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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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The Day Our Industry Wept: Why There Will Never Be Another “Jewelry Biz Guru”

cindy2a

Vegas, 2014 – Cindy and those who adored her

Cindy Edelstein was hard on me.

She didn’t coddle me. She never blew smoke up my ass. And she was quick to tell me when I said something or did something that she felt was wrong.

For a while I struggled with knowing what she thought of me or about me. She kept me guessing, which kept me on my toes, but as I reflect on our relationship, I think that was her plan all along.

Cindy Edelstein was exactly what I needed at a time when I had no idea what it was I needed.

And today, her family, our industry, and I mourn her passing.

*********

I had seen her face and read her name in a thousand articles I’d viewed over the years I’d been in the business, so in the summer of 2013 when she walked up to the SJTA trade show booth I’d been working in, I knew exactly who she was.

She was there, at the Atlanta Jewelry Show, to teach a course to those in attendance. I had just started writing Adornmentality and to my surprise, Cindy already knew of me. Her daughter, Remy, and husband, Frank, accompanied her on her road trip, and so I gave Remy some pointers on the cool neighborhoods to visit around Atlanta, as well as the areas she’d be able to find vegetarian restaurants. I remember looking at Remy – a not-so-shy high schooler with a unique sense of style and vibrant character – and thinking about my own daughter. My mom wasn’t a cool mom. She didn’t let me do funky things with my hair and hated that I was into The Cure and The Smiths, but Cindy seemed completely comfortable with Remy’s path. She seemed to not only be content with the daughter she’d raised, but encouraging of her individuality. That… that earned my respect well before I ever knew all she had done for the industry and for countless jewelry designers in it. That holds my respect and will continue to for a long, long time to come.

From that point forward, Cindy and I were part of one another’s lives. We saw each other at trade shows, shared drinks at Women’s Jewelry Association events, and co-tweeted many an awards gala red carpet, but I still couldn’t figure “us” out. Where did I stand in Cindy’s mind? Did she think I was another false industry prophet? Another “come out of nowhere” superstar whose flame would die out long before ever reaching orbit? I couldn’t get a read on her, or what she felt about what I was doing. But the more I thought about it, the harder I tried to get her attention through how hard I was working and what I was saying.

Cindy, by all accounts, was “no bullshit.” And I think she eventually saw that I was “no bullshit,” too.

cindy1

Post Atlanta Jewelry Show Dinner at SOHO in Vinings

I’ll never forget the day she emailed me to ask me about spearheading an Atlanta chapter for the WJA. We went back and forth via email and spoke on the telephone several times regarding who we knew and what could be done. When I told her that I was more than happy to help out in any way I could, but that with the amount of travel I did for my job, plus the blog, plus trying to be a mom to a three-year-old and a seven-year-old child, I wasn’t able to take on the role of President, she tried to convince me otherwise. “If anybody can make this happen, you can. I know you can.” It was the first time I felt like she believed in me, which made it all the more heartbreaking to have to still tell her I just couldn’t. I thought I had killed my only shot of earning her respect, but that’s not how she worked, and wasn’t who she was. She was hard but still very soft; guarded, but just as open. She had her passions and her muses but I promise you, she watched us all. That’s probably one of the best ways I could describe Cindy Edelstein: she was a watcher. She watched, and she listened, and she knew more than any eyes, ears, or brain in this biz. That alone set her apart. That alone will make her irreplaceable.

Over the years that followed our first encounter, Cindy had asked me to help judge a couple of design competitions, and involved me in various WJA and industry discussions and gatherings, and that gave me the sense that she was cool with what I was doing. I think Cindy could read that I wasn’t the type of person who needed to be coddled. There are plenty of those types out there, but she sensed that I required mentors with balls (figurative balls, not literal balls) and so she did her fair share of reprimanding and head-shaking as it pertained to things I did. But see, I need that in my life. I would vomit if I was constantly told how awesome I was and rarely heard how I could improve. I don’t want that in a mentor nor would I be that in a mentor. NO ONE is that awesome. We should all be improving, every damned day. Cindy not only understood that fact, she lived it. She lived it, and taught it, and has left it with us to nurture in her memory.

To the hundreds if not thousands of designers whose lives and livelihoods were enhanced and improved because of their association with the late Cindy Edelstein: I offer you my sincerest condolences and can only suggest to you that you do what Cindy would have done. Think, “WWCD”… What Would Cindy Do?

To Cindy’s jewelry family (her WJA sisters [and brothers], fellow writers, trade show associates, and those she mentored): we are feeling your loss with you. She was the kin who always showed up to the reunion with a couple of bottles of tequila, and we’re all greatly missing her presence, already.

Finally, to Frank, and to Remy: No one knows the pain you are feeling right now. No one feels the heartbreak you do. But, if there is anyone who might come close to knowing, be comforted in the fact that it is not just one person, but an entire world. The jewelry world loved, adored, emulated, admired, respected, valued, and needed your Cindy. She was yours. She was ours. And now, she is her God’s.

Rest in peace, Cindy. Watch over us all. We’re counting on you.

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The Luxury of (a good) Time: What One Woman Did with her New York Minute

“Time/He’s waiting in the wings/He speaks of senseless things/His script is you and me boys”

Time by David Bowie

The aircraft was eerily quiet on this trip in from Atlanta. No babies babbling. No toddlers whining. No tourists yapping. The peace I was feeling as I stared out over the Brooklyn Bridge before raising my eyes upward to catch a seconds-long glimpse of the Empire State was greatly needed and grandly appreciated. The silence beckoned me into my own conscience; a place I had been avoiding over the last day or two. Yet once there, and settled in, I heard them – all of them – the voices of the darkened past reminding the voices of the brightly lit future to tell the voices of the confused, frightened, and insecure present that all was going to be okay. That things would be fine and that they had nothing to fear. And as the conversations dwindled, the aircraft shook, the rubber burned, and the wing flaps raised.

Wheels down, New York City. Wheels down, deep thoughts. There are people to see and places to be, and heaven knows I don’t have much time.

“I look at my watch it say 9:25/and I think ‘Oh God I’m still alive’/We should be on by now/We should be on by now/La la la la la la la la”

*********

Day One

(texting)

Friend: “How goes the drive?”

Me: “Cinco minutos.”

Friend: “Okay, heading down.”

Me: “Bring a gun with you. (Pause.) Never mind. I’ll just go ahead and have that heart attack.”

Friend: “No, wait, I want to have one with you.”

If you’ve ever taken an Uber in Manhattan and the drive lasts longer than forty minutes, you can sympathize with the above textversation, I’m sure.

I hadn’t seen this particular person in, well, what felt like EVER, so I was happy that they agreed to a mid-workday scotch with me before I had to head off into the social sunset of GEM Awards weekend. We hit a local bar near their place of work and settled our asses onto the two corner barstools. The building seemed old and the space had that good veteran pub feel to it; lots of wood, tile floors, and several bottles of brown-hued alcohol. I opted for an Oban 14, neat, because I promised my friend Dave Bindra I’d have an Oban 18, but frankly I just couldn’t afford to. Sorry Dave. Everyone has to settle for something other than what they really want once in a while. C’est la vie, amigo. C’est. La. Vie.

