Episode 142 Part 2: 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 back to the program.
Sharon: I have to ask you, why Las Vegas in July or in June? It’s hot then.
Victoria: You know it’s hot. It was this year that it was actually pushed back to August, which was so much hotter. It was hard to even fathom. I think the timing is such because it works well for the majors, the majors being the signets and the chain jewelers who really need to plan out their holiday buying much earlier than your average small boutique owner. A lot of it has to do with the schedule that makes sense for the industry. It’s Vegas because it’s hard to imagine another city that is appropriate for a giant tradeshow—
Sharon: That’s true.
Victoria: That’s easy to get, that has ample hotel room space. There are certainly smaller conferences that have been around the country. The American Gem Society has its annual conclave in a different city every year, but it’s much, much smaller. It’s convenience and ease of access, and I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t love Vegas, but it does feel like my year is incomplete without my week at JCK. I’ve been going since 2000, so it’s hard to imagine a year without it.
Sharon: How far in advance are you planning your publications? Are you thinking about the December issue in August?
Victoria: Well, if we had a December issue, yes.
Sharon: If it was an issue online?
Victoria: Online we can pull together pretty quickly. If it’s a big feature, we like to plan it at least a month in advance, but so much of online is responding to what’s happening in the world. Especially with the pandemic, it was really hard to plan because, as did everybody, we hit those walls where we thought, “This may not be relevant in a month.” Things were so changeable and volatile.
Online has a much different pace, but in terms of the print issue, we’ll start planning the issue that heads out the door on the eve of JCK Vegas 2022. It’ll probably go out in late May, and we’ll probably start thinking about that in January in terms of big picture ideas. Just this morning, I was asked to give a sketch of content for a section on colored stones. It’s hard to do that really early. You want to be timely. You want to be thoughtful about what people are thinking and what’s happening the world.
Especially if an issue’s coming out in the spring, I feel like after the holiday makes the most sense, because the holiday in the jewelry industry, as you can imagine or know, is everything. It’s still the bulk of sales. The bulk of news comes out of this fourth quarter. To plan content without knowing how the holidays have gone is going to miss the mark, unless you’re planning something general and vague. So, I like to wait until early January to start thinking about what makes sense and what people are talking about, what the news is.
Sharon: In terms of the holidays, since they’re around the corner right now, you must have some features that are holiday-related that you think about early on, maybe in September or August.
Victoria: We do. If it’s not about the holiday, it’s about what people might start thinking about for the holiday. We do a lot of trend coverage on JCK, a lot of specific trend coverage, whether it be men’s jewelry or something else. I’m actually working on a series of special report newsletters that go out every Monday in November all around the men’s jewelry theme. We’ve covered colored stones, pearls, bridal. We tackle everything with a slight angle towards the holiday, questions like: Is this worth stocking? What are the trends? What kinds of things might retailers keep in mind as they prepare?
JCK is very much a style and trend publication, but it’s also a business publication for people who happen to own jewelry businesses. We do a lot of marketing coverage, technology, social media apps that people need to know that might make them more efficient in their business. You could take jewelry out of a lot of what we cover and put in another field, whether it’s fashion or home good or anything, and it might apply in terms of the strategies people might want to use to target customers, what they need to know. We try to cover it from all facets. It’s always been a publication for businessowners in the jewelry space, so there’s a lot of general business information we try to make sure our readers are aware of.
Sharon: If you’re looking at trends, I’m thinking about the non-jewelry person that would go to Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar or something like that—I’m dating myself, I realize—who can go online. I still think in terms of putting it online, like everybody else. Tell us about men’s jewelry. Are men wearing more jewelry than before?
Victoria: Yes, they really are. It’s funny, because I’ve been 20 years covering jewelry, and every four or five years, I’m either asked to or I initiate a story about the men’s jewelry renaissance. There’s always been something to say over the last 20 years. I do a lot of freelance writing for the New York Times. I did a piece for the Times about seven years ago, and there was a lot to say. There were a lot of jewelers introducing new men’s collections and different takes on the subject, but no time has felt quite as relevant to that topic as now.
