Last year’s inaugural NYC Jewelry Week was a huge success, with more than 10,000 attendees. This year promises to be even bigger and better, with more programming and a new focus on diversity. Founders Bella Neyman and JB Jones joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to reflect on the 2018 event and to offer a sneak peek of what to expect in year two and beyond. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, it’s my pleasure to talk with Bella Neyman and JB Jones, the two powerhouses behind the first NYC Jewelry Week, which took place in November 2018. Right now, they are in the throes of finalizing the pieces of this year’s NYC Jewelry Week, which is going to take place next month. Today, they’ll tell us what we can look forward to for this year. Bella and JB, it’s great to have you here again.
Bella: Thank you so much, great to be here.
Sharon: Can you each give us a brief summary of your jewelry journey? Did you always like jewelry, or is it something new that you came to?
Bella: I think I’ve always loved jewelry, but I started to love it even more after planning NYC Jewelry Week. Do you want me to talk about my jewelry journey? Well, my journey actually started after graduate school. I was working for a gallery called Primavera Gallery. They’re based in Chelsea. They’ve been in New York for about 45 years now, and they sell some of the best vintage and period jewelry.
Sharon: Yes, it’s quite a name, Primavera. It’s very well-known and has beautiful things. JB, how did you come to jewelry?
JB: Really, Bella is the one who brought me into jewelry. I’ve always loved jewelry. I remember when I was a little girl always wearing my grandmother’s costume jewelry whenever I could sneak into her jewelry box, but really Bella’s the one who introduced me to it as a career option, and now here we are.
Sharon: And the first year was fabulous. So, what led you to start NYC Jewelry Week? It’s such a huge undertaking. What gave you the idea, and how did you hook up together in terms of putting it together?
Bella: NYC Jewelry Week came—we started working on it about three years ago, almost a year before it happened—really because I was a curator. I was running this gallery in New York called the Gallery of Reinstein Ross. I was very interested in contemporary jewelry and I’m on the board of the Art Jewelry Forum. I was traveling quite extensively to Munich for Jewelry Week there, and then one year I was invited to go to Hawaii and to speak at the conference in Barcelona, and then it coincided with Paris Jewelry Week. I sort of made my rounds and realized—I was having a conversation with someone, explaining that I was in Paris for Jewelry Week, and they were really curious about it. I started thinking about all the conversations I’ve had with people outside the industry every time I travel to these Jewelry Weeks, and speaking to people who were so puzzled that there’s a Jewelry Week in their city because they didn’t even know about it. That made me think, how do we get people outside of the industry to know about jewelry in a much bigger, broader way, the way that I do? Also, because I was running this gallery, I had a lot of people coming to see the shows I was doing and asking me where they could go see jewelry in New York. It was the combination of these things, traveling to the other Jewelry Weeks around the world, and also working in this gallery and meeting all these people who were interested in learning more about jewelry.
JB and I had been looking for a project to collaborate on for a long time. We had curated an exhibition together. We were already working together at this gallery, so after coming back from that trip to Hawaii, Barcelona and Paris, I thought, “This is what we need to do. We really need to start a Jewelry Week in New York.” Our week—and I call it our because as JB refers to it, this is our baby—is a unique thing. It’s all jewelry, so it’s not just contemporary jewelry. It’s not the jewelry I was showing in the gallery. This is a very democratic week that’s about fine jewelry, contemporary jewelry, estate jewelry, all the different types of jewelry that we love and see people wearing and embracing in this city.
Sharon: I doubt that you’re the first people to have had the idea, “We should have a New York City Jewelry Week,” but you’re the first people to get it off the ground. What motivated you to actually pick it up and run with it?
Bella: I think JB and I are really passionate, curious individuals and we felt a kinship with the industry. A lot of our friends are jewelers, and JB and I are also—if you see us, you’ll see that we like things that are outside the norm. We support independent designers, and we feel an affinity for people who are trying to start their own businesses and who are passionate about what they’re doing. So we wanted to create a week that supported them and gave them a voice. And you’re right. I’m sure we’re not the first ones to have this idea. I think if we knew how much work went into creating something like this, maybe we would have walked away from it, but now it’s too late. We started talking to people in New York who were curators and jewelers and educators and asking them whether they thought this was something the city needed and whether they felt as passionate about it as we did, so that’s how it happened.