The conversation and company left me with a warm, comfortable feeling about how the rest of the trip was going to go. Or maybe it was the Oban. Could have been, but that’s cool, too, because the bottom line is, scotch is great. And once my (hiccup) drinking partner left to head back to the office I stuck around for a quick pinot noir with my new best friend, Millennial Bartender.

MB: “So why do you know so much about sports?”

Me: “Brothers. And, lots of Trivial Pursuit growing up. And I met my husband on a game show.”

MB: “I don’t believe it. That’s not true. Picture, or it isn’t true.”

Me: (scrolling through phone) (scrolling) (now scrolling through Instagram) “Ah, here’s one. See?”

MB: (Looking, in disbelief) “I don’t even know what to say right now. Are you serious?”

Me: “Yup. He’s hot, too. And we made pretty redheaded babies. Oh, and I just got this email an hour ago from Royal Caribbean (showing him email) asking if he and I want to star in their South American cruise ads next month.”

MB: (Looking at me, disgustingly) “You see now… you’re the reason why people hate us white people.”

It’s *so* going to be an awesome day.

“Goddamn, you’re looking old/You’ll freeze and catch a cold/’Cause you’ve left your coat behind/Take your time”

After the painfully long Uber back to my heartbreakingly dismal Marriott Courtyard, I freshened up, packed a purse with NYC essentials (metro card, mints, ID, mace, extra socks) and quickly headed back out to a meetup of jewelry industry women put together by the great connector herself, Liz Kantner.

We arrived at Winnie’s on west 38th one by one. Some of the industry’s most talented designers, marketing directors, and editors had assembled to shoot the shit in a relaxed environment, as we knew that there would be no possibility of in-depth conversation at either the GEM Awards or the 24K gala. I was thrilled to see Cleo of Jane Taylor Jewelry (whom I owe like fifty apologies to – she knows why), Malak of Zaiken, Rebecca of Communique LA, Marla Aaron, Delphine Leymarie, Jennifer Heebner, and Michelle Graff. Thankfully, I would also see three of these women at the following morning’s whiskey breakfast, because my liver and I have a love/hate relationship.

The clock struck eight which meant it was time for all of my organs and me to leave for my 8:30 p.m. dinner plans down in the East Village. The weather in New York oddly was warmer than it was in Atlanta, so I put the back window down and stared, blurrily (because I’m too vain to wear my glasses) at the sporadic lights beaming from Stuyvesant Town. I felt… alone. Probably the most alone I had felt in a while. The week had presented me with some not-so-unexpected life turns, and this was the first real moment I had to think about what I was going to do.

I looked up at the big, old, brick towers before me. They reminded me so much of my home. Home, meaning Philly… where as a child I survived the unspeakable; where as a young adult female I made it through the unimaginable. But in my loneliness I concluded that I was as tall as these towers, and as hard as their exterior; that I wore my age as well as they, and that I was in no way ready to be torn down. There was life in me – beautiful life – just as Stuyvesant contains beautiful lives within its walls. I smiled at the lights as I thought of the artists and writers who call the towers home, and I grinned even more widely when I thought of the artist and writer living inside of me. My loneliness turned to rejuvenation which in turn became determination, and for the rest of my ride I thought about how nice it was going to be to have dinner with one of my oldest and most loyal jewelry friends.

The ceiling of Pylos is covered in terracotta pots. The restaurant is small, dark, and cozy, and it’s as legitimately Greek as any place I’ve ever eaten. To be there with one of my closest confidants and biggest supporters was uplifting. We ate wonderful fish and shared a 2008 Megas Oenos Skouras before heading off to our individual temporary housing for the night. I mean, I had a big morning planned, so there was no way I was going to stay out late getting drunk if I had to get up early in the morning to get drunk. Which is the perfect segue into…

Day Two

snapseed-03Who knew whiskey at breakfast would be so popular? I mean, seriously?! It was a hit! Props to *THE* Ben Smithee for recommending Pershing Square as the place we’d be able to get a scotch on the rocks at 9:30 a.m. All in, we were a group of ten, and what a group of ten we were. Still recovering from a stint at the Boom Boom Room the night before were the aforementioned Smithee, accompanied by his partner at LUXE Intelligence and fellow Aries badass, Dallas Selsey. Seated on my immediate right was the infamous Rick Bannerot (YAY, RICK! WE FINALLY MEET!). And going around the table we had our three gals from the previous evening – Rebecca “can I get a DD up in heyaa?” Moskal; Delphine “WAIT. Let me take a ‘Delphie’” Leymarie; and Marla “I follow the rules and look good doing it” Aaron. There was my friend Jackie Cohen of Timeless/My Story; my wonderfully wonderful Peggy Jo Donahue; and last but not least, (because you can’t have a scotch at breakfast unless you have an official Scottish person at your table) the recently hitched Maeve Gillis of MaeVona. Ho. Leeeee. Shit, y’all. This was one killer whiskey (or whisky – for Maeve the Scot) drinkin’ crowd. And these folks ordered properly, too. The bourbon, scotch, and Irish whiskey flowed as freely as my swear word usage on this here blog.

Somehow I wound up at the male end of the table. (What exactly makes a table have a male end and a female end? Is one end pointy and stubborn and the other concave and naggy?) I’m not really surprised about it because my life is one big Boy Scout outing these days. But once the brown liquid consumption began, things started getting a little… shall we say… politically incorrect?

“I’m amazed that we wound up with two straight guys with this group of women.”

“You mean three.”

“Oh. Crap. Sorry.”

———-

“So this girl says to me, ‘You’re a really sexy Asian.’”

“Hmm. Funny. I don’t usually like Asians but…”

“Wow, that’s a really racist thing to say.”

“NO!!! NO, YOU DIDN’T LET ME FINISH!!! I MEANT FROM A LOOKS STANDPOINT, THEY’RE NOT USUALLY MY TYPE, BUT I WAS GOING TO SAY…”

“I mean, seriously? You actually just said you didn’t like Asians. I’m going to tweet that.”

“NO! Please don’t. I was going to end my statement with ‘BUT YEAH, DUDE, YOU’RE A PRETTY SEXY ASIAN.”

“You’re dead, woman. No going back. You realize that, right?”

“Yup. My career is over.”

———–

“Did you know he’s part of that pedophile program thing?”

“WILL YOU STOP SAYING IT’S FOR PEDOPHILES! IT’S CALLED BIG BROTHERS/BIG SISTERS. I’M A BIG BROTHER, YOU DOPE!”

“Whatever.” 

While I wished desperately that “Whiskey Breakfast” could have lasted forever (and props to Josh with Kretchmer for showing up at the tail end), I had “Beer Lunch” to get ready for and needed to find some ice to put on the part of my liver that I had cut out with a coffee spoon so that I could spare it from being tainted. Goodness knows I’d need it by the evening.

