Q & A and Visit with Raquel Alonso Perez of Harvard’s Museum of Natural History

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My very last stop while in Boston, hours before my flight took off, I had planned the best parting gift–a visit to Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History! Sounds dreamy, right?! Well it is and then some. An entire room filled with thousands of minerals and gems is open to the public on Harvard’s campus, and Raquel Alonso Perez was there to give me a full tour, including some majorly fun behind-the-scenes stuff. I honestly think my one-on-one time with Raquel had taught me more in one hour than my entire Freshman year at college! I didn’t want to leave! I got to hold pieces of gold that came out of the ground looking like sculptures, play with rough diamonds, see some incredible gemstones, and the highlight of my day was getting to spend some time with the Hamlin Necklace–rare and notable because of its gigantic tourmalines it showcases, which are all from the same mine in Maine!

Raquel’s hospitality, warmth and passion to share with me what she does at the Mineralogical & Geological Museum was accepted with much gratitude and I had so much fun! Here’s some insight into what Raquel does, illustrated with photos from my visit! Enjoy!

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I serve as the Curator of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum (MGMH). Our collections date back to 1798! After 230 years of collecting, the MGMH is one of the oldest, largest and continuously operated mineralogical and geological museum, built for the nation and world-renowned for its fine quality collections, broad representation of species, unique occurrences and large number of type, described, and illustrated specimens. Our repository has become a true library of the earth with over 400,000 objects divided in 4 main collections: minerals, gems, meteorites and rocks. My role as Curator is to provide access to the world-class Earth Science collections at Harvard University, encouraging its use for teaching, research and public education. The favorite part of my job is research and all teaching and academic related activities, in addition to working with the dedicated team of people at the MGMH, the Earth and Planetary Science Department and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, HSMC, where our public gallery is located.

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In total, the museum has around 400,000 objects divided in 4 main collections: minerals, gems, meteorites and rocks and ore deposits. Only 3550 individual mineral specimens are on display at the Museum, 145 of these include a gemstone of the same variety. My favorite examples are in the wider variety of crystals and gemstones. For example, the beryls, we have a whole case of them displaying 40 specimens full of light and color. I also love the tourmalines, with all of the different kinds displayed with bi-color and watermelon elbaites from Maine, USA. As you can imagine, we have a strong collection of New England minerals, gems, and rare species. We receive a lot of donations, but we couldn’t display our entire collection, even if we wanted! Space is a major constraint, but not the only one. We also have to make hard choices about what to share in order to fulfill the Museum’s mission. Our museum is not only about highlighting aesthetics. We also need to prioritize the display of specimens that will also serve reference and research purposes.

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I am a geologist by training specialized in mineralogy, gemology, geochemistry and petrology. There are too many “logy’s” in there! These branches of Earth Sciences come together in a fascinating way, giving color and texture to the world we inhabit. In 2006 I completed my PhD at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, where I studied how the earth crust is formed, by comparing it with artificial rocks produced in the lab. After graduation, I took a short break to have my two children, Marco and Amaya, and returned in 2009 to professional life to work as a research assistant at the Earth and Planetary Science Department, Harvard University. A year later I was hired as Assistant Curator to take care of the rock collection at the MGMH and got appointed head Curator of the entire MGMH collections in 2011.

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I’ve always wondered why minerals acquire a color and not other colors. We know so little about the chemistry and the physics involved! My passion, stimulated by my daily encounter with Harvard’s amazing collections, is to uncover the story behind nature’s color choices! My work in the past 2 years has been focused in tourmalines and beryls. The most common color of elbaites from Main, USA is green but they also come in blue, yellow, pink, colorless and with many different hues and tones. With the use of non-destructive analytical techniques, I was able to determine the chemical distribution, trace element patterns and color correlation in a suite of elbaites from Maine, Hamlin Collection. In addition, this non-destructive dual-technique used in this study (Confocal Micro Raman Spectroscopy and LA- ICPMS, laser ablation-induced coupled plasma-mass spectrometry) has great potential to be applied to other gemmological materials to also distinguish provenance, natural versus synthetic materials and treatments. My current project aims to better understand the formation of emeralds, and is focused on the geology of the emerald deposit of Irondro, Madagascar. In fact, I mostly focus on rocks from Madagascar, which is a blessing, since the MGMH is quickly becoming the main repository of minerals, rocks and gemstones from this part of the world. I also benefit from the museum’s vast network. I sometimes end up requesting research material from friends, donors and supporters of the Museum from faraway lands! However, my main priority and where most of my work goes is into ensuring that the MGMH’s collections are curated according to the highest standards of museum best practices for their preservation in perpetuity and use by future generations. Digitization plays an important role to achieve these goals and our ambition to open them up to a wider audience, especially those concerning research, education and public outreach, which will result in an online database of our collections sometime in the fall of 2017.

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Every day, in the environment I am, could end up being a highlight and making you proud of the work you do, especially when it can impact other people life’s. I would like to share with you a portion of an e-mail I received from one of the female students attending my class at the Harvard Summer school as a beautiful example. “..Here again I want to say thank you for bringing me my best summer ever. I really enjoyed the lecture. Every time when listening to the lecture, I really feel I’m being educated and have more knowledge on mineralogy and gemology. The happiness of gaining knowledge is hard to express; it’s like seeing the moon coming out of the clouds and lighting up a street in the dark midnight. Also, I love the labs. I feel so good identifying minerals by myself, putting everything I learnt into use. I’m also fascinated by the gemstone experiments. I can’t wait to get a full set of tools and practice in the gem markets back in China. What I really want to appreciate is that for all your support for me to do more microscope experiments. I know that doing the experiment before class means you have to skip lunch, I’m really sorry. The experiment is so incredible, I never see those features before, and I couldn’t fully understand everything without doing the actual experiment. The image is fantastic. I gasp that people ever create those ways for examine stones. What I like most is the field trip. The behind the scene of the museum is awesome. I never thought that museum work would be so interesting. There are so many stories behind every collection! I also really really like the field trip to mine. You became my idol when you drove the van packed with all of us and fed us snacks. Working in the field is so different and I think I need more field work to really become a geology people. I sometimes feel so shame that I learned so much knowledge but still like a baby when put in the field. However, going to the field makes a lot of knowledge easier to understand. In the mine, when I saw you standing on the shiny mica mountain, I feel like you are one of the best women in the world—- a woman who could stand in the field with knowledge, and explore the earth, go right after the unknown, a kind of woman I really want to be. It is this summer that I, for the first time in forever, really willing to go to university; not because it is what everybody do, but because all the knowledge and skills I could get, all the resource I could access, and all the fantastic professors in the future I will meet to motivate my life..”

