Episode 142 Part 1: The Language of Jewelry: How the Editor in Chief of JCK Finds Inspiration with Editor in Chief JCK, Victoria Gomelsky.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
- The history of JCK and the JCK Show
- How Victoria identifies trends to highlight in JCK
- Why the line between women’s jewelry and men’s jewelry has blurred, especially among younger consumers
- How travel influences jewelry design
- The most exciting new designers Victoria has her eye on
About Victoria Gomelsky
Victoria Gomelsky is editor-in-chief of JCK, a New York City-based jewelry trade publication founded in 1869. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Robb Report, AFAR, WSJ Magazine, the Hollywood Reporter, Escape, The Sun and Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally, an anthology published by Seal Press.
She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a BA in political science in 1995 and earned her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University in 2002. She specializes in jewelry and watch writing but her greatest love has always been travel — 60 countries and counting.
Victoria was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1978 with her parents and twin sister, Julia. She divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles.
Victoria Gomelsky watches:
Victoria Gomelsky, editor in chief of esteemed jewelry trade publication JCK, was bitten by the travel bug during her first-ever trip—when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. Since then, she’s visited more than 60 countries, often traveling to visit jewelry shows and report on jewelry trends. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how her career in jewelry started with a mysterious online job posting; why Gen Z is changing the way we categorize jewelry; and where to find her favorite jewelry destinations. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is a two-part Jewelry Journey Podcast. Keep your eyes open for part two, which we’ll be posting later this week. Today, our guest is Victoria Gomelsky, editor-in-chief of the well-known industry publication JCK. Victoria is an accomplished writer. She’s written about jewelry for the New York Times as well as an extensive list of respected publications. She also covers another of her passions, which is travel. She’s had a quite a jewelry journey, as she was born in Russia and has been to more than 60 countries and counting. We’ll hear all about her jewelry journey today. Victoria, welcome to the program.
Victoria: Hi, Sharon. It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much.
Sharon: I will go into my normal questions, but my first question is—and it seems like a silly one—but you speak Russian, then?
Victoria: I do. It’s actually not that silly. I came here when I was five with a twin sister. We arrived at JFK in December of 1978, pretty much the height of the Cold War. So, my sister and I really did not want to be Russian, as we were five, six years old. We didn’t want to be different from our classmates. So, we started speaking quite quickly in English, and that’s how my language developed.
I could understand Russian, but in terms of speech, I am not a great speaker. Those are really two different centers in the brain, as I realized. I can be a very good tourist. I can go to St. Petersburg or Moscow, ask for directions, order food at a restaurant, but if you want to have a deep conversation with me about business or anything that requires an extensive vocabulary, it’s not going to be me. But I can understand pretty well.
Sharon: It always fascinates me. Did you speak any English when you came here?
Victoria: No, but having a twin sister and being five, you’re a little bit of a sponge. I’ve read that before age seven, if you pick up another language before that age, that’s more or less the cutoff. You can learn to speak quite fluently very quickly, and we did. We didn’t know any words. We stopped in Vienna on the way out of the Soviet Union, and then we lived outside of Rome for a few months, so I probably picked up some Italian then, too, come to think of it, not that it stuck. But when we got to the States, it all happened very quickly. I really don’t remember learning English. It was almost as if I picked it up by osmosis.
Sharon: Wow! It’s a great way to learn, in terms of thinking about how it is to learn a language. Your English has solidified in a sense.
Sharon: Were you artistic then? Were you already artistic? Do you consider yourself an artistic person?
Victoria: It’s a good question. I don’t know. I consider myself creative. My sister—again, I have a twin sister; she’s really the artist of the family. She’s much more visual. She’s a graphic designer, an artist. She creates collages and all kinds of things with her hands. I’m not dexterous at all, so my creativity is on the page, what I write and how I see the world. So, I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do consider myself a creative.
Sharon: Does she call you up sometimes and say, “What were you thinking about that layout on the page?”
Victoria: Oh yeah, she’s super-critical. Trust me, I do not design or do anything around the home that doesn’t get her buy-in, because if I don’t get her buy-in on it, she’ll come over and say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you put that on the wall.” She’ll never let me hear the end of it. So, I make sure to get her buy-in on any artistic or design-oriented decision I have to make.
Sharon: She must be a great resource for you in terms of what you do. Did you come to jewelry through writing, or did you have a love of jewelry? How did that work?
Victoria: I came through writing. It was all quite random. I’ll share the story because it’s really my story; it’s my original tale, I guess you would say.
Sharon: It’s a journey.
