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Friday, October 21, 2016

TEFAF New York Fall Features Contemporary, Vintage and Period High Jewels

“Stilled Life,” brooch by Wallace Chan depicts a cicada made primarily of imperial quality green jade. Its wings are made of wafer-thin green jade and its hands clutch a cabochon lavender jade

The inaugural TEFAF New York Fall art fair opens today (Friday) with a preview starting at 5 p.m. at the Park Avenue Armory that will benefit The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering. The fair will officially to the general public Saturday and run till October 26.

TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) is an offshoot of the famed annual event TEFAF in Maastricht, Netherlands, and the first time the organization is holding its fair outside Europe. Participating dealers were selected by a committee comprising four members of the TEFAF New York Board members and four external US art experts. 

Among the 94 dealers of fine art, design and furniture will be at least 10 high jewelry artists and dealers exhibiting masterpieces in contemporary, antique and period jewels.

Perhaps the most anticipated of the contemporary jewelry artists is Wallace Chan. The Hong Kong-based jeweler is known for his imaginative jewelry designs, groundbreaking gem sculpting techniques and the spectacular prices his creations reportedly earn (even though he never discusses price). Among the pieces he will be showing this year are two sculptured bejeweled brooches.

The first, “Stilled Life,” depicts a cicada made primarily of imperial quality green jade. Its wings are made of wafer-thin green jade and its hands clutch a cabochon lavender jade. Jade beads throughout the piece are embedded using the tenon-and-mortise technique. The overwhelming green of the cicada is the result of Wallace Chan’s jade-thinning-and-luminosity-enhancing invention that he patented in 2002. Pigeon blood ruby eyes provide the finishing touch. 

The piece is billed as a brooch and sculpture. When not worn it comes with a bamboo sculpture of crystal, yellow diamond, pink sapphire, diamond and tsavorite garnet that serves as a base for the winged insect. 

Aspara by Wallace Chan

The second piece is Apsara, Chan’s interpretation of the nymph’s ethereal and artistic qualities that include a body tattooed with cloud-and-water motifs and her gemstone-embellished ribbon resembling trails of stars. In her outstretched hands is a 4.04-carat fancy intense yellow diamond. Other gems include emerald, pink, yellow and green diamonds and crystal.

Emerald and diamond long earrings by Reza

Place Vendôme high jeweler, Reza, is set to unveil a number of high jewelry contemporary works. The centerpiece is a new series of jewelry with gem quality pigeon blood untreated cabochon rubies, richly chromatic and architectural in design. 

Earrings made of jade, diamonds, bronze and white gold by Hemmerle

In addition, there will be two high jewelers from Germany: Hemmerle and Otto Jakob. The first is known for creating colorful, refined artistic jewelry creations using unusual materials such as aluminum and wood. The second specializes in highly detailed and elaborate Renaissance-inspired pieces made of rare and natural materials.

There will be a number of dealers who specialize in antique, vintage and period jewelry and watches. 

Fighting Cock brooches by Cartier made of gold and various gems, 1945, being exhibited by Wartski

Among them is Wartski, the 151-year-old London antique dealer perhaps best known for its “royal warrant of appointment,” as one of a handful of jewelers that supply goods and services to the British royal family. Geoffrey Munn, managing director, is one of Britain’s foremost authorities on antique jewelry with a particular emphasis on 19th-century precious metalwork and Fabergé. The firm is bringing jewels ranging from a 17th Century talisman object to contemporary works from Parisian jeweler, Cartier, and U.S. designer, Tony Duquette. 

The Cole Porter diamond and ruby necklace designed by Fulco, di Verdura, for Paul Flato. It is being exhibited by Siegelson

New York-based Siegelson will be exhibiting a number of pieces including items from Jean Fouquet and Cartier. One highlight is the Cole Porter diamond necklace created by Fulco di Verdura for Paul Flato that simulates a belt with a buckle.