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My best piece of advice for anyone in general is to follow their passion, work hard, overcome challenges, focus and don’t give up! The combination of passion and perseverance will bring you where you want to be.

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WANT MORE? You can follow Raquel on Instagram —> @raquelalonsoperez

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Q & A and Visit with Emily Stoehrer of MFA Boston

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After a long and exciting week in Boston, I had a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts set up to feed my jewelry history cravings. One of my favorite things about my love and passion for jewelry is learning! Museum exhibits are such a great way to see and learn, often producing a lifelong impact or memory–especially for me. Whenever there is a headlining jewelry exhibit, I like to try to schedule trips in hopes of catching it before it ends. Lucky for Boston, the MFA has quite an extensive jewelry department that is constantly researching, collaborating, and creating new exhibits. I got to have a private tour with Emily Stoehrer who is not only a wealth of knowledge, but highly dedicated and involved in what she does for the museum. I was fascinated in so many ways, as she brought me through the MFA’s current exhibit Past is Present: Revival Jewelry.

Learn more about Emily as she answers my questions below and make sure you stop by the exhibit before it ends in August of 2018. Can’t wait to visit again!

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I am the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry. It’s a unique role in an American fine art museum, which was established in 2006. I was appointed in 2014, and over the last three years have worked to develop the exhibition program; add extraordinary jewels to the collection; connect with jewelers, designers, and collectors; and collaborate with colleagues across the museum to plan programming and events

Spanning thousands of years of jewelry history, there are more than 20,000 objects in the jewelry collection. Highlights include our ancient collections and contemporary jewelry, but over the last decade have added to our holding of fine jewelry. A great example of this is a gift given by the Rothschild family a few years ago, which included an outstanding pearl and diamond necklace that dates to the late nineteenth century. With large, perfectly matched natural pearls, it’s an extraordinary treasure! Yvonne Markowitz (who is the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry Emerita) and I have worked to establish a jewelry resource center for anyone interested in the study of jewelry, and as part of that we have also worked with the Curator of Design to acquire jewelry with related design drawings. Studying drawings from firms like Trabert & Hoeffer Mauboussin, the manufacturer-jeweler Louis Ferón, and the artist-craftsman Frank Gardner Hale, alongside the jewelry they made, has greatly informed our understanding of jewelry and how the industry operated historically.

We have also worked to add strength to strength by filling in gaps in our historical collection. For example, until recently we did not have anything by Carlo Giuliano. But, this year we added two amazingly naturalistic gold and enamel butterflies to the collection—a Duke of Burgundy and Bath White butterfly, to be specific. They are impossibly thin, and enameled on both sides to show every detail of the butterfly’s body and wings. They are a stunning example of the goldsmith’s art. Another historically important and spectacular ornament that I recently acquired is the Apparitions brooch which was designed by Eugene Grasset and made by Henri Vever for the 1900 Paris Exposition. It’s hauntingly beautiful art nouveau aesthetic won them the Grand Prix.

My favorite part of the job is the research and planning that goes into creating an exhibition—doing research in libraries and archives and taking a deep dive into historical documents, publications, and material culture. Unfortunately, as I run from meeting to meeting, I don’t get to spend as much time doing this as I would like. So, I rely on some a team of volunteers and interns to help with some of it. Once the research has been done, and the objects have been selected, the real fun begins. I have learned so much about the storytelling capabilities of jewelry from working with the MFA’s remarkable exhibition designers, mountmakers, and conservators as we discuss and mock-up how each object will be displayed in the gallery.

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As any lover of jewelry knows, the past has consistently inspired jewelers and designers. While interest in historicism was particularly strong during the nineteenth century, there were great revival jewels made before 1800 and after 1900. In the same way the Victorians struggled with the tension between mass-production and hand-craftsmanship, we grapple with digital design and the pace of modern life. So, I see this as a topic that is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago, and if you think about it that way you’ll notice many examples of twentieth and twenty-first century jewelry that engage with a historical narrative. I hope that visitors enjoy seeing traditional “revivalist” ornaments by outstanding jewelers like Castellani and Giuliano, Bapst and Falize and Boucheron, but also some unexpected surprises like a 9-foot titanium python necklace by Munich-based contemporary jeweler David Bielander, and that the juxtaposition makes them question their notion of revival jewelry.

The exhibition highlights four revival styles: Archeological, Classical, Renaissance, and Egyptian. Each case in the intimate space includes a choice group of jewelry aimed to tell a story – travel, nationalism, graduation, cameo, scarabs, and snakes are just a few of the themes explored. If you pay very close attention to the labels, visitors might also be delighted to learn how early some of these objects were added to the MFA collection. Like the Met, the MFA was founded in 1870, and some of these jewels were acquired in the subsequent decades, making them contemporary jewelry when they were donated. A neoclassical necklace and five brooches with mythological scenes in carved shell cameo, and a Castellani necklace, earrings, and brooch commissioned by the amber collector William Buffum are just two examples of the objects that have resided at the MFA for more than one hundred years. Newer acquisitions on view include: a tour-de-force bracelet by the Roman jeweler Ernesto Pierret that features a central bovine head, granulation, and two menacing faces that come together to form the clap; a spectacular early twentieth-century neck ornament by G. Paulding Farham for Tiffany & Co.; and a slithering silver snake belt/necklace, with sapphire eyes, that Elsa Peretti designed for the American fashion designer Halston in the 1970s.