I think if you look to some of the most famous pop artists we see today, whether it’s Harry Styles or Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, any of these pop culture personalities, they are draped in jewelry, and not just any jewelry. A lot of them are draped in pearls, which for many of us are the most feminine gem around. There is this great, very interesting conversation about genderless or gender agnosticism in jewelry. Should we even define jewelry as a men’s piece versus a woman’s piece? Why not just make jewelry? Maybe it’s a little more masculine/minimalist. Maybe it’s a little more feminine/elaborate or diamond-set, but let it appeal to who it appeals to. Why do you need to tell people who it’s for? It’s a conversation.
I also write about watches quite a bit, and it’s a conversation the watch world is grappling with, more so this year than any other year. Do we need to tell women that this is a “lady’s watch”? Why don’t we just market a watch, whether it, again, has feminine design codes or masculine design codes. Let whoever is interested in it buy it. We don’t need to tell people what categories they are allowed to be interested in. It’s been a very interesting conversation. I think fashion is embroiled in this conversation too, and it’s been exciting to see.
When I talk about men’s jewelry, I think what happens is that much of the industry still needs these categories because at retail, for example, a retailer might get a bunch of jewelry and they need to know how to merchandise or how to display it. For those kinds of problems, you still want to say, “O.K., well, this is my men’s showcase,” but I think slowly things are changing. I don’t know if in five years or 10 years, we’ll even need those topics anymore. I think we’ll just have a showcase of jewels. Again, they might be more minimalist or plainer, and they might appeal to men or women or people who consider themselves nonbinary.
Sharon: That’s interesting, especially with watches, because when women wear men’s watches, that’s a fashion statement today.
Victoria: Very much so. I did a huge piece on female collectors for the Times in early 2020, and all of them wore men’s pieces and felt a little grieved that they were being told what a woman’s watch is. A woman’s watch is a watch worn by a woman; that’s it. I think the same might be true for jewelry. A men’s jewel is a jewel worn by a man and so on. It’s been an interesting thing to see evolve, and certainly there’s a lot of momentum behind it. I think we’ll slowly see these categories dissolve.
Sharon: There’s a lot. I haven’t seen men wearing brooches. Some of what you’re talking about, to me, still has a way to go.
Victoria: A lot of it is being driven by Gen Z, Millennials, younger generations who look to their style icons like Harry Styles, as I mentioned. They’re draped in a feather boa and necklaces. As that generation comes up they’re going to age, and they’re eventually going to be 30 or 40 and they’ll be quite comfortable with jewelry because, 20 years later, they’ve been wearing it all these decades. But yeah, today, if you ask your average guy if he’s going to wear a pearl necklace, I’m sure the answer’s no, but I think these things do change. They change quicker than we expect them to. It’s so much of what we see and what seems O.K. A lot of men might want to do that or might think they would look good in a pearl necklace.
I keep coming back to it because pearls are, again, the most feminine of gems, at least in terms of the lore we talk about, how we talk about them. Yet you see them on people like the Jonas Brothers or, for that matter, big, beautiful, iced-out Cuban chains. You see those on rappers or on hip hop stars. There is this communication out in the world where if you’re just a regular guy and you’re cruising through your Instagram and seeing these images, it all says to you, “This is O.K. This is right. Go for it if you’re feeling it.” I think there is a lot more leeway in today’s society to express yourself the way you want to. I think it’s wonderful. It’s quite exciting to see those barriers break down and have these conversations. It’s been cool to write about.
Sharon: It would be interesting to have this conversation in 20 years. You reminded me of a conversation I had recently with an antique jewelry dealer about cufflinks. I said to her, “Cufflinks? Who wears cufflinks? I’m in Los Angeles.” Well, you’re in Los Angeles too. Even the most staid businessperson, you don’t see him with a cufflink, ever. I don’t know.
Victoria: Maybe about a month ago, my boyfriend and I were invited to the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which just opened in September in the heart of Miracle, right next to LACMA. It was a big gala affair sponsored by Rolex, which is a huge supporter of the Academy and the Oscars and now the museum. It was wonderful; it was like a little Oscars event, except it wasn’t televised. It was black-tie glamor. Hollywood glamor was the theme, so my boyfriend rented a tux; he doesn’t own one, of course, because we’re in L.A. and it’s a pandemic. Who needs a tux? But he got a tux, and I was gutted that I didn’t have cufflinks for him or that he didn’t have his own. He rented some, I think; he had a few shirt studs he was able to get from the rental place, but it was the first time. I thought, “Oh my God, cufflinks!” and we had a wonderful time. It was really exciting to be back in the world in such a fabulous way. It really felt special.
