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What I’ve Learned

Retailers, jewelry makers and even a consultant or two sound off on what they know about wedding jewelry

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We asked a sampling of notable jewelry retailers, designers, manufacturers and consultants to talk about the most important things they’ve learned about the art and science of making and selling engagement rings. Respondents shared everything from practical tips to the emotional high they get from participating in these momentous celebrations of love.

Women are the Drivers

Noam Carver, Noam Carver Designer

  • Women are in the driver’s seat. There was a time when a guy would surprise his bride with an engagement ring. Today, women are active in the process of choosing their ring, sharing images, shopping together and informing their close friends or family of the styles they favor. 
  • Biggest challenge? Getting stores out of their comfort zone, getting them to try new brands and introduce new collections. Retailers can get attached to lines that are not performing out of fear of losing that initial investment, but they are missing out on new collections that can bring revenue growth and new clientele. 
  • Dainty bands, solitaires and intricate setting styles are trending now; demand for halos is declining. Rose gold is very strong and we’re starting to see an uptick in yellow gold; white is still No. 1.
  • What I like about being in this business is: It’s a beautiful harmony of design, fashion, marketing and strategy. Keeps you on your toes and is continuously stimulating. Forging relationships with storeowners, sales staff and consumers brings meaning to all the hard work.

Millennials Get A Bad Rap

Marc Adwar, Brooklyn Jewelers

  • For our new bridal line, we’re trying to target millennials. We take a traditional style and add a little Brooklyn edginess. We built Brooklyn Jewelers in the heart of Williamsburg to be surrounded by millennials. They get a bad rap. They’re misunderstood.
  • I think everyone is wrong about the future of retail. I don’t think everyone is going to be sitting in their houses ordering from Amazon and taking Ubers everywhere. Stores need to change the experience, and if they’re willing to change the experience, they are going to do very well. Everyone has discounted the relationships these retailers have made with their communities over the years. But if those stores aren’t willing to change, then they are going to have a very hard time.
  • When I was a young kid and Dad used to send me on the road, customers would pick out dozens of different styles. And nowadays, stores have much less inventory and everything is more custom-based. Even if a retailer has 5,000 rings, people will want the 5,001st ring. We built our systems for us to be able to build the CAD designs and make alterations for the customer with anticipation that that was going to be happening in the future.
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Make a Personal Connection

Erica Tague, Michael & Sons, Reno, NV

  • I have learned to ask about her. What is she interested in, what does she do for work, how did they meet? Making a personal connection with the person shopping for the engagement ring makes it more than a sale to them. They feel that they have a friend and not just someone trying to sell them something. 
  • I have learned to talk less and listen more. This is difficult because I am Italian and I love to talk, but I have found that if you ask a question, pause and hear their response; then they feel that they are driving the bus.

Show Them Three Diamonds

Alan Perry, Perry’s Emporium, Wilmington, NC

  • Show the customers three loose diamonds and let them pick the one they like best. I learned the three-diamond approach from someone on Polygon many years ago. The nerdy type guys came in saying 54 percent table, 60 percent depth, VVS1, D color, etc. So now I order three diamonds with different colors and cuts and clarity within a certain price range and at least one with a little spread on the table and one triple-X cut and then put them out there, ask him which one is the table and depth you want? Which one is the clarity you want? He always picks wrong … and then I teach him it’s in the eye of the beloved one. Most times, he picks the diamond that’s a lower cut and clarity and a lower price. He usually buys the one I pick for him, because he thinks it’s the most brilliant one of the three!

Let Shoppers Dream the Dream

Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

  • I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget. I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.

Look Out for Relatives

Chuck Kuba, Iowa Diamond, West Des Moines, IA

  • Beware the groom’s mother! They are surely the spawn of Smaug! We are thinking of selling a gift item for the bride to give to the groom. They’re called “Cut the Cord” scissors. 
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Drug Straight to the Heart

Ryan Karp Jr., Cornerstone Jewelry, Palos Park, IL

  • Selling my first engagement ring was a complete joy. Every time still feels like that first time. You’re involved in an intimate experience. To make their dreams come true is better than having my own dreams come true. Like a drug straight to the heart, it keeps us running and always wanting more.