Off I went in my chariot of yellow and black to the same bar I met Michael Schechter at just three-hundred-and-sixty-five days earlier. I walked in to find our table the same, our server the same, and my dread the same. Man, I hate beer. I haaaaaaaate beer. But I write this off as my yearly charitable donation and I suck it up for the good of our friendship. Plus, keep in mind that last year’s beer lunch coined the term, “layer of penis,” so who knows what goodness would come out of this year’s, right? 

Mikey was late because he has no respect for his elders but that’s okay; I’ve learned to accept him for who he is, which is also why I wasn’t surprised about his excitement at their newest beer on draft called, “More Cowbell.”

“I can only drink a Hefeweizen.”

“You should go for a porter.”

“Nah. Can’t. Too chewy.”

“What about an IPA?”

“I don’t do hops.”

“You’re the worst.”

“Thank you. The hatred is mutual.”

For as masculine as I can be at times, there are moments when I look at myself and think, “Christ, Barbara… stop being so goddamned prissy.” I mean, here I was trying tastes of different beers so that I could make sure I had something that wouldn’t offend my palate the way Gwen Stefani’s voice offends people who are able to carry a tune. And for what? One beer? Once per year? Grow a pair, woman! Toughen up and drink a brew! And why are you ordering the salmon, for God’s sake? Get a burger! And pick up that blood! (Anyone?)

I couldn’t make it through half of my drink, which naturally made my lunch companion shake his head in both disgust and silent glory.

At the end of the meal, I’m sorry to say that no anatomy layers were mentioned, nor was a phrase coined for the year, nor did I ever get that burger. But I’m really looking forward to next year’s, Michael. And thanks again for lunch; always a blast, especially when you pay.

I headed back to the hotel knowing that I needed a good solid three hours to get ready. Yes, that’s what I need. I have a lot of hair, require a plethora of makeup, and use a buttload of “equipment” to get myself into those gowns, and all of those things demand time. Sensing a theme, here? Congratulations. You have a pulse. Now let’s get down to the main reason I made this trip in the first place…

GEM AWARDS 2016

I remember the 2015 GEM Awards as clearly as I remember my middle name. The images of Monica and me getting naked dressed in our hotel room, and of the camaraderie of #PowerTable48 are still wonderfully loud and vivid and in my brain. I was sad to hear that The Daz wouldn’t be making the trip this year but I was determined to make my fellow Vegas Gems and her proud by leaving an impression. That impression started in a small vintage clothier in Atlanta, which is where I found my gown.

snapseed-01Recently I joked on Instagram that I own about thirteen floor-length gowns that I really can’t wear again because I don them around the same damned people in the jewelry industry. This dress was a definite one-time-only wear, and that’s okay, because it served its purpose. It was part Daisy Buchanan, part Alexis Carrington, and part Katniss Everdeen with a touch of Maleficent thrown in for good measure. And thanks to that SEXY ASIAN, Ben Smithee, I had the perfect earrings and ring to match, courtesy of designer Katerina Maxine, and the kind folks at LUXE Intelligence. My shoes and bag were sequins as well, and my makeup smoky and sparkly with a pale lip to contrast the dark eyes. As a last minute decision I went with a tightly pulled back knot for my hair which allowed my jewels to take center stage, because let’s face it, this is the GEM Awards, after all.

My partners in glamour as we entered the gates were the lovely Jennifer Heebner, who was dripping in Tara pearls and opera length gloves; the stunning Michelle Peranteau, who was gorgeous in a full-length black gown and diamond Baume et Mercier watch; and the exquisite Bernadette Mack, who wore a variety of jewels by Alex Soldier and Rina Limor.

This year’s awards were the first to officially focus on watches, nominating Cartier, Piaget, and Roger Dubuis in the category of Watch Design. Cartier took the prize with its North American President and CEO, Mercedes Abramo, accepting. The Media Excellence category showcased the talents of Rachel Garrahan, Kyle Anderson, and Rob Bates, with ROBYYYYYYYYYYY BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATES taking the award despite Kyle’s awesome hair and Instagram following. (By the way, Rob, if you’re reading this… I called it.) And the Jewelry Design Award went to Temple St. Clair (which was presented by Stephen Webster who is seriously in the wrong business. The man is a comedic genius and needs to get his own reality T.V. show. THIS IS NOT A LIE. He’d make millions) who was nominated alongside Sevan Bicakci and Chopard’s Caroline Scheufele.

But the man of the hour (pun totally intended) was WatchTime Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Joe Thompson, who received his Lifetime Achievement Award to a glorious standing ovation. A highlight for me was when I introduced myself to Joe and said “So many people I respect and emulate have spoken so highly of you.” To which he replied, “And I have heard many, many wonderful things about you.”

Clearly he thought I was Hayley Henning.

snapseed-04And speaking of Hayley Henning, let’s give a huge round of applause to the South African red carpet hostess with the mostesss, shall we? That Hayley. Is she not glamour incarnate? My favorite part was when she interviewed her boyfriend as if they were strangers. Freaking adorbs, both of them. Oh, and yet again, MAJOR props to the incomparable Amanda Gizzi and the entire Jewelers of America team as well as Promo House for putting together another spectacular program. Well done, my friend. Well done indeed.

It was fantastic seeing so many familiar faces. Our table (#PowerTable41… we moved UP!) comprised Bern Mack, Peggy Jo Donahue and her bib, Hannah Connorton (a personal fave), Sexy Ben Smithee and his date, Magen Pastor, then came DUCKFACE MISTRESS Wendy Brandes (who dazzled yet again in red velvet), my longtime industry buddy Jay Mednikow, Marla Aaron and her swoon-worthy glasses and Dries Van Noten dress, and, of course, yours truly in all my Dynasty glory.

I was also able to finally meet, face-to-face, the Zeus and Hera of horological journalism, Jack Forster and Roberta Naas, while also sharing hellos with the likes of Marion Fasel and Maria Canale – two of my #50womenofjewelry. But there was one moment for me that happened, that I had not expected and that I won’t soon forget, and that was during a conversation with the AGS’ Ruth Batson. We were discussing Conclave, the present, as well as the immediate future, and when the topic of my blog came up, she looked me in the eyes and said, “What you write is good… keep on writing, because people are reading. People are listening. We are all listening.” And a wave of emotion came over me (and is again as I type the words right now) as I fought back tears so as not to destroy an hour’s worth of makeup application. Thank you, Ms. Batson. I promise you, and whoever is listening… I’m not going to stop.

After a few final pictures on the step and repeat with my Shelby Ruth, the party started to dissipate, and for the second year in a row, our crew headed over to Whiskey Blue where we found our fellow pretzel sisters in the form of Brandee Dallow, Des Hanson, Fran Pennella, Shelly Schulz, Kristie Nicolosi, and many, many others. Since Bern and I had agreed to run three miles through Central park the following morning, I slipped out at about 12:30 a.m. and grabbed a cab back to my hotel.

It was truly an evening worth attending, and I look forward to doing it again next year, deity willing.