Sharon: I didn’t realize it had opened. I was at LACMA, the L.A. County Museum of Art, this weekend and there was a big crowd around the Academy Museum, but I didn’t realize it had opened. My antique jewelry dealer friend was also saying that she has collectors who collect antique cufflinks. I thought, “That’s interesting.” I didn’t know that was a collector’s item in some circles, I guess.
Victoria: Yeah, when I think about it, there are a lot of great ones in London. If you ever go through Mayfair or Old Bond Street and you find those antique dealers there—there’s Deakin & Francis, an old U.K. firm that specializes in cufflinks. I’ve never owned any, but now that we’re talking about it, I feel I need to buy my partner some.
Sharon: I stopped buying my husband them 20 years ago when they just sat on his dresser not worn. I said, “O.K., I tried.” You’re a traveler. You’ve been to how many countries?
Victoria: I lose track. It depends a little on how you count countries. I think I’ve counted Macao separately from China, even though it’s a special administrative region of Hong Kong. Somewhere around 60. It might be about 61 or 62. A lot of countries I’ve been to—I mean, I’ve been to Switzerland at least 20 times, Brazil five times, Russia four times. I keep going back to places even though it’s always very exciting to take another country off my list. As I mentioned earlier, I was a backpacker after college. My first trip was to Central America with some girlfriends with backpacks on. We took off for three months. We went to Costa Rica and Panama and Venezuela, and I ended up in the Caribbean for a couple of weeks.
I had already started a little bit of traveling. Initially, we came from Russia as a kid. I think when we left Russia in late 1978 as part of the exodus of Soviet Jews from the Soviet Union, we were allowed to seek asylum in the States. We took this journey via Vienna and then Rome and ended up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, of all places, because that’s where we had an invitation. We had to have a formal invitation because we were political refugees.
I think very early on, even though it was never articulated to me—it was something I felt in my bones—I thought that travel was a way to lead a better life. It was a road to a better life, as it was for us. Early on that knowledge imprinted on me, on my soul. In high school, I started saving money to go to an exchange program in Spain. That was my first real trip outside—I’d gone to Mexico with my family, but I had never traveled outside of that. So, I had the bug. After college, I was always interested in slightly more offbeat places.
One of my favorite places in the whole world—and I dream about going back all time—is India. I love places that still feel like they’re not discovered. Clearly, India’s very discovered, but it’s not as easy to travel there as it might be to go to Europe. I love Europe and Paris and London as much as the next person, but there’s always something that feels a little easy in those spots. I love Southeast Asia. I went to Vietnam in the 90s a couple of times. I loved it. I love Malaysia. I love the food there. I love the smells and the culture. I love things that feel different. India couldn’t be more different than our lives. A lot of the same people go between the two, between L.A. and India, for example, and you’ll find a lot of creature comforts in places like Mumbai. The culture and the heritage and the history, the way of life and the way people look at life is so, so different, and I’m really drawn to that. I like going places that test me a little bit.
Sharon: How do your jewelry and travel intersect? I’m sure you’re traveling to the shows like Basle. India must be a great place for jewels. I don’t know about the shows there.
Victoria: My first trip to India was for a show. There’s a famous show—famous, I guess, depending on the circles you move in—in Mumbai called the India International Jewelry Show. That was my first reason to get to India in 2004. I ended up going back to do some reports on the diamond trade there. Mumbai is a real hub of diamonds, so I was going back to do research and then Jaipur in the north. Rajasthan is famous for its colored-stone industry. There are tons of colored-stone dealers and cutters and jewelers there, including the very famous Gem Palace, which I visited a couple of times.