Sharon: It is really amazing, and I have this image of you picking up this huge pile of things and saying, “O.K., we’re going to do it.” It’s a huge amount of work.
Bella: I have to be honest with you, when JB and I started this last year, we didn’t know what it was going to become. Last year, when we did this podcast with you, I think we said we could have made it big or small, and if we had 20 events or 50 events, it would have been great. For us, it’s not about the quantity; it’s about the quality. But we ended up getting really great partners and people. As JB and I walked around, as we were spreading the gospel of Jewelry Week and getting people excited, people wanted to sign up and become a part of it, and that’s how it really grew.
The lovely thing about this year is that we were able to not only build on the relationships that we started last year, but we were also able to, because of last year’s success—we had 123 events, and everybody really enjoyed it and came out and supported. We had 10,000 visitors to the week as a whole, and because it was so successful last year, the people who were involved last year are back again. Also this year we’re doing something a little bit different—and I’ll let JB talk about that—where, not only do we want our partners to use us as a platform to tell their stories, but we also see Jewelry Week being a platform for change that allows us to create programs that are important to the industry based on our conversations over the last two years. I’ll let JB talk about that programming if you’re O.K. with that, Sharon.
Sharon: JB, please.
JB: As we had these conversations, as Bella mentioned, we realized there were things that needed to be addressed in the industry that could use some pushing forward. Certainly, we realized the power of the platform that we had and that we could be more than just a way to engage and educate consumers, but really help shape the future of the industry. There are three things that are really important to us. One is sustaining the industry in New York City; the other is creating opportunities for diversity and inclusion within the jewelry industry as a whole, and not just within New York, but in the jewelry industry across the United States. The last one is creating a connection between consumers and sustainable and ethical practices in jewelry making. Those are the three things that have driven us this year to start new programs within the week that are created by us. Last year, we didn’t create new programs; we were strictly a platform of other events. This year, we’ve created three days within the week, one devoted to each of those topics. We’re really excited.
Sharon: That’s really great.
JB: We’re excited to see how it’s received and watch it grow. Everyone who’s a part of these days is excited. We’ve tried to be very open to collaboration and do outreach into other fields beyond jewelry-oriented design, to art and to fashion, to open up these conversations and allow the jewelry industry to have more exposure.
Sharon: That’s fabulous! After Jewelry Week was over last year, did you know immediately that you were ready to do it again? Were you like, “O.K., let’s get ready for the next one,” or was it “Thank god that’s over”?
JB: We crashed for about two months. We were excited at the success. We were exhausted and overwhelmed in a great way that the reception to the week was great. The turnout, as Bella mentioned, 10,000 people was exceptional. I think we were very, very tired, but certainly excited.
As we’ve gone through developing this year, I think we’re in a much better place to begin to understand what Jewelry Week can be. Certainly this year, I would say, was just as challenging if not more so than last year. Last year, as Bella said, we didn’t quite know what we were getting into. This year, we’re trying to shape the conversation a little bit more and understand what our partners need and how we can support that, but also how we can sustain Jewelry Week itself as a business, and how we can make a difference not just during one week, but throughout the year. I think after this second year, we’ll be able to go into year three with a strong agenda where Jewelry Week will go in the future. This year all eyes are on us and we have to really bring it, as they say.
Sharon: You’ve set yourself a high bar. What are the dates of Jewelry Week this year? It’s the week of the 18th?
Bella: It’s November 18th through the 24th, but there will be some programs that will start before. That weekend, the 16th and 17th, there will be some soft launches, but the week really kicks off on Monday, November 18th.
Sharon: Was it an easier sell this year when you were looking for sponsors or speakers, because they knew a little bit from last year?
Bella: Yes and no. Overall yes, the people who participated last year, they were absolutely happy to come back and do things. With sponsorship—we had sponsors reach out to us, which was also nice. We didn’t have to go after everyone, because they had either attended an event last year or they had heard about us. Also, we had some sponsors this year—one of our biggest sponsors was a company, I won’t name who, but we had started the conversation with them last year. The head of marketing was working at one company, and we were trying to get a sponsorship from them last year. It didn’t work out, but this year she’s working at another company, and they signed on as one of our sponsors. So it’s definitely easier in that sense, yes, but it’s only year two, so it’s not super easy yet. Not everybody has heard about us, so it’s both. It’s been easier in some regards and harder in others, if that makes sense.
