Imitation vs. Inspiration

Roughly a year ago, when I first started to get the idea that I might actually design for a living, I got the opportunity to speak with a renowned designer/jeweler. One of the first things I asked when I got the opportunity to ask him questions was what his inspiration was. I look back on that and laugh because it really was a fangirl type question to ask. He gave me some sort of benign answer about anything inspiring him, and I went on my merry way.

Now, over a year later, and feeling much wiser, I know that it’s a silly question, because I know that anything can inspire you – in fact, you never know what will inspire you until it hits.

Imitation

: the act of copying or imitating someone or something
: something that is made or produced as a copy

And

Inspiration

: something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone
: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something
: a good idea

In the jewelry world, there is really very little that is a new idea. Everything has been done before. So it’s hard to come up with new and fresh ideas.

It’s not that I don’t take inspiration from other items of jewelry, but it pains me to see an antique ring, and then later see almost an exact copy of the antique, with slightly changed elements. Why would you want to make a copy of someone else’s idea when you can make something completely different and new?

I like to borrow elements from other jewelry all of the time, and I combine them with other elements to create something that is entirely different and hopefully unique. I don’t want something that someone else has! Typically, the original is always the best anyway, so why make a copy? It’s rare that I see a copy and think it’s more beautiful than the original. Especially with antique pieces.

I have one upcoming setting that will be in my jewelry line, and I can think of 5 rings that either inspired me or  I borrowed an element from, to combine those elements into something new that I’d never really seen before. An antique, an Erika Winters design, a Leon Mege design, a David Klass design, and anyone who has ever made a ring with flower petals (which are a lot of designers, let me tell you). I sort of hope that someone digs up an antique version of what I’ve done because, in a way, it sort of validates that I had a good idea.

Here is a design I’ve been playing with for a while with some spinels for a North/South orientation. I doubt this will come to fruition, but it’s still fun to play with! Thanks to Lorraine Schwartz for the idea to try something that stretches along the finger length!

Ring 1, Ring 2, Ring 3 (there are more, but you get the idea!)

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Gender Inequality and Jewelry Marketing

I’ve been writing this post over a long period of time. If you’ve read through my about me post you know that I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but what I haven’t mentioned is that my minor was sociology. In both my major and minor, I concentrated in classes related to relationships, which included several on gender. In my studies I also took elective classes on both Social Control and Consumer Psychology, both of which have served me well and opened my eyes to thinking critically about the world around me, and specifically the world of jewelry.

This blog post is adapted from part of a research paper I wrote on diamonds for my Social Control class, and includes some anecdotal personal experience. I did not take any of the images in this particular blog entry. 

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Or so the song says. (Sorry Marilyn, I prefer Nicole’s version.)

Jewelry, as we know it today, is primarily marketed at women. “Women of the World, Raise your Right Hand!” became a popular slogan of DeBeers, in 2003, in an attempt to sell more “right hand rings” and broaden their marketing target to include not only the important diamond-clad left hand belonging to married and engaged women, but also single women and other women who would be disinclined to buy a diamond solitaire for their left hand. Tiffany, other large luxury companies, and fashion houses have all created and successfully marketed signature engagement ring lines, but until DeBeers started the “Raise your Right Hand!” campaign, most women’s jewelry boxes contained few if any rings besides the engagement, wedding and perhaps birthstone or heirloom rings.  The right hand ring campaign ended only a couple years after it started, but the idea remained ingrained into society, although certainly not as widespread as it could have been.

DeBeer’s “Women of the World: Raise Your Right Hand” marketing campaign, print ads.
RHR
RHR2
RHR3

Diamond seller’s marketing campaigns have influenced the American public through their popular culture by glamorizing diamonds and glorifying them as the hallmark for engagement, marriage, milestones, and various types of celebrations. So many specific examples come to mind. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” come to mind as a piece of pop culture that exemplifies the huge glamorous engagement ring, which clearly resonates with the American public, as the concept is in it’s 13th year. Every season of The Bachelor has shown a segment where The Bachelor meets with celebrity jewelry mogul Neil Lane for a private engagement ring buying session, with zoomed in images of the various styles being picked over. Then, when The Bachelor proposes to his bride, we get another detailed shot of the ring in the box, with Neil Lane’s logo prominently displayed. This, and other targeted marketing has created control over traditional gender roles and it links supply and demand to style and culture. Under this sun shiny image perpetuated by the wedding industry is a darker, more sinister message: marriage with the requisite material possessions is the American Dream. The item that propagates marriage – an innocuous looking diamond engagement ring.

