Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine (and for many, reopening).
Today we hear from beloved independent fine jewelry designer Margery Hirschey, who is still quarantined with her husband but has recently begun venturing out (with a face mask on).
JCK: Where are you based, and are you still in quarantine? If so, who are you shacked up with?
I’m lucky enough to be based in one of the most beautiful states, Colorado, and since the weather has gotten warmer, and the garden has come alive, it’s really quite beautiful, and I have more time to really enjoy it.
My husband and I are still quarantined for the most part. He had open-heart surgery last February and has a slightly higher risk for complications from COVID, so we’re being pretty careful. We always wear masks when we go out, but we do go to the grocery store and just started visiting friends, socially distant and in the open air, which is really nice.
Can you describe your work life in quarantine?
I always work at home, so I can work as much as I like. Since we were all glued to the TV when this first started and we were all pretty concerned, I wasn’t getting much work done. And it’s hard to get back into the swing of things now that we have settled into our new normal.
I’ve been working more on our online presence for the time being. It’s kind of a tedious job, but it needs to be done, especially now.
How has the pandemic changed your business plans for 2020 and beyond?
Obviously, trade shows are out, probably for the remainder of 2020, which I think puts all designers on equal footing—and that’s not a bad thing, especially for smaller designers.
There is always a decision about which trade shows are going to be the best, and right now that quandary is a moot point. If designers are able to successfully reach out to retailers without trade shows, will that change how they do business in the future?
Trade shows are a wonderful way to meet with your peers and your retail partners and interact socially in a way. It’s hard to do otherwise, especially if you live outside of New York City or Los Angeles. But they’re increasingly expensive.
Many businesses have had to make changes due to COVID, and I think many of the changes will last post-pandemic.
Are you designing at home? How have things changed at retail for you?
I am designing a little bit, but I am very distracted with the news, and that’s been an issue for me. I’m starting to feel the need to start working again in earnest. I’m getting itchy to make things. As far as retail stores are concerned, I have several outstanding invoices, but I know the stores are hurting right now, and I have let these slide for the time being. I haven’t contacted any of my retail partners since this started, except to check up on everyone.
I’ve been selling online, and that has been wonderful. The first month when people were quite scared, I didn’t sell a thing. But after things calmed down, I think the people who still had an income were starting to get bored. And jewelry is so special and it creates a memory—they started buying again.
The stores were closed, so they went online and business has been pretty decent. I sold a large emerald ring to a woman who wrote to tell me how much she loved it, and how she and her husband have nicknamed it the “Quarantine Emerald.”
We have also just started to work with 1st Dibs, as I think online shopping is going to be an even greater force in the future. Partnering with 1st Dibs means opening up our brand to a whole new audience, so we’ll see where that goes.
How has your heart and mind been reacting to the recent protests spurred by the death of George Floyd?
It’s such a horrible situation, and it’s been going on for so long, but this finally feels different. I’m hopeful that change will come and begin to end the systemic abuse of power by the police in our country.
I don’t realistically expect racism to end anytime soon, and we all have to do our part to keep the pressure on. Thankfully now, with cell phones, more of these incidents are being caught on tape. But even that has not led to many prosecutions.
I remember the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots and being absolutely sickened about Trayvon Martin. He was just a child. And there are so many more, yet nothing has changed. Years ago I volunteered at a battered women’s shelter. Part of our training was diversity awareness training, and one of the things we had to do was go around the room and say, “My name is ________, and I am a racist and I am homophobic.” The reason being, that in order to be a better human being, we have to acknowledge our, oftentimes unconscious, biases.
To say those words out loud is an incredibly difficult thing to do. To admit you have biases, and everyone does, is the first step to overcoming racism. Every American has a responsibility to educate themselves about the history of institutional racism in this country. This was something that was not taught in schools in New York in the 1960s, when I was growing up, and that is kind of shocking in itself. We learned about slavery but not about the Reconstruction era.
American history during that time frame is pretty ugly and shameful, but it is something we all have to acknowledge in order to move forward.
How do you hope the protests and larger movements will impact the jewelry industry?
We’re all hoping for more diversity in the fashion industry as a whole. And I think it’s happening slowly but surely. However, there are some very well-established fashion industry institutions that seem like sororities for extremely privileged, very well connected white women. And that is a big issue. These institutions seriously need to update their hiring practices. And it’s a socioeconomic issue for independent designers, some of which can afford to hire the best PR representation and others who cannot afford it, and they really have a very difficult time getting their names out there.
How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during quarantine?
First and foremost exercise is important, and I work out on our stationary bicycle and take long walks…even when I don’t want to. I’ve also been knitting and recently finished a cable sweater. I enjoyed doing it so much I ordered a beautiful yarn and pattern from the U.K. a little over a month ago.
Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?
The last book I read was Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin, which takes place during the German occupation of Paris. And Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill. I also enjoyed, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World, by Aja Raden—a must-read for anyone in the jewelry business.
But my absolute favorite TV escapism, and I’ve already watched all the episodes twice is, The Durrells in Corfu, based on Gerald Durrell’s trilogy, My Family and Other Animals, about his family’s decision to move from the U.K. to Corfu [Greece], during the mid 1930s. It’s absolutely charming. It’s a PBS series available on Amazon Prime. Another PBS series I can recommend is Poldark, which takes place in the U.K. right after the American Revolution and has many parallels to this time.
Top: Margery Hirschey (all photos courtesy of Margery Hirschey)
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