Gold, enamel and diamond Orchid brooch by Paulding Farnham for'Tiffany & Co' New York, 1890 being exhibited by Véronique Bamps

Monaco-based Véronique Bamps specializes in European and American jewelry dating from the early 19th century to the 1950s. She will bring a range of collectible pieces, including a late 19th Century gold, enamel and diamond brooch by Tiffany & Co; as well as jewels from Cartier, René Boivin and Van Cleef & Arpels. 

Diamond and platinum ring by Suzanne Belperron, circa 1930, being exhibited by SJ Shrubsole 

Among the jewelry pieces being shown by New York-based Primavera Gallery is a Victorian ring for Queen Mary of Scots. SJ Shrubsole, also in New York, will showcase a diamond and platinum ring by Suzanne Belperron. From the Netherlands is A. Aardewerk Antiquair Juwelier.  

In addition to jewelry, exhibitors will present works across multiple collecting areas including furniture, art and interior design. It also includes at decoration, ceramics, glass, silver, textiles, tapestries, antiquities, paintings, sculptures, books, manuscripts, autographs, arms and armor, Tribal, Oceanic and Ethnographic Art, Asian Art and Fabergé.

The New York Fall fair is a joint venture between TEFAF and the art investment advisory firm, Artvest Partners. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Attendance Drops 3.2% At Hong Kong Jewelry Fair

The September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair trade fair capped its 34th edition with 55,768 unique buyers from 147 countries and regions.

The attendance, which still ranks the annual event as the top fine jewelry trade fair in the world, is a 3.2 percent decline from the prior year. It is the second consecutive year that the fair saw a drop in attendance. In 2015, the fair attracted 57,616 unique visitors, which was a 2.5 percent drop from the prior year. 

There was also a decline in the number of exhibitors at the fair. The 3,615 exhibitors from 55 countries and regions was a 3.6 percent decline over the prior year.

Celine Lau, director of Jewellery Fairs, UBM Asia, noted that the buyers remained optimistic and centered on large carat diamonds, precious stones, South Sea pearls, fine finished jewelry, tools, packaging and equipment. 

“We observed that the number of quality buyers remained steady at this edition; their presence is an encouraging sign that points to the jewelry industry’s continued development and significant growth,” Lau said. 

Certain countries showed growth in visitor numbers, among them: 

* India, up by 423 visitors, around 14-percent increase from last year; 

* Myanmar, up by 196 visitors or roughly 75 percent up from last year; 

* Belgium, up by 106 buyers or around 32 percent up from last year; 

* Australia up by 80 visitors or roughly 12 percent up from last year; Japan up by 78 visitors or 6 percent up from last year; 

* United Kingdom, up by 76 visitors or roughly 22 percent up from last year; and Israel up by 66 visitors or roughly 25 percent up from last year.

Below is an additional breakdown of visitor numbers at the Fair, held at the AsiaWorld-Expo from September 13 to 17 and the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre from September 15 to 19:

* The number of visits recorded during the Fair was 118,799.

* Hong Kong-based visitors totaled 16,328, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total number of visitors. The rest of the visitors: 39,440, or over 70 percent of the overall total, were from overseas.

* Top 10 sources of visitors: The largest group of visitors came from mainland China. At 17,412, the number of visitors from mainland China again surpassed the number of Hong Kong-based visitors. Hong Kong region follows with 16,328; India, 3,403; the United States, 1,948; Taiwan region, 1,670; Thailand, 1,605; Japan, 1,398; the Philippines, 1,144; Korea, 988 and Australia, 738. 

Commenting on the fact that 70 percent of the total number of visitors was from outside Hong Kong, Lau says this makes the September Fair a very good barometer of business sentiment in the jewelry industry. 

Lau added that the September Fair takes the lead in setting agenda that would contribute to the development of the jewelry industry. She noted the launch of a new initiative, called the “Declaration Programme on Exhibits of Natural Diamond.” Participants in the program had a poster from the initiative, demonstrating to buyers that diamonds from these exhibitors were natural. This program provided an easier and quicker way for buyers to make an informed decision when purchasing diamonds. Participants in the program were members of global diamond trade organizations, including the Diamond Federation of Hong Kong, the Antwerp World Diamond Center, Belgium, and the Israel Diamond Institute.

