location in Wellington, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a lifelong friendly partnership and a successful business model.

All in, as of today, Provident has seven stores in south Florida: West Palm Beach, Palm Beach (Worth Avenue), two locations in Naples, Ft. Myers, Jupiter, and now Wellington. They’ve had tough times (a major robbery in 2011 nearly wiped them out) but overall they’ve come out on top. In telling me about their robbery, Nick was clear that the brands who stood by the company in those struggling times are now the brands that they’ve devoted themselves to, and many of those brands showed a strong presence at one or both of Provident’s holiday parties.

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Top shelf

I headed back to the hotel to change into the first of two LBDs I’d packed for the night’s festivities. For the more subdued party I chose a dress by A.B.S. that was sheer at the waist and back accompanied by Ralph Lauren anklet heels. When I arrived back at the store it was as if an entire metamorphosis had occurred in the ninety minutes I’d been gone. There were floral arrangements the size of Fiats and a harp the size of said floral arrangements. That marble bar I spoke of earlier? It was stacked with bottles of Dom Perignon and Perfect Vodka, but for my first drink I decided to go with a subtle Japanese whisky… neat.

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With Olivier of Chanel

It was great to see some familiar faces like those of Eric Frank with Bell & Ross, and my friend Samir Shah with Arnold & Son and Angelus watches. But it was also pretty rad getting to meet a few other major players in the watch and jewelry industry. Folks like Olivier Stip, SVP of Chanel Fine Jewelry and Watches, as well as Markus Döttling of Döttling, which makes luxury high end safes and watch winders. On the timepiece side, representatives were there from Louis Moinet, Corum, and Emmanuel Bouchet, and Carl F. Bucherer’s North American President, Ron Stoll, was also in attendance. For me, of course, it was a joy just to get to spend some time around Maximilian Büsser on his only visit to the U.S. this year. And his presence at this event, from what I gathered, is part of the draw for Provident’s customers.

While a harpist softly played holiday music, a professional ballerina – complete in toe shoes, tutu, and tiara – held a tray of lrg_dsc02007crystal flutes filled with fine Champagne as people mingled about wearing their finest jewels and most holiday-party appropriate attire. Outside, valets parked several cars that likely cost more than my house, but inside there was no discussion of wealth and no discussion of politics. It was an elegant affair filled with people who seemed to get one another, and who also seem to understand luxury in its truest form. It was joyous, yet subdued, and it was an honor to have been invited.

Then, of course, came Thursday night’s party. Man, what a difference a day makes.

I am not using hyperbole when I say that this was the largest number of people I have even seen piled into a jewelry store at one time, by a landslide. HUNDREDS. I mean it… there were literally hundreds of guests at this event which was held both inside the store and in the store’s lrg_dsc02101parking lot (which had been converted into a second bar and table area). Caterers were running around like hamsters on wheels. Valets were tossing keys over one another’s heads. There were blondes in black dresses and Baby Boomers in four-figure duds and everyone – EVERYONE – was laughing and eating and drinking and dancing. Wait? Did I just type, dancing? YES, YOU JUST READ THAT I TYPED THAT PEOPLE WERE DANCING. “Why were they dancing?” You say? Because Provident hired the baddest-ass DJ/Electric Violinist in all of South Florida, Timothee Lovelock, and because he pretty much single-handedly turned Provident’s back room into “da club.” It was insanity, Lara was right, and by the time the doors closed for the evening, everyone – including yours truly – was exhausted.

Nick took a small group of us out for some late night grub and one last drink on the water before we were all to go our separate ways the following morning. Samir was there, as was Gustavo with Corum, and my new buddy Matteo (#whyareyoustrokingmyarm) sat on my left. Phil Ogle showed up too, only he brought along some friends: namely, his left and right biceps (feel free to tease Phil about this, guys). We took one final breather, inhaled the last drop of Champagne, and toasted what was surely two successful and hopefully profitable holiday events.

Provident Jewelry, I applaud you. You have shown me what a jewelry store is capable of and how something as simple as a 20161208_200346positive attitude can save and even catapult your business. You gave new meaning to the word “experience” for me and I hope that retailers who read this piece will take away with them that this is what success is all about: giving the customer more than just a good product or even great service, namely, something they’ll store in their memories for many years to come.

