Episode 141 Part 2: How Emerging Jewelry Designers Can Cut Through the Noise with Writer & Editor, Amy Elliott
What you’ll learn in this episode:
- Why the most important thing a jewelry designer can invest in is high-quality photography
- How Amy finds the topics she writes about for JCK’s “All That Glitters” blog
- How designers can find the story that helps them break through the crowded marketplace
- Who today’s most exciting emerging and independent designers are
- How the jewelry industry changed during the pandemic, and what retailers must do to engage young consumers
About Amy Elliott
Amy Elliott is a writer, editor and brand storyteller who specializes in fine jewelry and fashion, and is fluent in other lifestyle categories, including food, weddings and travel.
As a former staff editor at The Knot, Bridal Guide, Brides Local Magazines + Brides.com and Lucky, Amy is known for delivering high-quality editorial content across a variety of print and digital media. After recently serving as the Engagement Rings Expert for About.com, Amy joined the freelance staff of JCK as its All That Glitters columnist, while contributing articles about jewelry trends, estate and antique jewelry and gemstones to its prestigious print magazine.
Amy also serves as the Fine Jewelry Expert for The Bridal Council, an industry organization composed of luxury bridal designers, retailers and media, and her byline has appeared in Gotham, Hamptons, DuJour, Martha Stewart Weddings, GoodHousekeeping.com and more.
- Amy’s Website
- Amy’s Twitter
- Amy’s Instagram
- JCK Article: Cicadas Swarm on Sienna Patti Gallery in Lenox, Mass.
- JCK Article: Christopher Thompson Royds’ Flowers Bloom at Sienna Patti Gallery
- JCK Article: Look What Happens When Annoushka Gives Peridot A Go
Examples of posts that reflect the intersection of jewelry with history, culture and current events:
Bob Goodman Wants Jewelers To Join Him in Disrupting the Status Quo:
The Ten Thousand Things x Met Museum Collaboration Is Coming In Hot:
Go “Sea” Some Serious Silver Treasures At Mystic Seaport Museum:
New Jewelry From Rafka Koblence, Olympic Wrestler Turned Designer:
As author of the “All That Glitters” blog for JCK, Amy Elliott has a front row seat to the jewelry industry’s up-and-coming trends and designers. She’s also been lucky enough to work with some of these designers, helping them refine their brands and create stories that resonate with customers. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what designers and retailers should do to stay relevant with younger consumers, how art jewelry has influenced high jewelry, and what jewelry trends to watch out for in the coming months. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: When you say you like strong, new collections, what catches your eye when somebody’s presenting a new collection to you or sends you a press kit or email?
Amy: Every time I’m ever interviewed for something, I always say this, but photos are so important, beautiful, beautiful photos. Whatever budget you have, use it for the photography. I love glamorous jewelry. I love high jewelry. I love glamor, big, bold, extremely extravagant jewels; from an editorial standpoint, I love them. I love to excite the senses with beautiful jewelry that makes you stop in your tracks. So, the jewels have to be beautiful, and you need to have beautiful photos to accurately portray that. It’s just a strong point of view.
Boucheron came to me, and they have a whole series inspired by a cat that belonged to the Maison Boucheron early on in their life. His name is Vladimir, and it’s a whole collection that takes this Persian cat with his swept fur. There’s a story there; there’s a heritage story. I love that. I love to take a new collection and look back at how it came to be. I love figuring out what a designer’s signature is, whether they’re well-established or they’re just coming out. Every once in a while you’ll find a newcomer with a strong point of view and you’re like, “I’ve never seen this before. I’m so excited to tell that story.”
Sharon: I think it’s so important to say or to reiterate that for everybody, no matter what kind of jewelry you’re selling, whether it’s fine jewelry or antique jewelry. I’m thinking of some of the tradeshows when I’ve talked to dealers and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the money for photos.”