While 80% of the works on view are from the MFA collection, there are also some noteworthy loans. From the collection of Susan B. Kaplan, a startlingly lifelike lion speaks to the genius of Castellani’s designers and craftsmen. Unlike other micromosaic workshops, Castellani left the surface of their work uneven to create a glittering effected. Wartski Ltd., of London, loaned a demi-parure (belt buckle, brooch, and bracelet) by Falize Frères. Enameled on both sides, the glorious ornaments use translucent enamel and foil to create a fantastical scene with birds, like those seen in illuminated manuscripts. Generously sponsored by Cartier, the exhibition includes four magnificent twentieth-century ornaments from the Cartier Collection. Made between 1906 and 1928, the garland style medusa necklace, winged scarab belt buckle, Eye of Horus bracelet (that once belonged to Linda Porter), and the diamond chimera bracelet are outstanding examples of French revival jewelry, and the depth of the MFAs ancient collection allows for these dazzling jewels to be exhibited alongside the ancient artifacts that inspired their design.

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My path to jewelry was a crooked one. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and had plans to attend law school. But a few years working in the District Attorney’s office, I changed my mind and I began researching graduate programs in fashion. In 2005 I moved to New York City and enrolled in the two-year Fashion & Textile Studies program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Thanks to FIT’s remarkable alumni network I ended up back in my hometown with an internship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. As an intern I worked with conservators in the Textile Conservation department to relocate the fashion collection.

My first full-time position at the MFA was as a Collections Care Specialist and my responsibilities included preparing more than 10,000 objects from the Asian costume and textile collection for photography – everything from kimono to dragon robes and textile fragments to temple hangings. When that project ended, I became the Curatorial Research Associate reporting to Yvonne Markowitz (then curator of jewelry). For two years I worked with her on the inaugural exhibition in the jewelry gallery, and the book Artful Adornment. Both the exhibition and the book focused on highlights from the MFA’s jewelry collection. Yvonne quickly became a very important part of my life, and has been an extraordinary mentor. She encouraged me to think about a future as a jewelry curator, bringing my knowledge of fashion history to the understanding of jewelry. She enthusiastically introduced me to her contacts and colleagues, took me to conferences, and supported my own research in the field. She also told me to consider a PhD.

During my time at the MFA, I had been teaching courses in textiles and fashion history, and in 2010 I left the Museum and took a position at a small college in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. As Program Director and Assistant Professor, I managed three robust fashion programs with more than 100 students. At the same time I took PhD courses and exams, and began work on my dissertation. My doctoral work focused on the intersection of fashion, jewelry, and media. I examined the vintage jewelry on the red carpet from 1995-2010 using Neil Lane’s collection as a case study.

After nearly 30 years at the MFA, Yvonne retired in 2014 and I was appointed to replace her. Over the last three years, I curated the exhibitions Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen, Past is Present: Revival Jewelry, and smaller installations; planned jewelry related events and trips for the MFA’s Fashion Council; traveled extensively to lecture, visit art fairs and exhibitions, participated in educational opportunities organized by Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts (ASJRA) and Art Jewelry Forum (AJF) trips, attend conferences, visited collectors, galleries, designers, and jewelers. It’s been a whirlwind. Recently I have taken on two leadership roles, joining the board of directors for the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) and the Boston chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA).

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I am immersed in research for two forthcoming exhibitions, and a book related to my doctoral work.

Opening in September 2018, an exhibition of Boston arts and crafts jewelry and metalwork will replace Past is Present in the Stanley H. and Rita J. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery. From the establishment of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts to the disastrous 1929 stock market crash that crippled many artist craftsmen, this exhibition will be the first to focus solely on Boston jewelers, and will include design drawings, jewelry, and hollowware by artists like Frank Gardner Hale, Josephine Hartwell Shaw, Margaret Rogers, and Edward Everett Oakes.

That exhibition will be followed by one on Elsa Peretti, who will be celebrating 50 years as a designer in 2020. Beginning her design career making jewelry and accessories for Giorgio Sant’ Angelo and Halston before joining Tiffany & Co., Peretti has created timeless designs that continue to resonate with modern consumers. Her refined taste has focused, primarily, on silver but the exhibition will feature a diverse sample of her work, as well as her inspirations, and—of course—include a fashion element. An esteemed arbiter of style, fashion icon, and friend of many twentieth century notables, this exhibition will celebrate Peretti’s life and career.

My work at the MFA keeps me very busy, but I am also in the midst of writing a book titled Jewelry in Celebrity Culture: Glamour and the Hollywood Spectacle. It will be published as part of I.B. Taurus’s Dress Culture series (edited by Reina Lewis and Elizabeth Wilson). From the tour-de-force necklace that the American firm Trabert & Hoeffer loaned Colette Colbert to wear in the 1935 film The Gilded Lily to the impact of The Representation Project’s #askhermore campaign, the book will examine how jewelry aids in Hollywood’s production of glamour.

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To be honest, the last three years have been a series of highlights. The people I have had the opportunity to meet have been the most memorable. The many conversations and meetings I had with Neil Lane as I conducted research on Hollywood jewelry and his private collection, having lunch with Elsa Peretti in Sant Marti Vell, Spain and discussing her incredible life and work, and spending two days in Wallace Chan’s Hong Kong atelier are at the top of the list!

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I look forward to seeing the field grow in new and exciting ways. There are so many M.A. programs that embrace the study of jewelry history, and there remain extensive subjects awaiting scholarly work. Coupled with a G.G. I think there is extraordinary potential for research and writing. I was lucky to have a great mentor, who guided my career path, and if you can find an experienced curator or historian to play that role for you, it’s priceless. This field is so welcoming. I encourage anyone interested in jewelry to find others that share their passion, social media is a great place for this.

Being a museum curator is much more multi-faceted than I realized after leaving graduate school. Even after years working at the Museum, it wasn’t until I was a curator that I realized the diverse requirements of the job—a natural curiosity, a mastery of your subject area and how it connects to other types of art, a vision and strong ideas that you can translate into exhibitions, excellence in building and maintaining relationships with artists and collectors, as well as strong research, writing, and public speaking skills.

I am very lucky that the MFA has such a vibrant jewelry program. My position, the gallery, and the prominence of jewelry at the MFA is all thanks to tremendous generosity Susan B. Kaplan. It is our hope that other American fine art museums will expand their collection, exhibition, and publication related to jewelry. And, that similar positions will emerge at other American museums.