Re-Educate When Necessary

Pat Henneberry, The Jewelry Coach and VP of learning  and development for Hearts On Fire 

  • Many years ago, the consumer came in with no information. They would try their best to learn about the 4Cs. Now they come to us overeducated, and some of the education is not the best. You kind of have to backtrack and start at square one. I like to start by educating them on cut and how important that is.

Find Margin in Mountings

Terry Chandler, President and CEO of the Diamond Council of America

  • When the bridal sector crosses into the millennial sector, the jeweler must have the knowledge, equipment, and expertise to create a one-of-a-kind engagement ring. Millennials want “their” engagement ring, not “an” engagement ring. 3 Amidst all the conversation about shrinking margins on larger center diamonds, the jeweler has an opportunity to make up margin on more diamond-set bridal mountings.

Be Very Good at Getting Them to Talk

Shane Decker, Sales trainer

  • If they’re shopping together, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone. Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or something. Say, “I’m so glad you did some research!” If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet.
  • The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.
  • So many salespeople don’t know how to close. You have to have the ability to romance the product. When you drive up the value of the ring they want, that closes the sale.
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Do Not Be Afraid of Silence

Aleah Arundale, Olympian Diamonds 

  • The problem with most salespeople is they don’t stop talking! Decisions are not made while you are talking, they are made when the customer is thinking. Do not be afraid of silence. Give him the chance to have an inner conversation on how he will pay for it or picture how much she will love it. If you interrupt this, you kill the sale.
  • As strange as it sounds, the price of the diamond does not matter. Shoppers may tell you they saw a cheaper diamond somewhere else, but the more likely truth is that they are not sure what they saw. Think about it. Do most customers really understand diamonds? 
  • You need more and better reasons to buy from you. I call this a value story. Your value story can be that you buy second hand diamonds, or that you have 40 years buying experience, or that you just got back from Antwerp. Even telling customers you have the best warranty can give them that feeling of value and reasons to buy. Not everyone is a price shopper, but everyone is a value shopper.
  • Tell them the price early on. Why? Because all they are thinking is “how much?” “that’s nice but how much?” “would she/he shut up and just tell me how much?” By saying the price early, it shows you are not ashamed or scared of the price. Everything you say afterwards adds value to it.

It’s Not a Refrigerator

Douglas Elliott, Designer and partner, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend. Our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love.
  • I don’t believe in emails for customers. If you’re spending $35,000, I want them to get a phone call.
  • I’ve learned to give the women what they want. They like a thin and delicate ring. We have the world’s thinnest wedding band. This is what the New York woman, between 25 and 35, is wearing today.
  • If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. We made over 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year. Everything is bespoke and made in New York. I pick every diamond in the store. And we sell only gold and platinum men’s bands. If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here. 

Find Out What Exactly They Want

Marisa Perry, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Everyone shopping for an engagement ring is scared. Guys are scared because they’re spending a lot of money and making a huge emotional commitment. They want to get it right. Girls are like “Oh my God, I need a ring! I don’t know what I want!” It’s important to let them try on a lot of options and make sure it’s what they want. It should be really fun. It’s not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.
  • You have to make the customer feel at ease while getting the job done. It’s half business and half fun. Nobody walks out of my store without knowing what they want. We’ve asked them enough questions that they know what they want. They’re grateful. They’re relieved. They figured it out.

Educated Staff Clears Up Confusion

Harvey Rovinsky, Bernie Robbins Jewelers, NJ and PA

  • Education is one of the most important roles of the jeweler — for most clients, this is one of their first significant jewelry purchases. At Bernie Robbins, we have 5 C’s of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, carat, and confusion. Our team is highly educated on our diamonds’ quality, style and process of being responsibly mined.3 The rise of social media allows brides to see pieces online of different styles that they would not have seen otherwise. It also allows our sales team to better understand a bride’s style by seeing photos of pieces she “likes” online. 
  • Customers are increasingly looking to buy from local family-owned businesses instead of major chains to get the personalized, artisan experience.
  • An online presence is even more important as customers investigate a company’s website and social media channels before ever coming to the store, and we want to make sure they have the BR experience online and offline.

