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Eileen McClelland

Gem Adventure Tours Support East African Mining Communities

Group’s leader sought “to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started.”

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The 70 children of the Luzi Children’s Orphanage near Lilongwe, Malawi have all been orphaned by different circumstance and are cared for by the Orphanage, which provides shelter, food, and school fees. They are currently seeking to sustain themselves through gem rough sales.

Since 2010 Roger Dery has led retailers and other jewelry industry professionals on dozens of trips to East Africa to visit mines, lapidary schools and orphanages.

Amid the adventures, education and elephant spotting, his guests couldn’t help but notice that Dery, president of Roger Dery Gem Design, reached out to help everyone he encountered along the way.

Chrysa Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, joined him in June.

“Roger gives back wherever he goes, whether it’s visiting the miners and bringing them food and water, whether it’s tipping the drivers, bringing resources to gem-cutting areas,” she says. “If there is a need for knowledge as well as for resources, he finds a way to provide that.”

David McConnell of The King’s Jewelers in Walnut Creek, CA, joined Dery on trips in 2011 and 2014.

“One of the things that struck me the most was that he always strove to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started,” McConnell says. “If it was someone selling rough and there was nothing Roger wanted to buy, he would try to give the guy something, even if it was a new baggie to hold the rough. Supplies of any kind are hard to get and expensive.

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“And that endears people to him. That certainly helps in his business, but that’s not why he does it. He really cares about these people.”

McConnell is one of many jewelers who urged Dery and his wife, Ginger, to set up a non-profit organization so that other people can help, too. “When you’re THERE, there are opportunities to give, to throw in some cash for the school. But when you go back to the U.S. and you’re doing gem roundtables and talking about gemstones and all the good they do, it’s hard to NOT have an organization set up for people to contribute to.”

“Over the years, that’s something I’ve been whispering in his year,” McConnell says.

In 2017, a group he led got together, contributed some money and again encouraged the Derys to start a fund.

“They wanted us to have ready funds and also something they could easily contribute to,” says Ginger. “It wasn’t our idea and we probably wouldn’t have thought of it. We were humbled and overwhelmed. It’s pretty amazing that people who came from all different walks of the retail industry would come together and want to make such an incredible difference in East Africa. Only in retrospect can we say that we were showing them how a small amount of money can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

As a result, Roger, Ginger, and their daughter Rachel launched Gem Legacy in August, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities.

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“Gem Legacy is dedicated to what we’ve been doing in Africa for over 20 years,” says Roger, “In our 57 combined trips to Africa, we have met thousands of people in East Africa’s remote villages and bush mines where gems have had a remarkable influence on their lives. Gems bring hope, make a difference, and leave a lasting change, a timeless legacy.”

The organization has several initiatives, including Gem Faceting Training, Kitarini Primary School, and Gemological Training. One hundred percent of every donation will return directly to the communities where gems are mined.

Dery was featured in SHARING THE ROUGH, a 2014 documentary about the journey of gems from mine to market, directed by filmmaker and jeweler Orin Mazzoni. The film traces the path through the supply chain of a single gemstone and touches on the potential of the gem industry in Tanzania and Kenya and the importance of gemological education there.

“The first time I went in September 2011 it changed my perception of the industry, my ability to talk about it, my heart for the people, the miners, the kids,” Ginger Dery says. “And so that’s what we want to share with retail jewelers. If it can do that for me, and I live colored stones, what can it do for them, to be able to say `Yeah, I was there. Let me tell you about it. Let me tell you about this school in Africa that we support.”

Roger encourages retail jewelers to travel to Africa, or if not Africa, then to Oregon sunstone mines or Maine tourmaline mines or gem shows in Tucson. “If clients know you just order something from New York or LA, that’s not very exciting. You would like to be able to say, `I traveled to this particular mine in Kenya, bought the miners a couple cases of water and a 5 kilo bag of corn, sat and talked to the guys and had a pretty good feel about what they were going through that day.”

McConnell says his visit to the school in northern Tanzania, in a ruby mine area, made a deep impression on him. “A school has been put together by the local mine owner to benefit the miners’ children. It’s a direct result of having ruby in the area, and there’s Western money coming in. There are hundreds of kids there, who have enthusiasm for life and for interacting with us. That was one of the absolute highlights of my trip.”

