Why Jewelry Industry Award Competitions Are Important

Last week was pretty much like any other, except that in addition to my writing, blogging, and market editor duties, I also wore one other hat: jewelry judge. I had the privilege of serving on a four-person panel of style arbiters weighing the merits of design entries in the Cultured Pearl Association of America’s Third International Pearl Design Competition 2012–2013.

Along with my judging partners—Robb Report senior editor Jill Newman, XO Group jewelry and accessories manager Rachel Jackson, and Jean Francois Bibet, high jewelry production and technical manager at Cartier—I pored through nearly 100 entry images to select a small group (I’m not allowed to say how many yet) of winners. This was my second year judging the CPAA competition, and the experience reminded me why these contests are so important.

First, industry members—retailers and designers—are challenged to be innovative. Let’s face it: What sells in the mainstream is pretty straightforward, so design contests allow participants to put aside their bread-and-butter styles and explore their creative sides. Hopefully, the winning pieces inspire others to breathe fresh life into lines.

Secondly, contests offer exposure opportunities that many designers might not have otherwise had. Many, particularly ones with low entry fees like the CPAA (the cost to enter is $150), help level the playing field for participants; the designs of those who enter are judged purely on their merits—not one’s ability to buy recognition—allowing the work to speak for itself.

“The great thing about the CPAA contest is that there is no theme—it’s just about a love of pearls and what they inspire entrants to create,” explains Kathy Grenier, marketing director of CPAA and Imperial Pearl in East Providence, R.I.

But even if a design doesn’t win an official award, participating in a contest can open up doors to future opportunities. A case in point is the American Gem Trade Association’s Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards, which allows press and stylists to see all submissions—not just the winning ones selected by judges. As an editor who has attended the Spectrum press day for many years, I can tell you how important my photos and notes are from that experience, and I’ve lost track of how many new or little-known artists I’ve discovered that way.

Of course, perhaps the most exciting experience for contest participants is when they receive orders or purchases as a result of participation. This is something Yehouda Saketkhou, the creative force behind Yael Designs in San Francisco, knows firsthand: Last year his Lava ring took Manufacturing Honors in the Evening Wear division; afterward, it went on to win a JCK Jeweler’s Choice Award. Saketkhou has sold dozens of the style (retail price: $13,793) and currently has 25 on back order. He even built an entire collection around the aesthetic.

Yael Designs Lava fire opal ring

Lava ring in 18k white gold with 5.49 ct. fire opal and 0.90 ct. t.w. diamonds; $13,793. Yael Designs

“The Spectrum Awards changed the way I did business,” he told me earlier this week. “They made me realize that it was okay for me to make what I felt like as an artist, rather than only what I thought people wanted to buy. It puts you in a different category, and people appreciate and recognize you more—especially when you’re new and have a small business. Spectrum helped us stand out and made a big impact in my business and in getting our name out.”

This weekend, I’ll judge the awards myself for the first time. The honor has me giddy with excitement, and I look forward to seeing fellow judge Candy Edelman of Alex Sepkus again and to meeting the rest of the judging team: designer Kimberly McDonald, whose work I’ve drooled over for years; Kiwon Jang of KLM Technology; and Abby Huhtanen, a fine jewelry buyer for Bergdorf Goodman. Personally, judging this competition is a coup for me! (Thank you, Robert Bentley of Robert Bentley Co. for extending the invitation.)

I hope everyone has a great weekend in the works. I know mine will be memorable.