“Breaking up is hard, but keeping dark is hateful/I had so many dreams/I had so many breakthroughs/But you, my love, were kind/ but love has left you dreamless”

Day Three 

(Text received at 5:08 a.m.)

Her: “I cannot make it running.”

“The door to dreams was closed/Your park was real dreamless”

I took my time getting up since I knew I had a day to myself, which is a rare gift whenever I travel anywhere. I decided some weeks back that I wanted to visit The Met and take in their European clock and watch exhibit called, “The Luxury of Time.” It had been twenty-two years since I stepped foot inside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, the last time I had been there it was with one of my best friends from high school and we got kicked out because we found one of the works in the modern art section particularly… well… “stupid” would probably be the kindest word I could use. I KNOW. I KNOW. IT’S ALL ART and art, by definition, isn’t stupid. But bloody hell, this thing was nothing more than a massive piece of canvas painted one shade of blue. I swear on all that is holy, it was one big blue rectangle. In fact, I think the name of it was actually “blue painting” or something of the like. I sh*t you not, people. This is why I struggle with understanding modern art. You know that thing sold to some dimwit for like eight-million dollars, too, don’t you? Well my friend and I were laughing uncontrollably as we thought of joke after joke about how ridiculous some of the pieces were which naturally meant that eventually we were asked to leave. I remember picking up a crushed Coke bottle near a garbage can close by and saying to my friend, “I just made this. It’s art. I should bring it back to the Met. I’ll make billions.” Oh how we laughed and laughed and laughed…

… then I grew up and realized it was probably not cool to say that I had been kicked out of The Met, which is likely the main reason why it took twenty-two years to get back.

God I hope they don’t recognize me.

snapseed-05Thankfully the art on display in the exhibit I went to see was actually something I understood – or at the very least, have been trying to understand over the last eight months or so – watches.

I won’t go into complete detail here as I intend on writing an entire piece about the exhibit on my new female-friendly watch blog called WhatsOnHerWrist.com (coming soon to a browser near you!) but I will say that it was well worth the price of admission as was the cost of the book I purchased to accompany it. If you’re in the city or plan on being so in the near future, I recommend checking it out, but you have to go soon, because it’s over on March 27th.

So… that leads me to the final leg of this trip, which we will officially dub, “The 10K Club Gathering.”

There was a crew of us who didn’t officially have seats (yet) for the 24K Club’s annual dinner and gala at the Waldorf Astoria, but we had been invited to several of the pre-parties being held in some of the suites up on the 4th floor, so we donned our gowns and tuxes, threw on our jewels and watches, and gathered at Bull & Bear to do our socializing and networking. I had invited along watch journalist Syl Tang, who writes for The Futurist and The Financial Times, because I was leaving the next day for home and had yet to meet her in person. Joining us were Smithee, Moskal, O’Connor, Cleo, Kendra, Barry with Jade Trau, Magen, Aly, and… wait for it… THAT KID FROM RITANI!! In fact, I believe it was he who came up with name for our little “island of misfit toys” group of nomads, which wound up being our running joke for the evening. Should we be the 10K Club? Or the 24 Carrot Club? Or the 42K Club? Needless to say every option turned into a hashtag.

snapseed-02I wore a gold Ralph Lauren Evening dress with a gorgeous golden South Sea pearl necklace and matching earrings by Eli Jewels, on loan to me from Mednikow Jewelers. To say the piece was a statement necklace would almost be an understatement. It was a stunning adornment combining the natural wonder of South Sea pearls with the craftsmanship of talented jewelers and topped off with several carats in bright white diamonds. I felt glorious in it, which is what I was supposed to feel in something of that caliber, and I was sad to have to give it back at the end of the night.

The evening went as perfectly as I could have asked for, and while several people texted me to say that there were no-shows at their table and that I should come up and join them, I decided I liked hanging with our crew, and opted for my spot at the bar instead. Although, I did head up to catch a song or two from Aretha Franklin when beckoned enough times by 24K members. (Oh and hey, just want to send a quick shout out to John Carter and Mary Moses-Kinney for the lovely meal picture they sent me. You guys are rad.)

Before the night was over I did some dancing, some Periscoping, and a little more Prosecco consuming. It was somewhat bittersweet there at the end for a variety of reasons, with the main reason being that New York represents so much in my life; good, bad, and otherwise.

As I watched the mist trickle down from the back seat of my cab, I recalled the many moments that I had just written about here. I recalled them, thought fondly of them, sighed deeply about them, and smiled. And that – that one act alone –is what will keep me coming back year after year after year.

New York, I love you. And I thank you for all that you are and all that you remain to be to me.

“Perhaps you’re smiling now/Smiling through this darkness/But all I had to give was the guilt for dreaming”

“We should be on by now [x5]/La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la [repeat]”

“Yeah, time!”

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Tales From the Strip 2015, PART TWO (b): The Password is “Miami”

Him: (Flustered) “You can’t wear that shirt.”

Me: “WHAT?? Why not? I’m not on the show floor. Myriam said I could even wear midriffs as long as it wasn’t during show hours.”

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Matty and me. I wore the shirt.

Him: (Looking down at my… um… *shirt*) “You just… (now, blushing) you can’t wear that.”

Me: “Hey, after two kids, I’m proud of these suckers (no pun intended). I’m wearing it.”

The above conversation was between my co-worker, Chris, and me, right before we stepped out for the evening on the first night we arrived in Vegas. Let me give you a little back story on him and us, though…

Chris is my twenty-four-year-old colleague, friend, accessory, and sometimes confidant. Over the last year we’ve worked together, we’ve developed a fantastic relationship. Mind you, I’m eighteen years his senior, so it’s sometimes like an “older aunt to younger step-nephew” relationship, but he’s a funny guy and he’s new to the industry, so he’s not jaded like so many seasoned salesmen I know.

I can pretty much guarantee that on any given night I’m going to get a text from Chris with a picture of him at the pool, or him on a golf course, or him with a hot woman, or him saying “I just made a $50,000 sale!” or him exclaiming “NEW YORK IN FIVE WEEKS, BABBBBYYYYYYYY…. YEAHHHHHHH!” Never once am I annoyed, or disappointed, or bothered. I like Chris in my life. He keeps me young, but if I’m being completely honest, he’s not the only one of his kind who does.

*********

Christopher and I headed to Parasol Up to grab a drink before I was to head out for a “gals only” dinner at Giada De Laurentiis’ new restaurant at the Cromwell. A quick visit to Parasol Down to check out the scenery led to a run-in with Neiman Marcus’ Larry Pelzel, as well as my personal faves, the beautiful and personable Lita and Mike Asscher.

“You really do know everybody,” Chris said to me, and as I turned and winked at him I said… “My love, you have *no* idea…”

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Handsome Sam. Where’s your wallet?