Amy: I don’t know what to say. I’ve been saying it for 20 years and it’s still a problem. There are some designers that are really overexposed and there are some that are underexposed. I’m always excited to discover somebody I’m not following on Instagram. How exciting! A lot of times, they’re international. I’m connected with a PR firm in Paris right now. They’ve been calling me a lot, and it’s a goldmine of designers that don’t get featured a lot over here. I think I’m the only editor at JCK that covers estate and antique jewelry. I’m always covering auctions and exhibitions in that vein and all of the art fairs. I’ve written about Sienna Patti up in the Berkshires several times. It really is a pleasure, and anything goes. I have an action-packed calendar for the holidays.
Sharon: It sounds like it, yes. Sienna Patti, I know she’s in the western part of Massachusetts.
Amy: Yes, she’s in the Berkshires.
Sharon: She has an art jewelry gallery I’d love to get to someday. How does art jewelry fit in here? Does it catch your eye if the right photos are sent to you? Do you see it taking more of the market or having a higher profile?
Amy: It’s interesting. The one thing I will say, and it’s so hard to speak in terms of trends when you’re dealing with very expensive, high-end, collectible jewelry, but what I have noticed a little bit of is the selling of sweet sets, something that might be convertible, a multipiece set. Christopher Thompson Royds does that. You get a beautiful box, and then it’s an earring that can be worn three or four different ways. Annoushka did a collaboration with Fuli Gemstones. Beautiful, bright green peridot like you’ve never seen. It was not really a collection; it was an eight-piece set. That is what the customer is being asked to buy into, and that feels very collector, very connoisseur, a very specific kind of angle. It’s a very specific customer that is going to want to invest in jewelry that can be worn but is presented as an art object or sculpture or something to display in your home as sculpture, but then you can take it out and wear it. I see that as a direction with very, very high-end jewelry that’s being shown in galleries, this notion of buying a boxed set.
Sharon: When you said sweet sets, I was thinking edible sweets. That’s interesting.
Amy: Sets of jewels.
Sharon: There’s an idea. Tell us who the emerging, independent designers are today. Who should we keep our eye on? Who’s overlooked? Who’s being so creative, knocking it out of the park, but you don’t hear talked about? Who’s collectible?
Amy: I know this is a very informed and qualified audience, Sharon, so I’m sure these names are going to be familiar to many in your audience, but I think the industry has collectively embraced the work of Harwell Godfrey.
Sharon: Now, that’s one I don’t know.
Amy: Lauren Harwell, I think she’s based in LA, and she has a strong point of view. It’s beautiful inlaid jewels, weighty, substantial, geometric, absolutely a strong point of view, Sharon.
Sharon: I see her on Instagram a lot.
Amy: Yes, Harwell Godfrey is probably one of the strongest voices to emerge in the pandemic era. Before that it was Anna Courey, absolutely with her diamond ear cuffs. I think she set us on a course with that. Glenn Spiro is an under-the-radar but highly, highly couture jeweler. There’s a book out from Assouline on him that Jill Newman wrote. I think his name is going to become more well-known among collectors. He’s a private jeweler based in London, I believe, and I think we’re going to be hearing more about that. Anytime there’s a book or an auction, the names are elevated; the names are surfaced and get a little more traction, so I definitely would be watching Glenn Spiro. Nikos Koulis has been around for the last three or four years. He’s Greek, and it’s sort of neo-Art Deco, very geometric, very strong uses of color, edgy, really modern. Bea Bongiasca with her enamel and ceramic pieces—
Sharon: How do you say that? Is she here?
Amy: Bea. I think she’s based in London but is Italian. She works at Central St. Martin’s. Alice Cicolini, also British, does extremely beautiful work with enamel. I think her work is going to be really collectable in the coming years. I think she has a strong point of view.
Sharon: Can I interrupt? What does that mean, a strong point of view? What does that mean to you?
Amy: It means singular and inimitable.
Sharon: You know it’s her when you see the piece of work.
