Beyond the Pearl: How I Came to Jewelry and JCK

If you’re a regular reader of JCK, you probably recognize my name from the masthead. I joined the magazine as editor nearly two years ago, just a couple months after the 141-year-old publication underwent a dramatic redesign. Still the “industry authority,” the book grew bigger, glossier, and even more authoritative than before.

The team at TMG Custom Media, JCK’s new publisher, took care of the heavy lifting when it came to the redesign, so when I arrived in July 2010 as an “acting editor,” my main mission was to uphold the high standards that had been set for us. My role was termed “acting” because TMG was searching for a New York City–based editor-in-chief and I no longer qualified. After 11 years in the city, I had moved back to Los Angeles at the end of 2009 in order to be closer to my family; when JCK came along, I was supporting myself through freelance writing, mostly about jewelry and watches.

The JCK gig seemed perfect because it would afford me the opportunity to work with people I already knew and respected—publisher Mark Smelzer, senior editors Rob Bates and Jennifer Heebner, and national sales manager Bill Furman—all while maintaining my connection to jewelry. And I won’t pretend that visiting New York on the company dime was a hardship. I was thrilled.

A couple months in, we realized that with Skype and VPN connections, the distance wasn’t such a big deal, so I signed on permanently. I now spend about a week out of every month in New York City. But the bicoastal back-and-forth isn’t all. This year alone, I’ve logged at least 100 hours on planes, on trips that have taken me from L.A. to New York City to Geneva, Tucson, Florida, Basel, and London. For those who know me, that isn’t unusual. I am a fiend for travel.

So let that serve as one excuse for taking so long to write my first blog post. Another reason for the delay: It took ages to settle on a name. I thank managing editor Melissa Bernardo for the clever title (she specializes in clever): “What about Off the Chain?” she wrote in a late-night email last week. “Jewelry reference, not highfalutin, and it means, essentially, wild and fun.”

I was sold. Wild and fun pretty well sums up why I’m so devoted to the jewelry business. Here’s the story of how I got into it, in a nutshell:

At the start of the millennium, just as I was completing coursework in a Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia University, I took a job writing about pearls for a gem and jewelry trade website, despite having no prior knowledge of the industry. My first assignment brought me to a pearl farm in the Arafura Sea, off the northern coast of Australia, where I watched two blond, sunburned farm workers lift a line of giant Pinctada maxima oysters from the water and explain to me how they cultured the most valuable pearls in the world. Mesmerized, I began writing about the jewelry business, and I’ve made a living this way ever since.

Most journalists who write about the business specialize in a discrete category, be it diamonds, fashion, or watches. In my dozen years of writing about jewelry—for a mix of consumer and trade titles, chief among them National Jeweler, Couture International Jeweler, and the International Herald Tribune—I’ve covered them all.

That’s the all-encompassing kind of perspective I’d like to take with Off the Chain. Before I started penning this column, I considered writing a post about the myriad connections between jewelers and…dentists (prompted by a stroll through the Equipment, Technology & Supplies show at JCK Las Vegas, where the machinery on display was equally coveted by both).

The other topics that I have found compelling this year (in no particular order): the growing emphasis on brands, and how independent multi-brand retailers can stay relevant in a world where their vendors prefer to sell directly to consumers; the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots, and how that division plays out in the jewelry sphere, where luxury and low price are shaping up to be the only two options; and, always, the trade’s enduring love affair with colored stones, my first—and truest—love.

I look forward to reading your comments, hearing your suggestions, and one day, I hope, meeting you. Here’s to a fantastic summer!