Go Deeper Into Collections

Megan Thorne, Designer

  • When it comes to designing rings, I’ve learned to leave room for customization. Styles that work only with a certain shape or size stone make accommodating clients’ stones difficult.
  • The biggest change I’ve observed in what women want is that size is no longer the defining diamond characteristic. Women care about quality, history and the ethical implications of a stone. 
  • My best advice for retailers selling designer engagement rings is to give space to each artist. There are so many talented designers and thousands of gorgeous rings, and it must be tempting to get a little here and a little there so that you can represent more designers. But limiting your selection to fewer artists and going deeper into the collection with each of them allows your team to establish a relationship with the brand and engage more knowledgeably and thoroughly with your clients.

Wedding Jewelry is Recession Proof

Asaf Herskovitz, GN Diamond 

  • People are too negative about millennials. Eighty-eight percent of them believe in getting engaged with a traditional natural diamond. I’m seeing millennials spending more on diamonds than their parents did. There are fewer smaller diamonds and more classic jewelry being brought back, like solitaire settings. Millennials still want natural diamonds and the industry is starting to explain a little bit better why one diamond outshines another diamond. They’re looking for a different life experience. Just being on Main Street for 25 years is not going to cut it any more. Stores need to provide a wow factor and education. 

Love is Love

Rony Tennenbaum, Designer 

  • There were a number of reasons I began designing wedding and engagement rings for the LGBT community. A little over 10 years ago, six states had the laws on the books that allowed gay couples to marry. I woke up one day and said, “I have so many friends who ask me about engagement rings,” but when you Googled gay and lesbian rings, all you would get were rainbow rings and triangle rings, and none of my friends or I would want to wear those as our wedding rings. 
  • I’d get hundreds of emails all of the time from couples seeking advice. I started lecturing on the topic because there’s a different dynamic involved. All we knew was what the tradition is for a traditional couple. Do we both get engagement rings? Do we need to have matching rings? They were asking me these questions. So that’s how I started my series of talks for couples called, “The New Etiquette of the Rainbow.” 
  • I can’t say wedding jewelry is “normalized” in the LGBT community. I think if anything, it’s an individualized niche where a lot of people do different things. No one believes it has to be a certain way. 
  • When the political arena was very favorable, I stepped back from targeting the LGBT market because there’s nothing about my jewelry that says, this is gay, this is straight. There’s no such thing as a gay ring. In my store, 80 percent of my clientele were straight and looking for something unique. I lost a little bit of the fire for LGBT only. Now we’re kind of back to it.
  • It is important that this is an LGBT line, that I am a gay designer and that I stand for LGBT rights. That’s where I feel most comfortable. In the current political climate, we’re going back a step to gay, proud and shout it at the top of our lungs: love is love. Let’s show people that we are here.

One Customer at a Time

Julie Terwilliger, Wexford Jewelers, Cadillac, MI

  • 3 I had a gentleman purchase a modest wedding set from us, and then his fiancée began working with me to exchange it for something bigger. She was a nightmare, and after countless changes to a designer name that we carry, we perfected what she wanted. She explained that she would be paying the difference personally as she made more money than her significant other. I then finalized and updated the invoice to collect a deposit for the new project. Unfortunately, it was automatically sent to the original email on file, which was the gentleman, who apparently had no idea that she had been working with me. It blew up and she was very upset. She intended to table the upgrade for maybe a year until this blew over, but it has been over three years now. Wondering if they are even together still. Lesson learned: email the invoice to the one paying. Ugh!

Become An Invited Guest

James Doggett, Doggett Jewelry, Kingston, NH

  • Over the past 40 years, I have found that the bride-to-be who is the most realistic about what her fiancé can afford stays married the longest and becomes a great repeat client. Remember, for the 5th or 10th anniversaries, the husbands will be back for “something bigger” and all those dates in between, birthdays, holidays, push gifts, they remember how reasonable you were when they were younger and poorer. In 1980 after the silver market crashed, I was working in an urban jewelry store when an “average Joe” came in looking for an engagement ring between $750 and $1,000. Store policy at the time was that you guilt them into $2,000 if they said they had a budget of $1,000. Breaking store rules, I showed him rings in his price range and reminded him that sizing was extra. He bought a nice ring from the estate tray for $900 plus tax. It fit his fiancée perfectly. They followed me when I opened my own store and have been clients ever since. Last Christmas, he bought his bride a sapphire and diamond necklace almost 25 times the price of her engagement ring.
  • I’m not looking to rip anyone off. I’m on the third generation with some families I’ve been dealing with for years. If I treat them right, they will keep coming back. There’s a reason I no longer have to advertise.
  • I am often invited to weddings (learn to dance, guys, and dance with anyone who is sitting alone at a table), where I am often introduced by the bride shaking her left hand at people saying “This is Jim, he made my rings!” Husbands introduce me to their friends and suggest they come to me when they are ready to do “something good for a change.”