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McConnell says his African experience also added to his credibility and confidence when he’s selling gemstones in his store. Now he has a first-person story to tell about where the gems come from and how they can change people’s lives.

Gemologist Meredith Schlessinger of Byard F. Brogan in Pennsylvania made the trip in 2016. “Just the little bit we donate goes a long way. A couple hundred dollars can feed children at an orphanage for close to a year. I was so moved by what they do that that was why I decided to go on that trip.  I’m excited for the people of Eastern Africa because they are the ones who are going to benefit.”

Just the little bit we donate goes a long way.

Maggie Szekely-Lusso, president and jewelry designer for Servis & Taylor in Los Angeles, says her socially conscious California customers are impressed knowing their jeweler has gone to the source. “We bought rough and had Roger cut it. People just love it. Customers have adopted foster elephants in Africa, and if they haven’t been to a gem roundtable yet, they ask to be put on the list for next time.”

Szekely-Lusso’s trip was in 2017. “For us, being independent jewelers, having the challenges with the diamond world, we were already interested in color. But recently we made a huge turn toward color. There’s more happiness in it and better margins. Selling loose gems, we create a lot of custom work.

Cohen of Continental Jewelers met Dery three years ago when she hosted a viewing of “Sharing the Rough” in her store. “Roger has developed a relationship with people to understand what they need and what he can do to help.”

The story that most resonated with Cohen was that of Esther, widow of miner Gichuchu OKeno (featured in Sharing the Rough), who had to work hard to support her children when her husband died. A single mom, Esther founded Precious Women Mining and now spends her days crawling in holes with a hammer and chisel searching for tsavorite. Cohen is working on raising funds for Esther, whose most immediate need is a new $5,000 compressor to push more air into the mine. Cohen is donating a percentage of her colored-gem sales to Esther’s endeavor.

For more information about Gem Legacy Inc. or to donate, email info@gemlegacy.org or visit gemlegacy.org. To learn more, follow Gem Legacy on Instagram @thegemlegacy and on Facebook @thegemlegacy.


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Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Eileen McClelland

Longtime Jeweler Eases Into Retirement but Still Loves ‘Placing Beautiful Things With the Right People’

Jo Rosenblum King prepares to auction a treasured collection.

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Jo’s parents, Earle and Isobel and Jo Rosenblum King

JO ROSENBLUM KING is one of the first jewelers I got to know after I joined INSTORE in 2007. I met her at the Houston Jewelers Breakfast, a group that generously took me under their wing, and she helped me embark on assembling a fine jewelry wardrobe by selling me my first strand of pearls, which, true to her clienteling super powers, she remembers 12 years later.

Jo and her local “competitors” taught me that jewelers who cooperate can learn a great deal from each other. It was inspiring to see that collaboration in action as they traded advice, jokes and gems over waffles or scrambled eggs at the crack of dawn. It helped me understand, too, how INSTORE was a type of jewelers’ breakfast for retailers who might otherwise feel isolated.

Jo told me this week that although she did more or less retire a few years ago, she still has jewelry in her vault that she plans to auction. She wants to get the word out about that, because she wants each cherished piece to find the right home.

Since she joined her family’s business as an adult, her favorite part of selling jewelry was placing her favorite pieces in nice homes. “I began to feel like an adoption agency,” she says. She made sure they were presented in the best light possible, too, once packaging a charm bracelet of baby shoes (one for each of seven children) in a doll house. “Sometimes you had to go all out with certain customers and buy things to create a magnificent giftwrap,” she says.

Jo grew up knowing the value of personalized customer service.

Her parents, Earle E. and Isobel (Billie) Rosenblum opened a mom and pop store in a downtown Houston office building in 1955 when downtown was still the center of the city’s commerce and populated with well-heeled oil-industry types. One of those Houston clients, a rancher, had bought a new Cadillac and wanted CZs set in the fins. They took on the job, but had to make frequent repairs because every time they visited the gas station, some CZs would wind up missing.

Earle and Isobel expected all of their children to work in the family business when they were growing up.

“We wrapped gifts to earn money,” she says. “We all spent summers and Christmas working in the store. My brother, my sisters, we all had to wait on customers. But as an adult I never had anything to do with it until they asked me to come help with the jewelry store when someone was on vacation.”

