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. 

Advertisements

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!)

IMG_5407

Oscar Jewelry

It’s that time! Oscar fever!

I don’t really pay much attention to Hollywood award ceremonies. Except for the red carpet. I swear, it’s the only reason these ceremonies exist in the public eye. Evening gown designers, shoe designers, makeup artists, stylists, hair stylists, I get tired just thinking about how much work goes into creating one person’s “look” for a few hours. Regardless, I still enjoy seeing it all put together, and it’s a good way to stay on top of the trends.

I wanted to do a bit of a post about some of the jewelry and fashion that has stuck out the most to me from over the years, since we’re in the middle of awards season and approaching the Oscars. It turns out that I pay more attention to the Oscars than I do the other red carpets, but that might have to do with it being the creme de la creme, or at least that’s what Hollywood wants us to think.

Without further ado, here are some of the jewelry pieces (and complete looks!) that have stood out to me over the past several years.

In 2013, at the Oscars, Robin Roberts was recovering from cancer treatment, but you would never guess it, seeing her in a stunning Marc Bouwer blue velvet gown and gorgeous blue sapphire (I think?) and diamond earrings, bracelet and a ring. Does anyone know who made them? I searched and sadly couldn’t find a name attached to them or details! So if you’re the designer of these pieces, or know who made them, I’d love to be able to associate a name to them! I love that she really embraced blue, covering herself in it, and instead of looking dated (hello 1980s!) her blue eyeshadow just made her look positively radiant and pulled the whole look together.

6a00d8341c5e0053ef017c3713676d970b

Robin+Roberts+Bracelets+Gemstone+Bracelet+DFyTdjsdEWyl

Now, Jennifer Lawrence sort of debuted as America’s newest Sweetheart when she tripped going up the stairs at the 2013 Oscars. But what was really catching people’s attention was the long Chopard necklace with 73cts of diamond beads, that she wore down her back. Her other jewels, while receiving a lot less notice were still just as fabulous, Chopard earrings totaling 23 cts of diamonds, made with round brilliant and rose cut diamonds, Chopard floral diamond ring that’s 8cts and a Chopard diamond band weighing 5cts.

Grand total: 109cts

Not bad Jen!

I’ve been thinking about diamond beads since Carrie’s necklace in the Sex and the City finale, but that trend never seemed to get off the ground. This one makes a much bigger statement than Carrie’s did, and I don’t know that Jennifer will ever be able to top the perfection of this look. The hair, the dress, the makeup, the jewelry, everything was positively spot on.

022413-oscars-lawrence-necklace-340

Jennifer-Lawrence---Protraits-for-the-Oscar-2013--02-e1361969316419

jennifer-lawrence-oscar-makeup-h724

In 2004, Angelina Jolie wasn’t yet the object of Brad Pitt’s affections and tabloid fodder. But I still remember admiring her stunning white gown by Marc Bouwer and almost falling over at her necklace – the $10 million, 85-carat Athena necklace, a piece on loan from H. Stern, featuring flawless D colored diamonds. The combination of the dress and the necklace was stunning, and combined with Angelina’s lighter hair, understated makeup and subtle diamond earrings, had Hollywood glamour with a hint of the raciness that put Angelina on the map.

OSCARS

ENTER OSCARS 47 ABA

This is probably the first time I’ve thought that Lady Gaga actually looked demure and lady-like, but I guess the Oscars kind of requires that. She was bedecked in Lorraine Schwartz rose gold and 20ct diamond studs, rose gold and diamond bracelet, and a rose gold and fancy grey diamond ring surrounded by pink diamonds. My favorite part about her jewelry, although I couldn’t find a good picture, was the ring. I love gray gemstones so much! And to be paired with a pale pink and silver beaded Art Deco inspired Versace gown, she looked positively luminous. Why on earth did she make so many worst dressed lists? Sure, it’s not as scandalous as a meat dress, but I think she looks appropriate for the occasion, and shockingly normal.

Lady-Gaga-adorned-her-Versace-gown-with-pink-gold-jewelry-by-Lorraine-Schwartz

Lady Gaga at Oscars (close up)

So I have to confess, I have no idea who Samantha Barks is. But her dress and necklace at the 2013 Oscars are perfect together, really stood out to the jewelry obsessed, and the dress framed it perfectly. The official description of the necklace reads: “House of Waris for Forevermark Light Emanating from the Heart pendant in 18k yellow gold with Oval Forevermark diamond.” This 14.67-carat oval diamond really stood out in the crowd – that’s one thing about ovals – they have a lot of presence!

Samantha Barks diamond necklace

Samantha+Barks+Red+Carpet+Arrivals+Oscars+6QBsOdVKiQXl

Last, but certainly not least, is this elegant look from Angelina from almost 6 years ago, Oscars 2009. These earrings have spawned a ton of cheap imitations, but let me tell you, nothing can replicate the glowy green of Colombian Emerald! These are Lorraine Schwartz (of course!) and they are Colombian Emerald 115ctw earrings with a matching 65ct ring. They really stole the show from both Angelina (wearing impeccable subtle makeup yet again! It suits her.) and the black Elie Saab dress.

Angelina_Jolie_Emerald_Lorraine_Schwartz_Earrings_Ring_Trend_Black_Elie_Saab_Designer_Jewelry_Kendra_Scott_Gown

angelina-jolie-emerald-earrings

So these are some of the jewelry looks that have stood out to me over the past decade, even before I was really paying attention to jewelry as closely as I do now. I really wish that there was more color out on the red carpet, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the award ceremonies that will be on our TV screens soon!