Victoria: My journey. This was the beginning. I was in living in L.A. I was 25. I really wanted to move to New York, and I was too scared to move without a job or without knowing anybody. I really wanted to continue my writing career. I had been a journalist. Even though I majored in poli-sci at UCLA, I had always worked for the Daily Bruin. I had done internships at various news organizations, some of them in the television field; some of them were written publications.
I applied to one MFA program in total, and that was the Columbia University Master of Fine Arts program in their non-fiction writing department, specifically. That’s the only school I applied to, because I wanted to move to New York and I wanted to continue writing, and that felt, to me, like the only possible way for me to do that.
I moved to New York in August of 1998, did two years of this Master of Fine Arts program, and then didn’t want to leave. I was still working on my thesis and finishing my degree when I started applying for jobs that were in the writing field. Mind you, this was 2000, so it was the very first wave of web jobs. It was Web 1.0. I didn’t realize it yet, but it was on the verge of crashing. That crash we had in 2001 was coming, but I didn’t see it then. There were a lot of jobs; a lot more jobs than people to fill them.
I happened to go on Monster.com. I’m not sure if it’s around anymore. It was a job search site. I had a profile on the site, and I happened to come upon a posting that said, “Luxury goods website seeks writer/editor with two to three years’ experience. Click here to forward your profile to this employer.” I had no idea what that meant. It was very vague. At the time, you faxed people your résumé. I guess you could email, but a lot of times it was still faxed. There was just no information at all. It was literally a button. I clicked it and thought, “O.K.” and I forgot about it promptly.
A few days later, I heard from a woman named Lisa at a company called Gemkey.com. I had no idea what that was, but it turns out Gemkey was a startup in the jewelry space. It was meant to be a website where retailers would go on and source their inventory online, which was laughable because 20 years later, that’s still something that most retailers don’t do. It was way, way, way ahead of its time. It was founded by Fred Mouawad, whose father is Robert Mouawad. Robert Mouawad is a Lebanese businessman who donated a ton of money to GIA. His name graces their campus in Carlsbad. GIA being the Gemological Institute of America.
Sharon: That’s why it sounded familiar. I was going, “Where do I know that from?”
Victoria: Yeah. Anyway, Fred was the son. He was an entrepreneur. He was based in Bangkok, and he had this website that had an office in New York. They were looking for some editors to fill out the news section of their site. I was hired as their pearl and watch editor, and I had no idea about either category. I didn’t even know pearls were cultured. I really had no language to describe them. I knew what a watch was, but I knew nothing. I could have named Rolex, Cartier maybe, and maybe Timex.
I had been backpacking around the world in the late 90s prior to going to grad school, so I was living very scrappily and was quite frugal. I was in my early 20s, not really in the jewelry scene. One of my first trips was to a pearl farm in Australia to see the Paspaley farm located off the coast of Northern Australia. On the way there, I stopped in Bangkok to visit Fred Mouawad’s main headquarters and meet some of my colleagues. On the way out, I stopped in Hong Kong to go to the pearl auctions, and I was hooked. It was a wonderful introduction to the world of jewelry, quite literally the world of jewelry. I had loved travel until then, and here was a way to combine my love of it with a way to explore this new category, this new universe. So, I came to jewelry through writing and then through travel.
Sharon: That must have been so exciting, to be writing about something you found you loved as opposed to—I don’t know. I’m trying to think of some of the things I’ve had to market over the years where it’s like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Victoria: Yes, I think that was one of the things I learned quite early. My job with Gemkey didn’t last long because it got bombed not that long after. I think I was employed with them for eight months or so, and then I got laid off because the company was losing money. I ended up getting hired almost right away by National Jeweler, which at the time was close to a hundred-year-old publication. It’s still around, not in print form, but it’s around in digital form. It was founded, I believe, in 1906. It’s really an industry trade like JCK, one of the stalwarts of the business.
I got hired as their gemstone editor. I got to National Jeweler, and I realized the company—National Jeweler at the time was owned by a bigger corporation that owned lots of different publications, everything from the Hollywood Reporter to Billboard Magazine to a publication called Frozen Food News. I realized there are so many different niches in the world, and as a writer, I was grateful I didn’t slip into the frozen food world, but the music world is great. If you enter music via Billboard, what a great way to learn about music.