“It is in our interest, and in the industry’s interest, that we provide a healthy and professional business environment,” said Wolfram Diener, senior vice president of UBM Asia. “The program ensures that buyers get the proper, sufficient information about the products being offered at our fairs. We know there is a market for both natural and synthetic diamonds, and we want to be a platform for both. We are happy to have both at our show, but it is important that the buyers are well informed.”

Lau added: “The feedback from the participants regarding this initiative was positive. They acknowledged that we are going in the right direction.”

Participants also saw improved security measures on “Identity Verification at Entrance” in place; UBM Asia initiated the enhancements last year.

During the September Fair, nine seminars, one diamond auction, two pearl auctions, one conference, four jewelry fashion shows and other special events were held at the two venues.

Next year, both the June Fair and the September Fair will reach new milestones: the June Fair will celebrate its 30th anniversary while the September Fair will celebrate its 35th anniversary. 

“We are planning some new features that will further enhance buyer experience at our shows,” Lau said. “We will launch a new theme pavilion named CORE, which will be located in Hall 1C-E at the HKCEC. It will house esteemed fine finished jewelry companies that have supported the Jewellery & Gem Fairs, and consider Hong Kong as the platform from which they grow their business. In the process, they have helped propel the city and witnessed its rise as a global jewelry industry powerhouse.” 

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Asia’s Fashion Jewellery & Accessories Fair Attracts 7,500 Buyers

The 14th edition of Asia’s Fashion Jewellery & Accessories Fair – September attracted 7,501 international buyers over four days. The majority of buyers came from overseas—from 103 countries and regions—accounting for 56 percent over the overall total. Buyers from mainland China and Hong Kong accounted for the remaining 27 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

The fair was held September 13 - 16 at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong. 

The top 10 sources of visitors, excluding China and Hong Kong were led by India, USA, Japan, Taiwan region, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Germany, and the Philippines. Altogether, the top 10 accounted for roughly 35 percent of the total number of visitors.

“The visitor statistics reflect 9FJ’s international status and industry support for this event. This edition also benefitted from our increased investment in promotional activities across different channels as well as the exciting attractions it offers, such as the popular Editor’s Choice,” said Celine Lau, Director of Jewellery Fairs at UBM Asia Ltd.

The fair occupied 11,360 sqm of exhibition space with 402 exhibitors from 14 countries and regions. There were five group pavilions at the fair, representing mainland China, India, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan region. 

“With men’s jewellery trending up, the Stainless Steel Jewellery Pavilion continues to be a popular destination for buyers,” Lau said. 

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

8-Carat ‘Sky Blue Diamond’ Could Be Yours For $25 Million

The latest blue diamond to come up for auction is an 8.01-carat fancy vivid blue diamond being called the “Sky Blue Diamond.” It is the top item in Sotheby’s auction of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels in Geneva to be held November 16. 

The ring set on a Cartier mount surrounded by white diamonds, has a presale estimate of $15 - $25 million.

Describing the diamond, David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division, said, “The Sky Blue Diamond is of a wonderfully clear celestial blue, presented in an extremely elegant square emerald cut—in my view, the most flattering of all the cuts for a colored diamond.”

In recent years, colored diamonds have been highly prized at auctions with blue diamonds being the most sought after—setting numerous records. Among them:

* The 14.62-carat “Oppenheimer Blue” diamond, which sold for more than $57.5 million at Christie’s Geneva in May, setting a world record for any jewel sold at auction. 

* The 12.03-carat “Blue Moon of Josephine,” which sold for $48.4 million at Sotheby’s Geneva, November 2015, setting a world record for the price per carat for any diamond or gem at just over $4 million.

* The 9.75-carat Zoe Diamond, which sold for more than $32.5 million at Sotheby’s New York, November 2014.

* The 10.10-carat Millennium Blue Fancy, which sold for more than $31.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, April 2016.

* The 24.18-carat “Cullinan Dream,” which sold for $25.3 million at Christie’s New York in June. 