Sharon: I think it does. What are some of the highlights? I’m sure everything is a highlight, but there must be some that you—
JB: That’s true. Everything is a highlight. New York is really the heart of Jewelry Week, but we did some outreach this year to try to bring in programming outside of New York. We have a great program led by Kyle Roderick, who recently released a book called “Bejeweled,” which is about sustainable jewelry. She’s coming in from New York, and she’s bringing a designer from London to be a part of a panel. We have a more international presence this year that I’m really excited about. Bella’s really the one who helps build out the independent jewelry shows that come on board, but we have some really exciting independent jewelers bringing exhibitions this year. I’ll let Bella tell you more about that, but that’s also super exciting, to see what’s new and what’s next.
Bella: What’s also wonderful about this week is that in addition to the individual exhibitions, people are starting to look to Jewelry Week as an opportunity to launch their exhibitions or their artists or their collections. And for a lot of galleries, because rent in New York is so incredibly expensive, they can’t sustain a business; they can’t be here, but during Jewelry Week, we have about half a dozen galleries renting pop-up spaces in New York. I think that’s exciting because for this one week, they become a presence in the jewelry world.
For example, we have Umbra Gallery from Cincinnati; Heidi Hope from Beads Delaware; Noël Guyomarc’h coming from Montreal; we have Mobilia coming from Cambridge, Mass; we have Sienna Patti from Lenox, Mass doing a show; we have Charon Kransen, who’s in New York but is by appointment only. He has a pop-up space. We have a gallery coming from Chicago, 2052. To have that concentration of galleries, for any collector or jewelry enthusiast is huge.
To JB’s point, we have a lot of independent shows coming. Some of them were first on view in Munich and they’re being brought to New York. Other jewelers have homes in the top design galleries in New York, but we also have places that don’t normally show contemporary jewelry showing artists that are new to their programs, showing them during the week. There’s a feeling of new and innovative, and this diversity marketplace that JB has been working on is going to be incredible. To have one venue in the city where you can see so many diverse voices doing work that you would normally not get an opportunity to see, all in one place is really fun. It’s paramount to the industry and to the city.
Sharon: To have all those galleries coming from everywhere else, I hope this grows into U.S. Jewelry Week so we’re not forgotten out here. We could really use something of this sort.
Bella: Do you mean U.S. Jewelry Week, where we have a lot of American artists showing?
Sharon: Maybe eventually there will be events on the West Coast, too, that have lots of jewelry.
Bella: Well, one can hope. We have ideas about how to grow Jewelry Week, but for right now, we’re pretty focused on New York.
Sharon: It sounds fabulous.
Bella: In terms of American work, that’s been really important to us, too. JB and I made an effort to make sure that while this week is international in scope, we are showing American work because that’s very important, and that is something that’s very much lacking when you go to Europe for the other Jewelry Weeks. JB found this wonderful space for two artists, Lynn Batchelder and Benjamin Kellogg, to do an exhibition here in New York, which is going to be incredible. We have a lot of schools coming, so Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has rented a pop-up space and showing the work of their students and alumni. Cranbrook and RISD are showing; Pratt is showing. Those are just off the top of my head.
Sharon: I just want to stop and go back for a minute because I know a lot of people might not know—SCAD being the Savannah College of Art and Design?
Sharon: O.K., and RISD being Rhode Island School of Design?
Sharon: And Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, is it?
Sharon: Wow, that’s really exciting. Where can we find out more? Where is the schedule?
Bella: The schedule will be on our website, nycjewelryweek.com. We’ll start releasing information tomorrow, which is—I don’t know when this will air, but I would imagine that by the time this airs, you will already be able to go on our website. Also, our Instagram is huge. Please follow us on Instagram. JB, are there any other ways to find out?
JB: I was just going to say, as far as Instagram, this year we’re trying to be very mindful of creating programming specifically on Instagram to share with people who can’t come to Jewelry Week in real life. Please do follow us on Instagram for behind-the-scenes access and different interviews that will only be housed on our Instagram.
Sharon: That sounds great. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get there, but I certainly will be following you. Bella and JB, thank you so much for being here. To everybody listening, we’ll have their contact information, along with New York City Jewelry Week contact information and where to get more information about it in the show notes at the JewelryJourney.com.
That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest or guests giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.
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