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Podcast: Doug Hucker Discusses His Colorful Life on ‘The Barb Wire’

One of the biggest names in colored gemstones talks with Barbara Palumbo.

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The BARB WIRE (EPISODE 7): DOUG HUCKER (57:02 MINUTES)


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COLORED GEMSTONES and their increasing popularity with younger buyers are the key topics when Doug Hucker, long-time CEO of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) is interviewed by host Barbara Palumbo on this month’s The Barb Wire.

Doug starts off by talking about how entered the jewelry business (4:10). His background: after he graduated university, he worked at a newspaper as a writer and photographer. Wanting to leave his hometown, Doug moved to California and started taking pictures of gemstones for the Gemological Institute of America. He ended up spending 10 years at GIA, mostly teaching classes. It was during this period that he really fell in love with gemstones, he shares. “As you know, the more you know about something, the more education you get, the easier it is to fall in love with it,” he says. “Sweaty palms and shortness of breath, I realized that I love gemstones.”

Did he ever work in retail, Barbara asks (9:30). “No comment,” jokes Doug. He clarifies by saying that, in order to provide some context to the work he was doing for GIA, he took an upaid job with a California jewelry retailer on weekends for a period. “You have to have familiarity with retail, or you can’t understand the full picture of this industry,” he explains.

Doug talks about his eventual move to the leadership of AGTA (13:05) in 1997. Before accepting the role, he was worried about having no previous experience leading an association. But, in the end, he feels AGTA turned out to be a perfect fit for him. “It’s been a fantastic career for me,” Doug says, “because I feel I was able to work with fantastic people, in a great industry, and in some ways, I was able to contribute to making the industry better.”

Barbara says she can’t remember, or imagine, the AGTA without Doug. “If the AGTA had money,” she jokes, “your face would be on the currency.”

Doug talks about the importance of volunteers and their contribution to AGTA’s success (17:05), and applauds their passion for colored gemstones.

Next, Barbara and Doug talk about the increasing popularity of colored gemstones with younger buyers (20:10). Barbara notes that, when her group of female friends was in their 20s and starting to get married, competition for the biggest engagement diamond was intense. “You wanted to be the last one to get engaged, because you knew then you could get the biggest diamond,” she says. These days, both Barbara and Doug agree, going for the biggest possible diamond is no longer an automatic choice for younger women who are getting engaged.

One overlooked factor in the rise of colored gemstones amongst younger buyers, according to Doug, is social media (22:50). “Since you have such a visual, colorful world, and you have the technology you have today, it’s perfect for colored gemstones,” he says. “Look at Instagram and Pinterest and all these different platforms where you can see all these pictures of magnificent gemstones and learn the stories, that experience and that story is very important to young people. And it’s very important that we have young people involved.”

Doug and Barbara then talk about the importance of inspiring younger industry members to join industry groups like the AGTA and AGS, as a key factor in helping them to build passion for colored gemstones (25:40).

Another topic of discussion is the AGTA’s move into this year’s big new Las Vegas event, The Collective, at the Las Vegas Convention Center (32:05). AGTA is co-hosting the event along with the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show and Premier. Doug notes that he is proud of the opportunity that the new event provides for younger, upcoming designers, especially at the jewelry-focused Premier show.

Also mentioned are a few special initiatives Collective partners have launched for the show, including vouchers for free Uber rides to and from the event.

Doug shares his favorite gemstone (41:40) as well as his close second place. He then picks a jewelry business figure, alive or dead, he’d most like to have dinner with (43:00). (“Dead is better because you don’t offend anyone who is living,” Doug astutely notes, before sharing his choice.) He then talks about his biggest influence and his biggest fan.

Doug then shares his favorite four-letter industry-related word (50:10). “I think Vegas was betting on that one,” Barbara says, after he reveals his choice.

Barbara Palumbo is a watch and jewelry industry writer, journalist and speaker. She manages the blogging websites Adornmentality.com and Whatsonherwrist.com.

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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Ben Smithee Isn’t Just Another Social Media ‘Influencer’

He calls social media “the great equalizer” for small businesses.

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The BARB WIRE (EPISODE 10): BEN SMITHEE (65:02 MINUTES)


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THE BARB WIRE celebrates its tenth episode with a visit from Ben Smithee, CEO at The Smithee Group (thesmitheegroup.com), a digital consultancy whose mission is “helping big brands think small and small brands think bigger”.

Talking with host Barbara Palumbo, Ben shares why he decided to originally focus his consultancy on the jewelry business (8:10), and Barbara refers to him as one of the industry’s few true “influencers” online (11:10). He talks about his unusual upbringing in Dallas as the adopted Asian son of white parents (17:00).

He’s passionate about social media, calling it “the great equalizer” for small businesses (29:30). And he later shares one of his pet peeves — retailers who can’t stop complaining about the things their customers do (32:50).

