Inside the Industry: Engagement Rings

I originally was thinking of the “Real Housewives of _____” series when I had this idea for the blog. I’ve never actually watched even an episode of any of the shows, but their jewelry seems to have a prominent presence in the show, as I will occasionally hear about various huge diamond engagement rings from news outlets.

Engagement rings are deeply personal items, sometimes they have hidden messages, birthstones, special secrets that just the couple knows about. Every engagement ring is a promise and a symbol of a union, and are often the most important piece of jewelry a couple will share.

So I decided to reach out to some gem cutters and dealers to see what people wear who are surrounded by stunning gems and jewelry all of the time.

All photography within this post is the property of person whose ring it is, and their images and stories are being used with permission.


Dan and Cynthia Stair of Custom Gemstones met when Cynthia started collecting the gemstones that Dan was cutting.

Dan Stair2

What is Cindi’s engagement ring?
About a four carat pink sapphire in a platinum and diamond halo. The funny thing is, I bought the ring to take the stone out and recut it, but was told “no”. I figure if it ever gets a little scuffed, I’ll “fix” it.


Roger and Ginger Dery of Spectral Gems

Roger Dery2
Roger Dery

What is Ginger’s engagement ring?
Blue sapphire, Sri Lankan, a piece I reconditioned with a final weight of 6.33ct. It is heated, and has an AGL report, of course.


Geoffrey and Alexandra Watt of Mayer & Watt

Geoffrey Watt
Geoffrey Watt2

What is Alexandra’s engagement ring?
3.50cts 8.5mm square cushion peach no heat Padparadscha Ceylon sapphire with white gold shank … Rose gold head … Platinum filigree down the side with 3mm round Alex’s. Her anniversary band is rose gold with diamonds, and the ring was designed so the band would fit inside it.

Why Alexandrites?
Well I love Alexandrites and so my wife by default likes them too, and wanted a big one but we can’t afford it! So I promised she would eventually get one…and I put them secretly in her ring. She designed it but I snuck them in. Plus her name is Alexandra, so it has double meaning behind it being in her ring.

Jaimeen and Nattalie Shah of Prima Gems

Nattalie ering4

Nattalie ering5

What is Nattalie’s engagement ring?
A 1.5ct round tsavorite and diamond ring. The center measures 6.6mm.

Nattalie and Jaimeen’s engagement ring story is so wonderful, I just had to let her share it in her own words:
Almost six years ago, my husband (who was obviously my boyfriend at the time) called his mother in India and asked her to design and make a ring for me. He asked her to make a ring with a Tsavorite because this stone holds a lot of significance to him. He knew that I had teased him that I would love any engagement ring as long as it wouldn’t turn my finger green (haha). I love my engagement ring and I really feel that it’s so special to know that this ring was made just for me.


If you’re in the business and would like me to share a photo of your/your partner’s engagement ring please reach out to me!

Thank you so much to all of you for sharing such a special piece of your history together!

Elle signature

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Lessons in Gemstone Buying

Back in January, I had posted about what to look for in looking to buy a gemstone.  This is kind of an addendum to that.

– Don’t be afraid to ask too many good questions. One of the problems I often come across is that people are asking questions, but don’t understand the answers they are getting. If you don’t understand something, you should ask the vendor. I often will take massive amounts of time explaining things, so that even if a person walks away without buying something from me, they are more educated. A lot of vendors aren’t willing to do that, so you should take advantage of a person who is willing to share their knowledge. I’m a firm believer in “Leaving a place better than how I found it” which means if you ask me a question, I’ll do my best to educate you even further than just answering the question you’ve asked. Get educated about your purchases! You’ll make better, more informed purchases and likely save yourself time and money!

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Treatment. Size. Clarity. Origin. Modifiers. Things like that.

– A better understanding of general colored stone terms (as opposed to diamond terms) and terms when describing rings and pendants. Again, and I can’t reiterate this enough, ask questions. If you don’t know what something means, ask! If they don’t know the answers to your questions, walk away until you find someone who does.

– Not verifying the return policy because sometimes what’s online isn’t current or detailed enough. You should always verify the return policy before you make a purchase.

– Not seeing the gem in various lighting conditions. Different light temperatures are going to make the stone look different. You need to make sure that you are happy with all of the stone’s different looks. Or, if not all of the looks, at least most of them. A stone isn’t going to look nice in a pitch black room if you can even see it at all!

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Incandescent.

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Diffused daylight.

– Always put something on hold before discussing it publicly. There are people out there who might see what you are looking at, and buy it out from under you. Most vendors work on a “first come, first served” basis. If you don’t put something on hold, and then post about it publicly it might just sell out from under you.

– Expecting flawless or loupe clean clarity, especially in gems such as spinel, emerald, ruby and sapphire. If you want one of those to be flawless, buy synthetic.

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Not flawless, but it is eyeclean. Green Garnet.

– Don’t go to multiple sources looking for the same stone. This industry is very small. It is nothing but frustrating if you ask multiple people for the same thing, and they happen to start talking, and discover that they are looking for the same stone for the same client. Often, they will both give up on the search.