Suddenly, retail jewelry became a calling and not a chore.

“How bad can it be when you’re surrounded by beautiful things?” Jo says.

Earle died in 1996 and Jo bought Isobel’s share of the business in 1999 and moved into a retail space at the Hilton Houston Post Oak in Houston’s Uptown neighborhood.

The space was tiny and narrow but Jo loved to fill it with hand-picked treasures and enjoyed meeting hotel guests from all over the world while continuing to nurture local relationships.

Her customers always appreciated her honesty about what looked good on them, or not so good.

And she enjoyed expanding their horizons and their appreciation of fine jewelry.

“Expanding their expectations was my favorite thing,” she says. “They’d come in with a little bitty earring and I’d bump them up and up to larger sizes. I liked finding things that looked good on them. I do have a good eye for that. I miss going to shows and picking out things that my customers would like.”

Jo doesn’t recommend retiring “cold turkey” and so she has continued to meet with long-term clients as a jewelry consultant since she closed her retail doors four years ago, while appreciating being able to sleep later.

Things had changed in the jewelry business at that point and competition had become incredible. “Everyone who ever managed a jewelry store would go out and open their own. There were so many jewelry stores,” she says. “When my dad first started there were a handful and Houston wasn’t half as large. But customers would trust you, they would assume you gave them a good price because you had been their jeweler forever. Now they want to buy it online and then see what you think of it, because they trust you.”

“It was a nice career and a lovely business, placing beautiful things with the right people.”

Now she’s decided it’s time to sell the remaining jewelry from her collection, those special pieces still looking for just the right home.

For more information about Jo’s Fine, Fabulous and Funky Jewelry & Gift Sale, which goes live on Nov. 1, visit liveauctioneers.com.

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Big Survey

2019 Big Survey: Jewelers Predict Next Trend in Jewelry

Results of the 2019 Big Survey are in. Here’s a sample.

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WE ASKED 800-PLUS retail jewelers to take an educated guess at the next breakout category in jewelry.

Here are their top 10 responses:

1. Lab-created diamonds and finished jewelry. (“I think we are already seeing it and it is anything with laboratory-created diamonds.”)

2. Yellow gold (“Yellow gold has been hot, but with the current prices I am not sure.”)

3. Color (also described as rare, exotic and bold. Spinel was mentioned more than once.)

4. Silver (including silver fashion with lab-grown diamonds)

5. Custom and custom bridal

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6. Stackable rings and bracelets

7. Men’s jewelry (Fashion, engagement rings and precious metal wedding bands were mentioned.)

8. Pearls

9. Avant-garde or alternative bridal, including anything asymmetrical

10. Pre-owned jewelry, including vintage jewelry, updated estate jewelry, repurposing old jewelry and restoration of a customer’s jewelry

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted in September and October and attracted responses from more than 800 North American jewelers. Look out for all the results in the November issue of INSTORE.

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Eileen McClelland

2019 Big Survey: 10 Times When Jewelry Store Employees Left the Job in Dramatic Fashion

Results of the 2019 Big Survey have been rolling in. Here’s a sample.

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WE ASKED SURVEY respondents to share the most epic ways they’d seen someone quit or be fired. Dealing with employees on their way out can be touchy. Sometimes these unfortunate encounters even culminate in award-winning dramatic performances. Read on for the most memorable ways employees have parted ways with jewelry stores:

Top 10 Countdown

The award for best dramatic performance goes to the employees who:

10. Screamed at the top of their lungs, “I QUIT”

9. Showed up in pajamas, had a breakdown, then quit and walked out.

8. Threw rings at the boss while asking for a raise, then quit.

7. Threw a crystal piece through a showcase shelf.

6. Hit the jeweler in the head with a bag of bananas.

5. Threw his key at me.

4. Came in wielding a pipe wrench screaming that we were liars.

3. Ran out of the shop, arms raised in the air, saying “he’s trying to kill me.”

2. Got drunk at a charity event we were sponsoring, hit on one of the ladies and pulled her skirt up. Police were called.

And the No. 1 best dramatic performance goes to:

1. The employee who hired a marching band to quit.

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted in September and October and attracted responses from more than 800 North American jewelers. Look out for all the results in the November issue of INSTORE.

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