#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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#jewelrypeople

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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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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Trade Show Shenanigans

Petals, Pavement, Paper, and Plastic: BIJORHCA Paris Brings Beauty Back to Basics

Paris, France is otherworldly. Think about it; if you’ve never been there, it’s as foreign to you as a trip to one of Jupiter’s moons though thankfully not quite as cold, (at least in September). Known as the “City of Light,” Paris isn’t just a place on a map, but rather a genre; an attitude, an emotion, even. Feeling Parisian means one is serious about work but curious about life. It means one dresses the part of a runway model but makes love with the ferocity of an untamed beast. It means deliberate kisses on both cheeks, ice in your 2 o’clock glass of rosé, and never, ever wearing flip flops in public. Paris isn’t easy for the rest of the world to figure out nor does it wish to be, which is why the surprises that Paris presents us with are ones we mortals value, learn from, and not soon forget. And the BIJORHCA jewelry show was the perfect paradigm of the city’s glorious yet unexpected delights.

After landing at Charles De Gaulle airport and going through what felt like a year’s long line at customs, I was greeted by fellow American jewelry blogger Matthew Perosi, who graciously accompanied me on the shuttle bus to Porte de Versailles expo center – Paris’ largest – in the 15th arrondissement. BIJORHCA selected one blogger from the United States to send to the September show but they got a Buy One/Get One deal as Matthew lives in Bordeaux six months out of the year and decided he’d take the train over to Paris to accompany me for a few days. Upon our arrival we were met by Pauline Royer (our contact for the show) as well as Show Director, Aude Leperre, and Artistic Director, Richard Martin, all of who were impeccably dressed, stunningly kind, and gorgeously French. This is not the surprise I spoke of earlier.

Matthew and I settled ourselves into the press room so that I could get an espresso or six (I can’t sleep on planes) and so we could come up with a game plan for how best to tackle the show in the amount of time we had over our three days. Prior to my friend Jen Heebner telling me about BIJORHCA last year I was frankly unfamiliar with it, as I largely write about jewelry found in traditional jewelry stores or high-end boutiques. Fashion and contemporary jewelry just wasn’t much on my radar leading up to this year when I started a new InstaSeries, #50DesignersofJewelry. Researching designers for the social media series (which I was waiting to complete until after this trade show in case you were following along and wondering what happened) developed and grew my interest as it pertained to the creativity of contemporary jewelry designers, and I assumed that being at BIJORHCA was only going to enlighten me more. Now that all is said and done, however, I have to admit that “enlighten” isn’t severe enough a word. Let’s just say I had a complete and utter rebirth regarding what I feel about the jewelry industry now; about where it needs to go, and how open-minded it has to get if it wants to survive for generations to come.

Flint lapel pin by Marion Fillancq

Flint lapel pin by Marion Fillancq

The first booth I visited belonged to French designer Marion Fillancq, who started designing jewelry by using crushed mirrored glass, before venturing into her current designs which are made using prehistoric methods. Her pieces often contain uncommon center stones such as flint, and her metal of choice is brass coated in gold or silver. But the thing that grabbed me most was her tag line: “Brut & Chic.” If that mantra alone doesn’t make your ears perk up, I’m not sure what will.

Marion’s designs set the tone for what was to come in terms of nontraditional materials and everyday elements we would soon discover. Spanish design house Testone creates organic masterpieces in the form of brooches and pendants, by overlaying leaves and plants found in the wooded areas of Spain with a variety of non-precious and precious metals. French jeweler Le Côté de Guermantes (meaning, “time regained” [and also a novel by Marcel Proust]) makes necklaces and other items out of bronze and the pages of old, worn books; some in French but some also in English like the ”Pride and Prejudice” piece I nearly purchased for myself. Dutch designer Parsifal forms brightly-colored poppy flowers into lapel pins by immortalizing them with a clear coat of resin (and displaying them brilliantly in a rainbow pattern), and the husband and wife team of Christian and Malene Storm of Danish company Dansk Smykkekunst go out of their way to create affordable and fashionable jewellery and accessories by using a base material of copper overlaid in 14K gold, 925 silver, rhodium, or hematite. But the other important thing to know about Dansk Smykkekunst’s designs (as well as many others I saw) is their attentiveness to sustainability and green processes as well as their desire to keep their products as chemically free as possible. This is what many European and South American countries do that the United States struggles with, at least for now. Fairmined gold, ethically-sourced gemstones, and sustainable materials are going to be talked about and used more and more in the very near future and the companies who are already on board are going to reap the benefits of being the early game changers.

