Opinion

10 of My Favorite Jewels from the AGTA Spectrum Awards

NEW YORK. Every year, there’s a prestigious jewelry competition that many aspire to win. The contest is organized by the American Gem Trade Association, a group of like-minded and credible U.S.-based gemstone and pearl dealers, to promote the beauty of colored stones. The contest is called the AGTA Spectrum and Cutting Edge Awards, with the former division casting a spotlight on innovative uses of colored stones in finished jewelry and the latter celebrating expertly cut loose gems. Entries to both categories in the longstanding contest—it’s been happening for 33 years—end up in stores nationwide for sale to the public.

Doug Hucker, AGTA chief executive officer, told me at an editor’s preview day this week that entries numbered about 480 pieces. Among the trends: less Ethiopian opal and more black opal from Australia in Spectrum entries. “We had a lot of nice sapphires in all colors, spinel is still seeing a lot of play, and we still saw some big morganite,” Hucker explained. A surprise in Cutting Edge: no loose rubies. Still, overall entries and the level of talent evident make judging tough.

The judging process is rigorous (I know because I served as a judge several years ago) and is carried out by jewelry store owners, notable stone cutters, and designers. It takes place over an entire weekend because there are hundreds of entries. Opinions about the winning pieces are as abundant as the styles submitted, and everyone who sees the entries walks away with personal favorites, myself included. I saw the pieces up close and snapped photos of my favorites before they return to their makers. (To see a complete list of winners and honorable mentions, check out the AGTA website.) Enjoy!

 

Earrings in 14k yellow and white gold with polyhedral agate druzy slices, green tourmalines, pink topaz, amethyst, and diamonds by Mark Loren Designs; 239-482-4664; marklorensan@gmail.com

Earrings in 14k yellow and white gold with polyhedral agate druzy slices, green tourmalines, pink topaz, amethyst, and diamonds by Mark Loren Designs; 239-482-4664; marklorensan@gmail.com

 

Earrings in 14k yellow gold with titanium vapor-coated agate druzy spheres by Mark Loren Designs; 239-482-4664; marklorensan@gmail.com

Earrings in 14k yellow gold with titanium vapor-coated agate druzy spheres by Mark Loren Designs; 239-482-4664; marklorensan@gmail.com

 

Kunming Remains with Me earrings in 18k yellow gold with carved labradorite, green pearls, and blue zircon by Heath London Jewelry; 805-698-0100; heathlondon@gmail.com

Kunming Remains with Me earrings in 18k yellow gold with carved labradorite, green pearls, and blue zircon by Heath London Jewelry; 805-698-0100; heathlondon@gmail.com

 

Goddess brooch in 18k yellow gold with a specialty-cut ametrine, blue-green sapphires, purple sapphires, and diamonds by Pheap Lorn-Canossi of Phenomenal Jewels; 626-731-3533; pheap@phenomenaljewels.com

Goddess brooch in 18k yellow gold with a specialty-cut ametrine, blue-green sapphires, purple sapphires, and diamonds by Pheap Lorn-Canossi of Phenomenal Jewels; 626-731-3533; pheap@phenomenaljewels.com

 

Open ring in 14k white gold with aquamarine, seed pearls (set inside the shank and atop), and diamonds by Christine Lloyd of Stuller; 337-262-7786; nichole_guillory@stuller.com

Open ring in 14k white gold with aquamarine, seed pearls (set inside the shank and atop the ring), and diamonds by Christine Lloyd of Stuller; 337-262-7786; nichole_guillory@stuller.com

 

Ring in platinum and 18k yellow gold with a golden South Sea pearl and diamonds by Judy Evans for Oliver & Espig Gallery of Fine Arts; 805-962-8111; gallery@oliverandespig.com [This ring took a third-place prize in the Bridal Wear category of the Spectrum Awards.]

Ring in platinum and 18k yellow gold with a golden South Sea pearl and diamonds by Judy Evans for Oliver & Espig Gallery of Fine Arts; 805-962-8111; gallery@oliverandespig.com
[This ring took a third-place prize in the Bridal Wear category of the Spectrum Awards.]

 

Suite of blue-green Sugarloaf-cut tourmaline by Mikola Kukharuk of Nomad’s; 212-221-1207; tracy@gemsbynomad.com

Suite of blue-green Sugarloaf-cut tourmaline by Mikola Kukharuk of Nomad’s Co.; 212-221-1207; tracy@gemsbynomad.com

 

Ring in platinum and 14k rose gold with a blush-colored South Sea pearl and diamonds by Evan de Jonghe of de Jonghe Original Jewelry; 518-587-6422; evan@djoriginals.com

Ring in platinum and 14k rose gold with a blush-colored South Sea pearl and diamonds by Evan de Jonghe of de Jonghe Original Jewelry; 518-587-6422; evan@djoriginals.com

 

Wonder Woman bracelet in sterling silver and 22k gold with a Boulder opal and diamonds by Michael Endlich of Pave Fine Jewelry; 510-547-7000; Michael@pavefinejewelry.com

Wonder Woman bracelet in sterling silver and 22k gold with a boulder opal and diamonds by Michael Endlich of Pavé Fine Jewelry; 510-547-7000; Michael@pavefinejewelry.com

 

 

Solar Flare backdrop necklace in 18k white and yellow gold with citrine, aquamarine, yellow beryl, and diamonds by Ardeshir Dabestani for Asha Gallery; 480-577-2742; ardeshirasha@yahoo.com [This piece took the Fashion Forward award in the Spectrum division.]