Nick, I get you. Not in every way, but in the ways that matter. You and I understand that fun can change things; it can change mindsets, and business, and what some believe should always be the norm. I think we’ll be friends for a long time after this. Thanks so much for having me and I hope we get to do it again real soon.

To Seth, Rob, Scott, and Geoff, I wish you all much luck and success in your future. To Lara and Ashton, thank you for your hospitality and for dressing me in the finest of jewels every night.

Thanks for reading not just today but all year long, and Merry Christmas, everybody. May 2017 bring bright, shiny experiences for us all!

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Uncategorized

From Nasty Women to Bad Hombres: Holiday Gifts for the Politically Passionate On Your List

Sooo, uhhhhh, yeah.

I’ll admit it; I had to rewrite some of this year’s holiday gift guide to coincide with the election outcome. I’ll admit that I expected to have an undertone in this piece that would poke fun at the experience of the 2016 electoral process as well as celebrate the smashing of that final glass ceiling. I had the jewels all picked out and the stories to go along with them, and it was fun and light and cheeky and very, very Barbara. But then, November 8th happened and the light immediately fell dark. The fun no longer seemed believable, at least, at the time. And I struggled with feeling anything other than worry, anger, and a lot of sadness.

Those emotions were real not just for me but for millions of others, and if you’re reading this and you’re having those feelings still, don’t let anyone tell you can’t or you shouldn’t. We fight for so much in this country and we love us some God-given freedom, but what many out there refuse to accept is that freedom also means that we’re free to feel, free to mourn, and free to write. And while the journalism of yore is dying off and being replaced by people like me (bloggers), and people not like me (people who *think* they’re bloggers), right now, we still have the 1st Amendment covering Freedom of the Press. So for today I’m going to use that right, as well as the right to free speech, and I’m going to pen my yearly holiday gift guide in the manner in which you’re used to it being presented – through satire. I hope it brings you some laughter, gets you thinking, and hell, maybe even offends you a little. After all, if we don’t experience these emotions, then how are we to know that we’re still alive?

***************

For Your Tan-Skinned Pharmacist, Maria

plukka-ramses-ii-18k-gold-diamond-spike-ringSure, Maria was born here in the United States to a Portuguese mother and a Peruvian father, and sure, her parents became U.S. citizens even before she was ever conceived, but that doesn’t mean Maria hasn’t experienced her fair share of difficulties pertaining to the treatment she’s gotten this election cycle (particularly by that one a**hole customer who has waited for her twice after work and who keeps asking her for a chimichanga when he picks up his monthly prescriptions of Propecia and Viagra [um, throw rocks/live in glass houses much, dude? I don’t think baldness and floppiness are the only reasons you can’t get a date, bruh]), which is why there is no better gift for the lovely Maria than something to protect herself with. Something that says, “Hey, hombre, if you come anywhere near me again I will make your face look like Marty Castillo from Miami Vice.” Something like Plukka’s 18K rose gold, sterling silver, and diamond “Ramses II” ring should do the trick. It’s spikey, yet stylish, and can also be used to flatten the tires on creepy guy’s pickup if… you know… a situation called for it.

For Your Jesus-Loving Aunt Betty

aunt-betty-links-of-londonGod bless your sweet Aunt Betty. I mean it, too. If peach cobbler, gummy bears, and a baby seal could take human form while simultaneously driving a yellow Ford Focus and singing G-rated show tunes, your Aunt Betty would be the result. Even though she voted differently than you, Aunt Betty never once called either candidate a terrible name, nor did she spread fake news or blatant lies about those running for office. She had her reasons for voting how she did and honestly, how could you be mad at her for that? I mean you could, but look at her. You can’t be mad. You just can’t. She smells like toffee. She sends you balloons on your birthday. And she’s a darn proud hand-knitted-American-flag-sweater-wearing American, which is why this Stars and Stripes covered sterling silver apple charm by Links of London will be a gift she’ll cherish forever. Can’t you just see her adding it to the empty link between Winnie the Pooh and the New Testament charm (complete with a verse from 2 Corinthians!) on her bracelet? She’ll show it off to all her friends on bingo night, even if she does refer to you as her “liberal niece, but not like a ‘Rachel Maddow’ liberal.” Bless her heart.

