There’s no doubt that the inaugural New York City Jewelry Week was a huge success. Now the question is: what’s in store for next year? Founders Bella Neyman and JB Jones joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to talk with host Sharon Berman about the planning process and to share a sneak peek of NYC Jewelry Week 2019. 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 inaugural New York City Jewelry Week last November. They’ll tell us how they put a smashingly successful week together and what we can look forward to next year. Bella and JB, it’s great to have you here.
Bella: Thank you so much for having us.
Sharon: Congratulations on what was such a fabulous week. It was so impressive. You both have different backgrounds. Can you each tell us about yourselves and how you came together for this?
Bella: Sure, JB, should I go first?
Bella: So, my background is that I’m a curator and a writer. I actually received my master’s degree in decorative arts and design history, so I didn’t initially set out to focus on jewelry per se. I sort of fell into it, and I fell in love with contemporary jewelry and really structured my career—even when I wasn’t working in contemporary jewelry—to focus on it. As these things happen, you sort of create projects for yourself to get yourself further along and then finally I landed a job running a contemporary jewelry gallery in New York, the only contemporary jewelry gallery in New York, and I loved it. I was able to curate about eight exhibitions a year, on the average, and I was looking to do something a bit different in the gallery.
My goal has always been to get as much visibility as possible for contemporary jewelry to reach a new and wider audience. I had this idea to do an exhibition that teamed up street artists with jewelers because I was personally also interested in street art, and while I had the knowledge and the connections in the jewelry industry, I didn’t feel as comfortable in the street arts. I knew that I wanted help to curate the exhibit with someone. JB and I had done some smaller projects together, even prior to this exhibition, but JB—and she’ll talk to her background, but I approached her, and I said, “Would you like to collaborate? Would you like to do this exhibition together?” And we did, and it was a huge success. Not only were the collaborations between the artists really strong, but we were able to get an entirely new audience.
From that point on, JB and I knew that we really wanted to continue working together. We were just looking for an opportunity. We started working on jewelry, which was when the idea first came to me. As you know, Sharon, there are so many jewelry weeks around the world, and as a curator I was fortunate enough to attend jewelry weeks in Paris and Barcelona two years ago. At that point, I just had this moment where I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if this was happening back home?” I returned from my travels and called up JB and I said, “I got it. I know what we should do.” And she was crazy enough to go along with it. So, JB, I will now let you talk.
JB: I have to be honest. Bella opened my eyes to the world of jewelry, and very specifically contemporary jewelry, with the exhibition we did together with street art, and I didn’t want to go back. I’m really excited to be working in jewelry and to help have a conversation with New York City and the jewelry world, but also specifically with contemporary jewelry to see how we can grow together.
Sharon: I give you a lot of credit for not saying, “It’s a great idea, but how can we do that?” I have this vision of pushing a boulder uphill.
JB: Crazy enough, we never questioned it. She said, “Let’s do jewelry,” and I was like, “Absolutely.” I have no idea what that means, but it could be great, and it was, thank God.
Bella: I think that whenever you start something new, you’re going to be a little naïve about what it actually takes to get it off the ground. I’ve said numerous times that we are only as strong or as successful as the community is. We sat down with a group of people who were integral to the contemporary jewelry world here in New York, this time last year, actually. We had conversations and we said, “This is what we’re thinking of doing. What do you think, and do you want to be involved?” and the responses were incredibly positive. That’s what made us think, “O.K., we can do this,” because if people would have said, “Oh my god, that’s the worst idea ever,” we would have been like, “Alright, moving on,” but that wasn’t the case, so we knew that we could do it. We always said, “We can make this as big or small as we want.” We’re not trying to be like anything else that’s out there. We’re not trying to be Munich, for example. We have our own ideas of what this street needs to look like and we can make it as big or small as we want. I think that was also why we jumped in and did it, because we knew it had to be good or it wouldn’t happen again, but we also knew that we could make it what we wanted it to be.
Sharon: That’s a great way to think about it. You didn’t have to put this burden on yourselves that it had to be a stupendous, worldwide thing. I can see how that would take some of the pressure off. What were your objectives in creating a jewelry week?