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Portland Jewelry Symposium: A Forum For Innovation In The Jewelry Industry

Jim Tuttle of Green Lake Jewelry Works, Jennifer Dawes of Jennifer Dawes Design and Travis Isaacson of Lashbrook, spoke about their personal experiences with selling custom jewelry. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry professionals who attended the ninth annual Portland Jewelry Symposium received a great deal of information on the technology, craft and artistry of jewelry making. They discovered ways to improve their business and their digital media results; and they learned about the responsibility associated with the making and selling of jewelry. 

The event held Sunday and Monday in Portland, Ore., was attended by 125 jewelry professionals (primarily independent business owners) from 12 western states and Canada, including designers, manufacturers, metalsmiths and retailers. Its focus this year was responsible sourcing (as I have written about previously: link and link) but in the eight sessions on Monday presenters exchanged ideas on a number of topics ranging from the highly technical to the wildly creative. 

The more technical presentations included Jim Binnion, an expert on metalsmithing and goldsmithing techniques who discussed his process for developing a new method for preparing 3D acrylic photopolymer patterns for investment casting, a complicated but important topic with the recent proliferation of 3D printers in the jewelry industry.

Teresa Frye, founder of the Portland Jewelry Symposium, provides an overview of what jewelers should known about precious metals metallurgy. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Teresa Frye, founder of the Portland Jewelry Symposium and owner and president of TechForm Advanced Casting Technology in Portland, presented a technical overview of what jewelers should known about precious metals metallurgy. This includes discussions on porosity, microstructure, mechanical strength, and the effects of alloying elements.

Frye said she started the symposium nine years ago to fill a need in the northwest United States primarily for independent jewelry retailers, designers and manufacturers. The event has steadily grown over the years. Frye said the symposium prides itself on being a non-commercial venue for jewelry professionals.

Jewelry designer Chris Ploof describes the creative process during his presentation on Mokume Gane. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

It was modeled after the Santa Fe Symposium, founded more than 30 years ago by Eddie Bell, director of technology for Rio Grande, Inc., perhaps the largest jewelry industry supplier of tools, equipment and know-how in the U.S. Frye has participated in the event as a presenter and attendee for many years. 

The Santa Fe Symposium is international, attracts some of the largest jewelry companies and is the closest thing to a scientific process in the jewelry industry. Large manufacturing representatives present highly technical white papers on new findings in jewelry making production. The non-commercial networking aspect among these professionals is cited as one of the key reasons for its success. 

Frye says the Portland symposium is a bit different in that it is geared toward smaller companies and is bit broader in terms of presenting highly technical white papers with artistic and business presentations. It received the blessing of Eddie Bell and Rio Grande is one of its major sponsors, providing bench jewelry demonstrations.

Frye expressed confidence that the Portland symposium will continue to grow. 

“There’s a national need for this type of non-commercial event in the type of setting with a more intimate environment than a tradeshow.”

Several attendees said the non-commercial networking environment is one of the best parts of the annual gathering. 

“You don’t feel like you’re in an environment where you’re being sold. You are able to relax a little and enjoy the people who are here,” said Jennifer Shaline a bench jeweler at Beaudet Jewelry, Eugene, Ore. The self-claimed “too junkie” was also at the show headhunting for full-time employees. This is her second time at the event. 

Networking had a direct impact on jewelry designer Ali Peret of Troutdale, Ore. He was specifically looking to find information on 3D jewelry design. The schedule didn’t have this topic this year but during networking he met a 3D jewelry design instructor from the Gemological Institute of America. 

“This is exactly why I come,” said Peret, who has attended the symposium a few times in the past.

Andrea Hill describes how to adapt Lean Manufacturing to small jewelry operations. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group, a consultancy for the jewelry industry, presented a tutorial on Lean Manufacturing, a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. This system was developed in Japan and is flexible enough to use for a variety of manufacturing processes, including those in the jewelry industry.

“It’s a system that trains an organization to look at itself from the outside in and to make all improvements accordingly,” Hill told the jewelers. “It provides value through the eyes of the customer by designing your business and processes around your customer.”

She added, “This core concept of lean is very accessible to the small business and if you’ll embrace you’ll see benefits in your business.”