Sarah Cavender flower brooch

Sarah Cavender flower brooch

While the majority of the brands exhibiting at BIJORHCA were from Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa, there were also a handful of American designers showing their wares and having successful shows. I accidentally stumbled upon Sarah Cavender’s booth as I was leaving the press lounge and saw what I believed to be a necklace created out of some sort of fabric. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I went to touch the piece and it didn’t move. I was astonished to find out that it was made of brass mesh screening – a material that Sarah treats and folds into flowers, bugs, and other earthly shapes. Her degree from Philadelphia’s College of Art (where she majored in sculpture) had allowed Sarah to experiment with brass, bronze, and other metal wires until she developed a unique process working screen into various nature-inspired representations. Her creations consist of not just jewelry, but of belts and handbags as well. Her work was some of the most extraordinary I’ve seen in all my years working with metalsmiths and I look forward to watching how her brand grows.

Also from the States was Texas designer Claudia Fajardo, whose designs are brightly hued and border on a Native American vibe. Claudia uses glass beads and gemstones for color and contrasts them with hammered and satin finishes on her metals.

I noticed that acrylics like Lucite or Plexiglas played a huge role at this year’s BIJORHCA show, showing up in the form of everything from bangle bracelets to whimsical brooches to clutch purses. And while the artistry was awe-inspiring (and occasionally giggle-inducing), I couldn’t help but think back to that scene from The Graduate where Mr. McGuire tells Benjamin that he wants him to think about one word… just one word: “Plastics.” Companies like Jean Marie Poinot from France and Aramez out of Brazil are making playful acrylic accessories in the spirit used by a master metalsmith and it was clear that buyers were taking their work seriously, because both of their booths were flanked by onlookers.

Daniel Espinosa dressed me up

Daniel Espinosa dressed me up

On a fun note (and I use the word “note” with all puns intended), it was a real treat to meet Allouche Ingrid, head designer at French jewellery brand Sing A Song, which makes men’s and women’s jewelry out of guitar strings and other parts of musical instruments (bonus points for their booth refrigerator which was a converted rock-n-roll stage speaker). Also glee-inducing were the designs of UBU Paris which played with elements such as buffalo horn, tin, resin, and enamel to create oversized baubles and eye-catching adornments. Spanish design house Ceraselle brought change to the table (literally) with convertible leather and button necklaces in colors brighter than Lady Gaga’s wig collection, and French designer Mere Guy utilizes hand-painted pasta… yes, I said PASTA… in their earring, pin, and pendant designs. The level of creativity in both materials and formats used was remarkable in my opinion, and even something as simple as a ribbon bracelet imprinted with fun sayings (like those we saw from the brand Lucky Team) stood out to me simply because it wasn’t something I was used to seeing. There were also a few brands using a process that would mold crushed or powdered gems (such as turquoise and pearl) mixed with resin or polymer into dramatic, vibrant “stones” that they then used in a variety of jewels. Uno de 50 was one such brand using this process, and Daniel Espinosa was another. In fact I felt that Daniel’s jewelry came across as brave and bold in more than one way. His use of a bronze base with 22K gold overlay allows his pieces to be affordable but in no way do they lack fine craftsmanship or detail. His collections draw inspiration from his Latin roots and religious beliefs and his creativity flows as freely as the forms many of his items take.

A couple of other standout jewelry designers I found exhibiting at the show were Brazil’s Léia Sgro and Greece’s AposTolos. Sgro hails from South America but has lived in London, Vienna, Boston, Tokyo, Madrid, and Rome, among other cities. Her designs are not just nature inspired, but also nature created, as she uses wood, leaves, and plants alongside precious metals and Brazilian-mined stones to form her wearable yet very feminine jewels. Apostolos Kleitsiotis draws his design inspiration from the sea and uses age-old Hellenic jewelry making traditions, precious metals, and gems to sculpt contemporary masterpieces worthy of Amphitrite, herself.