Bella: Initially our objective was to promote contemporary jewelry and to be very inclusive at the same time. This wasn’t just about contemporary jewelry, but that contemporary jewelry would have a lot of visibility. As we continued to have conversations with the key players, I think our objectives grew, and it was very important for both of us to bring to the table things that were important to us and the issues that were facing the jewelry industry. I think the objectives developed over time, wouldn’t you say, JB?
JB: Yeah, definitely. I think when we were doing Jewelry Week, I introduced a couple of panels and one thing that always came to mind as I was doing these introductions was that we started Jewelry Week because we love jewelry. Contemporary jewelry specifically was a big thing in our hearts to promote, and as we developed it and got to know the jewelers and got to know the industry and started seeing where things could be improved or how we could help people, we realized, “Wow, we have a platform where people are going to listen to us. Let’s use it.” So, we did, and people got behind us more and more and that’s really what made Jewelry Week successful. The community got behind it; the city got behind it. Then we were able to form objectives, because in the beginning, it was just, “How do we have a conversation about contemporary jewelry on a wider scale?” Now, I think we’re really excited because we are going into this second year with specific objectives in mind. Now, we see that not only will Jewelry Week be a fun experience for everybody, but that we can really help the industry and help jewelers and grow together.
Sharon: Great goals, great objectives.
Bella: One of the objectives for year one to year two, and probably year three, four and five, is education. That’s why so much of the programming during Jewelry Week was education-focused, so it wasn’t just about buy, buy, buy, which absolutely we wanted to support as well. We wanted to support all the retail opportunities, but we also wanted to have a platform for people to learn about jewelry making or to learn about sustainability or to learn about different types of jewelry. We feel that this project, this jewelry, it’s very much about the consumer. That’s something we also talked about, and so for us, educating the consumer was a major hallmark.
Sharon: You did a great job of engaging the entire jewelry spectrum, and I know you started with contemporary jewelry or art jewelry, but you did bring in antique and vintage. Did that expand as you worked on it? Did a person raise his hand and say, “I want to be involved”? What are you going to include next year?
Bella: We knew from the get-go that it had to be all different types of jewelry. We thought about how collections come together, whether it’s a personal collection or even a museum collection. Very few people collect just one type of jewelry, or you will start out with one thing and then, the more you educate yourself and the more you find yourself out in the world, you perhaps fall in love with something else.
Sharon, we had talked a bit before about how you were interested in antique jewelry, for example, and one of my first jobs out of graduate school was working in a gallery that had a lot of incredible antique jewelry, so that’s also the world that I came out of. We thought that having this conversation, about all different types of jewelry, because that’s the way people collect; that’s the way the museums collect. We don’t believe that anybody works in a vacuum. I think it’s so interesting to see contemporary designers who have looked into the past and come up with these incredibly new, enriched designs. We thought to ourselves, “Who in New York is the best at this? Who’s the best estate dealer, and how do we get them involved?” and we approached everyone individually. With the estate galleries it was even a bit more challenging, because no contemporary jewelers knew about the jewelry weeks. So, we had a lot of convincing to do, but in the end, no matter what type of jewelry it is that you’re selling, one, it is all jewelry, and two, everybody’s looking to get themselves out there and everyone is looking to grow their consumer base, so they were happy to participate. Going forward to next year, we’re going to continue that model. It’s going to remain all-encompassing.
Sharon: That makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense that there was resistance from the estate jewelers or antique jewelers not being aware of what’s going on in contemporary jewelry. I think you named some of the arguments you used to persuade them, but do you find that people are raising their hands or saying, “I want to do this again?”
Bella: I would have to say, first of all, we have gotten feedback from the participants, and everybody who was involved is interested in participating again for next year. We just announced our dates for 2019 and we started planning the programming a little bit, but not enough for people to say, “Oh, I want to do this,” so yes, we are going on to work for the same people that we did last [changed “this” to “last” because the first jewelry week was November 2018]year, the same estate jewelers. The response has been great and people do want to be involved. It’s funny, I was just talking by e-mail with one estate dealer yesterday, who said they got incredible foot traffic during the week from a lot of people who did not know about them prior to participating, and they got a lot of great press in industry publications where they would have never been included. The response has been really good from estate dealers as well.
