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Last Year’s INSTORE Design Award Winners Reveal How They Were Affected by Their Victories



There’s still time to enter this year’s competition.

With the entry portion of INSTORE’s 3rd annual Design Awards closing this Friday at midnight PST, I thought I would follow up with some of last year’s winners to find out if the competition had paid off for them.

Designer Jill Maurer, whose designs are inspired by prehistoric cave drawings, won 1st place in the Platinum category, edging out some big designer names in the process. She says that the award wasn’t just satisfying personally — it also delivered business. “Winning the INSTORE Design Award was not only a personal delight but a boon to my wholesale business. What jewelry storeowner doesn’t read INSTORE? My piece appearing on its pages took me to the next level as a designer. It meant I had arrived! Thank you INSTORE!”

Another cutting-edge designer, Hisano Shepherd, owner and designer of Little H, not only swept the Pearl category, winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, but she also won 1st place in the Diamond category. As a result, she was also chosen as the recipient of the Cindy Edelstein Memorial Emerging Designer Award. Her innovative approach to pearls involves slicing the pearl open and using gemstones and diamonds to accent its beauty.

Said Shepherd of the win: “My experience with winning first place in diamonds; first, second and third in pearls; and the Cindy Edelstein Emerging Designer Award was amazing! I received accolades from retailers, industry influencers, designers and fans and opened new accounts from retailers who saw the award announcements.”

She added that it was a special honor to receive the Cindy Edelstein Memorial Emerging Designer Award.  “She inspired and encouraged so many designers to succeed in the industry. I am very grateful for the wonderful judges who selected my work!”

Maurer and Shepherd weren’t the only ones who saw a boost in business after winning awards. Todd Pownell and Debra Rosen, who co-own and design for TAP by Todd Pownell, won 1st place in the Gold category. Debra said, “Winning the INSTORE design award was an exciting, energizing experience. An honor to receive, it gave our designs a boost of recognition, which we benefited from throughout the year. The magazine’s exposure is seen by both the industry and our peers.” She added that designers should continue to support design competitions like this one. “The award generated a shared joy, which helps promote an awareness of all designer jewelry.”


Designer Wendy Brandes won 1st place in the highly-competitive Colored Gemstone category for her collaboration with ethically-sourced ANZA Gems. Regarding the winning ring, she said, “I knew the ring was ‘different’ in two ways: Not only was the design itself a change from my usual aesthetic to reflect my collaboration with ANZA Gems, but the electrifying color combination of thestones struck many people as unusual. That made it especially gratifying for the judges to see the beauty in that color scheme presented as it was in that particular ring.”

As for the exposure she received as a result of the award, Brandes said it is inspiring from a purely creative perspective. “One of my personal mottoes is ‘Never Is the Next New Thing,’ because I’ve observed that a style that seems shocking at first is often the precursor of a major trend. The catch is that people have to see the style in order to experience that frisson of surprise. The fact that this ring was appreciated and then shared with all of INSTORE’s readers has encouraged me to focus on the most vividly colored stones in my continuing collaboration with ANZA.”

Finally, the winner of the Engagement/Wedding Ring category was Michelle Fantaci, whose off-center, trillion rose-cut diamond ring was emblematic of the type of unique, personal look that today’s millennial shoppers want. Said Fantaci: “I was honored to receive the design award for wedding and engagement rings. It was meaningful and encouraging to me that industry leaders are recognizing nontraditional bridal designs like mine.”

The INSTORE Design Awards are different from most design competitions because they not only incorporate a blind-judging component wherein 1st, 2ndand 3rd places in each category are chosen by a handpicked group of top retailers and influencers, but it also has a separate online-voting portion that decides a “Retailer’s Choice” winner in each category. This online process also allows retailers from across North America to see all of the top designs and put names to each one, which leads to new designer-retailer relationships. After all, the winning designs are beautiful, but there are many, many other entries that are gorgeous as well and deserve to find their place among the showcases of America’s retailers.

If you’re a designer, I hope you’ll make the small investment of time and money necessary to enter this year’s awards competition.  The awards mean so much more when you have the very best competing!




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