Solar Flare backdrop necklace in 18k white and yellow gold with citrine, aquamarine, yellow beryl, and diamonds by Ardeshir Dabestani for Asha Gallery; 480-577-2742; ardeshirasha@yahoo.com [This piece took the Fashion Forward award in the Spectrum division.]

Solar Flare backdrop necklace in 18k white and yellow gold with citrine, aquamarine, yellow beryl, and diamonds by Ardeshir Dabestani for Asha Gallery; 480-577-2742; ardeshirasha@yahoo.com
[This piece took the Fashion Forward award in the Spectrum division. The smiling model? Hannah Becker of Diamondoodles.]

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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Opinion

Talking to Jewelry Lovers

Jackie Cohen of My Story Jewelry with her adopted daughter Julia.

NEW YORK. In the digital space, I’m not the first person to connect with jewelry lovers, but I hope to help increase exposure for those who mine, make, and sell the gems and pieces we adore. Some of my peers have been doing this for some time, and I’m inspired by their efforts.

For example, Severine Ferrari of Engagement101.com started talking to newly engaged brides—real people without high-profile names or connections—out of a love for the human angle of stories. Ferrari came to jewelry publishing from writing about wedding dresses and eventually found a home in the engagement niche. An engagement, observes the Paris transplant to New York City, is first about connection and a ‘why’ behind the commitment. Sure, the jewelry is pretty, she continues, and couples always talk about engagement rings, but that is not the reason for the union—it’s the love, baby!

Severine Ferrari is the publisher and editor in chief of online engagement magazine Engagement101.

Severine Ferrari is the publisher and editor in chief of online engagement magazine Engagement101.com.

To wit, Ferrari posts as many as 10 stories a month on her web-based magazine and one micro-story a day on social media about couples in love and how they got engaged. She talks to them about how they met and how they picked their ring and strives to find a diverse lot—same-sex, well off, on a budget, etc.—of couples.

“We in jewelry love jewelry, of course, but it’s a symbol of love and important to remember how meaningful that proposal moment is for a couple,” she says.

Also important: video stories (subscribe to her YouTube channel here—and mine, too, here!). Ferrari has been making them for 10 years to better share her readers’ tales. Plus, video consistently gets more clicks than photos alone. (Here’s one of her stories, complete with video of a couple who got engaged in New Zealand.) Spoiler alert: you may cry!

“As a publisher, I like to share stories, but it’s also a learning experience for me,” she says. “Data is important but so is talking to people to understand how couples stay together longer, why they do or don’t have kids before marriage, and to understand my audience. If we better understand them, then we can better understand where they go to get their jewelry.”

A blogger in a non-niche segment of jewelry is Catherine Cason, who debuted GemHunt.com just a year and a half ago. Cason isn’t from the jewelry world, either—she’s a beauty consultant—but started writing about it because she couldn’t find jewelry-specific content she enjoyed.

“I wanted to know more about jewelry but felt that a lot of the voices were talking to themselves,” she says.

Catherine Cason is the blogger and founder behind GemHunt.

Catherine Cason is the blogger and founder behind GemHunt.com.

Instead of that off-putting, barrier-rich approach—in my opinion, a result of the jewelry trade’s own outdated, super formal and technical, and ‘you can’t sit with us’ way—from brands or stores, she took an informal, friendly approach.

“I get excited about jewelry,” she says. “I put each ring on my finger and tell readers how it makes me feel, I tell readers the story that the jewelry is telling me and the emotions it creates instead of just, ‘It’s 1.2 carats—take it or leave it.’”

Jewelry, she continues, means a lot to people, and as I’m also finding, women are willing to talk about it. Every piece has a story, and Cason dismisses the taboo idea that just because something has a high price point, you can’t talk about it. (Of course, many of us who talk to collectors about their jewelry realize the importance of not revealing any information that could compromise subjects’ privacy—like last names, which this site, as well as GemHunt and Engagement101, don’t use.)

According to Cason, some conversations—like one she had with Jocelyn in February this year—prove that talking about your jewelry can be cathartic. (Read her story, but the Cliff Notes version is that the subject was robbed and online friends donated pieces to rebuild her collection.) “It was very emotional,” notes Cason about the story filed on her Diamond Blog under ‘Real Women, Real Jewelry’ on her site.

Finally, there’s Jackie Cohen of My Story Jewelry, whose line of customizable nontraditional mother’s jewelry was created to celebrate her own story of adopting daughter Julia. Once other women started asking her about pieces, she learned their stories, and it snowballed into a riveting collection of empowering tales that she now shares on My Story Mondays on her website.