For Ken, Your Confused Step-Brother

Ken has serious identity issues but because you really like your step-dad, you don’t have the heart to tell him that to his face. You’ve ridden in the car with Ken when he’s gone off on rants about how we don’t need any help from the government right gp-1966-the-mapbefore he hit a pot hole and started screaming that the city needed to “fix that sh*t.” You’ve witnessed Ken wearing a “Don’t Tread On Me” t-shirt as he planted marijuana seeds in his backyard while belting out Indigo Girls’ tunes. And if all of that wasn’t enough to prove that Ken is a living, breathing, walking oxymoron, Ken goes and votes for Gary Johnson. Dafuq, Ken? I’d almost rather you penciled in “Dick Cheney’s Man-Sized Safe” as your choice of candidate. So, since Ken isn’t sure about much of anything other than he’s sure he’d rather live here than in one of those “socialist countries,” methinks something that could show Ken the world might be in order this holiday.

Back in 2014, esteemed Swiss watch manufacturer, Girard-Perregaux, introduced three limited edition watches with Cloisonné enamel dials to add to their 1966 series, one of which was named, “The Map.” For reasons obvious to Ken, he’s really going to love you for getting him this gift and won’t believe how much you spent on him this year, especially since he only got you a bottle of Dewar’s. For reasons obvious to you, it was worth the money to know that Ken will now and forever wear a watch that he doesn’t even realize contains the city of Aleppo. Feel the Bern, Kenny. Feel it for a long time, pal.

For Clover, Your Vegan Liberal Arts Major Daughter

For the record, we all know that you didn’t name your daughter, “Clover Windsong” at birth. We know that it took you almost the entirety of your pregnancy to come up with a name you felt could benefit her in her life; one that would sound strong rather than delicate. One that brought about the feelings of both grace and confidence in her as it fell from her lips when she introduced utedecker_ring_2_shapes_goldherself to her peers and/or Chris Hemsworth, who you were sure would be her husband one day. You felt that “Catherine” was indeed that name, and that it would be one she’d thank you for after hearing it over the sound system as she received her doctorate in biophysics and her masters in environmental law.

Yeeaah, no. Sorry, ma. Not the case.

Clover voted for Jill Stein for President. So rather than get into how silently disgusted you are in that little morsel or how depressed you are over her legal name change, choice of boyfriend, CHOICE OF SCHOOL, CHOICE OF CAREER PATH, CHOICE OF CAT BREED, HAIR COLOR, PIERCING LOCATIONS, AND MANY, MANY OTHER THINGS, you know that these are likely just things that kids go through, right? I mean, you were young once, weren’t you? And tongue tattoos are all the rage right now. But just because you haven’t voiced your disappointment in Dandelion – sorry, sorry – I mean, in “Clover” (I get my weeds mixed up), doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel your disappointment, so how about you pick up something you know she’ll love this season.

This Ute Decker Double Ring made with sand-textured, fair trade, ethically sourced 18K yellow gold would make for a very thoughtful gift for your girl, but if you really want to watch Clover turn Crimson, have it engraved with “To: Catherine, Love: Ma” on the inside, and when she reads that out loud on the first morning of Hanukkah, turn to her and say, “gotcha!”

For Your Recently Converted Cousin Lisa

You remember Lisa, Right? Lisa… the cousin who apparently converted to Buddhism on November 9th when she began tenderly calling for the country to come together, get along with one another, accept the election results, and unite under one flag, because, you know, we all should love our country as much as we love our freedom to vote. THAT Lisa. Oh! Wait, you haven’t met that Lisa yet, have you? Oh, RIIIIIIIIGHT! You only remember the “old” Lisa who as recently as November 7th had a Facebook profile picture depicting a dreadlocked Senator Clinton as a character in the television series, “Orange Is the New Black,” and a tara-buddha-mama2cover photo stating simply, “GUNS ARE FUN” written in red, white, and blood. But silly you, that was the Lisa of yesterminute! Today’s Lisa carries her 38 Master semi-automatic Smith & Wesson (5” barrel) in a gentler and kinder fashion. She’s now spending her days trying to calm the liberal’s “aggressively” peaceful protests and “violently” civil telephone calls to their local elected officials. She’s even meditating every morning to the soothing sounds of Dr. Ben Carson’s voice reciting the poems of Francis Scott Key. Mmmmmm… dreamy. And with her newfound interest in a peaceful transition of power (a term, by the way, which she referred to merely weeks ago as a p***y-filled transition of power), she might want to start taking this Buddhist thing to the next level, which is where you and Grandma Nora come in.