But the jewelry design house that affected me most out of all those that I visited had to be Portugal’s Mariadovale. Sisters Alexandrina, Sandra, and Júlia Saraiva each plays a role in the designs their company creates, and the thought process that goes into every one of their collections goes beyond whether or not their pieces are going to sell, and into the realm of wanting the wearer to understand the depth, meaning, and sometimes satire of their creations. In other words, these are not your grandmother’s jewels, so don’t expect rubies, pearls, or platinum. These are your granddaughter’s jewels; jewels for the future, so expect concrete, a story, and an entirely different type of worth. Not quite sure I mean by this? Then let’s look at a segment of the company’s bio from their website. It states, “Each piece of work is designed and produced having a classical approach where forms, themes, and trials are deconstructed and evolve against the concept itself. The concept is the core of each collection, approaching each strand and its respective conceptual unfolding. The motto of the collections appears based on values, feelings and experiences, and aims to call attention not only to daily problems but also to more profound levels of perception like enhancing a satirical view and focusing on dubious content of dogmatic truths – wishing to socially provoke others by those who are wearing each piece of Mariadovale work.” Like I said… not your grandmother’s jewels and not even your grandmother’s jeweler, and for that I’m quite grateful.

The design team at Mariadovale opened my eyes like never before. Their use of concrete (fittingly enough in their collection called, “Concrete”), stone, and metal as a representation of how our lives are bound by the cities in which we live nearly brought me to tears, but the meaning got even deeper when they showed me how the concrete is rough on one side, representing struggle, and yet smooth on another, representing ease; much like the struggles in our everyday lives, and yet both sides seemed to create something beautiful and unique. But it was their “Stone” collection that genuinely shook me to my core as the collection stemmed from words, and as you can tell by the 2,000+ of them in this blog post, words are where I live. When I asked Mariadovale’s marketing director about the collection, he returned my question with a question… “Have you ever heard of Fernando Pessoa? He was Portugal’s most famous poet. He wrote a poem called, ‘Stones in Life’ and it pretty much sums up what this collection is about.”

It reads (translated into English):

To be happy is to recognize that life is worth living, even with all its challenges, misunderstandings, and its periods of crisis.

To be happy is to stop being the victim of problems and being the author of your own story.

To cross deserts outside of yourself, and to find the oasis inside your soul.

To thank God for each morning for the miracle of life.

To be happy is not to be afraid of your own emotions. It is knowing how to speak about yourself.

To have the courage to listen to a “no.” To have the strength to receive a criticism, even when unjust.

Stones in the road? I save every single one, one day I´ll build a castle.

I would like to thank those responsible for selecting me to attend this season’s BIJORHCA Paris show. Not just for their help, their kindness, their welcome, and a really nice hotel room, but also for enlightening me and for broadening my horizons in a way I never thought possible.

To the brands mentioned above and all others I visited during my three-day excursion, thank you for taking the time to educate me and I wish you all much success in your futures. I truly hope we do meet again someday.

I will end this lengthy post by sharing something that I wasn’t aware of until my arrival at the show: BIJORHCA is actually an acronym.

BIJ meaning bijou, or, jewel

OR meaning gold

H representing horlogerie, or, watchmaking

CA meaning cadeaux, or, gifts

And while I touched on the jewels, gold, and potential gifts in this piece, I will be talking about the watchmaking I saw and watch brands I sat down with in a post coming soon over on my watch blog, WhatsOnHerWrist.com.

Thanks, as always, for reading. À bientôt.

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#jewelrypeople, Trade Show Shenanigans

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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Uncategorized

Worn On the Bayou: Styles, Sights, and Songs from the Northern Gulf Coast

“Wish I was back on the bayou

Rollin’ with some Cajun Queen

Wishin’ I were a fast freight train

Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans” 

