What Is This Thing … Called Jewelry?

By Peggy Jo Donahue

A letter from one of our readers, Josh Hall, vice president of Pala International, brought up the whole issue of whom jewelers really compete against when it comes to consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets. In fact, to Hall’s thinking, jewelry store clerks should be going mano a mano with computer salespeople(see his letter on p. 32). Forget about price lists and discounters and auction houses and TV shopping and the rest. It’s the computers, stupid.

Everyone feels a loved one should have a computer to have a competitive edge, from students to workers, says Hall. But he thinks jewelers should fight back: “The computer is a tool; jewelry is from the heart,” quoth the man from Pala. I concur. I have nothing against computers, but opening up a present that’s a competitive edge on Christmas Day is akin, for me, to opening up a blender. There is a great scene from the Broadway show Hello Dolly where Dolly Levi walks out on Horace Vandergelder because he’s such a skinflint. She tells him, “And on those cold winter nights, Horace…you can snuggle up to your cash register…it’s a little lumpy, but it rings!”

Can’t you just see the ad campaigns you could run around this theme? “Your computer…it’s a little lumpy — but it sends you e-mail!!!” goes the tag line as Ms. Wife opens her Christmas gift from Mr. Husband, then looks away longingly to her fantasy — the stunning diamond solitaire necklace she had seen in 3 million ads during the holiday season. It could work.

But all joking aside, I think Josh Hall is on to something: jewelry sets the heart racing with a complex set of zings to the strings of the heart like no other product — certainly not a computer. Our new associate publisher, Peggy Willett, recently described how she felt when she borrowed a pair of knock-out earrings to wear when hers gave out at a trade show. It was a particularly difficult day for Peggy, and she said the jewelry gave her a perhaps irrational sense of confidence. “I felt different …and special wearing those beautiful earrings. I felt protected, somehow.” Of course, one of jewelry’s first uses was as a talisman, so what Peggy is describing is not that unusual.

I’ve borrowed jewelry for photo shoots at trade shows and had the same experience. I never thought of myself as a jewelry junkie, but I was shocked at how great something so, well, patently unnecessary, could feel. I guess maybe some of the best things in life aren’t actually free.

Let’s face it, for women who love jewelry it’s a kick to wear a stunning work of art. Yet for all its display purposes, it also can be a tremendously private joy to those who revere its significance and history. “Jewelry is so public a statement,” Peggy told me. “But it is also so intimate. It seems as though those two shouldn’t be able to coexist, but they do.” Whether you need jewelry for secret confidence, public acceptance, private memories of a great love, cherished memories of a great grandmother or any other reason, we’re talking emotion here…emotion and heart.

There’s a famous story about showman Florenz Ziegfeld buying his showgirls silk underclothing from Paris for one of his shows.When his financial backers remonstrated that the audience would never even see the garments (this was the 1920s, folks), he replied, “Yes, but the girls will know they’re wearing them and they’ll feel more beautiful.”

So how does all this translate for jewelers as we head into the manic holiday season? This month’s issue should give you some ideas for inspiration to head off sales of computers and more.

Fashion Editor Hedda Schupak (with some expert help from Devin Macnow and the Cultured Pearl Information Center, which provided some spectacular model shots for our cover and the pearl feature) suggests that jewelers turn the Jackie O fake pearl auction debacle into an opportunity. Is there any thrill like the thrill of cultured pearls that have been cradled and nurtured by the oyster, then nestled with gentle coolness against your neck?

Colored Gem Editor Robert Weldon offers a wonderful story in this issue about how important cut is when selling the heart-thumping thrill of a spectacular colored gem. “To see a world in a grain of sand,” said poet Robert Blake, but Robert Weldon’s poetic photos will convince you there’s a world to sell in well-cut stones, a world of color way beyond the color monitor of a computer.

I defy any computer salesperson to work oysters, poetry or love into the sales presentation. But jewelers of America, you can. Go get ’em!