How This All Got Started

“A Bucket of Steam”: Proving Your Worth in the World of Jewels – Part 1

The premise of this blog as stated in its first post is to give a voice to the jewelry industry, its people, and its pieces. Too many faces at too many trade shows walk the temporarily carpeted floors in silence. Too many works of art sit behind slabs of rented glass needing desperately to sing their song; to tell their tale. Today’s tale starts with a twenty-three year old novice who opened the “Help Wanted” section of a newspaper looking for a job; who then answered an ad for an entry-level “runner” position at a tiny shop in the oldest established diamond district in the United States.

Today’s tale is the beginning of my own tale. Throughout the life of this blog I’ll share more about who I am and how I got to where I am, but for today I thought it best to start where all things do: Day One.


“So, that’s pretty much what you’ll be doing. I’ll have Billy take you around on the street and introduce you to everybody at the shops we use. You’ll mostly be visiting the casters, setters, and polishers, but you’ll need to meet Lisa – our wax carver – since you’ll see her from time to time, too. Don’t let Lisa scare you. She’s mean looking and her shop smells like an ashtray that a dog took a crap in but she’s the best wax person on the street, so, learn to like her. Actually, scratch that. You can hate her all you want, just make sure she doesn’t hate you. You’ll also want to meet the guys up at the Lapidary. Christ, Steve’s going to flip when he takes a look at you. He likes your type. No worries about him liking you; pretty sure that’s covered already. Oh, you’ll also need to get to know the appraisers. We use two different appraisal houses – Shannon and Dave. Shannon’s nice and she’s real sweet. She and Bubby like to smoke a doob from time to time. She’s cool. Dave’s office is pretty strict, though. They think they’re above the GIA. Buncha stuck-up a-holes if you ask me. But I’m not judging. We need them, so, be nice. There’s also the pearl stringer (Margie), Chuck the Diamond Cutter, the Armenian guys over at A&K, and let’s see… who else… OH, the Metal Market crew, for chains and charms and stuff. Billy will remember who else to take you to. Think you’ll remember all that?”

“Nope. But I will. At some point.”

“Good. I like your honesty. Now, first thing’s first. Remember I showed you where the steamer was?”


“Go step on the pedal and see if it’s heated up yet.”

Excitedly, and curiously, I walked over to the rather large, dangerous looking box next to Benny the Jeweler’s bench and did as I was told: I stepped with all my might.


I stepped again, this time holding my foot down on the pedal as if I were O.J. Simpson, circa 1994.

A tiny bit of spit-like water spewed from the cappuccino-looking nozzle for roughly 1.6 seconds. It was followed up by another familiar sound.


I could feel my manager Lance’s eyes on my now bright red and sweaty face.

“Did you break it?”

“NO! I did what you said! You said go and st…”

“Move over, let me try,” said a frustrated Lance, lifting a lever and then stepping with all his might on the same polishing dust-covered, black foot pedal.

Nothing. Still. As nothing as you could possibly get.

“Crap. Okay. It’s out of steam. One second.”

Lance stepped into the small, dark, back room and returned not a blink-of-an-eye later with a roughly two-gallon galvanized bucket that I believe would have made a kick-ass sand castle.

“Take this. Go to the 740 building on Sansom Street and take the elevator to the second floor. Ask Larry the Polisher if you can borrow a bucket of steam because our steamer’s out. Tell him you’ll replace it when we get more. If he tries to give you a bill, tell him to call me. Larry’s a cheap little sh*t.”

With a look on his face about as stoic as my brother’s when he told me he enlisted in the military, Lance extended his arm – bucket attached – willing me to take it and go about completing my first ever task in the jewelry business. To his dismay, I never moved. Without so much as looking at the object between us I stared in his eyes and met his intensity with my own.

“Lance. I may look like I do, which probably means you’re not going to take me seriously, at least for a while, but I’m not an idiot. I don’t know who you hired in the past or who has held this position before me, but if you think I don’t know that you’re trying to make an a-hole out of me, you’re wrong. Frankly, you can take the bucket and stick it up your…”

“SHE PASSED! Guys, we got a live one! She passed the bucket test! Welcome aboard, kid. Don’t think you’re so special. We do it to everyone. Just be glad I didn’t hear you finish your sentence.”


Philadelphia’s Jeweler’s Row

And with a roar of cheers and laughter from the gemologists, bench jewelers, and salesmen whom I would soon call my lifelong friends and colleagues, I was welcomed into the world of diamonds, metals, gems, and jewels. It was on that day back in 1996 that I felt that I had found my home. The joy I experienced in my first few years as a young runner remains unmatched, to this day. I learned so much about what I would eventually choose as my lifelong career. I got to sit with stinky Lisa and watch her carve a Dachshund’s head out of a block of wax for a pendant that a woman wanted to wear after her dog passed away. I hung out with the guys from the chain place at happy hour after work and laughed with the not-so-stuck-up appraisers from Dave’s while we kicked back lemon drops and played doo-wop on the juke. I watched some friends move upward and onward in the business, and watched others struggle with the ever-changing economy. I was knocked over by a man running from an undercover police officer after he did a smash-and-grab at one end of the street only to see one of the store’s competitors tackle the thief to the ground at the other end. I saw people go to jail for dishonesty. I saw people come out of jail after serving their sentences for tax evasion. I listened to the stories and I learned the highs and lows, and I took what I considered vital and valuable and eventually, moved on from the Diamond District into the world of designer jewelry, which is where the next part of this series will take place.

I hope you enjoyed this tiny glimpse into my professional life. I don’t have an “about me” section on this blog because I’ve struggled in the past with giving a seven sentence synopsis of who I am and why I’m writing. I so much prefer to space it out with stories like these. It’s much sparklier that way, don’t you agree?

If you have an interesting story about how you got your start in the jewelry business, I’d love to hear it. Email me at to be potentially featured in an upcoming post.


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