See, what Lisa doesn’t know is that Granny made you executor of her Last Will and Testament. And now that Granny sees just how much Lisa is benefitting from her suddenly Buddhist mentality, the two of you decided that instead of giving Lisa Granny’s beach house in Tybee Island, Grandma Nora would sell the house, split a large portion of the proceeds up into donations for the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and Planned Parenthood, and then with what was left, purchase the MOST gorgeous diamond and emerald “Tara” necklace by Miami-based luxury jewelry designer, Buddha Mama as something Lisa would treasure forever and wear during those moments of clarity that have unexpectedly found their way into her heart – and Facebook newsfeed.

For Tom, Your Republican Business Partner

Well, what can anybody say to Tom other than his guy won, and your gal lost, right? Tom exercised his right to vote and he did so secretly, which you’ll admit, probably pisses you off a little. Tom never told you how he was voting. He never put a bumper sticker on his car, never brought up Megyn Kelly at the water cooler, and never once trashed Hillary. Tom’s vote came as an utter shock shinola-ramblerto you and the only reason you even know which way he voted was because when you stumbled into the office at 1:00 in the afternoon on the day after the election, still a little drunk and wearing yesterday’s socks (and probably underwear if you were even wearing any), Tom looked fresh as a daisy and offered to get you a cup of coffee. That… that was when you knew.

“Et tu, Tom?” said you.

“I felt like we needed a change.” said Tom.

And with that punch in the gut you realized why the results of this election came as such a surprise to you: because Tom and you genuinely like one another. You went to college together, and while the khaki pants, conservative haircut, and Range Rover hinted to Tom’s political preference, you never wanted to ask, because it never really mattered. You’re an atheist and Tom’s a Christian. Did that ever matter in business? No. Did it ever matter when you were out partying or seeing a live band? No. And so that was the kicker. You were appalled by the actions of some of those Trump supporters but never in a million years thought Tom could be one of them because he wasn’t loud, he wasn’t rural, and he wasn’t angry, at least, on the outside. And so now it becomes a little clearer. Not all Trump supporters are bad. And not all Hillary supporters are bad. You all – we all – had to make a decision to vote one way or the other, and so with that in mind, the Christmas gift I recommend getting for Tom is the Shinola Rambler Tachymeter with red bezel and black nylon strap, because if you’re going to be a sarcastic son-of-a-b*tch this holiday season, there’s no better place to interject a 1940’s colloquialism than right here, right now, with your good ol’ buddy Tom. #ifyouknowyouknow

And finally…

For Your Grandma Nora

She’s been your champion since you could remember. Even when your mom would tell you to “sit like a lady” and not play in the dirt, Grandma Nora would let you do the complete opposite. She was the first person to give you a cigarette when you were fifteen only to tell you immediately after you nearly choked to death that you should never smoke again (and you didn’t). She’d let you hang out an hour later than you were supposed to when you spent those occasional weekends at her Upper East Side apartment.

She taught you how to make a proper martini, how to appropriately apply winged eyeliner, and what to say to a man to make him feel like he was the only man who ever existed. She could handle her men, that Granny of yours. She’d been married thrice and heaven knows how many hearts she broke before, during, and after those ceremonies. She fought for women’s rights when it was unheard of to do so, she burned bras on the boardwalk during the Miss America pageant, and she marched in protest more times than she could remember. But her one wish – the wish she had since her sorority days – was to see a woman become President before she ventured on into her next exciting life.

Close, Grandma Nora. How very close you came to being granted the only wish you ever truly had.

And while her wish may not come to fruition now, Granny still has most of her memory, most of her health, and most of her bad habits, which is why there is no better gift for you to give to her this Christmas than a “NASTY” necklace by jewelry designer, feminist, and proud New Yorker, Wendy Brandes. Not only does Granny deserve to be called, “nasty,” but her feeble ass might just run out and get a tattoo to match. DO NOT DARE HER.

That’s it for this year’s gift guide, y’all. Thanks for reading and I hope there was enough here to offend everyone. OH I KID! NO, YOU SHUT UP!

I welcome any and all comments below but do ask that you keep a respectful tone.

Happy Holidays, and God bless us, EVERYONE!

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