Chris Soules (ABC’s The Bachelor 2015) engagement ring to Whitney Bischoff, at the proposal.
Bachelor 2015 ring

Both effective and non-effective marketing ploys from De Beers include: Failed attempts by diamond industry to create the “male engagement ring” in the early 20th century, “Diamonds are Forever”, the three stone ring-representing your “past, present and future”, “promise rings”, the creation of “journey jewelry”, the aforementioned “diamond right hand ring”. Go back and read that again, and carefully consider which gender each concept is aimed at. The introduction of salary suggestions as a marketing ploy for engagement rings began in the 1930s with DeBeers: two months salary for the United States, three months salary in Asian markets and one month salary in the United Kingdom, where colored gemstones or very small diamonds are typical for traditional engagement rings given to a man by a woman. According to statista.com, in 2013, 50% of jewelry sales was made by married women of non-bridal diamond jewelry, 35% was made of single women in non-bridal jewelry, while only 12% included sales of diamond engagement rings with only 3% was made up of diamond wedding bands.

DeBeer’s USA engagement ring print ad: how to make two months’ salary last forever.
2 months salary

Some movies that glamorize diamonds include: Titanic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sweet Home Alabama, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Moulin Rouge and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, among many others.  It is interesting to note in most diamond focused movies women are always the ones wearing, wanting or being impressed by diamonds. A man is rarely depicted desiring or wearing a diamond and this may be tied to the “diamonds are for women” stigma, which seems to be the popular stance for most men rejecting diamond jewelry as a whole.

One of the most iconic jewelry related movie scenes, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman”
Pretty Woman necklace
The Tiffany & Co engagement scene from “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Sweet Home Alabama
Kate Hudson, glowing with a massive yellow diamond, during the jewelry party scene in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
How to lose a guy

Madonna, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Elizabeth Taylor, royalty from other countries, Superbowl rings and athletes, socialites, hip-hop, rap, movie, music and television stars have helped maximize the exposure of diamonds to the American public, signifying their desirability. Diamonds are frequently seen on women at the red carpet of movie premieres, award shows and other celebrity studded events. It is rare for a man to wear statement jewelry on their tuxedos, although lapel pins seem to be making a comeback. Do you remember the hoopla when Johnny Depp was “caught” wearing an antique diamond ring? He said it was supposed to be for his betrothed but he liked it and kept it. People were aghast at a male wearing a “female” style ring, and news stories were in abundance at his audacity to go against the norm.

Johnny Depp, rocking a diamond engagement ring.
Johnny Depp
Kim Kardashian, showing off her engagement ring.
Kim Kardashian engagement ring

The concept of gender is prevalent throughout the diamond and jewelry industry, with pictures of delicate engagement rings being concentrated and aimed at the female population. The male engagement ring does not exist in the United States, although there was a failed past attempt by De Beers to create one. “Ladies jewelry” styles are more delicate, with fine filigree work and more intricate detail, as well as small pave stones. “Men’s jewelry” tends to be very substantial, with fewer stones or larger bulkier stones. There are fewer diamond wedding bands for males because of the concept that diamonds are for women, not for men. The potential of the man’s non diamond ring could have correlation with men traditionally having more manual-labor or dangerous jobs, where rings in general may become a safety liability, while the lack of diamonds on said rings may have something to do with the concept of masculinity and the diamonds undermine this masculine ideal.

The diamond engagement ring should be, according to popular culture, the most flawless and largest diamond a man can afford because it represents his love for a woman. Diamonds have become representative of marriage because marketing campaigns have entrenched our society in the idea of the symbol of the engagement ring and diamond wedding rings are sometimes the only diamonds a woman will receive in her lifetime. There few advertisements of diamonds in homosexual relationships because the diamond industry is focused on traditional heterosexual couples as their primary market. It is only with Tiffany’s newest campaign that gay couples have been entered into the target market, and it is maddening that it has taken this long for the jewelry industry to embrace gay marriage, as it seems that it had been missing a great target market before. When you consider how entrenched the jewelry industry is in traditional gender roles, and has been for almost a hundred years, suddenly marketing to same sex couples is quite the mountain to overcome.

