Pearls, Color & Southern Style

If the Civil War had been fought with jewelry instead of guns, U.S. history might have been quite different. The Deep South may no longer be known for its cotton crop, but after the 1998 JCK Retail Design Competition, there’s no doubt about its pool of talented jewelers! In fact, one of this year’s winners, Jewelsmith of Durham, N.C., is back for its third time in the winner’s circle, a pretty impressive feat in a contest only five years old.

The fifth annual JCK Retail Design Competition drew more than 200 entries. The contest was created to encourage innovative custom design work and recognize outstanding design talent in the retail sector of the jewelry industry. Entries were judged on the basis of wearability, salability, originality and innovative use of techniques and materials.

This year, pearls and color figured prominently in the winning pieces. Three of the six winners used pearls, while four of the six featured colored gemstones or colored diamonds. Interestingly, none of this year’s winning pieces was executed in platinum, though many of the entries overall were platinum.

There were three categories for competition: retail price under $2,000; retail price from $2,000 to $5,000; and retail price over $5,000. Jewelers were asked to submit photographs of finished pieces created in the past 18 months by a full- or part-time employee of a retail jewelry store or fine jewelry department. Pieces were to be originally designed; those using pre-manufactured mountings or created by freelance designers or job shops were not eligible.

This year’s judging panel included Colleen Caslin, U.S. vice president of marketing for Asprey New York; Julianne Jaffe, partner in the design firm J.J. Marco, New York; and Robin Garin Rotstein, a two-time consecutive Diamonds-International Award winner who is now creating a new signature couture collection for New York-based Kwiat.

The winner in the $5,000 and over retail price category was John W. Barnes, master jeweler at Parker’s Karat Patch, Asheville, N.C. His winning entry was a hand-fabricated, one-of-a-kind butterfly necklace in 18k gold and enamel, with 3.91 cts. of diamonds, a red tourmaline and a tsavorite garnet.

“You can tell whoever designed this really thought about the neck and how it was going to lay on the neck,” observed Rotstein, who received a 1996 Diamonds-International Award for a rigid neckpiece design.

The runner-up in the category was a 14k white gold ring with a 16.22-ct. tanzanite and 1.44 cts. of diamonds, designed by Jean Boyadjian, a custom jeweler in Boston.

In the $2,000 to $5,000 retail price category, the winner was Michael Wyckoff, head designer at Montanari Fine Art Jewelers, Kansas City, Mo., for his women’s ring in 14k white gold with 18k yellow gold accents and a 4.15-ct. center aquamarine. The ring also had diamond accents totaling .45 ct. Caslin liked how the ring balanced a pretty, feminine design with good, substantial presence.

The runner-up in the category was Bradney W. Simon, master jeweler at Smithworks Fine Jewelry, Spartanburg, S.C. His entry was an 18k yellow gold ring featuring an 11-mm South Sea pearl and .60 ct. total of white and fancy yellow diamonds.

Ken Weston, goldsmith at Jewelsmith in Durham, N.C., returned to the winners’ list for a second consecutive year. His 1998 entry in the under $2,000 category was an 18k gold pendant with a Tahitian pearl. Jaffe called the piece simple, timeless, elegant and effective.

The runner-up in this category was a pair of pearl cascade drop earrings with eight pearls each, ranging from 2 mm to 9 mm, and a .05-ct. diamond accent at the bottom. The designer was Barbara Sherrick, former goldsmith at Jack Seibert Goldsmith/Jeweler, Columbus, Ohio.

The judges were impressed with the caliber of entries overall and observed that many of the pieces had what they called a “craft feel,” different from a more traditional fine jewelry approach. They also were intrigued by Jewelsmith’s repeated wins – in 1997 and 1998 with Weston’s designs and in 1995 with a design by goldsmith Philip Dismuke.

“If a store is consistently winning these contests, there’s a reason. Obviously, there’s some pretty serious talent there,” said Jaffe.