– Creedence Clearwater Revival

It had been fourteen years since I had flown into New Orleans. Don’t misread that… I have been to The Big Easy several times in the last decade and, sure, maybe once or twice I experienced a hangover there or possibly got myself into a little trouble because I kidnapped Tulane’s mascot (and still have him), but I’d driven from Atlanta on each of those trips, so flying high over grand Lake Pontchartrain brought back memories from my twenties that I had long since moved to the back of my overly-crowded, sazerac-infused brain. For this experience, I’d be travelling alone. No husband to show me where he used to buy groceries during his four-year stint as a NOLA resident during college. No kids to drag against their will through shops in The Quarter or the Magazine District. It was just my map, my agenda, and me, and hopefully maybe even a bit of something we call lagniappe. But before I get to my experience in The Crescent City, let me share with you what else was happenin’ ‘round the other parts…

Antique brooches at Claude Moore in Mobile, AL

Antique brooches at Claude Moore in Mobile, AL

The Northern Gulf Coast has its own way of thinking, and not all of it is how New Orleans folks think. Things are big there, sort of in a Texas-type way. Personalities are big. Politics are big. Food is big. Waist lines are… well, you get the point. But thankfully I found that jewels and gems are big as well. And while in Mobile, Alabama, where I visited the wonderful Claude Moore Jeweler, I was elated to see that heirloom jewelry was getting even bigger. These four gorgeous pins were just part of a collection of antique pieces carried by Claude Moore, and while what’s happening in fashion jewelry up North hasn’t quite found its way to the South yet, owner Howard Moore was optimistic that the tide is changing, and that Mobile was ready to embrace the next wave. I, for one, am a big fan of Mobile, so it’s nice to see the changes they’re embracing there. Little known fact about the city: Mobile, like New Orleans, was originally settled by the French in 1702. The city has flown six flags since its existence: French, Spanish, British, Republic of Alabama, Confederate, and of course, the United States. Because of this there’s a diversity there unlike most other larger cities in Alabama, which is a draw – and the fact that the Mobile River Delta has an incredible variety of fish and sea life – bringing in more hipster-run restaurants, a younger population, and dare I say… a newer, fresher, jewelry and fashion scene. Good on ya, Alabama. Oh, and um… Roll Tide ((ducks)).

Gulf Coast area jewelers

Gulf Coast area jewelers

After several hours visiting folks in the Mobile area, I decided I’d spend my first night at a hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi. My fifteen-year-old soul was hoping to run into circa-1988 Matthew Broderick there, but sadly, that was not the case. My short time in Biloxi was less than stellar as I was likely dressed a little too “fancy” for the hotel/casino guests there, making for some awkward conversation and unfortunate visuals that will long be burned into the back of my oculi. I’m sure there are several lovely parts of Biloxi, but where I was staying was far from being one of them. (**SOAPBOX ALERT**) How any city can still allow smoking in restaurants – and I mean, what their version of “high-end” restaurants is – is beyond me. No, I would not like a side of nicotine with my Crawfish pasta, sir. I think I’ll pass on the tobacco-encrusted salmon, thanks. Mmmmmm… smell that? It’s as if Marlboro is now raising its own livestock. I mean, I get that this is a “free country” and all and that the South – above anywhere else in this land – LOVES them some G*d-given freedom, but when it comes to destroying the clothing, hair, lungs, and even the most mediocre meal of the people around you, I say, SURE… you can have your freedom… but you must take it in a tiny little room, far, far away from where I’m trying to eat my overcooked asparagus. (Editor’s note: YES, BILOXI… IT’S CALLED ASPARAGUS. IT’S GREEN. NO NEED TO FRY IT. YOU SHOULD TRY IT SOME TIME. AND NO, YOU CAN’T SMOKE IT. **END OF RANT**.)

The *new* Aucoin Hart Jewelers in Metairie

The *new* Aucoin Hart Jewelers in Metairie

Thankfully the following morning would bring me back to the New Orleans area where there was no shortage of smoke-free restaurants, ladies in Lulu Lemon, and elegant jewelry stores just waiting to be visited. Some of the biggest names in the biz are in this region – namely, in a city just northwest of N’awlins called Metairie. The Lakeside Mall alone houses two major players when it comes to selling watches and jewelry: Lee Michaels, which has eight locations throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi and carries brands like Marco Bicego, Henry Daussi, and Mikimoto. Also, there is Adlers Jewelry, which has three other locations in Louisiana and is a premier seller of Patek Philippe watches. It was wonderful to be able to visit these and the other beautiful boutiques that make Metairie a jewelry-buyers mecca, but there was still one location I was familiar with but had never visited…

Aucoin Hart.