Tiffany Co Gay engagement

Traditional gender roles and gender inequality have saturated jewelry marketing to the extent that we no longer see it.

Feature: Jewels by Grace

I promised you a feature with Grace Lavarro of Jewels by Grace, and today is the day! So if you’ve ever wanted to know what her real engagement ring looks like, or what her favorite item of jewelry is, read on!

So, to start off easy, what is your favorite cocktail?
​My current poison of choice is Ginger Gimlets.

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When did you first fall in love with jewelry?
​I’ve always been very curious about jewelry but my “real” interest started when I started the hunt for the my 1st (hah!) engagement ring. We were young, with limited funds, so we scrimped and saved for this ring – a 1ct princess cut diamond ring 🙂 I loved everything about it then, and I designed the setting as well.​

What do you think every woman should have in her jewelry box? I’m going to limit it to 5 things, because I know you!
​I always advocate that women should have a versatile jewelry suite – several pieces that would easily take them from day to night, from casual to glam. I will pretend that I did not read the “limit to 5” restriction 🙂 But in all seriousness, if we had to limit this to 5, then the last 2 items listed may be left off.

Beautiful earrings. Not many people know this about me, but earrings are MY favorite piece of jewelry. With my earrings on, I feel complete. These can be studs, or dangles. I am partial to dangles because I do like seeing the sparkle and glimmer of gems when one’s head moves. Earrings frame a beautiful face beautifully – everyone SHOULD have a killer pair of earrings!

A nice solitaire – and by nice, I don’t necessarily mean huge! I am talking about a ring that is classically styled and elegant. A half carat diamond in a beautiful setting is more beautiful in my eyes than a poorly-cut diamond in an unattractive, “look-at-me” setting.

​A blingy right hand ring,​ ​preferably vintage, for that certain je ne sais quoi​​. Because right hand rings REALLY need to be bold, and big, and be present on the finger!

A long chain necklace is a must as well. It can be a diamonds-by-the-yard style, or a chain with some intricate design details. I like them long enough to wear doubled and I am very partial to French chains – they have the prettiest patterns and styles and work very well for layering. Even if only in a t-shirt, an elegant long necklace finishes any ensemble very, very nicely.

Wrist bling! Wrists are the last frontier for me (no, I don’t think I will ever advocate for belly button jewelry)! I like seeing pieces on wrists with some depth – different colored metal perhaps, or a mix of the old and the new. I like wearing all my bracelets and cuffs on the right wrist, stacked with my watch. I call it “organized chaos.”

And, if budget allows, these two other pieces:
A band that can be worn stacked, yet be bold enough to be worn on its own. This could be a 5 or 7 stone band, or an eternity band.

A nice watch. Again, it does not need to a designer watch, but a watch that is styled nicely (diamonds optional) and could work with one’s jewelry (and lifestyle). A fave of mine is a yellow gold boyfriend watch by Coach (all of $265!).

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What do you look for in jewelry when you’re buying for your shop?
​I like pieces which are different, interesting, and unique. I like pieces with beautiful craftsmanship and those which clearly evoke the different eras – Deco, Victorian, Edwardian.

I love Art Deco, but there are just so many great antique looks that came out at different time periods that I know I can’t ever pick just one! Do you have a favorite era?
​See above! Art Deco has always been a big fave but Victorian pieces are creeping up to be a close second as I am wearing almost only yellow gold jewels lately.​

I have noticed a ton of rose cuts coming out of Jewels by Grace lately, and I know that they are pretty rare, as most people have never seen them in real life. Are they becoming more plentiful or are you just buying all of them?
​They have always been around but the recent surge in popularity, I would say, is due to jewelry designers using more and more of them in their designs. I have always loved rose cuts and buy them for my shop every chance I get!​

What was your original engagement ring?
A 1ct princess cut diamond in a half-bezel ring (hey, this was the early 90’s, ok?)​

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You are a female small business owner in a male-dominated industry, has that been difficult?
​Yes, in so many ways, this is still very much a male-dominated field! It has not always been easy to navigate the industry.

