During next week’s New York City Jewelry Week (NYCJW), the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) will have a pop-up activation at Industry West’s flagship store in SoHo to spotlight the work of more than 20 students and alumni who will “showcase their innovative designs, allowing visitors to view and purchase one-of-a-kind pieces and learn more about the cutting-edge [jewelry] program,” organizers said.
The activation is part of a weeklong series of tours, classes, exhibitions, panel discussions, open studios and other events that make up the NYCJW. More than 10,000 attendees are expected.
Here, SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace interviews Bella Neyman and JB Jones, cofounders of NYCJW, who share their insights into what differentiates this weeklong event from other shows and how it has evolved as well as trends they are seeing in the market.
Paula Wallace: What inspired you to launch NYCJW, and what do you hope it will become?
Bella Neyman: NYCJW was inspired by a multitude of conversations that we had with independent jewelers, museum curators, retailers and educators. Many of them expressed the same sentiment — that they were looking for more consumer exposure. Even curators, who aren’t selling anything, were interested in drawing a wider audience to their programming. Given that, as a director of a jewelry gallery, I often traveled abroad for international jewelry events and fairs, I really thought that an event like that in New York could be quite successful.
JB and I have been working together for some time and are very passionate about supporting creatives. We have been eager to start our own business and this seemed like the perfect project. We hope that NYCJW grows into a cultural event in this city in the same way that fashion week has. We hope that it continues to be relevant for the industry but most importantly for the consumers.
P.W.: International contemporary jewelry events such as Schmuck in Munich, Parcours Bijoux in Paris, Athens Jewelry Week in Greece, and Joya, Barcelona, are gaining more and more attention in the world of contemporary jewelry. What differentiates New York City Jewelry Week from those?
B.N.: Yes, we are very familiar with these international contemporary jewelry events and I have been fortunate enough to visit many of them. In fact, as I mentioned, the spirit and energy of these events is what inspired NYCJW. But what sets NYCJW apart is that we welcome all jewelry not just contemporary art jewelry.
Our program is very diverse and we pride ourselves on the fact that we have heritage houses, and estate galleries, and independent jewelers all creating events and opening their doors. We value the conversation and the exchange of ideas that happens naturally when everyone is invited to the party.
P.W.: Jewelry has been one of the first industries to adopt 3-D printing technology, which has become a huge part of the industry. How will NYCJW address new technology in jewelry?
JB Jones: This year we decided to focus on bringing technology into the week in a way that is natural to our mission, by focusing on how consumers engage with technology and offer behind-the-scenes access to that process. We are working with several local companies that utilize new technology in forward-thinking ways. For instance, a shop called Atelier d’Emotion has an in-house line that is created in a studio along 47th Street, the NYC jewelry district, where they 3-D print metal jewelry. It makes for amazing opportunities as a consumer when the design process can be so local and immediate.
We are also working with a company called Ame, which creates diamonds in NYC. It’s still such a new concept and we are excited to be working with visionaries who are going direct to consumer with tech that is local. On a smaller scale, we are working with an emerging brand, Amula, that is creating jewelry that houses DNA. We are thrilled to be the bridge that connects these sort of forward-thinking businesses with a community of consumers.
P.W.: Jewelry and value are inseparable. The question of preciousness has been a hot topic for many contemporary art jewelers — to challenge its meaning, redefine it, even expand it. How do you manage to show the many faces of jewelry: fashion versus one-of-a-kind or handmade versus mass production?
JB.J.: Because we are in such a multifaceted city, sharing the scope of jewelry, in terms of its many faces, is a very important part of NYCJW. And luckily, being in New York City also allows access to so many types of jewelry, and so many opportunities for engagement. And really that’s how we build the week – we read, go to events, visit studios, go shopping and talk to people about jewelry: makers and non-makers alike. And then we put together a plan for a week of events that represents that diversity not only in the type of jewelry, but in the story behind it.
We want the scope to be all-encompassing, but also challenging and educational. We aim to allow for new experiences in jewelry that challenge our audience’s definitions of what jewelry is and can be.
P.W.: At SCAD, students research the multifaceted, ever-evolving definitions of jewelry through the ages. They explore meanings of adornment, beauty, desire, body and value — in social, cultural, and political contexts — to find jewelry’s importance to individual people but also its relationship with current society. What historic evolutions in jewelry or cultural significance in jewelry do you deem most important?
B.N.: I think that the most significant changes in jewelry have always been tied to the changes in the greater sociopolitical climate. These changes, or evolutions, were reactionary to what was happening in the world – artists express themselves through their art and craft so jewelry is no different.