I happened to enter through the trade of jewelry, and that was a wonderful way to get down into the trenches of an industry that is quite esoteric, quite hard to penetrate, and it still is. All these years later, there’s still so much to learn about jewelry, but starting out through a trade was the key. When you’re a trade reporter, you get to talk to dealers; you go to tradeshows; you learn from a very ground-up level, as opposed to being an editor of Vogue, where you don’t get to see the real world. You spend your time in the limelight. You get to see all kinds of topical designers, but you don’t always get the nitty-gritty details, that insight into the supply chain and insight into how a gemstone might emerge from the ground and the steps it takes to become a beautiful jewel. That all came through the trade, so I was very grateful to have that experience and the years and years I spent going to the Tucson shows to research the world of gems, to Basle to speak to high-end jewelers in Europe. There were all kinds of events. I have had a very unique perspective on this trade and the world at large through the lens of jewelry.
Sharon: Do you find that writing about jewelry has its own language, in a sense? It’s like writing about sports. I couldn’t write about sports.
Victoria: Very much so. The lingo takes a long time to understand. People think of jewelry as a very superficial subject. I think people who don’t know about jewelry will perhaps think, “Well, it’s just a bauble. It’s just something you put on to sparkle, to add a little or to show off your status, whatever it is.” But there are so many layers to jewelry, and the way you talk about it gets ever more complicated the more you know.
There’s a whole language around diamonds and gemstones and the ways you describe color, not to mention all the ways you talk about the fabrication of jewelry. That’s always eluded me a bit. I’ve been to factories, and I’ve been to places where jewelry is made, and that still feels like a topic that’s difficult for me to access because I don’t have a brain to understand mechanics or engineering. When people are sitting there at the bench trying to tell me the steps of the process, I always get a bit lost. It does feel like a very complicated venture, but I have been fortunate enough to see a lot of that.
Sharon: No, I can understand. I was at some design show, and there was a jeweler talking about how much of jewelry is engineering. He was talking about getting the piece to balance, but it’s also when you’re talking about extrusions when a piece of jewelry is being manufactured.
So, you went into nonfiction. Was that something where you said, “I’m not a fiction writer”?
Victoria: Yeah, pretty much. I love fiction and I love poetry, but it never felt like a natural pursuit for me. I was always interested in telling stories, and the stories that really compelled me or held my attention were always nonfiction. I think we all know that truth is stranger than fiction. We’ve all had the epiphany many times throughout lives, I’m sure, where we realized that the stories in front of us are as compelling as anything made up.
My entrée into that world was initially through The Daily Bruin, which was a huge college newspaper at UCLA. I learned the basics of being a reporter and a journalist and hunting down sources and doing interviews, but at the same time I didn’t love the grind of a daily journalism beat. It was good training, but when I applied to Columbia, I specifically did not apply to the journalism school. I applied to the arts program, to the Master of Fine Arts program, and I was drawn to the writings of, say, a Joan Didion or a Tom Wolfe or polemicists or memoirists—a lot of fiction authors who write beautifully in nonfiction or have beautiful examples of nonfiction in their repertoires. I was drawn to the kind of writing that was true, that was honest, but that still held all the same elements of a good fiction tale. It had characters, dialogue, a plot.
I probably don’t do as much of that kind of writing as I hoped I would, or as much as I wish I could, because I’m making a living. I write journalism; I write stories, but in all the stories I write, I really try to spend a lot of time with the people who are my sources and get their stories. I really try to convey a sense of story, even if it’s a short piece that’s running in a newspaper. I do as best as I can in that limited word space with a storyline.
Sharon: Tell us about your job as editor. Are you pulling together all the departments, like you see on TV editorial meetings?
Victoria: It’s a little bittersweet, because JCK—for those of you who aren’t familiar, I’ll tell you a little bit about what that stands for, because it’s a mouthful. JCK goes back to 1869. It wasn’t always JCK, which, by the way, stands for Jewelers’ Circular Keystone. Jewelers’ Circular was a publication in the 30s that merged with another jewelry publication called Keystone. From then on, they were called Jewelers’ Circular Keystone, until the 70s when they shortened it to JCK. So, that’s what those three initials stand for, but initially, it goes back to 1869 in Maiden Lane, New York, where the fledging jewelry district was growing up. There were watchmakers and jewelers who needed a publication to help them source their materials, help them sell. Various publications formed around them, and they eventually merged and aligned. What we know as JCK today really comes out of Maiden Lane in the 1870s. It’s pretty stunning to think about.
I joined the magazine in 2010. I had moved back to Los Angeles after nearly a dozen years in New York because I was ready to move. I moved back in late 2009. I had lost my job with National Jeweler after the financial crisis, and that was fine. I had been there for eight years or so, so it was time to move back to California where I grew up. About six months after I landed back in L.A., I ended up getting asked by a friend of mine who was the publisher of JCK if I’d be willing to take a temporary job with JCK as their editor. They were looking for a new editor. They were looking for somebody in New York, but they needed somebody to get them over the hump of a few issues. I thought, “Great, this is a perfect bridge job as I find my footing back in L.A.”
