The Jewelry District, Episode 95: Guest Lawrence Hess


JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates catch up with Lawrence Hess, executive director of the Plumb Club, as the organization finalizes plans for JCK Las Vegas. Lawrence shares his memories of growing up the son of the late great designer Jose Hess and offers a succinct history of the Plumb Club. He also gives listeners a preview of the most intriguing—and encouraging—takeaways from the group’s latest research paper and consumer survey, to be presented at the JCK show.

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Sponsored by De Beers: institute.debeers.com

Show Notes
00:52 Tiffany & Co.’s Landmark Event
03:44 Carrying on the Hess Family Legacy
05:07 Remembering Jose Hess
08:20 Striking Out on His Own
11:08 What’s in a Name?
14:42 A Brief History of the Plumb Club
18:09 The Future Looks Bright
20:31 Three Trends to Watch
24:22 Lab-Grown Diamonds in Simple Terms
25:52 Aligning With RJC

Episode Credits
Hosts: Rob Bates and Victoria Gomelsky
Producer and engineer: Natalie Chomet
Plugs: @jckmagazineinstitute.debeers.com

Show Recap

Tiffany & Co.’s Landmark event
Victoria relays highlights from the Tiffany & Co. extravaganza that marked the Fifth Avenue flagship store’s reopening as the Landmark in April. It wasn’t just the beautiful space and the star-studded guest list that impressed her, but also the obvious wealth of the clientele. One guest sported a limited-edition Tiffany Blue Patek Philippe Nautilus watch, which sells for $3 million on the secondary market.

Carrying on a family legacy
Victoria and Rob welcome guest Lawrence Hess, executive director of the Plumb Club, which Victoria says is one of the industry’s most esteemed organizations, boasting a membership of distinguished manufacturers. Calling in from his office in Englewood, N.J., Lawrence says he is gearing up for JCK Las Vegas, where 50 Plumb Club members will exhibit in the group’s 75,000-square-foot pavilion.

Lawrence is the son of iconic jewelry designer Jose Hess. Victoria asks Lawrence about his memories of being raised in the business, thanks not just to Jose but also to stepmom Magdalena “Maggie” Hess, a designer in her own right.

Jose instilled a deep love of the industry and its people in his children. “The two most important things to him were family and jewelry,” says Lawrence, who tagged along to work with his dad when he didn’t have school. He recalls his father’s years as president of the Plumb Club, when early plans for the pavilion covered their dining room table while Jose fine-tuned them.

Rob notes that Jose Hess was renowned for his catchphrases, most famously “strong like a bull.” Lawrence remembers: “That was his answer to everything, whether things were good or bad.” Many of Jose’s observations are collected in The Beauty in All, a book Jose and Maggie co-wrote.

Striking out on his own
Another Jose Hess motto was that nothing should be handed to you. So before joining the family business, Lawrence needed real-world experience. He earned his gemology degree from GIA and spent the mid-1980s working in the jewelry business, from store floor to factory floor.

When he finally joined his father, he felt confident he brought value to the company in the form of new ideas and perspective. Even so, there was no cushy berth waiting. “I started literally cleaning bathrooms, sorting diamonds, cleaning up the benches in the factory.” Design wasn’t Lawrence’s forte, but he often weighed in on Jose and Maggie’s creations and discovered he had a knack for picking winners.

What’s in a name?
Victoria wonders what prompted Jose’s decision to sell his designs under his own name, a bold move at the time. Lawrence says it happened at the dawn of the designer clothing movement. In typical Jose fashion, he summed up his decision quotably: “I remember my father once saying that if Gloria Vanderbilt can put her name on someone’s behind, then I can put my name on a piece of jewelry,” Lawrence recalls.

After Jose sold his business and semi-retired, Lawrence went to work for a family friend who chaired the Plumb Club. When the group created an executive director position, “I felt I could make a difference, so I threw my hat in the ring,” says Lawrence. He’s served in the post for almost 14 years, helping to grow the Plumb Club into one of the industry’s premier supply organizations.

A brief history of the Plumb Club
Flashback to the 1980s, when the industry’s leading trade show took place in New York. Tradition held that suppliers threw competing parties for retailers on Saturday night during the show. That left retailers hopping from event to event, and hosts scrambling to spend quality time with them. Inspiration struck when the competitors combined forces to throw one big party where clients could spend the whole evening. The approach was so successful that the group applied the same concept to exhibiting. When JCK Las Vegas launched, the Plumb Club built its first Las Vegas pavilion. This year marks the club’s 40th anniversary—and its 31st year at JCK.

Lawrence mentions that though its roots were as a social club, the Plumb Club has evolved to offer year-round programming that provides education through its Jewelers Resource Center, a comprehensive, searchable database of industry knowledge.

The future looks bright
Plumb Club members are “cautiously optimistic” about the future, according to Lawrence. While the pandemic business boom is slowing, signs point to continued growth in the jewelry industry.

Looking for data to back up those predictions? The Plumb Club will present its third research paper and consumer survey at JCK Las Vegas on Sunday, June 4 (11 a.m. at the Showcase Stage). Another not-to-miss event on Sunday: the JCK Rocks concert, featuring Andy Grammer, the singer-songwriter behind hits like “Honey, I’m Good.”

Three trends to watch
Lawrence reveals a trio of noteworthy trends from the Plumb Club’s new research:

– Female self-purchasers are on the rise, with 67% of women making a non-bridal purchase for themselves in 2022.

– Millennials are big spenders. Though they make up just 23% of the world population, they account for 57% of all jewelry expenditures globally. In fact, millennials on average spend 157% more on jewelry than consumers in general, Lawrence says.

– Sustainability and responsible business practices matter to buyers. Plumb Club research suggests that 71% of consumers are willing to pay more if a retailer is committed to sustainability, and 69% will pay more to a retailer that demonstrates diversity and inclusivity. “We’ve been talking about sustainability and responsible business practices for years, but that is really now coming to fruition at the cash register,” Lawrence observes.

Lab-grown diamonds in simple terms
Rob asks what the club’s research shows about lab-grown diamonds. In short, they’re here to stay, Lawrence says. “While natural is still preferred overall, the majority told us they are open to either buying or receiving a piece of jewelry with lab-grown diamonds,” Lawrence notes. “The key is in education.”

With almost half of respondents confessing that they don’t really understand the differences between natural and lab-grown diamonds, retailers need to educate themselves—and to be able to give customers a clear, unbiased explanation of the options. Looking for help? The Plumb Club offers a brochure to keep on hand and share with customers.

Aligning with RJC
Victoria asks about the Plumb Club’s requirement that members join the Responsible Jewellery Council. Lawrence says it’s a timely move, given that as consumers ask more questions about responsible business practices, retailers are asking more about how their products are sourced. That can be a tough question for suppliers. However, once members complete the rigorous RJC certification process, “every retailer can be assured that if they’re doing business with a Plumb Club member, the product they’re purchasing has been vetted to be responsibly sourced.”

(Photo courtesy of the Plumb Club)

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By: Kathy Passero

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