Hill has been a longtime presenter and attendee of both The Portland and Santa Fe Symposiums. 

“Teresa (Frye) does a really good job,” Hill said after her presentation. “She packs a lot of content into a day.” 

She adds that’s there is no other place in the northwest United States where such a diverse group of jewelry professionals can get together in such a supportive environment. 

Chris Ploof explains the true worth of what someone buys from a designer. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry designer Chris Ploof of Leominster Mass., gave a presentation on the history of the Japanese art of Mokume Gane and described techniques to produce the distinctive design in a modern jewelry workshop. 

It was one of the more entertaining and informative presentations on such a difficult topic. It included a chart on the artist process that read: “Work begins; F#*k off; panic; All the work while crying; Deadline”

Mokume Gane is a technique that produces a wood-like grain in metal. It’s done by fusing several layers of different colored precious metals together then manipulating it in a way that a pattern resembling wood grain emerges over the surface. There are several techniques are used to produce a variety of effects.

Three jewelry designers (Jim Tuttle of Green Lake Jewelry Works, Jennifer Dawes of Jennifer Dawes Design and Travis Isaacson of Lashbrook), spoke about their personal experiences with selling custom jewelry.

Lake Giles of Thinkspace Jeweler of Portland, which creates cloud-driven website management systems and internet marketing services for jewelers, told attendees how they can successfully manage their own website Search Engine Optimization (SEO) without hiring consultants. 

“There are better ways to advertising digitally,” he said. “Google ad words, Pandora radio, Facebook, email marketing lists. They all have their pros and cons. SEO is frequently less attractive than these other channels.

He also encouraged jewelers to use social media (perhaps the only industry on earth that needs such encouragement). 

“At least create those accounts, claim those business names on social media sites shows your biz is alive,” he said. 

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Personal And Social Benefits of Responsible Sourcing At Portland Jewelry Symposium

Stewart Grice of Hoover & Strong speaks about Responsible Sourcing to approximately 125 jewelry professionals. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

As mentioned previously, the ninth annual Portland Jewelry Symposium put an extra focus on Responsible Sourcing, a voluntary commitment by companies to take into account social and environmental considerations when managing their relationships with suppliers. 

In addition to the keynote by Bennett Freeman on Sunday, two other presenters opened the eight sessions Monday with their takes on the benefits of Responsible Sourcing. 

The two-day Portland Jewelry Symposium discusses innovations in technology and artistic trends.Teresa Frye, who founded the symposium, says the responsible sourcing of materials for jewelry making is one of the most important current topics for the industry. This year, she said she placed an emphasis on this topic. This year, approximately 125 independent jewelry professionals including retailers, designers and manufacturers attended the event. 

The first, Stewart Grice, VP of Mill Products at Hoover & Strong, a jewelry manufacturer and refiner of precious metals, took the audience into two artisanal mines in Peru, where the company sources its Fairmined gold for its jewels. Among its products, the North Chesterfield, Va., based company produces more than 30,000 eco-friendly and responsibly sourced mill products and finished jewels under the Harmony brand name. They include products sourced with Fairmined gold and silver. 

There’s a premium paid for jewels made with Fairmined gold but in return retailers and end users get gold that is ethically mined without life-threatening chemicals (like Mercury) and the extra money goes toward making the lives of miners and their families better. 

Grice argues that customers are willing to pay the premium if it is explained how Fairmined gold works. “When you buy Fairmined gold this money is invested in community,” he said.

In the case of the two Peruvian mines in Aurelsa and Iquira, this premium is used to improve the safety of the mines, provide power and water to the communities, medical care, cell phones, proper food and even recreational activities, including a soccer pitch in which Grice says may be the highest such field in the world. 

In explaining the harsh conditions at the mine prior to this initiative he said, “These guys were shooting at each other, now they’re playing soccer.”

Only about 15 percent of all independent mines in Peru are regulated by the government, Grice said. The vast majority of mines operate illegally.

One of the requirements of Fairmined gold is that the artisanal mine must be government regulated. This provides an added bonus for the Peruvian people as these mines now contribute to the tax base.