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WANT MORE? You can follow Emily on Instagram —> @jewelcurator

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Gem Gossip Visits Gem Jewelry Boutique in Chicago, IL

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Bracelets: Pascale Monvoisin 9k wire bracelet, Black wrap bracelet

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the storefront of Gem Jewelry Boutique with its beautiful gold leaf

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Necklaces: Gem Token black diamond peace sign necklace, Emilie Shapiro watermelon tourmaline + pink sapphire necklace, Emilie Shapiro moonstone + sapphire necklace

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

I love the vignettes that tell a story; displays that speak louder than words

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Some Ruth Tomlinson, Megan Thorne, Gem Token, Satomi Kawakita rings stacked on stacked — shop rings

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Gold elements, mirrors and a window of sunlight; some of my favorite parts of Gem

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Earrings: Ten Thousand Things 18k gold bead dangles, moonstone & diamond stud earrings by Gem Token

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

I love how every piece is displayed! Love the pieces of recycled leather to display the earrings

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Ear piercing parties are one of Gem’s newest additions–because all these studs need to be worn!

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Earrings: Gabriela Artigas Asymmetrical Orbital earring, Lip studs, wwake small chain earrings

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Lips velvet pouch zipper bag on the left, Variance Objects stud earrings + ring on the right!

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“Get Lucky” Figa by Pascale Monvoisin

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

“Dope” “Mama” “Boss” bracelets by Zoe Chicco (these also come in necklaces)

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Not only does Gem sell jewelry, but other lifestyle products like candles, bags, scarves, & home goods

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Necklaces: Gem Token black diamond peace sign necklace, Emilie Shapiro watermelon tourmaline + pink sapphire necklace, Emilie Shapiro moonstone + sapphire necklace

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

owner of Gem, Laura Kitsos and myself

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Rings: rough ruby by Emilie Shapiro, twin tourmaline ring by Margaret Solow, watermelon tourmaline + pink sapphire ring by Emilie Shapiro —- moonstone + sapphire ring by Emilie Shapiro, tourmalated quartz ring by Margaret Solow, opal + pink sapphire ring by Emilie Shapiro

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The interior of the store was done by Laura’s husband who is a general contractor

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

I love how everything stacks and coordinates perfectly together–lots of different designers shown here!

Gem Jewelry Boutique | Gem Gossip

Our last stop before heading home from our quick but amazing #JewelryRoadTrip to Chicago was Gem Jewelry Boutique, located a few minutes outside of Chicago in Oak Park. I had to see for myself Laura’s talked about and infamous curating skills–both jewelry-wise and display-wise. She is undeniably talented when it comes to putting things together, whether it is an entire store, a single display, an outfit, or a jewelry look. Gem has been open for nearly 13 years, with four different locations over the years. Most recently they moved to a new location which opened in June of 2015 and is what you’re seeing in the photos above. It is Laura’s most favorite location out of the four she has had, and as you can see, rightfully so! Laura says, “I wanted this location to invoke a sophisticated, calming environment yet with the slight edginess that depicts Gem’s image.”

The storefront is a beautiful jewel in its own right (I love the gold-leaf on the windows) and when you walk through the front door, you are immediately met with the open and airiness of the space. It proves to be an ideal jewelry showroom. The gems and jewelry sparkle in the sunlight, and the dark gray walls with mirrored and gold accents make you feel like you’re actually inside a jewelry box. The custom sliding cases and the large cabinet against the wall were all created specially for the space, thanks to Laura’s husband Michael. Another very sentimental addition to the store--the giant antique gold mirror–which was restored and outfitted with back-lighting, was essentially a wedding present from Michael, but ended up being the perfect focal point for the store. And I can agree! I love the mirror…and I can attest to the fact that jewelry stores NEED mirrors. I think they are essential!

Laura hadn’t always been on a clear path to opening a jewelry boutique from the beginning. She was actually the one designing and creating jewelry, teaching herself along the way, taking a couple metalsmithing classes and being inspired. This was back in 1995 when she lived in Portland, Oregon. Before that, it was her grandmother Lucile, who lived to be 101 years old, who infused a passion for jewelry in Laura from a very young age. Laura reminisces, “Each time I’d see her, she’d take me into her bedroom and on the bed we’d lay out all her boxes and jewelry while she told me the story behind each piece. It was heaven to me! And at the end, she’d always give me a piece. I learned how jewelry tells a story.”

One fateful day, Laura strolled into Twist in Portland and had an epiphany. In 2004 her first store opened, mainly selling her own designs and some vintage pieces. It goes without saying that the store has evolved very much over the years, especially beginning with what is featured. About two years into having the store, Laura attended a market show in NYC and a whole new world opened up before her eyes. She became passionate about supporting and learning about other designers, especially women artisans. Laura says, “Over the years, the store has evolved in that we now carry more designers than ever and I am focusing on a finer brand. The price point has risen over the years because I am carrying designers that are reputable, unique and are not mass producing their work. I appreciate “hand made” jewelry and especially jewelry made by women. I try to curate with that point of view.”

Designers like Vale Jewelry, Brooke Gregson, Emilie Shapiro, Blanca Monros Gomez, Arik Kastan, Megan Thorne, wwake, and Ruth Tomlinson are favorites and staples amongst Gem’s lineup. One of their newest additions, Pascale Monvoisin was an Instagram discovery for the store–which proves to designers that you can be discovered on social media! Although the mix of designers is eclectic and spans different countries and different continents, they all flow together and are able to be styled easily for a cohesive look because of Laura’s eye. You may see Gem Token as one of the designers featured several times in the photos above–that is the store’s own line of jewelry! Gem is also really excited about adding a few more brands to their roster, including Rusty Thought which is coming soon!

I loved visiting Gem and if you’re in the Chicago area, you are lucky to have such a great local jewelry store! Whatever your jewelry needs are or if you need a special gift, you will leave happy. I loved seeing a few customers come into the store while I was there and each person had a better day because they chose to come inside Gem. I know I sure did!