Well, as it turns out, it was not that hard to manage a publication from L.A. because I knew the industry. I had my contacts. I even knew my colleagues because I had worked with them. They were editors at JCK, but I had met them many years ago, as I was one of their cohorts in the jewelry media space. So, I knew the people I was working with. After six months or so, everybody thought, “Hey, this is actually going pretty well,” so they brought me on full time. Luckily, I had an apartment in Brooklyn Heights that I had sublet out and hadn’t gotten rid of, so I was able to come back to New York once a month for about a week. For about six years, I was truly bicoastal, from 2010 to about 2016.
In that time, JCK continued to be—its tagline is “the industry authority.” It’s been reporting on this business for so long, and it was exciting. At first, we started out with 10 print issues a year. We had contributors; we had staff writers; we had a whole publishing team. Slowly over the years, that print frequency has shrunk. It became seven issues a year. Then it shrunk down to four print issues a year; mind you, with a robust website and a very strong daily news presence online, but print has always continued to shrink in this environment. As of this year, we went down to one print issue a year. That harried newsroom where people are running around and there are photoshoots happening, that did happen and still does happen, but just not to the frequency and level that you might imagine of a busy magazine publishing schedule.
The good thing is that we’re published by a company called Advanced Local that is based at One World Trade Center in New York. Of course, nobody’s been in the office for a good long while now, but when we are in the office, it’s the same parent company, Condé Nast, so we use the same studios to do our photography. We rely on the same talent in terms of photographers and stylists that Vogue and GQ do. So, we have a really good team of people. They’re not directly staffed. They’re not members of the JCK staff, but they are people that are available to us.
We have a wonderful creative director, again, somebody who’s a freelancer, but works with top magazines, a wonderful photo editor. When we do get back to being in the office, I’ll certainly fly out to New York and partake, or at least be a witness to the photoshoots we do for our covers and our jewelry still lifes. But the hectic, frenzied nature of that has certainly calmed down. We do have, like I said, a robust online presence. We have a well-known news director named Rob Bates. He’s covered the world of diamonds and jewelry news for 23 years, coming on 30, I think. We’re staffed by some of the best in the business, but it definitely is a small, very scrappy operation.
Sharon: So, during Covid, you’ve been doing this through Zoom, I take it.
Victoria: Yeah, everything is through Zoom. We managed to get a bunch of photoshoots in right at the very beginning of March of 2020 that luckily saved us in terms of what we could produce through 2020. Then we did a photoshoot in May. There was that lull where things were looking pretty promising before the Delta variant, so we were able to do a photoshoot then. Like I said, now we’re looking to 2022.
We have a big issue coming out. It always comes out on the eve of the JCK Show. The JCK Show is the big Las Vegas tradeshow. It shares our name. I don’t want to get too complicated with this, but the show was founded in 1992 as a spinoff from the magazine. The magazine existed for all these decades, and the team involved thought, “Hey, isn’t it time we use our clout in the industry to form a tradeshow?” And so they began this tradeshow in Las Vegas that then grew to be such a big presence in such an important industry meeting place that the tradeshow ended up being bought by different exhibition companies, and it eventually landed with Reed Exhibitions, which is a big company headquartered in the U.K. with U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. They run a lot of tradeshows and exhibitions, and they ended up buying the magazine and then hiring a different company to publish it. That may be more than your listeners want to hear. It’s kind of complicated, but the point is we are related to JCK, this big tradeshow, but we’re also an independent editorial voice, so we aren’t bound to only write about JCK.
Sharon: That’s interesting. What about Couture, which is part of the JCK Show, isn’t it?
Victoria: It’s a separate company. In fact, National Jeweler, when I worked there, was owned by the company that—it’s gone through many iterations. The company that runs Couture is called Emerald Exhibitions, and they’re headquartered in New York. That was the company that owned National Jeweler at some point. There’s a lot of overlapping relationships in this world. Couture and JCK are separate companies, separate entities, but they happen at the same time in Las Vegas to make it easy for members of the jewelry industry to shop the shows.
There are different points of view. Couture is very much focused on couture-level, high-end designer jewelry. JCK has that, but it also has everything else you might imagine, everything from packing to loose diamonds, loose gemstones, dealers from Hong Kong, Turkey, China when the Chinese are able to visit. JCK is much more a mass marketplace for the entire industry, and Couture is much more focused on high-end design. They’re complementary and I love going to both.