Jewelry designer Toby Pomeroy. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry designer Toby Pomeroy, the second presenter, is a pioneer in using responsibly sourced materials in his jewels. In his presentation, “A World Without Design,” he used his own experiences as an example of how a purpose-driven life can lead individuals to find what truly motivates them. 

“In an absence of an inspired context, our lives will not be inspired,” he said. “It will not leave us fulfilled and inspired and not leave other people fulfilled and inspired.”

The Corvallis, Ore., based jeweler talked about his inspirations as a jewelry designer and in his life that led him to making many life choices, including his most important career choice: working with sustainably sourced materials. He is now a world leader in the production of environmentally sustainable and socially responsible jewelry. His launch of “EcoGold” and “EcoSilver” set a new standard, defining ethical luxury. 

In 2006, he learned about the “No Dirty Gold” campaign, which educates people about the impacts of irresponsible gold mining. He learned about the poverty stricken metal miners who work in dangerous conditions and how it contrasted with the beautiful jewels he sells. He thought about closing his business.

“I can’t keep making jewelry knowing the destruction of wide scale mining,” he said. “We’ve been prospering on the backs of miners. For millennia the jewelry industry has been prospering on the backs of other people.”

Pomeroy went to Hoover & Strong to see if the company could purify previously used scrap gold and silver separately from newly mined metals. The company came through but added a 3 percent surcharge for the effort. For the second order the surcharge was dropped. In addition, Hoover & Strong also decided that it was going to develop this business. 

Once seeing that it was doable Pomeroy decided, “This is the direction we’re going.” The jewelry and process was branded as “EcoGold” and “EcoSilver.”

It turned out to not only to be a good ethical move, but a superb business decision as well. After a story appeared about this new use of recycled gold in a trade magazine the consumer press followed, giving his business a great deal of publicity. 

Pomeroy created a pair of hoop earrings, called “Eclipse” made entirely with recycled metals. The elegant, casual and lightweight earrings are flat and wider at the bottom with a rough hammered texture and touch of fair trade diamonds. It then features a subtle bend as it moves up to the ear. The earrings were an instant success. The small store received so many orders for the earrings that he had to develop a way to machine manufacture them without losing the quality, which he did. 

“They loved the shape,” he said. “I just couldn’t make them fast enough.”

Pomeroy seems to be most proud of accidentally starting a movement in the jewelry industry toward responsibly sourced materials.

“Over 100 brands are now using Fairmined gold,” he said. “We’re really causing a revolution in the jewelry and mining industries. Anything is possible.” 

This is the second of three stories about the Portland Jewelry Symposium.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bennett Freeman Discusses The Importance And Challenges Of Responsible Sourcing At Portland Jewelry Symposium

Bennett Freeman giving the keynote speech for the Portland Jewelry Symposium at the Portland Art Museum. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

One of the world’s most prominent experts on responsible sourcing told an audience of jewelry professionals that the jewelry and gem industry needs a more comprehensive approach to ensure their products are produced in a humane and environmentally friendly manner.

“You need to come up with a new narrative based around responsible sourcing along the pipeline to crystallize the commitment to align and put together American and North American based players (whether) larger, smaller indifferent,” Bennett Freeman said during a keynote speech Sunday at the ninth annual Portland Jewelry Symposium. “Make a pledge to product process integrity that respects labor rights and human rights, that upholds environmental sustainability, and pledges to be credible, to be effective, to be operational and would probably have to be tied to a competent certification standard that would be transparent and accessible to customers."

Freeman has a long history working with multinational companies, responsible investors, NGOs, governments and international institutions in a number of industries to promote corporate responsibility, sustainability and human rights around the world. He works primarily with larger corporations and organizations but he assured the approximate 125 smaller independent designers, artists, jewelry manufacturers and retailers in attendance at the event in Portland, Ore., that they can also participate in the process.

And there’s no time like the present as corporations have been facing pressure like never before in regard to a number of human rights and sustainability issues by an activist community empowered by the speed and efficiency of delivering messages through digital media, he said.