My most recent trip to India was in 2017 to Jaipur to attend a conference on colored stones. It happened to intersect with a fair I had always wanted to go to called the Pushkar Camel Fair. Nothing to do with jewelry, although of course you see lots of jewelry in India. Jewelry’s a ubiquitous thing there. When I went to this conference in Jaipur, my partner ended up meeting me. We spent a few days in Jaipur together, went down to Udaipur, which is a wonderful town in the south of Rajasthan, just stunning in terms of its history and heritage and hotels and palaces. Then we finished off in Pushkar, also in Rajasthan, at this camel fair. My entrée was for jewelry, but I try to explore as much as I can around it.
India’s just remarkable. I’m very pleased that jewelry has such a natural and obvious connection to India because anytime I can have a work trip, take me there. Then if I can add on to it, I do. My son is only three—he’s not even three; he’s three in November, but I’m thinking, “How old does he have to be to go to India? What is too young to take a young, little guy to India?” Maybe when he’s seven, hopefully.
Sharon: That’s an interesting question. It could be three. There are people who are 33 who won’t go because they’re too afraid. It’s on my list, but you’re so adventurous.
Victoria: I wouldn’t have pegged myself as the adventurous sort, at least not in high school. I was very type A. I was student body president. I was a cheerleader. I was very on track at least to go to college and who knows what after that, but I never really thought of myself as a risktaker and an adventure seeker. After spending time in Southeast Asia—I went to backpack there in the 90s, through Vietnam and Cambodia and Malaysia and Singapore—it just settled in my bones. I wanted more and more and more. Those places feel adventurous, but once you get there, they’re not as challenging—well, they are challenging in that there’s a lot of poverty; the heat is oppressive; it’s hard sometimes to figure out your way around if the signage isn’t clear and you don’t speak the language, but I genuinely feel like the world is full of very good people. Maybe a few bad apples in there, but most people are very kind. So, it’s easier than it seems.
Sharon: Do you think if somebody is a jewelry designer or looking at the field or profession, that travel would inform what they do?
Victoria: Oh, 100 percent yes. There are some jewelers who very much look to other cultures or travel. I think of Lydia Courteille, who’s a Parisian jeweler who does insanely elaborate, beautiful gem-set pieces usually after a trip somewhere. She’s done pieces based on the Mayan heritage. I believe she traveled to Guatemala. She’s done pieces based on myths from Russia and India, and a lot of her collections really are inspired by travel she’s taken.
There’s another jeweler who’s part Mexican, part French, named Colette. She has incredible jewels, a lot of them takes on various places she’s visited. I think if I were a jeweler, I would certainly use travel as a jumping-off point to create a collection. I can’t think of anything more evocative than a jewel that reminds you of a place you’ve been or the color of the ocean. A lot of people go to Greece and create a beautiful blue jewel that reminds them of the Aegean. Why not?
Sharon: I’m thinking of Thierry Vendome, where he goes and finds rusted pieces on his travels and then he’ll come back and incorporate them. One piece had a grenade—
Victoria: An exploded grenade.
Sharon: An exploded grenade, yeah. Tell us who we should keep our eyes on, the top three you think of we should keep our eyes on.
Victoria: I just wrote about a jeweler that I only saw in person recently in Las Vegas at the Couture show, but I had Zoomed with them. They are Mumbai-based. It’s a company called Studio Renn. It’s a husband and wife named Rahul and Roshni Jhaveri, and they create jewelry for art lovers that really does live at the intersection between art and jewelry, philosophy, design. Sometimes you have to talk to them to hear the inspiration, but for example, one of them—they had stumbled across an object on a walk around Lake Tansa, which is a lake on the outskirts of Mumbai. There was this conversation they had about what it means to give something attention. Does that put value on the piece? And for them, it was this exploration of the meaning of value. They took this piece that was an organic object. They didn’t tell me what it was. They cast it. They 3D scanned the whole thing and then encased it in precious metal, put rubies inside it in a way that you could only see them if you shone a light on the piece. There was this written source of very layered, complicated but also beautiful jewelry. They’re just very interesting. They’re really thoughtful.
Sharon: How do you spell Renn?
Sharon: I have to say it’s the second time this week that somebody has mentioned them as somebody to keep your eye on.