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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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store Design for Albany Store Based on Consumer Research

Vice-president Gregg Kelly considered aspects from the scent of flowers used outside to handicapped signage.

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Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Albany, NY

OWNER: Raymond Bleser; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; ARCHITECT: C2 Design Group; LAST RENOVATED: 2017;BUILDOUT COST: $1.3 million; NO. of LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 14;AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cartier, Tacori, Simon G, IWC, Forevermark


WHEN GREGG KELLY told customers he was planning to redo the Albany, NY, location of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, they inevitably asked him, “Why are you spending money on a store that still looks beautiful?”

But Kelly, vice president and son-in-law of owner Raymond Bleser, understands the importance of updating a store’s look and making it as functionally modern and approachable as possible. He invested untold hours studying store design, traffic flow and consumer behavior before embarking on the major remodel he undertook in 2017, which went far beyond a touch up or a new coat of paint.

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In fact, the store was gutted, all while it remained open, with the support of its two sister stores in Schenectady and Glens Falls, NY.

What’s new? A 1,000-square foot addition, the floor plan, the cases, a glass façade, a patio and landscaping. Even the parking lot is new.

“We try to redo the stores every 10 years, and some stuff was falling apart,” Kelly says. “When a customer visits a few times a year, we want to re-engage them and give them a new environment, a new experience.”

The company realized a 15 percent increase in business the first full year following the renovation.

In preparation, Kelly painstakingly considered every detail and collected sources of inspiration from around the world, making it a priority to visit stores when he travels.

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He also reads the Robb Report and other national luxury magazines to stay on top of retail trends. He took a class with neuroscientist Robert Cooper, a New York Times bestselling author and business strategist specializing in consumer behavior. Kelly was particularly interested in what gives people the ability to make good, conscious decisions based on the retail environment itself. “Once you have their attention, it comes down to the associate who guides the decision to purchase.”

To get their attention, Kelly wanted the store to have an open floor plan and optimal traffic flow while balancing the individual requirements of a variety of international shop-in-shop brands with less of a choppy look.

Michael Roman of the C2 Design Group says the overall challenge was to take Kelly’s concept and bring it to life within an existing building.

The sense of openness was achieved by repositioning the entry and shifting it over, which also affected the exterior of the building. The goal inside was to improve traffic flow, so shoppers could feel comfortable, meandering freely without encountering any obstacles. “It’s the experience that’s going to bring you back,” Roman says. The shop-in-shops are tied together with materials and lighting, while accommodating each vendor’s own design criteria.

The glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease as they approach. Especially at night, the window reveals the character of the store within, Roman says. And the casual patio setting in front offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience, easing threshold resistance.

Finishes are sleekly upscale and timeless, rather than trendy.

Kelly also told Roman he wanted a store that looked like it had leaped off the pages of a luxury magazine. Accordingly, finishes are sleekly upscale, but timeless rather than trendy. Decor includes shades of gray and imported European leathers. LED lighting is new, green and efficient. Roman describes the materials used in the interior as the bow on the design package — timeless, clean and relatively simple, designed to complement the design without overshadowing it or being too understated.

Kelly put himself in the shoppers’ shoes when it came to details.

“We changed a lot of different things as we went and I always kept the consumer in mind. Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car,” says Kelly.

“We researched for hours how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella, so they’re not getting wet when they get into the store. I studied the music, the rocks we used outside and the flowers we put into the planters to make sure the scent is appealing.”

While all of this was going on, by far the ultimate challenge was that the full-service jewelry store remained open, to the extent that it could, one section at a time, while chaos was kept at bay.