He also cites a specific behavior that he guarantees, if a retailer performs it daily for the next 365 days, will net them a six-figure sales increase (36:20). Later, he outlines the series of questions he asks potential clients to convince them to invest in building their social media following (40:30).

Catch the full podcast above.

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The Barb Wire

Podcast: From Tanzanite to Greenland Ruby, Hayley Henning Loves Selling Color

Her current project is marketing a gemstone that’s “been buried under ice and snow for 3 billion years”.

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The BARB WIRE (EPISODE 9): HAYLEY HENNING (57:59 MINUTES)


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MARKETING COLORED GEMSTONES is on the agenda when Hayley Henning visits The Barb Wire with host Barbara Palumbo.

Henning is currently vice-president of Greenland Ruby, where she has been working the last two years after spending most of her career as one of the key faces behind the rise of Tanzanite since the mid-1990s. (In fact, Barbara says that before she knew Hayley personally, she thought of her as “the Tanzanite lady”.)

The South African native shares some of her personal journey (2:55) from her homeland to a career in the U.S., working for a company called Afgem that eventually became the well-known Tanzanite One. Hayley calls the company’s efforts to market Tanzanite “the start of colored gemstone marketing as we know it today”. (6:55)

Now Hayley is involved in a similar effort to increase public and industry acceptance of Greenland ruby (12:10). Says Henning: “There is no real instruction manual on how to introduce a new gemstone to the gem and jewelry industry. But we’re figuring it out.”

Her company, Greenland Ruby, is the first business with government permission to mine, market and sell ruby material found in Greenland. She is passionate about the story behind Greenland rubies, saying: “It’s not as though we went to some fancy marketing agency to say, “Alright, help us make up a story. We are telling the story of a gemstone that has been buried under ice and snow for nearly 3 billion years.” (25:20)

Later you’ll hear some of the work Hayley is doing with retailers to promote rubies from Greenland, as well as best practices for retailers looking to introduce new gemstone varieties.

Want to learn more about marketing colored gemstones to your customers? Don’t miss Hayley Henning on The Barb Wire.

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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Craig Husar Discusses His Career, and His Spectacular New Store, on ‘The Barb Wire’

Retailer says of his new location: “This was my destiny, to be here and nothing was going to stop me.”

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The BARB WIRE (EPISODE 8): CRAIG HUSAR (50:04 MINUTES)


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WATCH COLLECTORS, vintage jewelry, adventures in treasure hunting, and a showplace new store are on the agenda when jeweler Craig Husar steps into the Barb Wire this month. Husar is the owner and self-titled “Chief Romance Officer” at Craig Husar Fine Diamonds & Jewelry Designs in Brookfield, WI.

Barbara notes that Husar is her first podcast guest she hadn’t previously met in person, then tells the photogenic owner she thinks he should be in a Crest toothpaste commercial (2:30).

The conversation quickly turns to Husar’s spectacular new store (9:30), which opened in January during the week of the polar vortex in Milwaukee. (Spoiler alert: it was extremely cold.)

Husar had decided to move from his long-standing store site when he saw an available location opposite a major new free-standing outdoor lifestyle center in his community. Says the owner about the difficult store-creation process: “I was relentless. I’ve never been so focused and passionate about making something happen in my life. And it was that passion, that drive, that led me here. It was almost like, knowing somehow, that this was my destiny, to be here and nothing was going to stop me.”

The two discuss key features of the new store, including its monumental chandelier, called “the Star of Husar”, which features almost 3,000 Swarovski crystals (13:35). Since the store’s opening, the chandelier has become a focus of selfie-taking in and around the store.

The two discuss last month’s Las Vegas jewelry shows, with special praise given to the Antique Jewelry and Watch Show at the Collective (20:20). Says Husar: “I walked out, and wanted to sell everything I currently have, make it all go away, and start over with all vintage and antique jewelry.” He adds that he is currently developing the vintage and pre-owned part of his business as a new profit center (20:50).

Husar also discusses his previous jobs — including work with legendary treasure hunter Mel Fisher (23:40), with whom he worked on a dive site (a sunken Spanish galleon with valuables worth an estimated $500 million) off the Florida Keys. Around that time, he did a tour of jewelry stores to show off a 90-carat emerald found at the wreck. Barbara doesn’t remember, but then she does remember … mostly because of a specific hairstyle Husar wore at the time.

Husar shares his thoughts on lab-grown diamonds (29:10), and provides a useful analogy retailers can try on customers choosing between naturally-mined and lab-grown diamonds (31:10).

In the closing segment of the show, Husar shares his preferred industry dinner partner (35:50), role model (38:50), favorite jewelry industry word (40:00), and the one accessory that he simply can’t do without (43:25).

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