The Best of Jewelry’s West

Most weekends are a blur. But this past weekend, which began on Thursday night—when JCK publisher Mark Smelzer and I attended a glamorous cocktail party at the Gemological Institute of America’s coastal campus in Carlsbad, Calif.—was blurrier than most.

Thankfully, I spent all of Sunday drying out so that I could recall the highlights:

Ogling the jewels (and displays!) at GIA’s “More is More” exhibit

My friend McKenzie Santimer, project manager of exhibit development at the GIA Museum, had been urging me to come check out her work for the better part of a year. I hadn’t been able to find the time—until the Oct. 10 debut of “More is More,” an homage to the work of legendary Hollywood set designer Tony Duquette and his business partner/co-designer/keeper-of-the-flame Hutton Wilkinson.

You can take a virtual tour here. But even these sumptuous photos don’t do the exhibit justice. I was utterly mesmerized by the displays (bravo, McKenzie!), which stood up to Duquette’s signature extravagance. Draped with malachite-patterned fabric and propped with tropical-looking spider plants, spindly pieces of textured wood, and giant slabs of minerals, each showcase featured a few of the designer’s opulent works of jewelry art, including dragon cuffs carved from 18th century jade, each boasting a set of gilded claws; coral necklaces encrusted with popcorn-sized pearls and diamonds; and an over-the-top suite of citrine and tourmaline jewelry.


Tony Duquette’s Imperial Dragon cuffs. Photo courtesy of GIA.

“After a maximum of minimalism, all of fashion is ready for Tony Duquette,” said Hutton in his opening remarks to the GIA crowd, quoting a magazine article about his former business partner, who died in 1999 at the age of 85.

A charming and theatrical speaker, Wilkinson (a grandson of a Bolivian president who grew up in Los Angeles and struck up a lifelong friendship with Duquette when he volunteered for the designer as a precocious 17-year-old) shared a story about his own personal history with jewelry that had the audience in stitches:

“It’s true about my poor old dear mother,” Wilkinson said. “She’d come home and I’d have all of her jewels spread out on her bed—they all came from Paris—and I’d be jiggling the bed, hoping to make them sparkle.” 

Duquette’s jewelry is big, bold, heavy, ornate, distinctive, eye-catching, and—truth be told—difficult for the average woman to pull off. But I found myself staring into the cases and coveting it all the same. I wanted it for my living room. The master decorator had figured out a way to make jewels with enough personality and volume and style to accessorize an entire house.

Tony Duquette’s Floral Wreath necklace. Photo courtesy of GIA.


McKenzie Santimer, project manager of exhibit development at the GIA Museum, showing off a signature Duquette brooch.

“I know Tony is somewhere, smiling,” Wilkinson said. “I know he’d be thrilled if he were here.”


Tony Duquette (left) and Hutton Wilkinson at the latter’s Tropical Nights party in 1980s Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of GIA.

“More is More” affirmed my personal love of Duquette’s maximalist aesthetic—and proved that GIA has truly honored his remarkable oeuvre. I’d urge anyone who comes to Southern California between now and next March to go see the exhibit.

Moderating a panel discussion at the GIA Jewelry Career Fair

Mark and I had both been invited to speak at the GIA Jewelry Career Fair on Friday, Oct. 11. He moderated the “Creative Careers” panel discussion—which focused on paths to work in the jewelry industry that don’t necessarily involve designing or manufacturing jewelry—while I moderated the “From Design to Finish” panel, a discussion about the business of becoming a designer, from buying raw materials to marketing your products to merging old-school manufacturing techniques with today’s emphasis on technology. Mark’s a veteran of the event, but I had only done it once before.

Mark Smelzer (far left) had a panel featuring (seated, from left) Au-Co Mai, president and CEO of; JCK Events’ very own Yancy Weinrich; Rebecca Boyajian, director of communications for Bill Boyajian & Associates; and the inimitable Hutton Wilkinson.

Here’s what struck me about the event: Sitting on stage with my four wonderful panelists—Charlie Herner, the CAD/CAM director at Seattle’s Green Lake Jewelry Works; Alishan Halebian, the Irvine, Calif.-based designer behind the Alishan collection; Tucson, Ariz.-based Erik Stewart; and Los Angeles-based Erica Courtney, of Drop Dead Gorgeous fame—I was humbled by the realization that the audience was full of aspiring designers whose ultimate goal, presumably, was to be on stage with us one day.

We’ve all been there before: We’ve all been the hopeful newbies in the audience, hanging on every word, scribbling notes, and dreaming of one day accomplishing enough in our careers to dole out advice of our own. Both Herner and Stewart are fairly recent GIA graduates, and that was also inspiring—proof that while the path from being a student with big dreams to a working designer and role model in the trade may not be the one of least resistance, it’s well worth it.

Shaking it at the Jewelers 24 Karat Club of Southern California’s dinner dance

Finally, Mark and I concluded our West Coast schmooze-fest at the swanky SLS Hotel in West Hollywood, home to the Jewelers 24 Karat Club of Southern California’s 69th annual dinner dance. Unlike the New York City 24 Karat Club event, the SoCal shindig is willing to buck tradition. This year, the big controversy was over whether or not to do away with the band in favor of having a DJ. I was pleased to see they went with the latter—and, apparently, so were the jewelers shaking their moneymakers on the dance floor.

Big congratulations to the evening’s honorees: retailer Fredric H. Rubel of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers in Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo, Calif.; and manufacturer Vatche’ Fronjian of True Knots/My Way Jewelry. 

Now that my West Coast weekend is over, I’m only in need of one thing: another weekend, stat! I’m pooped!

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