“The biggest challenge was to make our employees comfortable, as well as our customers,” Kelly says. “We sectioned off parts of the building so we didn’t lose too much consistency. Every part was gutted. We did all right, too, and our customers were great to us. They still shopped and stayed loyal. We were able to move things from store to store and still fulfill their needs.”

Ray Bleser, who founded the company, was happy to leave the renovation project to Kelly.

Originally, Bleser had studied to be a pharmacist, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after just one day in that professional role, he knew it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to pursue his hobby of collecting and selling rare coins and gold.

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Northeastern Coin Gallery opened in 1980 and quickly expanded in scope, becoming Northeastern Fine Jewelry by 1985. In a twist of fate, the company’s flagship location in Schenectady, NY, occupies the building that once housed the drugstore where Bleser’s father worked.

Bleser has given his son-in-law his seal of approval. “He’s stationed in Schenectady, and every time he comes in, he says this is the nicest store from here to New York City,” Kelly says. “It’s a real modern look that’s attractive to all age groups. You get a New York City feel combined with a hometown experience, and I think that’s hard to accomplish.”

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Five Cool Things About Northeastern Fine Jewelry

1. The Diamond District edge. Northeastern Fine Jewelry has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in. We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

2. Training is top of mind. The company sends staff for training provided by its top brands and invests thousands of dollars a year into additional education. The expectation of expertise extends beyond sales to custom design and the repair shop. There’s also a watchmaker on staff.

3. A respect for jewelry history. They plan for an estate sale every year. “We try to keep our roots and the things that made us who we are today. They’re fun, too, because you get to look at things that are older and helped develop the jewelry industry for what it is today,” says Kelly. “And it’s fun to sell one-of-a-kind, rare things and tell the story of how it became what it is.”

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4. Making marketing a priority. “Traditionally, the jewelry industry markets for six weeks leading up to the holidays; we work hard to have a consistent approach to educating the consumer,” Kelly says. “We’re marketing 12 months out of the year.” Marketing is about 30 to 35 percent digital, and the website recently became set up for e-commerce.

5. Promotional savvy. In 2017, Northeastern sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

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When updating your store’s appearance, consider function as well as form and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you are the consumer approaching the building. What is the experience like? Is there shelter from rain? Are curbs accessible? Is there space for seating? Can they tell what kind of a store they will be entering? Have you provided a decompression zone between street and store?

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Geoffrey Brown: “Very strong positive word-of-mouth going on here. The more personable and authentic you are, the more you stay top-of-mind.”
    Laura Davis: “The exterior is beautiful and the interior is very nice.”
  • David Lampert: “Nice looking store. Clever promotion with the Super Bowl.”
  • Katherine Bodoh: “I like the modern exterior with the large windows and natural light. The interior layout looks beautiful and very upscale.”
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Best of The Best

Tiny Jewel Box and Harry Kotlar Celebrate Partnership with Film and Featured Jewelry Masterpieces

November trunk show highlighted Kotlar’s 70th anniversary.

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WHEN A RELATIONSHIP between a high-profile independent jewelry retailer and an esteemed brand blossoms, it’s only natural to throw a big party.

When Tiny Jewel Box of Washington D.C. and luxury jewelry brand Harry Kotlar first partnered about 10 years ago, they started with a small selection of merchandise. Last November, Tiny Jewel Box debuted the first Harry Kotlar in-store boutique on the East Coast, which includes a full collection of rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants, all handmade and hand-forged.

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The ensuing celebration also marked the 70th anniversary of Harry Kotlar. “The opening of the Harry Kotlar boutique inside Tiny Jewel Box represents a confluence of those two histories. It’s also tangible proof of our shared commitment to excellence and luxury,” says David Wiener, Harry Kotlar’s president and head designer.

Matthew Rosenheim, president of Tiny Jewel Box, says the event celebrated the union of the two family-run companies. The guest list included Kotlar collectors, jewelry enthusiasts, influencers and editors.

The focus was on the anniversary collection of seven curated jewelry masterpieces. Each piece references popular design hallmarks that are nonetheless timeless. “We picked out seven pieces — some vintage, some re-created, representing seven decades of our brand’s existence,” says Czarah Cabrera, Harry Kotlar’s marketing director.