As we hopped the escalator to head back up, we saw the frighteningly gorgeous Sam Jansen (it’s true; I’m actually afraid of him, he’s so damned good looking) while also running into beautiful Rebecca Boyajian, who coincidentally, was part of the group of women I’d be joining for dinner. The four of us grabbed a spot at the bar and ordered our drinks – two Proseccos for the ladies, and two whatevers for the gentlemen (I don’t really pay attention when men speak. Sorry. It’s the “manly” side of me.) What I did realize, however, was that the bartender thought we were a bunch of dipshit millennials (clearly the guy didn’t spot my grays) and tried charging us SEVENTY DOLLARS for the Proseccos. Dude… this is when I gained a whole new respect for Chris Matty. Before I could open my mouth, Chris went BATSHIT on the asshole man for clearly trying to take advantage of us, so as I went to take my first sip of bubbly, the bartender literally took the glass out of my mouth.

Good times.

Once the four of us finished our spirits (and Sam realized he had misplaced his wallet… OOPS!) Rebecca and I headed off in a cab to join our WJA sisters for dinner.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by our host, Brandee, and took our place at a fittingly round table with a fabulous view of the Strip. Brandee almost immediately turned to me and said: “You realize you’re not allowed to blog about any of the conversations that happen here tonight, right?” To which I replied, “I can only make that promise if you and everyone here says that whatever they say is ‘off the record.’”

Brandee (without skipping a beat): “Off the record.”

Des: “Off the record.”

Fran: “Off the record.”

Monica: “Off the record.”

Rebecca: “Off the record.”

Kristie: “Off the record.”

Me: (In my mind) “Y’all suuuuuuuuuck so badly.”

So, that’s pretty much all I can share about the dinner. Can you believe how stupid I am? I gave them the out and they took it and I can’t share a damn thing. I hate me.

OH! I will say this, though, since it’s super important to the rest of the story. As the dinner was ending, Brandee went ahead and checked her phone and said, “Okay, so, we’re going to a speakeasy now, is that cool with everybody?”

For me, she may as well have said, “Hey, I’ve got these five trash bags filled with hundred dollar bills, chocolate, and naked pictures of Paul Rudd that I don’t know what to do with. Can you help me by taking some of them?”

*********

The Speakeasy.

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Brunettes for days. Photo courtesy of Jen Cullen Williams.

As we waited for taxis to arrive, I began a texting frenzy to a couple of my twenty-something male cohorts to try to get them to meet up with us there.

“Okay, so, a bunch of my middle-aged smokin’ hot friends and I are headed to a burlesque venue called ‘1923’ at the back of Mandalay Bay. It would be nice if we had some eye candy for a change.”

“No, we’re not going to Eye Candy.”

“Yes, I know that’s also at Mandalay Bay.”

“Christ, do you want to go or not?”

“Okay, it’s called ‘1923’ and when you get there, the password is ‘Miami.’”

“Yes, you need a password.”

“Yes, I’m dead serious.”

“Yes, I know you love Vegas.”

“It’s burlesque, not a strip club.”

“You really need to get out more, man.”

And so it was that as our group walked up to the bar and gave the doorman our password, a bookshelf became a hidden passageway into a dimly-lit room with go-go dancers and hipster bartenders. There were people everywhere – three deep at the bar, yet whose was the scruffily-bearded, English face I saw first in the crowd?

“BABS IS HERE!”

Voila. Instant eye candy. Thank you, oh, thank you, you wonderful speakeasy gods.

What… a… CROWD! The jewelry industry’s best and brightest apparently all got the memo – or at least, got the password. Amanda Gizzi, and Jen Cullen Williams, and MY FRIENDS FROM HALE’S and Danny Chandler, too! Lecil and the Henderson crew were there, as was Ron Saltiel, and, no surprise, Raymond Hak. There were beautiful performers (that brunette?! Wowsa.) and the drinks were free as long as you tipped your servers. I felt like I had died and gone to single-malt-scotch heaven, down to when my eyes caught Lucking and Chris Matty doing the bump for a small audience of women.

I FREAKING love this job.

After a couple of brown liquors and an inappropriate offer or two from a handful of overly excited patrons, I decided it was time to get my arse in a car and head back up the Strip to the Wynn. I slipped out of the side door and headed for an exit, walking past the Eye Candy bar and hesitating for a split second on whether or not I should peek in… “Naaaaah. Nothing could make this night any better” I thought, so off I went into the neon madness, with not much more than the next day’s events on my mind.

Tune in to Part THREE to check out how the opening day of the COUTURE show went and what really went on at the “Power of Blogging” panel! (Spoiler alert: no one was maimed but blood was definitely spilled.)

 

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Tales From the Strip 2015, PART ONE: “She Came In Like a Wrecking Ball”

The time has come, y’all…

I toyed around with several different titles for the first post in this year’s “TFtS” series, and thought I had narrowed it down to the following:

“Tales from the Strip, 2015: Speakeasies, Speeches, and Everything In Between”

“Tales from the Strip, 2015: How to Throw Scotch and Sharp Objects At Innocent People”

“Tales from the Strip, 2015: The Devil Wears Whitestrips”

Then, my friend Jen Cullen Williams, without realizing it, gave me the perfect title, because goddammit, it’s true… “She Came In Like a Wrecking Ball”… and of course, she was referring to me.

For those who may not know, I’m a bit of a mess. Well, not always… I mean, even with my crappy upbringing on the streets of inner-city Philly, and my newfound reputation as an industry “troublemaker” and “controversial blogger” (I mean, really???), I can promise you that I likely still have better table manners and more decorum than even the darlingest of industry darlings out there. But, there is the fact that when I walk into a room, everyone is aware of it – usually because I’ve knocked over a plant with a loud crash – which is precisely where Jen’s “Wrecking Ball” reference comes from.

My Vegas experience started long before I ever stepped foot on that Delta jetliner heading west. I spent weeks scheduling appointments with my Gumuchian customers as well as preparing a presentation for the JCK Talks blogger panel I was asked to take part in. But I was excited for all of it – every bit. This was to be my first time ever as a COUTURE exhibitor, as well as my first experience taking part on a panel during Jewelry Week. I was stoked, and even though I was informed that “several people questioned” my place on the blogger panel prior to it ever occurring, I was confident, prepared, and determined to make the people in attendance remember who Adornmentality was (if they didn’t already know) and, for all the right reasons. Indeed, my friends… I Came In Like a Wrecking Ball… and I’m not ashamed to admit it. More on how the panel went will be written about in an upcoming tale.

Vegas Shoes

#VegasShoes, or, as I call it, the reason my luggage broke.

For now, let’s take this experience all the way back to the beginning, shall we? And by beginning, I mean the shoes. If you’re a reader, friend, or fan, you know that I’m referencing the #VegasShoes hashtag that had everyone from Peggy Jo Donahue (and her black Reebok sneakers) to John Carter (and his three pairs of man shoes) instagramming what type of footwear (and how many of them) they’d be transporting to Sin City. As for me, I went with fourteen pairs of heels and one pair of flats because I don’t intend on being able to walk without a cane past the age of forty-six. Am I an idiot? Naturally. But I’m a tall idiot with killer calves and tight buttocks and I intend on living in the present, so, whatevs.