– Depending on the type of gem box that your vendor uses, you will probably want to open them upside down, above a soft surface, such as a low pile carpet, or best, on top of a made bed.

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I know of too many people who have opened a box outside, and the gem falls into the grass or through slats in a deck, never to be seen again. Also, use something thin and flat to open the gem box.

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I typically grab whatever is available, in this case, a ruler.

They put little slots on the sides to slide something in, and twist it to open.

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Little twist of the ruler and it pops right off!

The end of the gem tweezers are best, but you can use thing like paper clips just as easily.

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These spinels are safe and sound, in the lid of their box.

– You should look at a gemstone on your hand. I don’t have any gemholders, and I don’t suggest that people use them either. The spring type (the ones that look sort of like a ring) can very easily and very badly damage a stone.

I know that there are more tips and tricks for gemstone buying, but these are a good start. The absolute best tip I can give though is to buy what you like, and don’t be swayed by the “trade ideal”. If you don’t like what the trade finds to be ideal, you’re more likely to get a better deal on what you do buy.

Random note! Since I’ve been getting a ton of inquiries about the coupon code for my etsy store I decided to post it again, so here it is: “AUTUMN2015” (no quotes). It is good for 15% off purchases of $100 or more until November 1.

Next week is going to be all about the new line! By next Monday, all of the pages should be up for six of the rings, so make sure and keep your eyes peeled this week – Aurore, Exaltée and Feuilles Dorées will make their online debut!

Gender Inequality and the Jewelry Trade

I’ve been writing this post and it’s companion piece over a 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, and in both my major and minor, I concentrated in classes related to relationships, which included several classes 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 a continuation of the blog post I wrote that was an adaptation of a research paper written about diamonds and jewelry marketing for my Social Control class back in college. This one will feature more anecdotal personal experience. Rightfully so, this is a topic of which I am very invested in and very passionate about.

As a woman, every time I walk into a jewelry store, I watch the salespeople’s body language and how they react to me. Men see me as dollar signs, and don’t consider that I may have technical knowledge about jewelry. I talk to a man in a jewelry store and I feel like I am expected to say, “Oooo pretty sparklies! How much? Let me get my husband!” It is not unlike walking into a car dealership where I am treated as though I have no idea how a car works, or like I care what is under the hood.

necklace stock photo
This dude looks so creepy.

Not long ago my family and I went shopping for a car, and almost every salesman (car salespeople are almost always men, interestingly) talking to me about the amenities, the leather seats, the colors, etc, and directed technical specifications at my husband. This was endlessly irritating because I’m the car “guy” in my house. So to shove them in their place, when my husband would ask a question of the sales person, if I knew an answer, I’d cut them off and answer the question. Now, I’m off on a little bit of a tangent, but I’m also the “jewelry guy” in a jewelry store. I don’t care about “Pretty sparklies!”, I want to know the technical specifications, origins, cut angles, treatment levels, lab reports, manufacturing types, etc. So, when I walk into a jewelry store with my husband, it’s like we won the lottery with how much attention we get. And they direct their attention to showing me the happy pretty sparklies, but direct the pricing information and technical specs at him. Which makes sense based on the traditional gender roles the industry has built it’s foundation on. But does it make sense for the reality of the equality in today’s market, and for the targeted marketing audience?

Antique jewelry ad
Oh, how romantic!

Let me say a couple of things here. I have worked in sales. I have worked waiting tables. If you work in an industry that deals directly with the public, you learn eventually that you absolutely cannot judge a book by it’s cover. You will inevitably get screwed when a wealthy person looking to drop big bucks comes into your establishment looking like a homeless person, and you treat them like a homeless person. “But this is our most expensive model!” “Yes, and I want your most expensive model. Only now I want it from your biggest competitor.” But that’s just generalized basic customer service. I would like to target the jewelry industry a little bit more specifically.

jetpack-jewelry
Are they trying to be facetious?

I recently spent some time in downtown Los Angeles, specifically in the diamond district there. A couple years ago I also spent some time in the diamond district in New York City. There were a few major similarities and a few major differences. The most obvious, and innocuous difference was the style of dress with LA being far more casual with most men wearing casual pants and short sleeved shirts, and NYC being definitely more formal, most men walking around in suits, despite the summer heat. The biggest similarity was the quantity of men. I visited stone setters, colored gem dealers, diamond dealers, and had numerous other men in the business coming by to chat or broker deals in DTLA. Out of everyone that I talked to and visited in DTLA, probably about 25 people, there were only three women behind the counters, and that included my tour guide. In the DD in NYC, I remember seeing four women behind the counter, and all of them deferred to the men they were working under at least once.

Why is the retail jewelry world dominated by men when the vast majority of the customer base is women? As I discussed in my previous blog post,  jewelry industry is built around and directly targeting women.

size does matter legs
Seriously? Sex sells, but ew.

“It’s a boy’s club.”

I’m here to tell you, dear readers, that it is, in fact, a boy’s club. It was only in April that JCK published their “Power Base List 2015” made up of 50 individuals and there were only 13 women on that list. 26%. That’s not even a third of the list. One of those people was Lupita Nyong’o, who has no direct ties to the jewelry industry as an actress, but affects the jewelry industry as a “tastemaker”.