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Each piece was featured within the pages of a coffee table book as well as in a short film, which also made their debut at the boutique opening. The book and two-minute film gave the audience a first-hand look into the evolution of Harry Kotlar’s design philosophy and dedication to the craft.

Cabrera says curating the seven pieces to be included was no easy feat. “As far as research goes, I was banging my head, looking at all of our mood boards and vision boards of every decade, including the mod ‘60s, psychedelic ‘70s and punk-style ‘80s, but we couldn’t be too literal because Harry Kotlar is more on the classic and sophisticated side.” She tied together the themes by using models wearing the little black dress, which changes in structure but is always classic and sophisticated. The staff wore little black dresses as well for the event, and influencers in jewelry, fashion and style in DC and New York were also invited to wear the LBD.

Each piece was displayed in a museum-like vignette with an audio guide. Eighteen of Harry Kotlar’s collections were also displayed in a museum-like environment. Guests had the opportunity, too, to sit down with a Harry Kotlar illustrator to create their own Harry

Kotlar pieces, making the event even more personal.

Rosenheim says great relationships between special brands and retail jewelers are built on clear communication, defining and aligning goals and expectations, collaborating on which merchandise will sell best in the specific market, and providing education and training on the brand and products so that the sales team can be passionate brand ambassadors and storytellers. Events support the sales team in their efforts to forge great personal relationships with their customers as well.

Cabrera says an event like this is all about experience and theatrics. And it does drive sales. Some guests bought pieces or put in special orders. “We also were able to prime our customers with gift ideas for the upcoming holidays,” Rosenheim says. “We had a great turnout of our top customers and media partners. The event had a positive and energetic vibe.”

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Tiny Jewel Box must walk a fine line between having too many and two few events as part of its marketing program, Rosenheim says. “In Washington DC, just like in other major metropolitan areas, people are time-deprived,” Rosenheim says. “Fortunately, our customers are loyal and they love coming to our events because they know it will be something special.”

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Best of The Best

Retailers Team with Roger Dery to Help Educate East Africans

The program is called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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SINCE 2010, GEM CUTTER Roger Dery has led jewelry retailers on dozens of trips to East Africa to visit mines, lapidary schools and orphanages through a program called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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Amid the adventures, education and elephant spotting, retailers couldn’t help but notice that Dery, president of Roger Dery Gem Design, tried to help everyone he encountered, whether by delivering food or water, tipping drivers or bringing resources and education to gem-cutting areas. Says David McConnell of the King’s Jewelers in Walnut Creek, CA: “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. He really cares.”

Alumni of Gemstone Adventure Travel say going to the source has benefited their businesses by adding transparency to their gemstone sales and by demonstrating a social consciousness that is valued by today’s consumers.

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. Dery’s myriad retail fans have hosted viewings of the film to educate their customers while enhancing their colored-stone business.

McConnell says his experience in East Africa adds to his credibility and confidence when he’s selling gemstones in his store. He has a positive first-person story to tell about where gems come from — mine to market — and how they can change people’s lives. His store’s most popular event is a gemstone roundtable with Dery.

“How many jewelers can say they’ve been to the mines in East Africa and bought gems from the miners?” McConnell says. “The good I saw being done with schools built for miners’ kids is phenomenal and encouraging. It helps me address concerns when people come into the stores with questions about child miners. Governments are beginning to step in to make sure mines are built correctly so they are safe. Having photos and videos in the store from my trips gives me a level of transparency that most stores can never have.”

Christina Clover-Field of Field’s Jewelers in Redding, CA, says her experience in East Africa motivated her, deepened her understanding of gemstones and made her work more meaningful than she had imagined it could be when she left her position as a hospice nurse to join the family jewelry business. And Chrysa Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, donates a percentage of gem sales to Esther, a miner’s widow who took over the business to support her family.

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In August 2018, encouraged by a group led by Clover-Field, the Derys launched Gem Legacy, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities. A Gem Legacy breakfast and panel discussion is scheduled 8:30 to 10 a.m., Feb. 8, at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, AZ, during the JCK Tucson show.

Roger says he is humbled by the support he has received for what had been an informal, personal project. “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. 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.”

For more information, email info@gemlegacy.org or visit gemlegacy.org.

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