GemJewelryBoutique

135 North Oak Park Avenue

Oak Park, IL 60301

Phone: 708-386-8400

www.shopgemjewelry.com

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Online Jewelry making classes

I was talking to my friend and fellow blogger a few days back regarding her Europe travels and she remarked that she had only travelled to all those places as she was already stationed abroad and that it requires dedication to travel to another country (and continent) just to learn a skill and better yourself. She, ofcourse was referring to my latest USA travel to attend Beadfest Workshops

I was talking to my friend and fellow blogger a few days back regarding her Europe travels and she remarked that she had only travelled to all those places as she was already stationed abroad and that it requires dedication to travel to another country (and continent) just to learn a skill and better yourself. She, ofcourse was referring to my latest USA travel to attend Beadfest Workshops. Some people might consider me lucky but only I know the hurdles that I had to cross and planning and work that I had to do (and still doing) to make the trip happen.
Many have also written to me asking if I could teach them enamelling or Precious metal clay that I learnt there. As a full time design educator, I am not someone who takes teaching lightly and without really practicing what I had learnt ( I mean I just did it once in a few hours time!) and experimenting with different techniques I cannot teach them.
But this Diwali, we are all indeed lucky. You and me can take any class we want, from world class instructors in the comfort of our our own homes for just $20 at Craftsy. Post contains affiliate links

craftsy classes sale

Yes you heard it right! Craftsy is now having a mega sale on its classes – you can learn anything from water color painting to how to sew a bra or how to solder metal for $20 starting today till Monday. Isn’t this a great Diwali bonus?
The best part about craftsy classes is, once you buy a class, it never expires. So you can watch the demo over and over again or go back to it and watch a particular step if you ever get a doubt which is not possible in a live class which far outweighs the other benefits

 

Craftsy online classes

I do agree that not everything can be learnt online, in a asynchronous platform. As jewelry being a touchy feely subject you might think that learning online might not work out for you. This issue can be simply solved by picking classes and techniques that can easily be learnt online. Here is a handy guide aka cheat sheet to help you figure that out.

How to Pick Jewelry making classes online

1. Material Availability – Pick a class where the materials are easily available to you (locally) or that use materials in stock as you need to be able to practise the skill that you just learned. For E.g – Take a Creative wire jewelry class if you already have base metal or artistic wire and required tools with you
2. Technique Up gradation A new or advanced technique class where you have experience with the material For e.g A Metal Form folding class will help advance your sheet metal skills, A Resin casing and sculpting class will help you further polish your resin jewelry making skills

cheat sheet on how to pick a online class

3. Learning tips and tricks To get guidance from a master – to learn tips and tricks of the trade. If you are self taught in soldering, then taking a course like Soldering Success in Every Scenario will equip you with tips and tricks that you would take years to learn by yourself.
4. International Exposure Pick a class which is not taught locally in your state or country. Believe me, it is much easier (and cheaper) to import materials and try out a technique taught online rather than flying to another country to try learning it, especially if you are not sure if you are going to practice it professionally after learning it. It is almost impossible to find a tutor to teach Torch fired Enamelling in India but it can be easily learnt online.

Pin or print out the above cheat sheet on how to pick a online class and use it as a guide whenever you are faced with a dilemma. Remember to never let your age, health or financial issues come in the way of your learning to be the best that you can be. Whether you are looking to add a new skill to your repertoire or pursue a new hobby, I hope that craftsy’s classes give you the best that you are looking for.


I hope you found it interesting. Wishing you all a very very Happy Diwali. May this festival of Lights with your lives with happiness and prosperity Cheers

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Gaye Holud ribbon jewellery

There is saying in the teaching community that goes like this “The more time you give students to complete their work, the less productive they get; so might as well give them a sharp deadline” Why? because they are going to do it only at the last possible moment.

There is saying in the teaching community that goes like this “The more time you give students to complete their work, the less productive they get; so might as well give them a sharp deadline” Why? because they are going to do it only at the last possible moment. Of late, I have come to realise that this holds true for people in general and not just students. Case in point, this post which I was supposed to write a month back.
In January when I was knee deep in work, I got a message asking for an urgent set for a Gaye holud ceremony that was bright and colorful and to be shipped in less than a week’s time. I seldom take assignments with a very short lead time as managing the logistics of sourcing and shipping can be very stressful even if you can get the product done fast. But this time, I did.

Gaye Holud ribbon jewellery


The only way I could do it in the given time frame was by using premade ribbon flowers. We agreed to use colors like red, lemon yellow and green along with gold accents to match with a simple Daccai cotton saree – yellow with a green border. We brainstormed on a lot of different design ideas where the Pinterest board that I have on Bridal Flower jewellery came in quite handy. You can find the inspiration for this particular set here


Some designs take a lot of experimentation and a lot of time to figure out how exactly it can be put together and some are very simple that you can figure it out all in your head, even before you pick up a single tool or supply. This entire set belongs to the second category. As soon as I bought the materials I realized how I would put it together and once I started working it got done within 3-4 hours. I just had to make a few measurement corrections the next day and add one more piece to the set – the choker. Overall it was quite breezy to make it. But that is when the self-doubt started.

Gaye Holud gota jewellery

I was raised with the belief that if something goes off very smoothly or that it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. So after making the first necklace, I got thinking – is it good? Is it wearable? Is it too bright? Is it too shiny? I have never seen anybody wear anything like it before (only seen ornaments created like this for deities) let alone make something like it. Panic! Panic!

Red, yellow and green is a very traditional Indian color combination, something that I have managed to stay away from, for all my teen and adult life. Personally, I am more of a deeps and darks kind of girl so I found this colour combination along with gold a little too bold. But my design training has taught how that in order to expand your repertoire of designs, you need to step out of your comfort zone. So I did what I normally do to boost up my confidence, research!
Gaye Holud ribbon jewellery

I read up on traditional Bangla ornaments – their names, forms and usage. I read up on Gaye holud practices and traditions, the colors, materials and textured they used and what they meant.I read that, traditionally, not just the bride but also her attendants (friends) and close family also wear red, green, and yellow colors as they symbolize purity, sanctity, fertility, prosperity, piety and strength. During the wedding, A bengali bride wear ornaments like Cheek – Choker, Taira/Tikli – Forehead ornament, Ratnachur – Haath phool (slave bracelet), shakha-Paul baala- coral and shell bangles, and kaan pasha – ear studs or kaan bala – earrings (bangle for the ear).