Aucoin Hart's own brand of "Fleur-de-Lis" jewelry

Aucoin Hart’s own brand of “Fleur-de-Lis” jewelry

Many, many years ago, when I worked in the customer service department at Lagos’ Philadelphia factory and design center, the South, the West, and TOLA were my regions. I always remember the folks from Aucoin Hart being super friendly when they’d call for special orders, and meeting them finally in person didn’t change my feelings one bit. The store itself, which has been recently renovated, is a masterpiece in retail design and architecture. The staff is genuinely friendly and knowledgeable, but even more importantly, they’re passionate. I know many people from New Orleans and have a few friends who still live in the city, and “Passion” is the one thing they really pride themselves on. From the way they cheer on their beloved Saints, to the way they cook their unique style of cuisine, to the way they rebuilt themselves post Hurricane Katrina, it’s the passion of the people who reside in the area that carries them through and eventually, puts them right back on top. The folks at Aucoin Hart are passionate about the new store design, passionate about their customers, and passionate both about the brands they carry, and those they create themselves. And when I needed a recommendation for a restaurant in the area, you can bet that every staff member there was passionate about where they wanted to send me. In the end, largely thanks to one salesman’s more-than-convincing argument, I decided on chef John Besh’s French/German/Creole eatery… Luke.

Crawfish, the Quarter, and sunsets on the Gulf

Crawfish, the Quarter, and sunsets on the Gulf

Food is to New Orleans what beer is to Brussels, wine is to Paris, and coffee is to Seattle. New Orleans isn’t just the party city any longer. It’s been “born again” and this second chance at life has made it an even greater powerhouse for dishing out some of the finest cuisine in the world. Does it still have po-boy shops, muffaletta houses, and crawfish boils? Damn straight. But chefs like Adolpho Garcia, Donald Link, John Besh, Sue Zemanick, and yes… even Emeril Lagasse (still) (BAM!) are changing the New Orleans fine dining scene almost daily. (And, no. You didn’t visit a food blogger’s website and a bunch of info on jewelry stores broke out. You’re still at the right place, but I’d be stupid not to mention something about regional eats in this post.)

Before this entry is over I think it only right to talk about one of my all-time favorite jewelry and housewares designers who just happens to call New Orleans home… Mignon Faget.

Having been born and raised in New Orleans, Mignon Faget allows the wearers of her work to explore the mysteriousness of Louisiana through her designs. Her first ever collection, called “Sea,” transformed gemstones and jewels found on the Gulf Coast into wearables that epitomized what it was like to be from the area. Her “Ironworks” collection takes snippets of Marcellino Hernandez’s renowned forgings from the historic Vieux Carré and makes them into beautiful baubles of wearable architecture. But it doesn’t stop with jewelry. Her “Home” collection features glassware and table settings using the classic fleur-de-lis design, as well as apis-inspired aprons and stemware from her “Hive” collection (a personal favorite for obvious reasons).

It was a brief, interesting, but enjoyable visit to the area, and I’m looking forward to getting back there again in the very near future. Until that day comes, however, I’ll leave you all with a little Louis Armstrong:

“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans

And miss it each night and day

I know I’m not wrong this feeling’s gettin’ stronger

The longer, I stay away

Miss them moss covered vines,

the tall sugar pines Where mockin’ birds used to sing

And I’d like to see that lazy Mississippi

hurryin’ into spring…”

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Red Carpet Radness

Not Much More than Bore and Snore: My 2014 Emmys Red Carpet Recap

The Emmys are long over, and the verdicts are definitely in: too many red gowns, too many white gowns, too few fabulous jewels, too many wins for Modern Family. But hey, other than that they were great! (Sarcasm.)

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Who here wants to Polka? Suddenly I’m hungry for Kielbasa.

