And the GEM Award Goes to…

My brain is a little scrambled after a nonstop weekend of industry events, starting with Friday’s JVC luncheon and concluding with Saturday night’s 113th annual banquet of the Twenty-Four Karat Club. There’s a LOT to say about all of it, but I’ll limit my comments to a handful of observations that remain with me now that the festivities are over.

It’s good to be among winners.

Last night’s Golden Globes had nothing on Friday night’s GEM Awards. The Jewelry Information Center went all out for the 13th annual industry shindig, with a super-snazzy celebration at Cipriani 42nd Street. I’ve been going to the event for years, and while it’s always been a glamorous evening, I don’t recall it being quite as glam as it was on Friday night.

Let’s start with the live-streaming online, which began with red carpet interviews conducted by the always-gracious Hayley Henning. (I was among the interviewees, but I’m not going to tell you the time stamp where you can find me babbling away!)

After cocktails, as I took my seat at the Shinola table beside PR director Trish O’Callaghan, the company’s founder—the famously press-averse Texan—greeted me. “Gomelsky!” he boomed across the table, before introducing me to design director Carolyn Murphy, the beautiful blond model and actress who stars in the brand’s newest ad campaign, as well as a trio of guys from Partners & Spade, the NYC branding agency that came up with the Shinola campaign that includes the ad for The Gomelsky. We shared a laugh—anybody who can finesse my clunky last name into an ad campaign has got to have a sense of humor!

As a nominee in the marketing and communications category, the Detroit-based watch brand was up against two notable contenders—Forevermark and Tudor—so it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that it would win…but I had a good feeling it would. (I know, I know: I’m biased).

The reason I knew Shinola would win the GEM Award is because when you get down to it, it has the best story. Unlike most brands, which are a collection of branding messages in search of a narrative, Shinola is a narrative with a few key branding messages thrown in for good measure. Founded in 2013, the company assembles Swiss-made Ronda watch movements and makes leather straps and small leather goods at its factory in the Argonaut Building in central Detroit. I won’t get into its fabulous naming story here, but suffice it to say that you don’t know s*** about creative marketing if you don’t know Shinola.

Model, actress, and new Shinola design director Carolyn Murphy accepting the GEM Award for marketing and communications at Cipriani 42nd Street

Congrats are in order, not only to the whole Shinola team but also to the evening’s other winners: funny-as-hell Stephen Webster for his GEM Award for design, classy Claudia Mata for her GEM Award for media excellence, and Neiman Marcus’ Larry Pelzel for his GEM Award for Lifetime Achievement—not to mention the JIC’s Amanda Gizzi for overseeing yet another fabulous industry throw-down!

The gem trade is a microcosm of history.

At the Twenty-Four Karat gala, I sat where I always sit: in the nosebleed seats on the third floor balcony of the Waldorf Astoria grand ballroom, which offered a killer view of the black-tie schmoozing below.

The divine view from the third floor balcony of the Waldorf’s grand ballroom

On one side of me sat Jonathan LeVian, the friendly young scion of the Le Vian jewelry clan, and on the other side sat Benny Hajibay, an old-school gem dealer born and raised in Mumbai to parents who traced their heritage to the same Mashadi community of Persian Jews from which the LeVians descend. It’s a fascinating story that begins in the middle of the 18th century, when a group of Jewish families was forced to relocate and settled in Mashad, Persia. In time, the families came under siege by local Muslims and had to pretend to convert to Islam, meaning they had to assume Muslim-sounding family names like Hajibay (hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca).

Anyway, I learned all of this and more while Benny and I chatted over our 24 Karat dinners, and now I’m excited to see him in Tucson, where he exhibits at the AGTA GemFair. His family’s legacy in the trade is one of the reasons I dig this business so much—the continuity is not to be taken for granted!

Must. Get. Selfie stick.

Four of the many selfies I snapped over the weekend, with people who are not only incredibly cool, but also help make this business go ’round. Please pardon the fuzzy ones!

Me and JCK‘s stellar managing editor, Melissa Rose Bernardo, at the GEM Awards on Friday night

Me and Brandee Dallow, a super-cool chick who also happens to have a heavy-duty job: managing Rio Tinto Diamonds’ U.S. representative office

JCK‘s one-of-a-kind national sales manager Billy Furman; Hayley Henning, a gemstone ambassador now working with Greenland ruby miner True North Gems; and yours truly at the 24 Karat gala at the Waldorf

Me and Lars Parker-Myers, manager of strategic accounts for the LUXURY show and a longtime partner in crime, on the couch in Brandee’s Waldorf suite