A Screenshot from the 2003 Movie Choker Bali, where Aishwariya Rai is seen dressed up as a Bengali Bride

Still I was left with a nagging doubt. I have only seen Bengali brides wear a tight forehead ornament (Taira- Tikle) and a Crown (mukut made of Sholapith) on the head and never a multi strand directional headpiece like what I made. On further research (and using a little bit of common sense) I figured out that this could have been the traditional style and the Taira could been a British influence as it is used to hold down the veil (orna) which is thin tulle, very different from the thick Odhnis that Brides of North and west India wear but similar to the veils of the 18th-19th century English women.

In between my research, I tried the pieces on to check for fit and for an impromptu selfie. Ok I did put on a little lipstick, eyeliner and draped my mother’s saree and took a few pics. I looked so different – like some yesteryear Maharani or Zamindarini that I started experimenting with the filters, wondering how I would look If I was dressed up like this 90, 60, or 40 years ago. I could imagine myself in a carved wooden haveli, all dressed up, waiting for an all important photographer to come take a portrait picture. Another five minutes of my life spent imagining myself as a princess and coming to the conclusion that the pieces indeed looked good.

Thus with all my fears put to rest, I completed the set. This set is made of gold gota and ribbon roses in red, yellow and green contains a long mala – necklace in tie up style, a beaded choker, round dangling disc earrings, armlets, head ornament and haath phool (slave bracelet and ring). The bride loved it and sent a message saying

I can’t thank you enough.. You have built a relationship now and I will suggest all my friends to get their gaye holud jewelry from you. Thank you so much.”

Well if that isnt enough, I dont know what is! Overall it was a very fulfilling process and I must really thank Sowmya for trusting me and giving me this opportunity to be a part of her wedding. It gave me a chance to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. It enriched me as a designer and as a person so thanks to her for that.

Information sources
Wiseshe
Elegant Eves


I hope you found it interesting
Cheers

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Floral Hair Accessories – a master class

In my post on Tuberose – real flower jewelry, I wrote about how I wanted to learn netting and to make floral hair accessories. I found an excellent tutor, Bhuvana of Bhuvana’s floral venis near my home and after many cancellations and postponements (I am not the easiest student!) I finally attended one of her workshops on January 26th.

In my post on Tuberose – real flower jewelry, I wrote about how I wanted to learn netting and to make floral hair accessories. I found an excellent tutor, Bhuvana of Bhuvana’s floral venis near my home and after many cancellations and postponements (I am not the easiest student!) I finally attended one of her workshops on January 26th. She was so sweet to customise the workshop for me, as I told her that I already knew some of the techniques she was teaching and wanted to learn other more advanced techniques instead. That was really magnanimous on her part, as it is not easy, to teach different techniques to different, that too in a group setting.
After Flag hoisting at my college ( It was republic day), I came home, took some much needed rest and then went to the workshop around 1PM. It was already in full swing (with the other participants attending a full day workshop) with Side bun clips and Venis being made.

Floral Hair Accessories, veni
Veni
A Veni is a Hair accessory either like a small garland or semi circular in shape which is worn over/around a plait or a hair bun and is tied at the nape of the neck. Maharashtrian women wear Veni (shaped liek a half moon and usually embellished with stones and pearls) as a separate gold ornament tucked into their hair buns. I learnt to make three kinds of flat venis using Tuberose, Orchid flower petals and gebra daisies (see above and below pictures). You can also make full round venis using real rose petals, jasmine buds or artificial flowers. Though the flat ones can be made only through knotting, the round ones can be made either through stringing, stitching or knotting depending on the flower used.
 
Floral Hair Accessories, tuberose veni
 
orchid veni for weddings

I had tried to make it one before by myself following a Youtube tutorial by K Sripriya Kanigolla
but I really couldnt get it right. Bhuvana taught me to do it in a slightly different way which was quite easy to follow. It was one of those “Ahah” moments when I realised the value of a personal, face to face masterclass compared to self learning. Still, here is the Youtube video so that you can get an idea of how the tuberose-daisy veni can be made.

 

How to wear veni?
Venis can be worn by both kids as well as adults with chest length hair (enough to make a ponytail). For long braids or big knots, artificial hair is added. Prior to wearing any flower hair accessories, hair must must combed, tied, knotted, plaited or secured as necessary. Hair oil or hair spray can be used to keep the hair in place. Accessories on the head are added either during this stage or in the process of combing depending on their placement.

Coming to the arrangement of the veni, it must be tied at the nape of the neck using the threads provided at the end of the flowers. The end cords can be tucked into the plait and hidden from view. Then the veni must be secured on the head using “U” pins or bobby pins at equal intervals or stiched on to the hair using needle and thread. Since venis are lightweight, upto three different ones can be worn on the hair at the same time but when wearing more than one, hair dressers recommend using the needle and thread method as too many pins on the hair can be uncomfortable.

Here is a picture taken during a hair and makeup workshop I organised for my students in late 2015. You can see a student model posing in a simple yet traditional South Indian celebratory hairdo. She is wearing moon beam flower round veni (sprayed gold) and Jada billai (tear drop embellishments) through the length of her braid apart from a Rakodi on her skull, tikka (netti chutti) at her forehead and kunjalam (tassel) at the end of her braid. This is a very simple look meant for smaller functions or for bridesmaids. The bridal hairdo is much more elaborate.

This was not the end of my workshop as I learnt how to make floral nets too, come back in a couple of days to read the part two of this post. In the meanwhile do share your thoughts in the comments.
I hope you found it interesting

Cheers

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Tuberose jewellery for haldi

Coming next in the series of floral bridal jewellery sets, is a set created using rose and tuberose flowers. Originally meant to be a jasmine set, the design for this set was changed so many times that I have lost track of them.

Coming next in the series of floral bridal jewellery sets, is a set created using rose and tuberose flowers. Originally meant to be a jasmine set, the design for this set was changed so many times that I have lost track of them.

