I’m happy to say that I made two Top Ten lists for the JCK LUXURY jewelry show in Las Vegas! Both times, it was one of my Maneater rings that caught the writer’s eye.
Anthony DeMarco, writing for Forbes, said that, “There was more variety than past years at the ‘Luxury’ jewelry trade show in Las Vegas held earlier this month … In several instances, it was the newer exhibitors that brought a sense of excitement to the show.” He liked my Bull and Bullfighter ring, noting that it is set with 429 diamonds (350 black and 79 white). Some of those white diamonds are set upside-down; take a close look at the ones circling the bull.
Click here to read “Top 10 Designs From The ‘Luxury’ Jewelry Trade Show” by Anthony DeMarco.
Katerina Perez, who already Instagrammed a beautiful picture of my NYC Taxi and Passenger Maneater ring, chose my Dragon and Knight Maneater ring for her Top 10, citing its “element of unexpectedness.”
Click here to read “Katerina’s Choice: Top 10 Jewels From Luxury by JCK.”
I am in great company on both lists: Anthony’s includes well-known designer Erica Courtney, while Katerina’s includes Karl Lagerfeld himself!. This might be the closest I ever get to Karl.
It’s a little funny that these awesome things came about because, for a long time, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to exhibit at this show. I’d attended the JCK Las Vegas shows before and had always been tempted to show my work there, but exhibiting is expensive. Making my one-of-a-kind jewelry is also very expensive, which is why I’d ruled out the show year after year, reasoning that I could make 1 1/2 Maneater rings for the same cost. Then, this spring, I declared I would no longer work with retailers on consignment. (As I have previously explained, consignment means that I invest a lot money into manufacturing jewelry and give it to retailers for free, getting paid only if/when they sell a piece.) Well, most of the people who attend JCK (besides press such as Anthony and Katerina) are retailers, and a vast number of retailers sell fine jewelry only on consignment, so it would seem that this was the worst year for me to exhibit for the first time.
Instead, the timing was perfect! Any other year, I would have been agreeing to consignment deals right and left, just for the “exposure.” Now that I’ve learned the hard way that the only exposure I’ve ever gotten through consignment has been exposure to financial loss, I only discussed the kind of transactions that would benefit me: trunk shows and special orders. With trunk shows, I’m there personally to explain the jewelry to customers. For retailers that have a more conservative clientele, it might not be worth traveling for a show, but, as I told them, it’s worth it to them to keep me in mind when one of their supposedly traditional customers asks for something they don’t have. “What do you do,” I asked one store owner, “when a regular customer comes in and doesn’t buy anything?” He didn’t have an answer, so I supplied one: “You tell her that you know a New York designer who makes one-of-a-kind pieces for special women like her, and that you’ll have the best picks FedExed to the store within 48 hours.” (I’m actually going to write a separate post on that kind of customer service. I’m not a natural-born salesperson myself, so I know it’s hard, but I’ve bought quite a bit from brilliant salespeople, so I got schooled thanks to my wallet!)
Another good thing about my timing was that, last year, I got to know Andrea Hansen of Luxe Intelligence. Andrea got me into Elite Enclave, which was the best room at the show. It was a more intimate space filled with small designers who were all very different but still compatible. Also, she arranged for me to share booth space with CEEK VR, a virtual/augmented reality company that has gotten support from Richline Group for its compelling ideas for the jewelry industry. For instance: We can all keep bemoaning how attached people are to their phones and how they don’t want to leave their homes to go shopping … or we can create a virtual store that lets them stay in their pajamas while using their phones to explore a lifelike store, see jewelry from every angle, get descriptions and prices, and learn about the designer’s inspiration.
How many times have I wished I could wander around Bergdorf Goodman when I can’t sleep at night? Sure, a website is nice, but it’s not the same as feeling you’re really there and I do like to do my clothes shopping in person. How good can it be, you might wonder? People, many of whom were initially skeptical, tried out my branded viewers (just download CEEK’s app and slide your phone right into the viewer) and were amazed. Look at their expressions!