Re: fashion – Whose idea was it to make the Emmy’s look like the Polish flag? Since when was Poland ever fashionable? It gets crazy cold there. Loads of snow and kielbasa, plus hats, coats, and scarves, which is not usually what I think of when I think “awards season.” And while I adore the color red – seriously, it’s been my absolute favorite color since before Pantone existed – somewhere I felt like some new style council co-sponsored by Crayola, Coca-Cola, and Lucifer, himself, must have gotten all of the stylists together and promised them a lifetime supply of colored pencils and freedom from eternal damnation if they dressed their clients in the crimson hue. I mean, I, unlike most, get it. The color is attention-commanding. It screams of power and of sensuality. It beckons the eyes of those present to stare longingly and wantonly at the person brave enough to don the color in such a public forum. Like I said, I get it, but there is such a thing as overdoing it, and on this particular red carpet, it felt evilly overdone.

EMMYpost3Yet, almost as if the Archangel Raphael (as in, celebrity stylist Karen Raphael) saw what Beelzebub was planning, he decided to swoop in from his perch on catholicmatch.com’s website to give that little devil a run for his money by shrouding the good wives (though ironically enough, she was cloaked in black) in the absence of color… white. Oh, the punny headlines, they were a plenty. My friend and #emmyjewelry event tweeter, Michael Schechter, quipped, “Looking forward to groaning at ‘Celebs Say I Do To White’ headlines…” and man, was he on the money.

Variety Magazine: “Emmy Fashion: Red, White, and Safe All Over”

T.V. Guide: “Emmys Fashions: White Hot Looks”

LA Times: “White Outfits on the Red Carpet”

TheDressDown.com: “2014 Emmys: All White, All White, All White!” (I will at least give this one a point for creativity.)

(Shaking head) Who writes this crap?

If I were one of the dozens of actresses dressed in either red or white at this event I’d have canned my stylist via text message back stage, that’s how pissed I would have been. “I can’t believe you put me in white, Phillipe! This is what I pay you to do, for fuck’s sake! You get major cash to make me stand out and now I’m a photo grid on People.com, in between Robin Wright’s backless pantsuit and Sofia Vergara’s pantyless backside. I CAN’T COMPETE WITH THAT! Were you deceased when you dressed me?? Guess what? I’m Donald Trump. And guess what else? You’re fired.”

Clearly it would have been a really long text. I’d say several “dings” worth.

But I will admit that even with the commonality of fashion color trends, there were some definite standouts. My favorites in white were OITNB’s Laverne Cox wearing Marc Bouwer with Fred Leighton jewelry (more on those jewels coming up), and Angela Bassett (she’s 56, y’all!) in a long-sleeved Elisabetta Franchi wrap dress with gold accents and jewels by David Yurman. In red(ish), I adored Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Carolina Herrera with Lorraine Schwartz jewelry even though I was disappointed in her for forgetting who designed her clutch. She’s usually the one I depend on for those things. (Gives disapproving look.)

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A few (a very few) of the pieces that stood out at the 2014 Emmys

Re: jewelry – Whether you loved or hated the jewels on the carpet there is one thing we can all agree on… there weren’t a lot of them. Or, better yet, there weren’t a lot of them with umph. Or there weren’t a lot that stood out. Or many that were made by those who weren’t the usual suspects. Don’t get me wrong, I thank Deity every awards show for the likes of Fred Leighton, Chopard, Neil Lane, and Lorraine Schwartz, for sometimes, it seems that without them we would have no bling to gawk at, at all. And I know, I know, the jewelry often… no, always… takes a back seat to the dress and in reality there’s only a small percentage of us in this business who scream for today’s Liz Taylor of the jewelry world. Sadly, we didn’t get her on this red carpet, but I’m optimistic that we may see her in the near future.

So what did we see Monday night? Well, we saw yellow gold in many forms, which I’m sure made several people in this industry very wealthy happy. We saw it take the form of a Fred Leighton salamander on the back of Kristin Wiig, as well as an Ana Khouri tiara in Michelle Dockery’s hair. We saw it plentifully donning Christina Hendricks’ ears, wrists, and fingers via designer Neil Lane, and we saw it by Lorraine Schwartz surrounding gorgeously classic canary yellow diamonds on Lucy Liu. We also saw several platinum pieces like the fabulous ninety-five carat Chopard diamond necklace on Kate Walsh (though it would have stood out more on a lower-cut gown) as well as on Laverne Cox in the form of Fred Leighton diamond earrings, bracelet, and Art Deco brooches sewn into her dress. Other stars wearing platinum were “Pregnant” Panettiere, “Matthew Was Supposed To Remember Who Designed My Dress” Alves, and “I Can’t Pronounce Anyone’s Name Tonight” Stefani, which is the perfect segue into my next category…