Often costumes and jewellery used in hit movies make a huge impact on the minds of the people, prompting them to look for identical fashions, when it comes to styling themselves. This “self designer” phenomena happens not only when a movie releases but also after it gets aired on popular TV channels. One such movie that brought flower jewellery into focus is Bahubali – A Tamil/Telugu a blockbuster fictional historic movie of epic proportions) where the female lead (Tamannah) wears an elaborate set in a romantic dream sequence duet song “Pachai thee neeyadha” (see video below). Another song from this movie that is worth watching in the jewelry context is Manohari which has brought back silver ethnic jewelry in a big way.


Naturally I got a lot of queries to make such sets but I couldnt make them, simply because I just didnt know how (Believe me I am planning to remedy this by learning it very soon). But this one person wouldnt take no for an answer. She wanted a white and red set, preferably with jasmine for her soon to be sister-in-law and we brainstormed so many different way in which we could do it weeks ahead of the function. Then it rained.

There was hardly any good jasmine available for weeks and what was available was extremely expensive. To add to that, the designs we discussed required the flowers remain as buds but the damn jasmine kept blooming everytime I tried experimenting with it. Here is one such experiment, my instagram followers would have seen it way back in December

Compared to the ones worn in the video this naturally sucked and after contacting a few learned folks I realised that the flower used is not Jasmine (Malli poo) but Wax flower (moon beam flower) also know as Nandiavattai in tamil or Chandini in Hindi. Having grown up, caring for these Nandiyavattai plants (or rather trees) till I was 18, and seeing the flower bloom endlessly I felt like a fool; how could I not have recognised it? Was there a big portion of my past that I had forgotton to help me transition into city life? The even bigger question (at that moment) was where do I find it in Chennai?
I was told that it was unavailable in Chennai, had to come from Erode, had a minimum order quantity and costs almost as much as jasmine 🙁 I was super frustrated for I remember these flowers always blooming in excess and we not knowing what to do with it. They were never worn by women and was only used as an offering to the Gods. The idea of using the buds of the flower never even struck us then.

As I was talking about all this to an expert from the field, she suggested that I try using Tuberose or Sampanghi (also called Rajnigandha) which is generally used to create scents or temple garlands. With time running out, I pitched a new look and a different design idea to the bride who thankfully accepted it and this is what I made – a set with tuberose and red rose buds consisting of a necklace, earrings, maang tikka and a haath phool.

My parents kept looking at me in a weird way while I was making the set. I guess I must have made quite a scene sitting in my couch, needle and thread in hand, surrounded by bags of tuberose, looking intently, experimenting with patterns, checking them out in the mirror every few minutes and talking to myself in the process – the things we do in the name of design!!

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Gem Gossip Visits Williams Galleries in Nashville, TN

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I like to brag about living in Nashville as much as I can–especially to my counterparts who live in NYC and LA, who think their high cost of living, traffic jammed cities are the best places to live. Lucky for me, I have one more thing to boast about besides the wonderful people who call TN home and the rolling hills of the countryside, and that is Williams Galleries in Green Hills. Predominately an art gallery featuring 19th & 20th Century American paintings and antique American folk art, lifelong collecting and researching has spawned this space. Ideally tucked away, by appointment-only, surrounded by upscale shops, great restaurants, and an ever-growing locale–Williams Galleries is Nashville’s best kept secret for fine antique and estate jewelry.

Randi Williams, who owns the gallery along with her husband, is keeper of the jewels, where she gladly wears pieces from her inventory in the coolest way possible. A Bvlgari suite from the 1960s? She has worn those chic pieces with black leather pants and a V-neck. A bold plume-like French dress clip by Suzanne Belperron? She has tucked it seamlessly against a belt for a head-turning look. Her attitude toward these high-end pieces of jewelry is dynamic and has others catching on by investing in pieces by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Seaman Schepps, Rene Boivin, amongst others. Jewelry of this stature should not lead one to feel intimidated by it–Randi has been teaching this to her clients since she started.

I got to try on numerous pieces–so many rare and fine jewels, all drool-worthy and highly covetable. A backdrop of art went hand-in-hand with its appeal, and one soon began to blur the lines between the art hanging on the walls and the art hanging from our ears, necks, wrists and coiling around our fingers. Jewelry, after all, is art–from the gemstones, to the gold and everything in between. There’s a reason why one might not realize this when you walk into any other jewelry store. But when you ring the doorbell and enter Williams Galleries, and begin to feast your eyes on the remarkable pieces of jewelry, you soon learn these are wearable masterpieces by highly skilled artists called jewelers.

Make sure to stop by Williams Galleries if you are ever in the Nashville area. Don’t forget it is by appointment only. If you have any questions, feel free to email Randi at [email protected]

Special thanks to Clark Heldman for facilitating the meetup and being a great model!

Williams Galleries
Hillsboro Corner Shopping Center
4119 Hillsboro Pike
Nashville, TN 37215
(615) 297-2547 gallery
(615) 948-2835 mobile
www.williamsamericanart.com
www.williamsgalleries.com

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Wire jewelry classes

Recently when I visited the craftsy website, I realised that I have been living under a rock for a while.

Recently when I visited the craftsy website, I realised that I have been living under a rock for a while. Though I am a craftsy affiliate*, I hadnt noticed that they have now added so many new and exciting jewelry making classes. I felt like a kid in a candy store and immediately wanted to share them with you. Plus, Craftsy is having a major sale now – almost 50% off on most classes, making it an excellent time to try out new techniques..Yipee!!
Once class that I fell completely in love with is Big & Bold Wire Jewelry taught by Sharilyn Miller. I love wearing and making large bold statement jewelry but I cant always seem to anneal or work with heavy gauge wire. It either becomes too soft or there is hardly any texture showing.