Now, the downside to packing the left half of the shoe department from Neiman Marcus in my luggage is the cost. Meaning, I stepped up to curbside check-in, put my bag on the scale, and had to perform CPR on the Skycap because he had heart failure after laughing so hard. Don’t worry, he was totally hot and it was worth it. I mean, don’t worry, he survived after multiple attempts. (Did I actually type that first part? I meant to think it.) Thankfully, I’m a professional packer, so I pack an extra bag in my bag, allowing me to remove the *several* extra pounds and to walk away, fee and carry-on bag free. GoooooooOOOoooooOOOOo Medallion Miles!

Corn Porn

Corn Porn? WTF, Hartsfield-Jackson?

At the gate, just past the phallic-looking and clearly excited corn sculpture, I ran into my wonderful friend Rachel Jackson from The Knot. Rach helped me with a quote for that day’s Fifty Women of Jewelry pick, which just happened to be our colleague, the uber-talented Erica Courtney. Rach is my homegirl. We’re about the same age (I’m older [weeping on my keys] by a few years) but we’re both of Italian descent and totally get one another when it comes to how we deal with morons people and why we don’t put up with the bullshit that this industry can sometimes dish out. Rach had a first-class ticket (because, have you met her? I mean, obvs) and I, naturally, was seated back in crap class. But because she’s Rach, and because she’s the raddest of rads, she smuggled food to me. I mean, we’re Italian. Smuggling food is a national pastime. Ever been to an Italian baby shower? Yeah, you should totally hire security to check our EXTREMELY OVERSIZED handbags at those things… in them there are definitely about two dozen mini cannoli and a pair of fancy salt and pepper shakers that we swiped from the restaurant. We Italians stick together, too. (TAKE NOTE OF THAT, READERS. THERE ARE LOTS OF US.) (But please don’t take that as threatening.) (Not true… I have to say that for legal reasons, but you should definitely take it as threatening.) (P.S. I’m in the mafia.) (P.P.S. That’s not true. Or is it?) Where in the f*ck am I going with this story? OH! THE PLANE, BOSS! THE PLANE!

After an uneventful flight and getting my bags in a timely manner, I walked outside of McCrappen McCarran airport and through the cigarette-smoke-filled haze to the taxi stand line, which, without exaggeration, already had about four or five trillion people in it (I counted). As I moved around the cattle chute with my seventy-pound bag of shoes in tow, I saw a plethora of familiar faces that I was sure I’d likely see again at some point, yet as I nevertheless went to say hello to one of them in particular, I noticed that my bag suddenly became much, much, MUCH lighter.

I was afraid to turn around as I was sure that whatever had just occurred was going to cost me even more money than I had already spent on this trip that hadn’t technically begun yet. And, naturally, I was correct. The weight of the bag – the BRAND NEW Samsonite Bag, mind you – had caused the body of it to pull away from its handle, smashing it to the ground while making the retractable handle itself snap off, sending the springs flying into Las Vegas oblivion. “She came in like a wrrrrrrecking baaaaaall… “

And all I could think was, “for the love of big baby Jesus, please… please don’t tell me that the week is starting off this way…”

But it did, and frankly, that’s cool, because that was probably the worst thing that happened all week.

because fun

People love me so much it hurts, just ask Roger Dery who bled because of this pin I gave to him.

The cab ride to the Wynn was amazing. Whoa, wait… HAVE YOU EVER HEARD THAT SENTENCE UTTERED IN YOUR LIFE? The cab ride was amazing, Barbara?? Seriously? What the hell could make a cab ride amazing? It’s a CAB RIDE! The driver would have to have had flying squirrels in batman suits jump out of the glove compartment and give me a back massage and pedicure in order for me to describe it that way, right? I mean, you know me, and I don’t just give “amazing” away for anything. It has to be truly special. But, in reality, it really was. My driver’s name was Jorge, and he was so kind and empathetic and left me with such a good feeling about how the rest of the week was going to go. Jorge had lived in Vegas for over twenty years after moving there from Mexico City. He shared these detailed stories with me about how the city is changing every day and about how this week was going to be “my week”… and that the broken luggage would be the worst part. He said, “Vegas is your best friend, Miss. I promise you. It’s going to be there for you this week. This is a little bump. You’re going to have the week of your life. Trust Jorge. I am never wrong. I know my Vegas. You’re going to shine this week. Look at you. You’re shining now, Miss. You’re as bright as the strip at night. You’re a diamond. Trust Jorge. A diamond.”

While what Jorge said was likely a ploy to get a good tip (and he got one), I felt it in my bones. The man called me a diamond, for Pietro’s sake. He had no idea what business I was in. It was a sign! This was going to be the best Vegas week yet, from a professional and personal standpoint, and I could feel that he would be spot on. If you’re out there, Jorge, and you’re reading this, yo soy un diamante! Estás en lo correcto, Jorge! YO SOY UN DIAMANTE!

I’ll end this first tale there as it will serve as a good start to how the rest of the tales will go.

Tune in to the next installment to read about the first night in Vegas, which may or may not feature a bunch of middle-aged women, kissing Michael O’Connor and practically getting him pregnant, a speakeasy, a burlesque show, and “that kid from Ritani…”

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An Italian, a Greek, and a Turk Walk Into a Blog, Part One: Yianni Melas

Recently I joked on this blog’s Facebook page that my interview with Yianni Melas (or as some fashion mags have referred to him, the “modern-day Indiana Jones”) might just shut this whole thing down, because I wasn’t sure where I’d get better material than what he gave me. And while that statement is still fairly true, I didn’t know just how true it was until I start playing the role of the “unbiased journalist” (and yes, Virginia, we still exist. That aside was meant for a select few in the room who might be reading.)

If you’re in the jewelry industry and you don’t follow Yianni at his @gemexplorer handle on Instagram, you genuinely are neglecting yourself of an education like none you’d receive on social media, anywhere. A 1988 graduate of and instructor at the Gemological Institute of America, Carlsbad and Santa Monica, and former gemstone consultant to some guy named David Yurman (never heard of him) and some company called Swarovski, (who???) Yianni Melas has not only accomplished what most of us only dream about in his 52 years on this earth, but he has done it in very Frank Sinatra fashion… his way, and unapologetically. This man isn’t afraid to tell his truth, in his voice, no matter who he pisses off, and while I have always been a fan of diplomacy (Did I say always? I meant, sometimes. Rarely. Okay, it’s a skill I need to work on) there is something refreshing about his lack of diplomatic filter. “Refreshing” doesn’t equal “appropriate” in every situation, but then again, who am I to say what’s appropriate and what isn’t? After all, I’m the blogger who only discovered who Yianni Melas was when I saw that he followed me on social media and that his profile picture was of him, shirtless, with a shitload of chest hair. Never being one to turn away from a hairy guy pic (hey, we all have our kinky turn-ons. I don’t judge) I followed Yianni back, changing my views on mining, gemstones, and Greek/Texan men forever.