It really gets to me when I hear stories about the industry, and in particular about women who are small business owners/operators/benches/designers/cutters who go to an industry show/convention/etc and are given little to no respect by the boys of the diamond boy’s club with lines such as, “Come back with your husband.” How extraordinarily insulting. When I heard that that line was directed at a dear friend, I seethed and was spitting mad. My wonderful savvy friend gave that man her thoughts right then and there, and proved to him that she didn’t need her husband to make a large financial decision.

Antique jewelry ad2
Ugh. Really?

The really sad thing is, this sexism isn’t limited to certain roles within the trade. In fact, a class action lawsuit was recently brought up against Sterling Jewelers (more commonly known as Jared: The Galleria of Jewels & Kay Jewelers) for women being paid less and passed over for promotion. The problem there, which is more of a read-between-the-lines issue, is that these were in sales and retail management, not in fabrication or executive control, where the lines of gender inequality are even more pronounced.

Google image search: Jeweler
Jeweler

Google image search: woman jeweler
woman jeweler

Data for jewelry workers is very difficult to put together because so many of it’s job descriptions fall within a larger designation, for example, “retail” and “fashion”. Another troublesome error is that some of these big name fashion designers, Vera Wang for example, are creating jewelry lines to capitalize on their name. So you come across a “fashion employee for Vera Wang” but unless you get specific, that person could be a dress maker, fashion model or a jewelry fabricator.

I was given 5 years of monthly Current Population Survey data (random sample data, thought to be representative, compiled by the Census). This is what I learned. Out of a total of 6,835,528 people surveyed only 1,184 were “Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers”, which is an incredibly small number, making the aforementioned laborers rare indeed at .017% of the population*. Now, what I’m really interested in is where the gender divide is. Surprisingly, 54.1% were women, 45.9% are men. Now, this number doesn’t give any information about what type of jewelers we are talking about, and my gut feeling is that the vast majority of these workers are beaders, precious metal clay workers, and artisans that are crafting and selling their own items on a small scale. The problem there is that those people would be considered “crafters” and not “fine jewelry manufacturers” and little credibility is given to these members of the trade.

Aujourd'hui encore, les campagnes publicitaires de la De Beers pour les diamants taillés sont signées du slogan 'A diamond is forever'.
Oh DeBeers…

Have you ever noticed that a majority of jewelry sales people are women? And a vast majority of the jewelry benches are men? Jewelry designers, pawn brokers, diamond brokers, diamond dealers, gemstone dealers, owners, diamond cutters, gemstone cutters, CAD artists, appraisers, CEOs of large companies, etc are almost always men. So my question becomes, if women are the target market for a vast majority of the jewelry that’s out there, why is the majority of the trade made up of men? Why are men directing an entire luxury industry whose target market is almost exclusively women? The marketing strategies mentioned in my first post target men as the actual active buyers of the products, while women end up being the passive consumers.

As society seems to be shifting, with more emphasis on making educated purchases, the jewelry industry is likely going to find itself in a bit of a rut.  Social norms are changing, there is less societal pressure to get married, and a less traditional view on gender norms, which has already started to reflect in jewelry trends. I have noticed that there has been a bit of a quiet uproar in the jewelry world, with numbers of people starting to buy gemstone engagement rings, and educating themselves on jewelry, where it comes from, who is making it. Women make up half of the world, and it’s an industry built for women. I think that women are educating themselves and liberating themselves from the traditional roles that the jewelry industry perpetuates. I know I’m not alone in my perspective, I see so many women who are in the jewelry trade and trying so hard to try to change it from the inside out.

CAD

The jewelry industry itself is not stuck in the 1950s. With diamond imaging technology, CAD programs, 3D printers, diamond optics tools, and more, jewelry has made some amazing technological advances that it has become reliant on. So why does the industry as a whole insist on traditional gendered values within the industry, as well as catering to the traditional roles through the target market? This is an industry that is aimed at women, that is fed by women, and it is currently run by men. I want that to change. I want to support women in small business so that they may grow to be women in big business and change the traditional, sexist values in this industry. There shouldn’t be such a strict gender divide, especially in an industry where women, even as passive consumers, control the market.

I’m not complaining that the jewelry industry is aimed at women. I’m a woman, and I love gemstones and jewelry. I think it is a big mistake that there are so few jewelry leaders who are female. I also think that the jewelry industry needs to rethink how gender biased it is. I see more and more women who are taking the bull by the horns and looking to change the industry slowly, by themselves. In general, this industry is finally starting to critically examine the business structure and finding that women can lead companies too, especially companies making products that are marketed directly at women.

What I don’t see, is enough of an uproar to start making a significant difference.

Proposal

* – Special thank you to my husband the social scientist for helping me find and make sense of the data. And another special thank you to a good friend, who happens to be a Sociology of Gender scholar, for giving me some great insight and helping put my thoughts into words.

Disclaimer: None of the photos viewed in this blog entry belong to me. All ownership rights belong to their respective owners. 

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.