Independents

Designer’s Diary: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

IndependentsMay 21, 2018

Designer’s Diary: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Jewelry designer Jacqueline Stone decided to walk away from her business after eight years. She dissects her decision and the challenges facing emerging jewelry designers today.

One of the custom engagement rings Jacqueline Stone made during her time in business as Salt + Stone. This ring was created for her best friend using an heirloom diamond and designed to symbolize a castle, as her friend thought of her significant other as a real-life Prince Charming.

Watching eight years of blood, sweat and tears go up in smoke is not for the faint of heart.

It was quite emotional bringing the remains of a jewelry dream gone wrong to a metal refinery last month, but also extremely cathartic. I’ll have that visual reference to look back on anytime I need a reminder of my emotional strength. The time has come to close the doors to my fine jewelry company, Salt + Stone, in the hopes of opening another.

Every entrepreneur understands the difficulties of starting a new business. You’re venturing out into the wild unknown and failure is almost guaranteed. The businesses that stay alive and continue to prosper recognize this fact and understand the importance of getting up again after each and every knockdown.

But, when does it become time to wave the white flag? When is the fight no longer worth it? I definitely don’t think there is a magic formula, but for me the answer was simple: It was when my business no longer brought me joy.

I started my jewelry journey in 2007 after a fateful trip to Brazil that stirred the creativity in my soul.

My love affair with the craft and complexity of fine jewelry had just begun and wow, did I have so much to learn. I spent years educating myself on technical design, manufacturing techniques and reluctantly even spent time on the bench learning micro-pave. I began my craft with the enthusiasm of an ingénue. I was going to become a successful jewelry designer and take over the industry! Little did I know how difficult it would be.

I won’t make any excuses for my business failing, nor do I want your sympathy. I overextended myself with inventory, was too emotionally tied to my work and was a horrible networker. At my heart and soul, I’m an artist and trying to sell my work for a profit did not come naturally.

If I ever did it again, there are so many things I would change! I have an easy time marketing or “bragging” about other brands, but to market myself felt disingenuous.

Again, I am not seeking sympathy. But what I do want is to draw your attention to a growing problem in the fine jewelry world. Can a jewelry designer begin a business in the current environment and make it? Yes, but I

think there needs to be a deeper understanding that making it in fine jewelry these days is like an unknown actor getting her or his big break in film. It’s truly that difficult.

My hats go off to those who refuse to give up. I’ve watched them sacrifice everything in the name of passion and art. Some that immediately come to mind are Judi Powers, Lulu and Shay, Delphine Leymarie, Spencer Fine Jewelry and Dana Bronfman. I know several of these small jewelry powerhouses personally and it’s so rewarding to watch them continue to grow. They worked their tails off to get here and it’s nice to see them finally getting some breaks.

But why are there so many other designers continuing to fail, like me? And, why should you care?

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, our industry is in a period of transition. Mom-and-pop jewelry shops have been closing left and right for myriad reasons, including online competition and retiring owners.

Large retailers, like Signet Jewelers and my alma mater, Tiffany & Co., are scrambling to reinvent the in-store experience while serving customers online and connecting with the next generation through new mediums.

There are many theories as to why the jewelry industry has seen better days. My take? Scoff all you want, but millennials are intent on fixing the mess we’ve left them. They want to make a difference in this world; they actively engage in service and their main focus is leaving the planet a little bit better than they found it.

For some millennials, supporting the controversial diamond trade is not on their bucket list. Others do not covet the blinged-out tennis bracelet like the baby boomers who came before them. They are a soul-searching, thoughtful tribe who want their jewelry to represent their voice. A lot of times, when it comes to fine jewelry basics like diamond studs or gold rings, they’re just not into it. However, it just so happens that millennials, who are on the cusp of becoming the largest group of consumers in the United States, recognize passion.

Millennial consumers loved my designs and the thought that went into them. I put energy into bringing modern love stories to life, engagement-ring style. I had young folks from across the country reaching out to me, a gal they’d never met, to learn more about using my design skills for the largest luxury purchase of their lifetime thus far. Why didn’t I make it? Because organically I can only grow so much and I needed help spreading my footprint. In order to have my designer jewelry take flight, I needed to move into the wholesale/retail machine. And let me tell you, it chewed me up and spit me out in only a year.

The margins a jewelry designer receives today are ridiculously low for the amount of work that goes into a piece. Most stores these days want to take pieces on consignment or when they place an order, they want to wait to pay when it’s finished. Sometimes, they want to cancel the order when you are halfway through production (not naming names, but I should). I almost bankrupted myself making retail establishments happy and myself miserable in the process.

However, my experience was not all bad. I’d like to take a moment to give a huge thank you to David Shaw of the designer-friendly Dallas store Shaw Diamonds and Designs. I think he is an exemplary example of what a designer/retailer relationship should look like and I think we all could learn a lot from him. Not only did David place an order with me, but he had me come out to his shop in Texas for a holiday trunk show. David also happens to be just an all-around awesome human being. If every retail establishment supported designers in the way he does, we’d all be in a lot better shape.

I hope my tale inspires all of you to start making changes.

I think jewelry designers need to band together and stop giving their jewelry on consignment.

I think retailers need to understand the importance of being friendly to the silly little ingénue like me if they wish to prosper and continue to grow. It’s my opinion that no retail outfit is going to survive selling the same-old and not bringing in any fresh talent. Without new design (sometimes from still-unknown artists), I can already see those passionate and soul-searching millennials walking right back out of your store.

What’s next for me? I’ve happily landed in a place I least imagined, in marketing and consulting. I’m helping businesses make a difference and an impact in a sea of noise. And although I’m not a millennial (I’m on the Gen X-Gen Y cusp), I’ve made a conscious decision to only work with companies, big and small, that want to leave the world a little better than they found it.

In the meantime, I hope another jewelry designer fills this space and keeps the Designer’s Diary column for National Jeweler alive. The designer voice desperately needs to be heard.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out from across the globe to check in and see how I’m doing. I’m humbled by how small this $62 billion industry can be and what we do in times of crisis to look out for one another.

I’ve landed on my feet and I’m coming back to National Jeweler with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. You’ll be hearing more from me in my new, upcoming marketing column. I’m more focused than ever in helping jewelry designers be heard. I’m hoping my failure is the seed of their success.

Jacqueline Stone has a background in finance, marketing, advertising, product development, fine jewelry manufacturing, design and sourcing. She was the chief creative officer of her company, Salt + Stone and now is the CEO of a marketing consulting business, Noisemaker Marketing. Stone can still be reached at saltandstone@gmail.com.
Jacqueline Stoneis a recovering jewelry designer who now works in marketing and runs her own e-commerce site, TotemsandTarot.com.

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