I think that if we only focus on America, then I would have to say that the post-World War II era when we witnessed the birth of the American studio craft movement, of which jewelry was a huge part, is most important. This was a very exciting time, full of experimentation with materials and forms. Most of the jewelers were self-taught, because there were no formal academic programs, and they were not afraid to take risks. Here in New York, Greenwich Village was the home to many brilliant jewelers who really defined that period and are still revered today like Winifred Mason and her student Art Smith, and then also Sam Kramer, and Francisco Rebajes, amongst others.
P.W.: How, in your view, is contemporary art jewelry changing the jewelry industry?
B.N.: I think it’s not necessarily changing the industry but adding to it. Artists are creating interesting opportunities for themselves and making strong work that is catching the attention of the fashion and design worlds. I think there are more opportunities for collaborations and artists are not opposed to them. I think there are more blurred lines and that is exciting.
P.W.: SCAD students learn technique and skill in crafting all kinds of jewelry, incorporating both traditional processes and cutting-edge techniques. Who or what do you recommend for aspiring jewelers to research?
JB.J.: Bella and I came to NYCJW with career paths that were very diverse and that is where we find much of our success. Our approach is not traditional and our goals are not traditional for the jewelry world, but that is how we like it.
A broad interest in disciplines beyond jewelry allows our project to take flight in ways it couldn’t without having had time spent in other worlds: fashion, art and design. So we always recommend that young creatives explore beyond their category — try new things, test out other disciplines, and challenge yourself to be open to inspiration anywhere.
P.W.: What do you see as the biggest gap between the industry and academia?
JB.J.: The academic world breeds many graduates seeking a career as an art jeweler, and often with a goal of finding a teaching position to support that lifestyle. But there is no consumer market for art jewelry right now. And that’s why we started NYCJW. Bella and I want to build that market, to get consumers interested in supporting the artist, in buying, wearing the work and eventually collecting the work.
And to do that we need to open the doors of the contemporary world, we need to be inclusive, we need to collaborate and we need to take a lesson not only from the other categories of jewelry that are thriving, but also from other disciplines.
P.W.: As organizers of NYCJW, what differences do you note between the U.S. contemporary jewelry scene versus those of Europe and Asia?
B.N.: Historically there has been a divide between the European and American contemporary jewelry scene, but in the last decade that is less relevant. I think in Europe there is still very much an old guard mentality, where you really have to prove yourself to the establishment of seasoned curators and gallerists. Also while the market is small, artists can support themselves as full-time artists because they receive funding from the government. Here in the U.S., few artists can really support themselves solely through the sales of their work. In Europe, we have also been witnessing a lot of the first generation of gallerists start to retire but luckily new galleries have been opening and are very keen on educating and growing a new collector base.
Here in the U.S., I am pleased to say that we, too, have new galleries opening (many of them participating in NYCJW) and many institutions have started to hire recent graduates to teach in their programs, including SCAD. So this shift is very exciting to see. The contemporary jewelry scene in Asia is very small. While there are a few great academic programs and a very strong group of artists whose work is unparalleled, there really is not much of a market for the work. But really the main challenge that is facing all of the jewelry scenes, is that we need more jewelry lovers. People who are educated, passionate, and really want to wear the work.
P.W.: As you know, SCAD will have a pop-up at Industry West in SoHo during NYCJW. How does pop-up retail, as opposed to brick-and-mortar or e-commerce, help drive consumer behavior?
JB.J.: What’s exciting about NYCJW in particular, is that we are only here for a week and then it’s over. We really try to create events that you cannot experience any other time of year in order to support that model. The requirement for immediate interest and follow-through from the public in these cases of short-term projects often finds it success in that space. There is a sense of urgency, selectiveness and specialness in the essence of the short-term project.
I do feel that the market today requires, as I like to say, “doing all the things all the time.” Meaning the market changes so quickly now, brick-and-mortar alone does not suffice anymore, nor does just e-commerce. You truly have to be constantly learning and planning for your business in order to navigate successfully, and not only about everything that is happening in the world around your business, but in knowing who your customer is. That truly is, I think, the most important element to focus on as a retailer or wholesaler.
It was often the other way around in the past, that the business defined what consumers would want, but now there are too many options for consumers and they seek authenticity and convenience which can be difficult bedfellows. So the model of a pop-up really allows for connection and understanding of the customer, a wonderful IRL litmus test.