JCK Special Report: Jane Seymour on Jewelry

“My inspiration for this collection was a woman named Mieke Frankenberg,” says Seymour. She always used to say, ‘If you think life is insurmountable and times are tough, go help someone else. It takes you out of yourself and ultimately helps you.’ If your heart is broken and you close it off, you can’t let the negativity out, and you can’t let new love in.”

The lessons from Frankenburg—Seymour’s mother—were born of firsthand experience with tough life. Born in Holland to a stern, Victorian, police-chief father and a mother who suffered from mental illness, at age 21 she married a man who later proved to be abusive, and moved to Indonesia with him. She escaped her marriage by hiding in a jungle, but when World War II broke out, she was captured and placed in a Japanese internment camp. To augment the starvation rations allowed by the Japanese, Frankenberg ate snakes and bugs. She escaped from the camp, met some British Royal Air Force officers and persuaded them to take her to England along with the English citizens they were evacuating. Once in England,  she went to work for the Dutch Red Cross and later met Seymour’s father, John Frankenberg. Seymour was born a year and a day later, and her parents were married 40 years. Her father died in 1990.

Despite her tribulations, Frankenberg remained focused on helping others, and it was this outlook that inspired Seymour, during her own tribulations, to heal herself through painting. “Till the day she died, my mother was always concerned first about helping others,” says Seymour. “Even with crippling arthritis and macular degeneration, when she could barely see and was in constant and terrible pain, she had a telephone with huge numbers and she’d help her friends over the phone.” While she didn’t have to eat bugs to survive, Seymour’s own life has had its share of challenges. At age 20, she almost died from anaphylactic shock.

“I was dead—I saw my body [on the table], and I begged to go back so that I can make a difference. I realized the only thing you take with you [when you die] is the difference you make.” Her wish was granted and she survived, but her trials weren’t over. Eighteen years ago, she discovered her then-husband not only was unfaithful but also had left her beyond penniless and in deep debt, despite her success as an actress.

It was about that time that Seymour turned to painting as an outlet. An artist friend had seen some of the finger paintings she’d done for her children, recognized her talent, and gave her free lessons. Her first major painting was a floral watercolor with pastel and newsprint.

As she started painting seriously, she also landed her famed role as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She painted on the set between takes, and the crew clamored for her pieces. Eventually, her work found its way into top art galleries. Among her more famous works is Woman in a Red Dress, part of a series of seven paintings of women of all ages dancing in red dresses. The series was initially sponsored by the American Heart Association and California Pistachios as a means of alerting the public that heart disease kills more women than breast cancer—indeed, more than all cancers put together, says Seymour.

The Open Heart paintings, however, were a tangible expression of the “open heart” philosophy of Mieke Frankenberg. Seymour started with one, and then began to link the hearts and develop an entire series of single, double, and families of hearts. “When you love someone, you take on some of them, and they take on some of you,” she says.

She decided to have a necklace made of her favorite connected-heart painting. She approached jeweler and friend Jack Kelege, who executed the design in platinum and diamond. When Seymour was approached to perform on Dancing With the Stars, she was again facing a very tough moment in her life—her beloved mother had had a stroke and was rendered immobile. But when Seymour told her of the offer to appear on the program, she uttered one word: “Yes.”

In between commuting to England to see her mother, Seymour started Dancing and wore the special two-heart necklace every time she appeared. It became an icon—and one that other Dancing stars also have worn. It was during a dinner with the show’s sponsors that Sterling CEO Mark Light saw her necklace and the idea was born to create a line of pieces for the jeweler. (See “The Story Behind Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Jewelry,” page 96.)

Sterling’s versions have had some notable stories of their own, says Seymour, such as a mother and daughter who, for reasons long forgotten, didn’t get along most of their lives. But after seeing the Open Hearts message on television, they decided to let their animosity go and repaired their relationship. Another story was that of a young boy whose parents are divorced. He saw the Sterling commercial and wanted to buy an Open Hearts necklace for his mother but didn’t have enough money. He asked his father to help out, and ultimately, while his parents didn’t reconcile, they were able to put aside their differences, begin to heal, and better manage the parenting of their child, says Seymour.

Seymour isn’t stopping there. As one of the official painters for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, her mantra, “Compete with an open heart,” will inspire the athletes. “No matter what goes on [in the world], all countries come together to compete in the Olympics,” she says.

Indeed, the “open heart” attitude spans all cultures, Seymour emphasizes. Love is universally positive. And while she has become something of a self-help guru, with eight books to her credit—her Open Hearts: If Your Heart Is Open It Can Never Stay Broken, published in December 2008, is in its second printing—it’s her mother whom she says deserves the real credit. “I think this message is what the world needs to hear right now,” Seymour says. “I’m sure my mom is very proud, but I think especially if she knows that her message has helped people to cope, that would mean the most to her.”

“One of the things I realized in losing first my mom and then both of my husband’s parents, is that you are left with a box of treasures that’s the closest thing you have to them. When we went through my mom’s things and my mother-in-law’s things, we found these boxes of trinkets (jewelry). Not all of them were expensive, but all of them carried memories of them wearing this piece or that.”