So without further hesitation, here is the Adornmentality interview with the man, the myth, the legend, and the soon-to-be Instagram megastar… GEM EXPLORER, YIANNI MELAS:

BP: Okay Yianni, first thing’s first… did you ever find Napoleon’s sword in your back yard? (Editor’s note: Google it.)

YM: No. The bomb apparently incinerated the treasure including the gems. Years later, as a Fireman-EMT, I realized that diamonds that everyone says are forever are not really forever. In a house fire the diamonds will burn rather nicely since they are indeed over-glorified compressed coal. Funny enough the rubies and sapphires will survive since they have a higher melting temperature. 

As for the sword, I may not have found it but I did find lots of other ancient treasures deeper, because as it turns out, our house was built on an Ancient Greek cemetery. I guess I began my career as a young grave robber.

BP: Not everyone can get away with wearing suspenders and no shirt. How did your distinct style come about and when should we expect your line of gem miners clothing on the market?

YM: Lol!!! They were not suspenders in the style of suits but rather functioned as a military knife holder/sheath. I found out that it was the most convenient place that allowed me fast use. And the suspender was military issue. I need to recall which army! I’m happy you chose to ask me about suspender vs the skull carving made from a guy’s femur (too late for new question!)

Now, about my distinct style of clothing: Before it was fashionable to be an “explorer survival guy” on television, I was wearing my vests. They were simply convenient. I have a collection of them but do wear special ones over and over just because I’m a creature of habit and a bit superstitious. But I learned early to wear long sleeves and special clothing when deep in the bush. I recall using my machete to clear very heavy jungle growth and hundreds of spiders and insects falling on me from the top because of the chopping. Vests in those areas are not recommended as they provide too many places for creatures to crawl into. In Vietnam, I also realized that after taking my shirt off because of the heat, the local poison ivy took its toll on me. My body looked like the Michelin tire guy after all the swelling. I now wear long sleeves when exploring through those types of areas. Since time is limited I won’t discuss the killer bees of Africa that attacked me in Kenya, the Butsi worms of Zambia, the leaches of Vietnam or the hundreds of ticks I had to pull from my groin area in Tanzanian border. Oh, yes, my life is so “fashionable” and the most important thing is designing fashion clothes for the *Jungle Man* out there and making your best dressed list, LOL! Moving on to the latest accessory in my collection. It’s a military multi-compartment thigh bag which allows me to carry extra equipment!

I think the vest, lion claw, skull, dog tags, neck scarf, and thigh bag have become my “@Gemexplorer” image, but I never did it on purpose. I’m not an imitator or actor pretending to be Indiana Jones. Or a city boy who a few times a year plays the part of “explorer.” This is what I’ve been doing all my life. I’m not arrogant in saying so because I despise arrogance. But I am humbly confident. This is what I do and this is what people expect from me.

Funny story, in a recent conference in NYC where I was the guest speaker for Eddie LeVian, I was asked to wear my jungle outfits for the talk to the Sterling Jewelers crowd. On the last day I decided to wear my Sartoriali Pal Zileri suit. I was thinking everyone would be proud to see me cleaned up. Everyone was indeed shocked but then asked me to go back to wearing the jungle outfit so that they could take pictures with me.

Also, a thing about weapons: I’m designing a high tech knife based on old Spartan design as well as a Masai spear. Most knives are useless against lions and hyenas. Weapons are important to me as they are part of my job.  I was taught to be a butcher at our farm when I was young so I got used to the whole blood thing at an early age. And I love my custom pepper spray that I had custom filled into a fire extinguisher. That thing can stop an army including killing me if the wind blowing my way!

BP: You’re on a roll, Yianni. Next question… which of the gemstones are your favorite to mine and why?

YM: I think gemstones are like beautiful women, or, men if that’s your preference. Each stone has its beauty and rather than love just one I prefer to see the beauty in each of them. Even stones not so perfect. Truth is, I like imperfect stones. After working for Helmut Swarovski for fourteen years and seeing the perfection of pure glass I realized the beauty of imperfection in natural gems. I’m big into supporting artisanal miners, so in all my jewelry I will not just have clean, perfect stones but also beautifully imperfect ones as produced by nature.

Years ago in New York I visited this luxury chandelier store of the rich and famous. Some chandeliers were over $180,000 each. Turns out there were several of them hanging from the ceiling and some looked kitschy and cheap. Those were the ones that had 100% leaded Swarovski crystals (glass) hanging from them. The most popular chandelier was the one that contained half flawless Swarovski crystals and half natural quartz crystals with lots of inclusions. The mix between the two found to be the most attractive to the eye. The fire from the Swarovski leaded glass and the natural feeling one got from the included quartz created a harmonious design. That had a huge effect on me.

Another reason I cannot choose my favorite gem is because I associate the gemstones I find with the country I visited. Because each country has its own unique beauty I can’t just choose one stone. Brazil, Burma, and Zimbabwe, for example, are all unique in their own way and so are their gems. But if I had to choose just a few they would be Burmese Jade, Burmese Red Spinel and a new stone I just discovered which is sort of bluish-green Chrysoprase. I’ve given it a name but it’s still secret. But if you ask me next year what my favorite gem is, chances are I will give you different stones.

BP: How many heads of state have you met and mingled with on your journeys and have any of them shared one too many glasses of Ouzo with you?

yianni grid 2YM: I’ve met enough to realize I don’t like most of them. The only person I ever looked up to and supported for several years was Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. This was a woman under house arrest for a big part of her life. To me, she was the true female version of Nelson Mandela in Asia. I used to secretly work with her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, to fight the junta there and support her. To this day, I would die for her. She was the most powerful person I ever met in all of my travels.  When I met her, my knees bent from her aura. I think Hillary Clinton felt same. For seven years I risked my life to bring pro-democracy books printed in Bangkok to Burma through the jungles of Thailand, all undercover in order to expose the companies doing business in Burma so the universities could boycott them. This was done under the cover of a ruby factory that employed 92 single mothers providing for their families. Looking back, it was a risky thing to do, but I would do it again if I had to. I stopped when her husband died of Prostate cancer. Sad love story those two.

We didn’t share ouzo but we did eat a Burmese specialty of dried smelly shrimp, garlic, chili pepper, peanuts and other yummy ingredients. It was strange when I first tried it but now it’s one of my favorite dishes. There was so much garlic it killed my breath and anything parasitic, and whatever didn’t die was killed by the Ouzo I drank to kill the worm larvae I may have eaten during my jungle journey.

BP: You state that you’re half Greek and half Texan. Do either of those halves want to secede from the Union and if it’s the Texan half, how soon should we expect that? Not that I’m against Texas or anything. I’m just asking.

YM: Why secede? We just need to convince Mexico, Canada, Panama, and Cuba to join us and become one big, happy family! Anything can be worked out as long as we drink Ouzo and I cook Moussaka, a few whole lambs, and some smoked Texas bbq ribs! Texans are a warm culture like the Greeks and they’re hard working family people. And I love the food. By the way, not to deviate, but I am a master wax carver and I can’t carve worth a damn if I’m not listening to blasting country music. Drives everyone in my house crazy.