How did you get into the business? And what did you do before you opened JbG?
​I was in the professional services industry, a pencil pusher 🙂

The decision to get into the industry was not a conscious one. Many years ago, I decided to pare down my collection and started selling off pieces here and there. I met my previous business partner Erica when she bought her first diamond from me. We became fast friends via email, and after seeing an episode of Oprah one afternoon where she declared that we must all follow our bliss, I felt it was time! My friendship with Erica started at the perfect time, and after pooling our resources, Jewels by Erica Grace was born.

Was there a pivotal moment of transitioning into the industry full time?
​After we hit a certain sales milestone, we knew the business needed our full time attention. I would say that this really depends on the business owner – that sales target could vary wildly from one person to the next.​

How have your tastes have changed over the course of your job?
​I do not think that my tastes have changed much over the years, to be honest. More than anything, I rely on my aesthetics and instinct in picking and selecting jewels. A very prominent antique jeweler once told me that I had the eye for this job and I have never let myself forget that. In moments where I need clarity, I let my eyes guide me! It sounds pretty simple and that’s because it really, really is.

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What is your favorite piece that you currently have in your shop?
​I am very partial to twin stone rings so its only natural that I am totally in love with the 4.10tcw Victorian bypass ring! I love it so!​

Do you have any pieces that you wouldn’t ever sell?
I get very attached to personal pieces so once I declare them mine, its highly unlikely that I would ever want to part with them. Most of the pieces that you see on the Jewels by Grace home page (the slider pics) are personal pieces of mine – those would remain in my jewelry box, thank you very much!

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(Can I just take a minute to gawk over the beauty in the above photograph?! The ring and the photography are stellar!)

So, when are we going to go sing karaoke?
​Girl. These pipes were born ready. 🙂

I suggest you click on the following links, enjoy the amazing photos, and see if anything in particular catches your interest! And keep a watch on this woman – she is a force to be reckoned with, and has an eye for spectacular detail!

Jewels by Grace
Jewels by Grace SmugMug
Jewels by Grace Instagram
Jewels by Grace Facebook

Oh yeah, and go look at her brand spanking new Holiday Look Book!

Grace is in the middle of holding some giveaways over the holiday season. If you are her follower on Instagram, like her on Facebook or subscribe to her newsletters, you are entered to win one of her fantastic bracelets! They are similar to the ones below, but have colorless rose cut sapphires in them. If you haven’t already, please take a minute and go find her on social media for a chance to win a gorgeous piece of jewelry!

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Please note: All of the pictures used in this post have been used with permission of their owner, Grace Lavarro of Jewels by Grace, and are her property.

Design: Red Spinel

I had been trying to figure out how to set this red spinel from Peter Torraca for years when I gave up and sold it.

I still worked on sketch ideas. I figure that sketches are never wastes of time, they might come in handy for other projects, which is why I have entirely too many sketchbooks lying around. I really had no idea and just went random places with it.

Red1

This was a fairly awful sketch because the outline of the stone is so way off, but it was more to get a feel for the general idea. Drawing is so hard for me to do well, and I have to spend a lot of time working on it. Drawing abnormal shapes are hard. Circles and squares are great, but throw in cushions or any cut corners and I’m screwed.

Red2

This one is actually much better but because of the angle the picture was taken, it looks a bit off. I was really running with the baguette idea at this point, but wanted to stick with the repeated patterns of the art deco period.

Red3

So I sort of switched gears from the halo and round melee and went to strict Art Deco. It was at this point where I bought the stone back from the person I sold it to, and I started to really think about how I’d really want to set it. I was playing with proportions here. The stone is smaller, so it felt like the baguettes would need to be impossible proportions to go with the look I like. I love the skinny look of the one on the bottom, and the top one is too wide, which is ridiculous because the stones are 2mm.

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This is what I decided on. Fully anticipating a hefty custom setting bill, I figured I’d maybe put it at the bottom of the list to set, or end up selling it.

Red

And then I found a ring that was basically perfect, and for a ridiculously awesome secondhand price, set the red spinel in a super nice turn-of-the-century setting that was very similar to what I was wanting for it – a bunch of step cuts.

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