In an era where cutting the clutter has become its own literary genre, and experts tell the storage-unit generation, “You’ve got the memories, toss the stuff,” where does jewelry fit in? “Jewelry doesn’t take up much room,” says Seymour. “Look, if you’re stuck with your grandma’s oak furniture or flowery china, and your style is modern, then I’d say get rid of the stuff. But jewelry is an emotional response. It’s not just gold and diamonds. It’s pieces your mother wore, or your grandmother. It’s pieces given as a promise, given as an ‘I love you,’ or bought for yourself as a celebration or a pick-me-up when you’re feeling down. It’s always one of these things.”

 
SIDEBAR
Sterling, The Bookseller
Sterling’s Kay Jewelers division ran a successful promotion with Seymour’s Open Hearts book. The book, which sold out immediately, was offered for $10 with the purchase of any piece from the Open Hearts collection, with all profits going to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The concept was similar to the company’s holiday teddy bear promotion, says spokesman David Bouffard.
For Mother’s Day, the firm sold a special card reading, “A Mother’s Heart Is Always Open.” Cards were priced at $3.00, with $2.50 of the proceeds going to St. Jude.

SIDEBAR
The Story Behind Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Jewelry
The way Mark Light, president and CEO of Sterling Jewelers, tells it, it was a stroke of luck his company ever met the acquaintance of Jane Seymour. As a sponsor of the American Music Awards, Sterling was invited to an ABC dinner. Jane Seymour, then white hot after her classy turn on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, was seated with the Sterling team. Like any jeweler would, Light noticed Seymour’s jewelry. Seymour explained that her piece was based on one of her paintings and custom-designed by her personal jeweler. That painting, with two hearts linked together, dramatized a philosophy that came from Seymour’s mother: “If your heart is open, love will find a way.” 
“I thought: ‘That’s phenomenal,’”
Light recalls. “I said, ‘Do you know who I am? I am the president and CEO of Sterling Jewelers. We are the largest jeweler in America.’ She had no idea. Talk about fate.”
Light brought the idea to his merchandising team, which soon became as excited as he was. “Usually when a CEO comes around with a merchandise program, the merchandise people are like, ‘Oh no,’ ” he says. “But our team just fell in love with the philosophy right away. They thought it was real and it would connect with the
American public.”
When talk came around to business, Seymour stressed that she wanted her jewelry to be accessible to everyone. That was perfect for mass-market Sterling. The chain fashioned product for a variety of price points, from $14.99 to $1,499.
After a 100-store test last Mother’s Day, the idea was rolled out to the entire chain. Sterling heavily advertised it with a commercial featuring Seymour painting her hearts and giving the story behind them. “We wanted to make sure the commercial got Seymour’s message out and let you know that she was an artist and that this philosophy came from her mother,” Light says. “It’s a lot to accomplish in 30 seconds.”
Sterling declines to reveal specific sales numbers for the product, but spokesman David Bouffard calls it “one of the most successful programs that we’ve seen.”
One Sterling source went even further, telling JCK: “It has become the strongest line Sterling has. It is insanely popular and completely replaced Journey, Circle, and practically the entire store’s fashion merchandise.” The source added: “The prices, especially the silver at under and around $50 to $150, were perfect for the way people were shopping during the holiday. Every Kay and regional store was inundated with the phone calls all Christmas. Ask any store and they’ll know what you mean.”
Sterling plans more pieces built around Seymour’s artwork and a possible branching out into men’s jewelry.
The line’s success owes much to Seymour’s popularity. Bouffard notes that her career began as a Bond girl, and extended through her ’80s run as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. But she’s known to modern viewers, too, particularly after Dancing With the Stars. “Her performance on Dancing was very impactful,because people could see how approachable she is, how open,” Bouffard says.
But Sterling has done celebrity-inspired jewelry before, including lines with Cindy Crawford and Joan Rivers. What has impressed executives is how the “open hearts” philosophy has struck a chord with America. Light notes that some customers have gotten “open heart” tattoos. Bouffard talks about a terminal cancer patient who
wanted the necklace as her final gift. She even wanted to be buried with it. 
“We think the message has resonated with consumers in these difficult economic times,” Light says. “Jane wants to make her hearts a universal symbol of hope and love.”
–Rob Bates, Senior Editor




The iconic necklace that launched the line.



The Open Hearts style in diamonds.

SIDEBAR
Lessons for Jewelers
Here are three lessons from Sterling Jewelers’ success to use in your store:
1. Carry jewelry that appeals to buyers emotionally. When Sterling executives talk about the line, they don’t talk about the designs or Seymour’s popularity. They cite the “open hearts” philosophy behind it. “Just having a celebrity and a product is not the answer,” says Sterling president and CEO Mark Light. “You have to dig deeper and connect with the consumer.” The philosophy is so important that it’s spelled out in all advertising materials and is part of a video that runs on Sterling sales counters.
2. Stock jewelry no one else in your market carries. “This is another example of a differentiated product,” says spokesman David Bouffard, noting the chain also sells the proprietary Levian line and Leo diamonds. “Our overarching objective is to capture market share with brands that are only available at our store.”
3. Test the jewelry you stock before investing big. Sterling’s philosophy is “test before you invest.” The line was launched at 100 stores on Mother’s Day. When that proved successful, it was rolled out to the chain.
–RB