New York, New York

A touch over two years ago I posted a blog entry about a planning a specific project:

https://thegemstoneproject.com/2014/11/28/new-york-city-inspired-ring/

Well, it evolved. I will get to that in a second.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

The first time I ever went to New York City was when I was 18 years old with my parents for a business trip for my dad. I remember walking the streets wearing furry Steve Madden shoes and having a doorman compliment them. I fell in love with the city in that trip, between the Empire State Building, the flagship stores, the food, the energy and life of the city. I didn’t know it at the time, but only a few short years later, I would be going to school slightly upstate from the city.

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It wouldn’t be until I went to NYC via train from upstate that I would first experience Grand Central Terminal in all of it’s glory, between the Oyster Bar, the marble floors, the tile ceilings, and the glorious teal ceiling bedecked with celestial gold in the main hall. For me, with the Grand Central ceiling, it was love at first sight. Every time I would take a trip to the city via MTA, I would be delighted to experience it’s beauty once again, and I would look forward to seeing that ceiling every time.

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So, since I don’t get to do that regularly anymore, I had to base a piece of jewelry around it.

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My starting point, as is often the case, was color. I had a copper bearing precision cut teal tourmaline from Barry Bridgestock that was absolutely the color of the ceiling.  I knew from very early on that I had to have yellow gold, as the zodiac symbols all over are painted in a golden color. It was only later that I would decide that the piece would need to have white gold as well, which was a difficult conclusion for me as I’m typically not a fan of mixed metals.

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In planning the rest of the elements of the design, I took into account an incredible number of details from around GCT, from the arches of the hallways, to the color of the walls and the floors, to the incredible iconic pendant chandeliers. I evaluated every single one of the zodiac symbols, the detail of the arches, the Tiffany glass of the clock, the golden clock in the middle of the terminal, the detail of the windows. Essentially, the entire building is one very large piece of functional art, each detail has had painstaking work put into it by artisans of years past. There is some sad irony in the fact that most people who witness it never take the opportunity to enjoy those details.

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I started out thinking that it would be a ring. I soon found out that between the stone size, the ring size and the sheer scope of my vision for it, a ring that size would be essentially unwearable on a regular basis.  So I ended up changing it to a necklace. And of course I took the opportunity to use a stone that I have an infatuation with – a rose cut diamond. This time around, I decided that it should be prong set with a hexagonal surround, to echo the geometry of the iconic graphic feel of the Art Deco era.

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For a while I considered something that had to do with my zodiac sign, my husband’s zodiac sign and my daughter’s zodiac sign, but that became too complicated and didn’t end up making any sense design wise. So I simplified,

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I considered adding a detail from the arches (also seen on SNL’s GCT set) to the eventual outer halo, but nixed that idea as it became too busy. I also considered having no negative space, with just the contrast of diamonds and metal color to guide the design, but again, cited the busy-ness of the design for utilizing negative space rather than adding more to an already complex concept.

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I ended up with just a thin outer diamond halo to provide some structure for the centerpiece of the piece, and I chose a octagonal shape for it inspired by the octagonal frames around the medallion detail on the large arches on either end of the building. (Bottom left corner in the below image.)

Grand Central Terminal Ceiling
Grand Central Terminal Ceiling

I originally designed the star’s diagonal points to stretch all of the way to the halo, but after thinking, and evaluating the actual stars of the GCT ceiling, as well as looking at the Art Deco stars, I realized that while it may be less stable, shortening the diagonal points would be better for the over all aesthetic, and echoed the compass like shape of the actual GCT stars.

Grand Central Terminal Taurus Detail
Grand Central Terminal Taurus Detail

Elevating the star and the stone just a touch was the finishing detail. I used fancy yellow diamonds on the yellow gold and single cut white diamonds on the outside halo, in keeping with the Art Deco era.

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It is not very often that I create jewelry for myself anymore. This isn’t a piece that I will probably wear often, but it is a small, sparkly tribute to a city that I love, and the Art Deco masterpiece that lies within it.

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Elle signature

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.

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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. 

Design: New York City Inspired Ring

I figured that it’s the day after Thanksgiving, I might as well post a project that has been in the works for years, because after all of this time, it’s gotten to be pretty special and has some sentimental meaning for me. And my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, so why not?

I went to school up in New York State for almost a year, and spent all of my spending money on traveling to New York City. My favorite place in the entire city is Grand Central Terminal, but I find myself inspired by the city as a whole, especially by the Art Deco designs that are so prevalent throughout. The Empire State building’s interiors, the Chrysler Building’s tower and spire, and of course Grand Central Terminal make me fall in love with the city all over again, every time I am there.

So I’ve been wanting to do a NYC inspired design for some time, and I’ve been tossing around a few ideas using the architecture and interior designs from NYC landmarks as the inspiration for this one, very special piece. Here are some of the sketches of the ideas I’ve played with.

Chrysler Building exterior:

NYC

Playing with the star layout of some constellations and looking at the arches from the windows in GCT:

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Again, Chrysler Building, GCT, rough sketches of ideas.

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Starting to grasp an idea of what I think I like the most, elements from GCT:

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Developing the idea in a more comprehensive way, using actual proportions for real stones. You can see the changes to this initial idea I want to make over to the side.

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Getting there. Still seeing if this idea is where I really want to go, and seeing if it’s something I can actually make work. I see it in my head, but so far I can’t make it work on paper.

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As you can see, I have come up with a pretty complex idea, and it’ll take a long time to put together something that works the right way. There are a lot of elements to fit together and it’s a bit like a puzzle. I think I know where I want to go with the next sketch, but when the sketches are this large (this is 10x the real size of the gems) it tends to take longer to do even a minor revision.

Color is going to come into play in a big way on this piece, but that probably won’t be seen on paper, because I do not feel comfortable at all adding color to my sketches at the moment! Colored gems seem to have a unique and irritating way of making their “look” impossible (or at least pretty difficult) to capture on paper. Must go practice!