Big and Bold Wire Jewelry

In this 7 part (lesson) video, Sharilyn shows us the technique behind annealing to make the wire strips more pliable before twisting and how to add texture. We can also learn how to make a rosette necklace from heavy-gauge jump rings, make a spiral wire clasp and Bold necklace pendants. For those wanting to take up their skills a notch, she teaches how to fuse fine silver wire to make finger rings, pendants and earrings. For an advanced technique, she also demonstrates fusing shapes inside other shapes and making fused chains. This seems like one of those classes I definitely want to try out. After discount this class is priced at $29.99

When people think of wire jewelry, they somehow think of simple, minimalist pieces or very ornate coiled and woven designs. But what a lot of people are unaware of is that wire can be used to create very pretty, delicate, feminine jewelry

Filigree jewelry #craftsy


Filigree Jewelry with a twist is one such class by Melody MacDuffee where you can learn how to make filigree frames, floral branching out designs. After teaching how to bezel a cabochon, Melody, demonstrates a gorgeous beaded bezel pendant with a filigree overlay towards the end of the class that is drool worthy. Over 1000+ students have registered for this class so far, showing how popular this class is. You can take a look at some students work here. After discount this class is priced at $14.99

If you have never tried Wire jewelry before and feel intimidated by these intermediate to advance level classes, dont worry, help is available in the form of a free resource from Craftsy


This PDF handbook on beautiful wire jewelry offers not just a helpful overview of tools and wire types, but also 27 pages of wirework tutorials and tips from experts to help you in getting started.
Not yet on Craftsy? Join in pronto as you are missing out on a lot. Click on any of the images in this post to sign up

Craftsy

*This post contains affiliate links through which I might earn a normal commission on purchase but I personally love, use and recommend craftsy.

I hope you found it interesting
Cheers

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Six reasons we are not making money selling jewelry

How many of you (jewelry makers & sellers) have had great success selling jewelry this year?I do understand that success is very subjective term – so lets say success means good profits.

How many of you (jewelry makers & sellers) have had great success selling jewelry this year?
I do understand that success is very subjective term – so lets say success means good profits. From what I have been hearing in jewelry circles, friends, forums – both locally and internationally and going through my own accounts I can safely say that currently not many sellers are making great profits; some people are just breaking even, some havent sold anything this summer.

“This calls to question, reasons, why we aren’t making as much MONEY as we would like to make ”

This article in a funny, slightly sarcastic style attempts to take a hard look at the factors affecting jewelry sales and why we are not making as much money as we would like to make and if possible, how to rectify it. Read on!

Six reasons we aren't making money selling jewelry and how to change it

Six reasons we aren’t making money selling jewelry

and how to change it

#1: Economy – Ya ya money is tight, but economy today isnt very different from how it was 6 months back or 1 year back. Maybe, people spend more in the festive season rather than in the summer months, but does that mean that designers should scrap their summer lines and work only towards the festive season? No, we find other ways to make it work. We could run courses and teach people. We study the seasons and understand what they are are looking for in that period – Most people are vacationing in summer and are looking to buy Souvenirs, can you perhaps capture that market?

#2: Competition – too many cooks!!
Haven’t we all heard of the term, too many cooks, spoil the broth. It works well for the jewelry scene too. I remember a time when there were hardly 1-2 people in a city (in India) making good Designer costume jewelry. But now you can find one in every street. Also with the advent of Social media marketing using Facebook and instagram, Coat-Tailing happens all the time, where designers simply copy one another as soon as a style becomes a trend, thereby sending the Fashion cycle (that kept us sane all these years) for a toss. Teaching jewelry making which used to be a lucrative business a couple of years back is also on the decline due to too many folks teaching without really having any mastery over the craft. So what to do? Refer Point Three – Innovate!!

how to make innovative jewelry

#3 Lack of Innovation
3.1: Wrong products
Fashion is cyclical, meaning that what goes out of fashion today comes back once again. But that doesn’t mean that you keep selling the same product till it comes back in trend. Learn to read and understand forecasts and Keep up with the trends. Learn to separate personal likes and dislikes from your vision for the brand. If you design only based on what you like, you’ll be the only person wearing them. Understand what your clientele wants and design based on their requirements in your style. Make sure that your products are upto the mark and that the customers get a wee bit more than what they pay for. There is simply no excuse for having a bad or undesirable product.
3.2: Same old, Same old!
Yes, its good to have a unique selling proposition (USP) for your brand but it doesnt mean that you sell the same products, designs and concepts over and over again.People buy fashion products not based on needs, but wants, so boring old last season’s products drives them away. the way to create interest in your products is to constantly Innovate, make something new, original, that people cannot find elsewhere. They will come to you and buy from you. Do remember that new and unique doesn’t mean strange or weird, it still has to be desirable to your audience

how to price your jewelry

#4: Not Pricing it right
By Pricing a piece low, you can bring in a sale but it will hurt your chances in the long term. It is very difficult to reset your prices particularly when dealing with regular customers who will compare what you charged ‘last year’ or ‘two years back’ for that gorgeous piece they bough to what you charge now for a simpler design. You cannot antagonise them by arguing about branding, design, competition or inflation as they are the backbone of your business. However you must raise your prices slowly, yet steadily to make a profit. Therein lies your challenge.

#5 Wrong target market
Have you paused to consider who is your target market? Does it comprises of young stay at home moms in the age group of 25-35 or does it cater to teenagers? Is a corporate go-getter your ideal client or are you looking for potential brides to buy your jewelry? Everyone loves to design for the 18-24 segment as they are the most experimental in nature, but can they spend as much as 30 yr olds who have strong careers with good salaries? If you are stuck in this rut of not knowing who your clientele is, think again.Who said 50+ women don’t experiment? I can proudly say that a majority of my clients belong to the 40-65 age group. These are strong, gorgeous women who know what they want and don’t need permission or approval to look the way they want to. So pause for a moment and think, Who is your client?

how to sell your jewelry

#6 Last but not the least -You are not selling them! Duh!!
If you only create products and store them away safely in your cupboards, you simply will not make money. I am guilty of making this mistake as selling is not my forte. But to make money we need to sell and sell hard. Let friends and family know that you sell your designs. Keep your social media pages updated. I often get mails from readers of this blog on how to sell jewelry and where and how do I sell. There is no secret recipe my friends, I sell wherever possible, whenever possible. I have sold at trunk shows, jewelry parties, during festivals and family gatherings, at work, online, fairs and exhibitions. Sometimes I sell as lot and at other times I don’t. One simple trick I follow on social media is to write “For sale” as a caption on every piece that I have for sale. It removes ambiguity around the availability of the product and helps me sell more.

 

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