Re: mispronunciations/forgetting who designed your free wearables – Robin Givhan wrote a fantastic article for the Washington Post last week titled “Pushing Products on Emmys Red Carpet” that put into perspective this specific topic. “Monday night, the poor, overwhelmed stars of the small screen were finding it impossible to remember all the names of the brands that gave or lent them their one-night wardrobe of fancy stuff,” she quipped, and continued with, “Model Camila Alves could not remember who designed her white, embroidered gown. And when husband Matthew McConaughey, wearing a lapis-blue tuxedo by Dolce & Gabbana, whispered the name in her ear, he only managed to remember half of it and mispronounced the half he did recall. Something with a ‘Z’, he gamely offered. Poor Zuhair Murad was sitting in his atelier weeping.”

If you were following the jewelry industry hierarchy at the hashtag #emmyjewelry last Monday evening, then you already know how these acts of “forgetfulness” bother the hell out of me. Am I supposed to have empathy for those WHOSE JOB IT IS TO MEMORIZE LINES FOR A LIVING when they just happen to… oops… not know who provided them with everything they’re wearing? And I’m sorry, but seriously, are they really forgetting or do they just not give a rat’s ass? If the Dalai Lama gave them a brooch to wear at the Emmys and someone from E! asked about said brooch (though, having someone from E! ask about the jewelry would be far-fetched, in and of itself) are we really to believe that they’d “forget” that it was from the Dalai Lama? No. I don’t believe that for a second. I believe that they’d scream it into the microphone because they would CARE enough to *remember*… and that really is where I have a problem. Big houses like Fred Leighton and Chopard have so much revenue that it’s not a huge burden on them to cloak celebrities in hundreds of carats of diamonds, yet a lot of celebrities walking the various red carpets can afford to pay for the jewelry they’re wearing, but they don’t have to. And so when a lesser-known designer comes along who has put their heart and soul (and money!) into making jewelry (or a gown, or a clutch) spectacular enough to appear in such an elaborate spotlight, it is, in my opinion, the duty of the celebrity to care enough to know the name or brand of the designer who was kind enough to dress them, in every format that dressing occurs. Yes, it gives exposure to the designer and yes, that means that it does work both ways, but let’s face it, who do you think is really coming out on top here?

I have an idea, or rather, a suggestion for the talented (and not-so-talented… I’m looking at you, Mrs. Rossdale) folks in the entertainment industry that could potentially help them not look so awkward, and frankly, so entitled, on the red carpets of the future: write your providers down on a piece of paper, a la an acceptance speech. Take a tiny yellow Post-it note and simply scribe…

Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti (so fab)

Dress: Helmut Lang (a personal fave)

Jewels: Irene Neuwirth (we want to see more!)

Clutch: Insert Clutch Maker Here (I really don’t know many)

The television world and we fickle bloggers will be thrilled that you cared enough to give CORRECTLY PRONOUNCED shout-outs to those who rightfully deserved them and chances are you’ll become our new heroine/hero. And yeah, we know that you don’t *have* to impress us, or anyone for that matter, but there’s a point where you must ask yourself what the appropriate thing to do would be, and this small gesture would potentially make you look golden to the masses, and everyone will feel better in the long run, believe me.

So, that’s what I’ve got for you, loves. On a sad note but completely related, I am heartbroken to hear about Joan Rivers’ medical situation and have so many fond comedic memories of her from my childhood into my adulthood. Funny, beautiful women seem to be few and far between in Hollywood, and those who can make fun of themselves seem to be even scarcer. The world never knew the likes of Joan Rivers and likely never will again, so I will end this post with some of my favorite and fitting quotes from The Funny Lady, herself:

“I’m in nobody’s circle; I’ve always been an outsider.”

“I think anyone who’s perfectly happy isn’t particularly funny.”

“I was smart enough to go through any door that opened.”

“I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive. Things are happening.”

And of course…

“I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.”

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