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Podcast: Michael O’Connor, Jewelry’s Perfect Spokesman, Visits ‘The Barb Wire’

Learn how he grew from salesperson into one of jewelry’s most visible commentators.

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THE BARB WIRE EPISODE 4: MICHAEL O’CONNOR (58:09 MINUTES)


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MICHAEL O’CONNOR drops into The Barb Wire this month to chat with host Barbara Palumbo about his life in the jewelry business — which has featured one of the most unique career paths imaginable.

The two discuss Michael’s progress from Toronto teenager to jewelry salesperson, to New York-based jewelry designer, to jewelry marketer, to QVC on-air presenter, and finally, his ultimate transformation into celebrity stylist and on-air style commentator for numerous major media brands. The long-time industry fixture now runs Style & Substance, his own marketing and communications firm supporting quality lifestyle brands.

Other discussion topics include techniques for staying young, the importance of eliminating the BS in business relationships (and non-business relationships), as well as this year’s Oscar trends.

Plus, we get fun dish on Michael’s many celebrity relationships — including details on which member of the Desperate Housewives cast is most fun to drink margaritas with.

Enjoy the newest episode of The Barb Wire. It’s talk radio for the jewelry business.


SHOW CHRONOLOGY
  • 2:00 How long has Michael been in the business? He began in 1979, “when diamonds were discovered,” he quips.
  • 3:00 How does Michael stay looking so young? “It’s nothing that anyone couldn’t do with [the help of] $50,000 worth of plastic surgery,” he jokes.
  • 4:05 Barbara admits that she actually made a batch of popcorn for this interview.
  • 4:20 Michael shares his range of experience in the jewelry industry. He’s done … just about everything. He shares the story of his introduction to the industry, as a teenager in Canada, when he opportunistically turned running an errand for his father into a job as a jewelry salesperson.
  • 12:30 After working in sales, design and at the bench, Michael finally comes to America. (And yes, he does have a green card.) He gets experience with what he calls “a few small, unknown companies” like Gucci, DeBeers, Frederick Goldman, etc.
  • 15:30 At this point, in the late 1980s, he moved away from designing and into marketing. With many companies moving away from full-time “house designers”, as well as the increasing prevalence of CAD design, he felt that marketing would be a more valuable career to be in than design.
  • 20:20 Michael takes on a role as senior vice president with Platinum Guild International and begins to see increased exposure as a television personality.
  • 21:40 On the importance of being no-BS in the jewelry industry … and life.
  • 23:10 How the hell did Michael get on television, Barbara asks. He started by pitching a brand for Frederick Goldman on QVC over a span of about two years. The brand never took off, but Michael’s TV career did, as he did more work for QVC, as well as additional TV projects including his own TV series, MovieStyle with Michael O’Connor for Reelz.
  • 29:50 Michael begins to cover celebrity fashion on TV, and his agency suggests that he also begins working directly on styling and placing fashion items with celebrities. He drops a few names of celebrities he has worked with, like Amy Adams.
  • 31:20 All-time favorite clients included the cast of Desperate Housewives, with particular affection for Nicolette Sheridan, who was good at promoting the product and also didn’t mind a margarita after the events were over.
  • 32:20 Other casts that he has worked with — the cast of The Office and Orange is the New Black. (And he remains friends with many of them.)
  • 34:00 Do all celebrities expect payment for wearing a specific jewelry brand to an event? Michael says no. He takes pride in the fact that celebrities regularly call him, without expecting payment, to ask what he can accessorize them for an awards show.
  • 37:10 Michael shares his predictions for the Oscars red carpet, explaining the difference between “trends” and “fads”. His basic assessment? Jewelry is getting much bigger, size-wise.
  • 42:50 Barbara and Michael touch on the “man-brooch” trend that Michael may have created at one awards show a few years back.
  • 45:40 Michael selects the one person, alive or dead, he would most want to have dinner with. While first mentioning two dearly missed friends he’d cherish seeing again (the late Cindy Edelstein and Robin Rotenier), his choice is a Russian jeweler who was one of the most famous designers of all time.
  • 48:00 Michael shares his greatest influence. It was someone in his life who had a great work ethic, and was brutally honest — two qualities Michael believes he has carried into his professional life.
  • 51:00 Favorite industry show? JCK. It’s the one show where Michael feels he can see everybody.
  • 55:40 Gold or platinum? It would be a serious upset if the former senior vice president of the Platinum Guild wasn’t #teamplatinum. Of course, he’s #teamplatinum.

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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