One of the great things about the jewelry business — in my 13 years of experience, at least — is the dearth of mean girls.
The majority of the women I’ve encountered in the industry have been friendly, collaborative, and supportive. Their encouragement has often kept me going through challenging times.
But, to be fair to other professions, I didn’t meet too many mean girls during the non-jewelry parts of my career. I believe that is partly because women are socialized to be cooperative, polite, and diligent; and partly because I rejected the idea that women are more difficult to work with than men. It’s long been clear to me that that belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy … as well as a convenient distraction from bad male behavior.
For instance, if we buy into the myth that women are more competitive than men or that we compete in an uglier way, we might overlook the fact that men are quite adept at spreading rumors themselves. Emotional? Hormonal? Jealous? Allow me to introduce you to testosterone and the big, loud bullies it fuels. During the five years I worked at Lehman Brothers, the male managing directors fighting for territory frequently made me envision this kind of scene.
You want “bitchy” though? I give you this exchange between my colleagues Michael and Peter: “I’m not trying to be an asshole,” Michael snapped. “You don’t have to try!” answered Peter. Then, of course, there’s the issue of sexual harassment and assault. I’ve never feared that laughing at a woman’s jokes or having after-work drinks with her would give her the idea that I was “leading her on,” and that includes the gay and bi women I’ve worked with. That’s a constant worry with men.
Obviously, not every woman I’ve worked with has been a saint, but even the difficult ones tended to be challenging in non-gender-specific ways. The secretive behavior of my late business partner isn’t something I’ve experienced with anyone else, period. And a lot of office types ranging from frustrated promotion seekers to compulsive liars to scary yellers are strikingly similar whether male or female.
I recall just one woman — a recent college graduate — who treated me with a hostility that wasn’t evident in her interactions with male managers. Because of her negative attitude towards me, I wasn’t her biggest fan either. That’s what I meant when I said the woman-vs-woman story is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I’ve gently told a friend or two: If, in your eyes, other women are out to get you, make sure you’re not gazing at your own reflection.
I like to think that this particular woman grew wiser with age. She wouldn’t be the first young woman to feel a kind of power whenever a smile persuaded older male colleagues to listen to her ideas. However, as the years go by, many of us realize that a mandatory smile actually represents a lack of power: When you issue orders without it, you’re called a bitch; and whether you smile or not, men are going to criticize your face behind your back while paying you less for the same work. After a couple of decades, it’s infinitely more exhausting than exciting to remain on guard during every meeting with a male customer/vendor/investor, just in case he’s not interested in doing business at all.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because of a couple of mean boys in the jewelry world who are very triggered by a particular type of organic aesthetic in fine jewelry. The first gentleman popped up last year, upset about a female designer’s rough-hewn 18K gold ring design set with pink sapphires. A 48-hour long Spacenook dogpile ensued, with people attacking the ring, the designer, the designer’s customers, and the magazine editors who featured the ring. (I’m not mentioning the designer by name because I’m sure she has enough of this nonsense in her Poodle results.)
Then, last month, ANZA Gems founder Monica Stephenson was confronted on Spacenook by a designer who asked if the pieces I designed for our ANZA PURE x Wendy Brandes collaboration with rough spinel and garnet were an “homage to the lazy or the unskilled??!!!” (Punctuation his.)
When Monica pointed out that the look of the pieces is a conscious choice — and that I’d won awards for design — he went IN!
Well, I will agree with the fact that awards and talent aren’t inextricably linked. Look at the Grammys! Duh.