BP: Have you ever wrestled an alligator over a ruby? Please say yes. In my mind you have. Please don’t ruin it for me.

YM: No… But some of the women I showed my gems to didn’t want to return them. Let me tell you, taking a gem away from a woman who thinks it’s hers just because you showed it to her once is as bad as wrestling an alligator. Anyway, why wrestle when you can shoot him? I guess it’s the Texan in me. I see a crocodile and I see an awesome pair of boots and a grilled tail steak.

BP: What’s your favorite thing about your Greek background and what’s a common misconception about Greeks that you find yourself constantly correcting (mainly to Americans?)

YM: Greeks simply know how to live life to the fullest. The sea, the food, and the culture. There is nothing like Greek island life and I’ve seen the world. But the greatest gift Greece gave me was my pride in my people and my country… and to believe in myself. It starts rather early when Greek grandmothers call us names like Hercules and Colossus. It’s only later we find out we were not the Greek gods they told us we were! It’s a kind of a brainwashing but it worked with me. When in the jungles of the world and faced with life threatening obstacles, I gathered strength from the fact I was Greek and had to stand up to my fears, just as my ancestors had to. I know it’s silly, but at times I spoke to my ancestors to give me courage when I felt I had none and when I was alone.

As for a common misconception Americans have about Greeks, it’s that we only own restaurants. As it turns out from a poll last year that I read, Greeks are among the most highly educated ethnic groups living in the United States. To make it relative to the jewelry business, let’s look at some of the major achievements of Greeks in our industry: Nick Paspaley from “Paspaley Pearls” controls 85% of South Sea Pearls. The Pouroulis family, who founded “Petra Diamonds” in South Africa, controls several diamond and platinum mines as well as the most famous diamond mine in the world, “The Kimberley Mine.”  Also, the late Dr. Archie Kalokerinos. He was the world authority of Opals in Australia in his time. The legendary Pappas brothers, George and Yasson, discovered several of the most well-known colored stone mines in East Africa. The Folli Follie and Links of London brands are also owned by some of my Greek friends in Athens.

As a youngster I was influenced by all of these legends. I was lucky to meet most of them before some passed away, and, I learned some of their secrets. I feel I carry a heavy burden to continue their legacy so that I can one day pass my secrets to the youth of the next generation. Oh, and did you know that Bulgari was Greek?

BP: Are you surprised at the amount of stalkers… err, “followers,” rather…  that you have on Instagram?

yianni grid 1YM: Stalkers? LOL. Barbara, you make me laugh. They are my friends! Really, I love them, but lately it has been getting insane. Especially after Vogue magazine in Paris tweeted me as the “modern Indiana Jones of our century.” I opened my page and said, “wtf!?” Yesterday I was surprised that people got excited when I replied their messages! They write that they can’t believe I answered! I’m so grounded and humble in this regard that I feel almost embarrassed when they treat me with such excitement. It’s actually I who gets excited when they answer. I think Instagram is my way of communicating with the world because deep inside me I am a bit shy, though I put a good show on when I’m in public. But Instagram allows me to use images of gems and of my adventures as a means to lobby for my main objective, which is to promote bead cutting for single moms in Africa. Over 80% of the rough sourced at the mines is bead quality, yet nearly 100% of the rough from Africa is exported to India and China. I believe God sprinkled that rough there for a reason. And that is to feed and take care of the poor people of that region. And if you look at where gems are mostly found they are usually the most desolate of places on the planet. Creating my jewelry brand is a way for me to control where I source the gems and where I choose to cut them. In other words, a true “mines to market” strategy few designers have been able to make work successfully.

BP: Speaking of your jewelry brand, when and where will we see the launch of your Philippe Alexander collection that you’ve named after your son?

YM: Regarding the name, I didn’t want to give the jewelry brand my name (which is a bit of a brand already in the inner gem and mining world) for my own reasons. To me, it’s too egotistical as a Greek father. I prefer being the foundation for my son, Philippe Alexander, so he is able to, one day, have the company to himself. I want him to stand on my shoulders and live an easier life than I did. Not spoiled but with a momentum began by his father. But the brand name stands for many things that are not just my son. It also stands for the Golden Period of Greece, which hugely influenced jewelry design as well as world art and architecture. It’s my goal to revive that period back to Greece. And in the heart of the brand, it stands for the personal quest of Alexander the Great to explore new lands and discover new cultures to enrich his own. My designs are predominately Greek but they’re fully influenced by all of the cultures I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with and nations I’m able to travel to. I believe this collection, and this brand, represents my journey in searching for gems. Or, perhaps the real journey wasn’t to search for gems, but rather the artistic influences of each country I’ve visited. The search for the gems, themselves, just made the journey of artistic enlightenment possible. So to answer your question more specifically, I’m launching the collection this year, likely within the next few months. I’m going through an internal debate with myself to go public or just have everything available online on my website. Not sure what ideology will conquer in the end. 

I enjoy being solitary when in the jungles of the world or in my own jewelry world when I carve my waxes, so I can relate to the lifestyle of JAR. All I know is that I want to focus on keeping the marketing simple so I can zone in on the artistic side I’ve been cultivating (yet suppressing) all of these years. At 52, I have paid my dues, but I’m ready now for the other half of creating the most progressive artisanal “mines to market” brand ever launched.

BP: Last question, Yianni… if there is one jewelry industry person, besides yours truly, that you could meet in the next year, who would it be and why?

YM: Truthfully, there is no one I want to meet that I have not already met. At this stage I just want to be left alone (hahaha.) But, to give you an answer for the sake of the interview, and, perhaps to shock YOU a bit for a change, maybe that b***h at that famous luxury jewelry store chain who refused to answer my three emails last December. Now, you may say I’m ending the interview with negativity, but the truth is I love confrontation when good can come out of it. It’s a Greek character trait to debate about everything and when that doesn’t work we burn the streets of Athens down! Problem with today’s society is that they are too diplomatic with people who have power and no one wants to stand up to them. And, that’s what I enjoy doing. Kind of my version of “Fifty Shades of DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS.” And I couldn’t honestly care less if they ever showcase my jewelry at their stores, anyway.  I’m HERCULES! LOL!! (Grandma, I love you wherever you are!) These individuals are used to people apologizing even when they are the ones being rude. And this just feeds their ego. Some of the busiest people I know are great communicators. It means they are either organized, or if not, know how to delegate their communication. And no, you can’t edit b***h out. It’s in the dictionary and It’s PG. But I know you’re thinking… “I need to advise this Greek/Texan to be more diplomatic and choose his words carefully.” I’m reading your mind, Barbara. And stop smiling! Good luck… I’m hopeless!

BP: Hopeless or not, Yianni, I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview and getting to know you through it. Without a doubt, you’re my favorite “find” of 2015, thus far, and trust me when I say you have yourself a new, loyal, and devoted stalker follower.

Please stay tuned for parts two and three of this series which will feature Alp Sagnak (aka, “The Turk”) as well as Amedeo Scognamiglio (“The Italian”), coming soon.

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