Sharon: That says a lot. That would be a good reason to do it again, if you got a lot of visibility that you hadn’t gotten before.
JB: Yeah, absolutely.
Sharon: So, what are the dates for 2019?
JB: November 18-24, Monday through Sunday.
Sharon: You said the city got behind it. Do you mean literally, like there was a proclamation, or are you just saying that people in the industry in the city were supportive?
JB: I would say both, actually. We designed this event to be all-encompassing, with so many jewelry genres, because we want it to become not just a jewelry event, but a cultural event. Our goal was to reconnect with publicity in both ways, both with the city government and with the different organizations that exist to support jewelry in the city. We worked closely with different neighborhoods, and 47th Street specifically was a big part of it. We worked with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which supports different initiatives throughout the city, one of which was NYCxDesign, which was a huge model for us in building this week. We’re in conversation with not only the mayor’s office of media and entertainment, who was a part of this week, but also with the deputy mayor’s office, so that’ll be exciting. When we originally forecasted who would be attending this week, we thought it would be about 75 percent industry who attended, while our focus was public facing. We knew that was going to become the daunting task, and I think we really succeeded in getting the general public of New York out to participate in this week, in a bigger way than we originally anticipated. I think that was a lot of word of mouth, but we had a great response from the press, which was wonderful, and I think our ability to connect with different organizations and businesses outside of the jewelry world, like Cooper Hewitt and The Met, really helped us expand the conversation, which is wonderful not only for Jewelry Week, but also for everyone who’s participating, so they can get a new audience to see what’s happening in the jewelry industry here.
Sharon: You certainly got word of mouth buzz, because I know when we would stop somewhere and they’d say, “What are you doing here?” and we’d mention jewelry week, they’d say “Oh yeah, we’ve had several people” or “We heard something about that.” It seems like you were generating a lot of traffic for people outside the jewelry world too. You have plans down the line for this, not just in 2019, but beyond. What’s your vision and where do you want this to be?
JB: So many things. I think we’re focused very heavily right now on year two, because year one was amazing, but like Bella said, we didn’t have any expectations. While there was a lot of pressure, it’s not the same as this year, where we have to prove ourselves again, maybe in a more legitimate way than last year, because it was so great. We’re really excited to prove ourselves this year, but we also see now that we have objectives that are bigger than us just throwing an event and engaging the public. Now, it has different implications. We want to talk about supporting 47th Street, creating more diversity in the industry, supporting the emerging creatives coming into it, and really have a larger-scale discussion about why New York is so important to the jewelry industry. Now we see success in achieving our goals in these areas, because we can do it for a longer amount of time.
Sharon: Just in case people don’t know, 47th Street is the diamond district?
JB: Yeah, thank you. I should probably explain that. 47th Street is the hub of the industry. A lot of gem dealers work out of there. A lot of artists and established designers have studio spaces there. Most of the diamonds that trade through the world come through 47th Street. The jewelry industry in the United States is an $80 billion industry; $50 billion of that happens in New York City, and that is really centered around 47th Street, which is quite incredible.
Sharon: Yeah, that really is.
JB: There is so much happening there and it’s not just for people trading in diamonds. Contemporary jewelers shop there. So many different trades are happening there, so it’s really exciting, but 47th Street doesn’t have the greatest reputation because it’s a pretty aggressive place, and it’s very hard to navigate if you don’t have experience in the jewelry industry. That’s something we’re trying to lift the veil on, we’re trying to help people navigate it and really use the resources that are available to them.
Sharon: That would be very helpful, not just for the people on 47th, but people who would like to know more about what’s going on. I know when you walk down it, if you don’t know where you are, you get a sense that there’s jewelry going on, but you don’t understand that caliber of it.
Bella and JB, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it. We’re looking forward to next year’s Jewelry Week, and I hope everybody puts it on their calendars. For everybody listening, we’ll have JB and Bella’s contact information in the show notes on JewelryJourney.com. This wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you’d like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.
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