However, I’m not sure where this delightful fellow gets “conceptually impoverished” and “lack of vision” from. I’d say ANZA PURE is a highly conceptual endeavor that Monica and I dreamed up over lunch while we were admiring the colors of the supposedly unusable gemstone rough that she had purchased for her ANZA Gems venture. Through ANZA, Monica personally sources ethically mined, colored-gemstone rough from Tanzania and Kenya; brings the uncut stones back to the U.S. to be faceted by gem cutters here; and then has them incorporated into fine jewelry by designers with whom she collaborates. At least 10% of the proceeds from every sale goes back to three East African schools that Monica supports. To make the U.S. gem-cutting worth the time and expense, Monica concentrates on larger pieces of rough that can be cut into significant, one-of-a-kind faceted gems. The rough we were looking at was too small to cut … but it was also too beautiful not to use. On the spot, Monica and I conjured up a vision of an accessibly priced offshoot of ANZA Gems that would be distinct from the rest of the line, with designs as pure and rough as the gems we planned to use in it. Monica described the collection on Instagram this way:
Yes, it’s rough. This represents a conscious choice to celebrate the gorgeous gems that come out of the ground this way—grossular garnets and Mahenge spinel. Besides the crazy amount of work to get these gems out of the ground—all done manually in Tanzania and Kenya—the settings are handmade around each completely unique gem. In 18k. In #NYC. It’s thoughtful and intentional. I know the good that this collection does, from the ground to supporting artisans, to the amount donated back to faceting students for each purchase. It is not “lazy” or “unskilled”, as a member of the Jewelry community used yesterday. No, it’s not pavé or anticlastic or someone’s 1980’s idea of “fine jewelry”. It’s ok to have a different aesthetic. But recognize that there’s a conscious choice to pursue a certain aesthetic. Diversity in aesthetic and an idea of beauty is a good thing. Especially when it’s exquisitely done. Thanks @wendybrandes for collaborating with @anzagems to create something memorable. And thanks @sarareyjewelryphotography for the incredible images!! #anzagems #idazzle #gemsforgood #gemsforchange #roughgems #handmade #madeinnyc #18k #mahengespinel #grossulargarnet #greengarnet #spinel #pinkspinel #roughspinel #gold #mahenge #tanzania #kenya
I think of ANZA PURE as a stripped-down version of my already stripped-down ANZA style, which is very different from my own Wendy Brandes line. My signature collection emphasizes intricate metalwork, hundreds of tiny gems, as well as hidden details and unexpected mechanical elements. You want a tiny New York taxi ring with over 300 diamonds in it? I’m your woman for that.
In 2016, when I started creating pieces for Monica with faceted ANZA gems, I realized that my usual aesthetic would distract from the ANZA story. The focus had to stay on the big gems. My favorite expression of my ANZA style is this two-finger ring, where so much of the metal is hidden from view that it looks like the garnets and spinel are floating across the hand.
For ANZA PURE, I wanted to emphasize not just the gems’ colors but the raw state of stones, so my goldsmith and I worked on an 18K gold setting that would match the rough, irregular surface of the gems it embraced. I eschewed the accent diamonds and hefty metal settings seen in my other ANZA designs to concentrate on a simple, single gem …
… or an eye-catching color combination.
The customer response has been enthusiastic, so the clients are happy, Monica is happy, and I’m happy. Still, this man felt entitled — nay, obligated! — to offer his critique. I’m not sure what kind of influence he hoped to have. We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In fact, there is a lot of high-end jewelry that doesn’t appeal to me. If I decided to tell each designer and/or jewelry buyer that this or that piece wasn’t to my taste, I’d be doing nothing else but that all day. Who has the time? In the unlikely event that I find myself completely idle — all caught up on jewelry designs, jewelry sales, bookkeeping, blogging, vlogging, Instagramming, tweeting, website maintenance, email, political organizing, event planning, activism researching, walking the dog, entertaining the cats, seeing MrB occasionally, working out, and doing the laundry — I intend to continue reading Elena Ferrante’s four Neopolitan novels. I’m on book three. Speaking of Ferrante, I appreciated a short essay she recently published about relating to other women. It begins:
“On principle, I refuse to speak badly of another woman, even if she has offended me intolerably. It’s a position that I feel obliged to take precisely because I’m well aware of the situation of women: it’s mine, I observe it in others, and I know that there is no woman who does not make an enormous, exasperating effort to get to the end of the day.”
This is a woman after my own heart.
Read the rest of this compact but eloquent essay here. She said everything I wanted to say in this post, but better!