“When you open up to people, they open up back to you,” she explains.

Jackie Cohen of My Story Jewelry with her adopted daughter Julia.

Jackie Cohen of My Story Jewelry with her adopted daughter, Julia.

The stories—often acquired at in-store trunk shows—are inspiring and offer hope and encouragement to other women through the lens of another female’s own personal triumph. Her first one, published in the fall of 2016, shared the story of Jenny, who left her husband on July 29, 2004, but also met her soulmate and future husband on the same date later in the day. With that newfound love and support, they had a child, and she accomplished great career success. Cohen now publishes about two stories a month, which have become popular among her fans.

“I meet the most amazing people—women who have lost children, survived breast cancer, written children’s books—and these awesome people need an outlet to be heard,” she continues.

The jewelry hook? All these remarkable tales result from either outreach to Cohen, whose family has been in the jewelry industry for decades, or meeting with her about her jewelry. That’s the power that fine jewelry possesses—the ability to connect people who otherwise might not ever meet simply by admiring a glittering accessory.

Do you have a jewelry story to tell? I’d love to hear it. Please reach out to me at Jennifer@jenniferheebner.com or weigh in with a comment below.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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Opinion

Collectors Welcome

NEW YORK. As a jewelry market editor for 19 years, I am passionate about the people, places, and products made and sold by individuals I’ve met throughout my career. From the humble golden pearl farmers of the Philippines to the colored-stone-obsessed Brazilians to the masterful goldsmiths of Italy, jewelry journalism has taken me to many corners of the world for trade shows and private tours. But in all these years of research, interviews, and writing about jewelry, there has always been one big missing link: a direct connection to the jewelry collector.

Jewelry journalist and market editor Jennifer Heebner

The author, Jennifer Heebner, in a Fei Liu unicorn necklace

Collectors who love fine jewelry but don’t necessarily work “in the trade” want to know more about those who design and fabricate pieces and the far-flung places where gemstones are found. If that’s you, then welcome! My goal is to introduce you to the magnetic world of fine jewelry, which is filled with beautiful, rare gems and talismans and some of the most altruistic people on earth.

Consider the Branellac family of Jewelmer pearls, which innovated a way to breed and harvest rare golden pearls. In the remote Palawan Islands of the Philippines, the family provides jobs as well as fresh water and sustainable means of employment to natives not employed on its farms. The family also cherishes the pristine environment in which it operates, because if Mother Nature isn’t happy then she doesn’t help produce gorgeous naturally golden pearls. When was the last time mainstream media shared a tale this inspiring about a luxury product?

Jewelmer pearl farm in the Philippines

Aerial shot of one of Jewelmer‘s pearl farms in the Palawan Islands of the Philippines

There are myriad other stories to tell, too, about smaller outfits. Like mega animal lover Kimberly McDonald, who makes drool-worthy geode designs in addition to rescuing Chihuahuas. How sales from Mikelle Terson‘s elephant styles provide funds for wildlife refuges in Kenya. Or why Judi Powers uses only reclaimed precious metals in her organic-looking designs because she is committed to minimizing her footprint on this earth. (Traditional mining practices can be harmful to the environment.) It’s stories like these that so many collectors never learn about because the right forum hasn’t existed.

jewelry designer Judi Powers

Jewelry designer Judi Powers uses ethically sourced and reclaimed metals to reduce her environmental footprint.

This is the niche I aim to fill. I want to connect collectors with the personalities behind the jewels, pulling back the curtain on the mysterious—and let’s face it, often stuffy and seemingly inaccessible—world of fine jewelry to make it understandable, approachable, and your own.

To do so, I’m taking a journalistic approach—with inspiration from Humans of New York—by conducting on-the-street video interviews and turning this direct contact with collectors into short episodes housed under the header Conversations. Some share powerful personal tales of custom pieces while others dish about gift-giving gone wrong. All, however, eagerly reveal preferences and the emotional connections they have with jewelry.

I’ll also give you a glimpse into the glamour—and grit—of jewelry. Inspirations feature new collections straight from the trade-only shows, Personalities introduces you to little-known insiders, and Destinations takes you to the exotic locations where rare jewels and gemstones are found.

Campbellian Collection gold earrings with blue zircon, pink sapphires, and diamonds

Earrings in 18k white gold with a 9.96 ct. blue zircon, 7.72 cts. t.w. pink sapphires, and 1.32 cts. t.w. diamonds, $18,000; Campbellian Collection at Turgeon Raine, Seattle, Wash.; 800-678-0120

With a few journalism awards under my belt as well as myriad friends and contacts, I hope to be your capable guide through this world of fine jewelry, its objects of art, and its colorful characters. Thank you for joining me.

Editor’s note: Please know that this website is editorial in nature, meaning that no company or person is paying me to write about specific subjects. All ads are clearly labeled. My advertisers support me because they believe in the value of independent journalism.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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