Amy: Yes. It’s very singular and striking and absolutely inimitable. There’s a lot of borrowing of ideas that goes on in the jewelry industry. I think the people I’m mentioning here, their voices present themselves to me as something unique. You can’t replicate it; you’re not going to see that show up in some form on Amazon. Maggi Simpkins, we all fell in love with her in the Brilliant and Black exhibit at Sotheby’s. She did the most beautiful pink diamond ring. Everything is centered in these fan-like, feathered cocoons of gems. It’s very feminine and lavish and beautiful. So, Maggi Simpkins is someone, and then Studio Renn. My editor at JCK, Victoria Gomelsky, writes for the New York Times and she did a piece on them. She really has seen everything. They are part of an exhibit that is now ongoing at Phillips that Vivienne Becker curated. I think Studio Renn is a newcomer that is going to be sticking around for a while. Finally, there’s Fabio Salini, who’s also part of the Vivienne Becker capsule at Phillips. Those are just a few. It changes all the time, but the pandemic era has brought incredible work from the designers in our industry, and they are just now hitting their stride. After all that time creating and dreaming and ruminating, refining their voices, cultivating their Instagram audiences, getting feedback from buyers—now they’re out there in the world and ready to be embraced.
Sharon: What about pre-pandemic? Everybody’s at home in their living room thinking and designing, so I could understand why it’s emerging right now, but what about pre-pandemic? Do you see a big difference?
Amy: Yes, the industry has modernized considerably since the before times. The biggest difference is that a mom-and-pop jeweler in the middle of country who had a website but never updated it, they’ve gone in there, hired a firm, hired a chat bot, completely modernized. The pandemic era forced the industry to fast-track into the digital age. That is a huge, huge difference, making it so you are available to your customers, wherever they may be, whether that’s texting or someone dedicated to Instagram inquiries. A lot of this is being done on Instagram now, and that was not true in January 2020. Since jewelry emerged as a category that is a portable asset, it’s not a flash in the plan; it has staying power. It’s not like buying a trendy handbag, but using your discretionary income to buy jewelry became a thing and was embraced a lot of people during the pandemic as they were sparkle scrolling, as they call it, on their phones.
Sharon: I haven’t heard that term.
Amy: A lot of people used the time to upgrade their engagement rings and wedding bands, so the bridal industry saw a huge boost. The jewelry industry is really healthy right now, I think, in terms of sales, but what I have noticed is not everybody has a wedding band. Not everyone has a budget to upgrade to a big, giant, 20-carat eternity band, so I’m noticing a lot of brands creating price points under $1,500. They’re creating little capsules, creating diffusion lines, if you will, so a customer with modest means can have that same meaningful purchase, that same, “I’m investing and treating myself to something that will last, my first diamond bracelet or my first diamond pendant.” I’m seeing more of those opportunities at the retail level.
Sharon: That’s interesting. In terms of the emerging designers you’ve mentioned, is this trickling down to the rest of us who don’t have $15,000 to go out and buy a trinket tomorrow?
Amy: There’s definitely a spectrum. I think estate jewelry in general is so hot, and there are a gazillion ladies on Instagram. They’re moving delicate, little gold charms for $200 a pop. There’s so much. I hate the term low-hanging fruit, but there is so much attainable luxury out there at the regular-person level. If you’re the type to spend $200 on a bunch of drinks on a Saturday night, you can easily do that and buy yourself a beautiful paper clip chain estate piece on someone’s Instagram feed.
Also, even further than the art jewelry investment piece, there’s a run on pink diamonds, practically, and yellow diamonds were a big story coming out of JCK. That color, yellow, that bright, hopeful, joyful feeling that yellow presents, suppliers and manufacturers—cases were filled with yellow diamond engagement rings. A lot of people are talking about a potential uptick in yellow diamond engagement ring sales, both from the rarity of the investment angle and from the pure joy of it, the feeling that it gives. Also, there’s this idea that today’s young woman getting engaged doesn’t want anything to do with what her mother had. Any ring that remoted resembles that chunky, big, platinum, three-stone diamond ring from 1990, she wants something completely new and different feeling, and yellow diamonds fulfill that. They check that box. I have heard from some of my diamond tiara friends that people are buying very high-end and special loose, fancy-colored diamonds from an investment standpoint because it’s a portable asset and they are decreasing in supply. Like I said, there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities.