Before I knew I was going to get to work with CEEK, I planned to focus my booth on my Punk Platinum line — the barbed wire and arrowhead pieces — which I felt was well-priced for traditional retail. When I found out that I was going to have my virtual store as well as an augmented reality experience, I realized my over-the-top, one-of-a-kind pieces had to play the starring role. (The augmented reality experience works with QR codes that can be sent to a customer.) I loved that CEEK picked out a movie-announcer narration voice that it deemed grand enough for the Maneater collection.
If I hadn’t made the centerpiece of my exhibit the Maneater rings — which I wouldn’t have done without the CEEK partnership — I might never have ended up on Anthony’s and Katerina’s Top 10 lists, so you see how this all came together like magic? A big thumbs up to Andrea Hansen for making the connection between me and CEEK, and to Richline Group for making it possible.
Another wonderful aspect of working with CEEK were the CEEK peeps. Mary Spio is CEEK’s chief visionary as well as an excellent ring model.
Mary spent much of her time at CEEK’s other location within the JCK show, so I didn’t get to hang out with her as much as I would have liked. Luckily, I had CEEK executive Akim Millington at my booth for the entire week-long show, and he’s a total delight to be around.
Akim was a big football star in college, and he went on to the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, so usually he works on CEEK’s sports and entertainment efforts. Jewelry isn’t his area of expertise. He just throws on his diamond stud earrings and championship rings and he’s good to go.
But, after a couple of days, if we were busy at the booth or had to step away, Akim was able to give the jewelry spiel as well as the virtual reality pitch. He also read us his poetry and secured our delicious Moscow Mules when the 4 p.m. cocktail hour rolled around. Cocktail hour made us a little crazy, to be honest. After a long day in one place, telling the same jewelry stories over and over again, we were ready to live it up.
By “we” I’m not referring only to myself and Akim. Yet another fortunate result of my trade-show timing was the availability of my former right-hand woman, Eryn, who was able to join me as my salesperson extraordinaire. (You saw her mad ring-stacking skillz in yesterday’s post.) Last year she wouldn’t have been available, but this year she managed it, and she was fabulous. People who were initially trying to run in the other direction would wind up listening to her full pitch, testing the virtual reality viewers, and then leaning around her to mouth to me, “You need to give her a raise!”
Eryn and I were initially weirded out by the jacuzzi in our hotel room but it turned out to be useful after we got swollen feet from standing all day. There’s no one I would rather bathe with on a business trip!
There’s also no one else I’d rather be with while in search of a missing 18K gold ring. One day, we realized the full-finger gold barbed wire ring was not in the case. We ransacked the case and our storage but had no luck. Eryn kept me calm by saying, “I know you left it in the hotel room.” She wasn’t convinced of that at all, but figured it would keep the peace. After we closed up for the night, we went back to the hotel and turned it upside-down and inside-out. I was seriously doing things like checking inside the ice bucket, multiple times. No ring. We decided to go back to the booth and look one more time, but it was after hours, so the armed security guards wouldn’t let us in. We had to speak to several different people until we got to a skeptical guard named Nelson. By “we,” I mean just Eryn because I was starting to fall into hysterical, inappropriate laughter, so I had to stand to the side and let her do all the talking before they called the police on my weird-acting ass. Eryn used all her sales skills to sway Nelson our way and he accompanied back to the booth. We looked everywhere, with flashlights. Eryn crawled into the bottom of the booth to feel around. I was still sitting on the floor, preparing to concede defeat when Eryn stood up … and suddenly spotted the ring blending perfectly into a swirl of gold in the patterned carpet. She let out a sound like “EEP!”, started laughing and crying, hugged Nelson, and then kind of put the ring on his finger. They might be married now. (It’s Vegas, y’all!) Meanwhile, I was literally rolling on the floor laughing with joy. A very shocked Nelson asked, “Wow, were you guys going to be fired?” and I yelled, “I’m the owner of the company!” from the floor.
Obviously, if we knew this story was going to have a happy ending, we would have Snapchatted it (I’m @WendyBrandes on Snapchat) but we were too busy worrying and negotiating with security. We did take the time to make a mini movie, re-enacting the search of the booth and the discovery of the ring. Enjoy!
We figured out that the ring had been in that spot for over 24 hours, as people walked all around it. Its survival is a miracle! I’m going to have to write to the Elite Enclave room organizers about the use of metallics in their future carpet designs. And, yes, we did leave a thank-you card for Nelson.