“These pressures, this kind of scrutiny, is not going to go away,” he said. “The 21st Century is, if nothing else, is the century of sustainability, the century of accountability, the century of transparency. Every company, every industry is going to face ever rising pressures and expectations to be straightforward about how is does its business about the character and quality of its content, of its products throughout the entire supply chain.” 

Teresa Frye, founder of the Portland Jewelry Symposium. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

The two-day Portland Jewelry Symposium is designed to discuss new technologies and artistic trends. In this spirit, Teresa Frye, who founded the symposium, says the responsible sourcing of materials for jewelry making is one of the most important current topics for the industry. This year, she said she placed an emphasis on this topic. In addition, to Freeman’s keynote, two of the eight presentations during the all-day work session held Monday dealt with responsible sourcing.

“I slowly became inspired on the subject and feel that it is the next big thing,” said Frye, who also is owner of TechForm, a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in the casting of platinum group metals for the jewelry industry. “The handwriting is on the wall. The Portland Jewelry Symposium is about looking ahead. This touches design, manufacturing and business trends. I think it’s the big one”

The gathering of jewelry professionals at the Portland Art Museum prior to Bennett Freeman's keynote speech. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Freeman says he recognizes the difficulties of bringing such a diverse and fragmented industry of stakeholders throughout the world together and the difficulties of an industry largely made of small family owned firms having the resources to do this. However, it is something he says has to be done before the industry is swept by the tide of public opinion.

“The time has come for this industry to find greater points of alignment to make a fundamental commitment to integrity as well as to quality,” he said. “This is not easy but there are building blocks within this industry and models from other industries and my sense as an outsider who has had a peek inside is that there is some growing momentum in this direction.”

He mentioned luxury jeweler, Tiffany & Co., Signet Jewelers, the world’s largest specialty jewelry retailer, and jewelry manufacturer, Richline Group, among the three largest players in the U.S. industry, as being on the right track. He is less enthused about the progress of the Kimberley Process, a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds; and Responsible Jewelry Council, which sets standards and provides certificates for businesses throughout the jewelry industry supply chain (from mine to market). But he does describe these initiatives as headed in the right direction.

“My point is that in other industries there are initiatives, there are standards, there are progress being made. Imperfect but nevertheless progress. In this industry, jewelry, and the parts of the mining industry related to jewelry there’s been similar standards and initiatives. The Kimberley Process on rough cut diamonds, as imperfect as it’s been, at least it’s been an attempt,” he said. “The Responsible Jewelry Council with its third party certification standard, while limited in scope, is an important start…. and there are other initiatives underway that touch and directly affect the jewelry industry.”

He added, “The fact is that for a dozen or 15 years now, this industry has been moving in an overall net positive direction.”

Freeman says he is optimistic that the progress will continue and those in the industry will learn how to tackle these issues. 

“I think the industry has become a little less reactive and more proactive in its dealing with issues not just episodically but a little more systematically looking at the fundamentals of these challenges,” he said. “Looking not just to end product content but supply chain process and while these are positive trends they are not irreversible shifts. I’m sure many of you who have tried to push the industry in this direction, it’s just one step forward and a half-step back. But in my experience in working with these kind of issues across industries, progress is rarely linear as we would like and rarely as rapid as we would hope. But the point is that there’s stakes that have been put in the ground by this industry and admittedly often in reaction to NGO campaigns and negative media scrutiny and your anxieties about your customers perceptions, by regulators and government: but nevertheless progress.” 

He added: “I think we are moving toward a real opportunity for the industry. A more comprehensive more realistic approach (to these issues). At stake I think in many ways is the future of the industry. Relationships with customers, the trust that customers have in the integrity of your products and the processes that make them confident that people aren't being abused along the way. That the objects of such beauty are made in ways that also respect human dignity. That’s the vision and I think it is one that I know that many of you in this room are very dedicated to but there are very substantial challenges moving forward.” 

The two-day Portland Jewelry Symposium attracted approximately 125 jewelry professionals including retailers, designers and manufacturers. This is the first of three stories about the event. 

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