Sharon: It’s interesting you mention that diamonds are not so much in demand for young women getting engaged or getting married today. Sometimes I look at my diamond wedding ring, which is actually an upgrade from my first one, and I look at it and go, “This looks really dated.” What are you seeing in terms of what’s more contemporary or modern?
Amy: Here’s what everyone’s doing. Everyone is taking their old jewelry and up-cycling it, whether their old engagement ring, in your case, or they’re taking their grandmother’s engagement ring that was given to them and creating a whole new design and style. Heirloom stones are recast as something new and wearable. It could be an engagement ring; they could be breaking apart a clustered diamond pin and creating a “diamonds by the yard” style necklace. That is a huge trend right now because it also covers sustainability. You have this precious item in your possession, but it just isn’t your style. You have the materials to work with a designer to make it something new you can wear and enjoy. I feel like every independent designer I speak with nowadays has taken on commissions along those lines. Entire businesses are being built around that very concept of reimagining old jewelry.
Sharon: What about non-diamond wedding rings or engagement rings? Are other stones being used besides yellow diamonds?
Amy: I think we can anticipate a sapphire—I hate to say a sapphire boom because jewelry is slow and static, but blue sapphires. The Crown season four, I think, came out last winter, and it centered around Diana. There’s a whole generation of young women out there that were not clued into that story, and that blue sapphire engagement ring from Garrard was back in the spotlight again, even though Kate Middleton wears it as hers now. Anyway, there’s a whole generation of consumers for whom Diana’s blue sapphire ring was not on their radar. Then there is a movie coming out with Kristen Stewart in the starring role called “Spencer” that will center on Diana. I think that’s going to put the blue sapphire engagement ring on people’s radar again. Honestly, any time the royals or once-were royals are in the news—and they are—it definitely trickles down into consumer appetite.
Sharon: Amy, you’ve seen a lot from both sides of the desk. You’ve seen the big people; you’ve talked to people on the business side; you’ve talked to the designing side, the creative side, and I know you’ve written several books and things like that. If you had to distill it down into one book or a couple of paragraphs, what would you say are the main challenges? How would you advise people like this?
Amy: I love to give advice. I’m solicited in other ways. To retailers, I would say listen to your customers and tune into the social climate. The customers are giving you information you need every time they set foot in your store. Ask them what they like, what they’re into. There’s an adversarial relationship, almost, between the younger consumers of today and the old-school jewelry retailer, and change is necessary. Try to learn and understand them. If they want a salt and pepper diamond ring and you think it’s ugly, that’s fine, but you still have to find it for them if you want to retain them as a customer. I think a willingness to change is vital; a willingness to modernize is vital on the part of the retailer. Diversity and inclusion and social justice is very important to the majority of young consumers. You can look at what Zales and Kay Jewelers and these mainstream guys are doing for clues; the same with Tiffany. You can look at what they’re doing. That’s all informed by serious market research that is telling them that today’s younger consumer prioritizes diversity and inclusion, and they’re watching companies to see if what they’re doing aligns with their values. I’m certainly not the first person to say that, but it is critical; it’s essential.
To designers, I would say please use whatever discretionary funds you have, again, towards shooting your jewelry with a professional photographer. That is the most important thing. Don’t worry about a campaign. Don’t worry about hiring models. Literally just still-life photos and giant, big files are what you should be spending your money on. Stay true to your signature and try to be as authentic as possible, but also take advice. Just don’t design in a vacuum. Look at what’s out in the world and try to see where your point of view fits in. The market is saturated with a lot of same old, same old. How can you break through that? How can you break through the basic and come at it in a different way? It could be as simple as everybody knows alphabet charms are popular and wonderful and a new jewelry wardrobe essential, so what’s your thought going to look like? How’s your thought going to reflect who you are? What does the alphabet charm reflect for you, and what’s the story? Did you see it on a poster for a 1960s Grateful Dead show? Did you go to an exhibit and see an illuminated manuscript? There are so many ways, I think, to get inspired and find your voice.
Sharon: That’s great. That’s very good advice for both sides of the desk. Amy, thank you so much for being here today.
Amy: Thank you, Sharon, it’s a pleasure. I’m always happy to talk about jewelry and give my opinions.
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