Victoria: Yeah, I was thrilled to speak to them, and I ended up doing a piece for the New York Times on them. An Up Next Profile is what the column is called, because even though they’ve been around for a few years and they’re not brand new, they’re obviously new to people in the States. They are exploring this market. They worked a tour for the first time. They’re really lovely and interesting and do beautiful work.
Another jeweler that’s gotten a ton of attention—I know her pretty well personally. She is a client of a very good friend of mine. Her name is Lauren Harwell Godfrey, and her collection is called Harwell Godfrey. She’s gotten a ton of attention over the last year. In fact, I just saw that she was nominated for a GEM Award, which is like the Oscars of the jewelry industry. The ceremony takes place in January in New York. She was nominated in the design category. Really fantastic use of color, lots of interesting motifs that feel very signature to her, lots of geometric work. We ended up commissioning a piece for my mom for her 75th birthday that my dad gifted to her this last summer. it wasn’t a super bespoke piece, but there were bespoke elements to it. It was by Harwell Godfrey. She’s a really lovely woman, super-talented designer based in Marin in Northern California.
I’ll name one more. He’s a really interesting guy. He does a ton of work with AI, artificial intelligence, in a way that scares a lot of people that are used to jewelry as this handmade, soulful object. His point is that there’s no less soul in it, even though a computer helped to generate an algorithm that created a pattern that he inputs into this machine. His name is Nick Koss. His company is called Volund Jewelry. He’s based in Canada and has a very interesting background that I cannot even attempt to encapsulate because it’s rich and complicated, but he does really interesting jewelry. A lot of it is using 3D modelling software, AI, but in a thoughtful way. Again, there is lots of meaning baked into the way he sees things. He could talk about it very intelligently. He does custom work. You can go down a real rabbit hole with him. Check him out on Instagram. It’s V-o-l-u-n-d.
I have a soft spot for one jeweler because I wrote a whole book on them that was published by Assouline probably six or seven years ago. It’s a company called Lotus Arts de Vivre. They’re based in Bangkok. They’ve been around since the early 80s, I want to say. It’s a real family business. The patriarch is originally from Germany. He moved to Bangkok in the 60s and fell in love with a woman who had been born in Thailand but was the product of many years of intermarriage. Her grandfather was a Scottish captain who fell in love with a tribeswoman from north Thailand. Her other grandfather was an Englishman who married a woman from Malaysia. So, she was the distillation of generations of inner marriage between European and Asian backgrounds. They have this huge compound in Bangkok, and they have two sons that now help run the business.
They do extraordinary objects in jewelry. They started out as jewelers, but they do everything from home goods to accessories for people’s cars. They use a lot of natural materials in addition to the finest gemstones. They use Golconda diamonds or emeralds from the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan combined with snakeskin and buffalo horn and different woods. They’re huge on different exotic woods from across southeast Asia. They find the finest craftspeople across Asia, whether it’s lacquer artists from China or Japan to carvers from Indonesia. They will employ those crafts in their work, and it’s just stunning.
They used to be with Bergdorf Goodman for many, many years. They are still available in the States. In fact, they won at the recent Couture show for some of their work. So, they’re still here and they’re everywhere. They have boutiques in different hotels, especially in Asia, like the Peninsula in Hong Kong or Raffles in Singapore. They have a presence, but they’re not as well known, I would say, in the States.
Sharon: I’ll check them out, especially if you wrote a whole book about them.
Victoria: The family is beyond interesting. It’s the von Bueren family. He’s a raconteur, somebody who you could listen to for hours. He’s very, very interesting and has seen a lot, and their clients are very interesting. They appeal to a lot of high-society people across Asia, so they have these events. They have a space, a showroom, at their factory in Bangkok right on the river, and they host these soirées that are just magnificent.
Sharon: Wow! I’m sure you know all the ins and outs. You can go down a long list of jewelers and manufacturers. You could tell me about all of them. Victoria, thank you so much for being here today. This is so interesting. I’m sure our audience will enjoy hearing what you have to say about JCK since it is such a stalwart. Thank you very much.
Victoria: Thank you, Sharon. This is lovely. Thank you for giving me such an opportunity to talk about myself.
Sharon: So glad to have you.
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