JEWELRY DESIGNS: A THING OF BEAUTY IS A THING THAT SELLS

RENOIR SAID HE PAINTED BEFORE NATURE WITH AN ARTLESS SOUL AND THE INSTINCTS OF HIS FINGER TIPS. FOUR YEARS AGO, 6-YEAR-OLD STACEY LEA YOUNG WANDERED INTO HER MOTHER’S STUDIO, GLUED A FEATHER ONTO A SHELL AND STUCK A BROOCH ON THE BACK. THE NEXT DAY, FROM HER SHOWROOM AT THE DALLAS MARKET CENTER, STACEY LEA’S MOTHER TOOK 200 ORDERS FOR PINS JUST LIKE IT. STACEY LEA IS BY NO MEANS IN THE SAME LEAGUE AS RENOIR, BUT HER INSTINCTS, LIKE HIS, LED HER TO CREATE. AND HER SHELL PIN, HER MOTHER’S BRASS BELTS AND THE 24K TENNIS BALLS MADE AT ADELSTEIN’S-AS WELL AS THE MINIATURE OIL RIGS MANUFACTURED AT ZALE’S AND THE $700,000 DIAMOND, EMERALD AND PLATINUM DINNER RING STORED IN THE VAULT EACH NIGHT AT BONDS-ARE ALL, ACCORDING TO THEIR DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS, PIECES OF ART. “IT IS ART,” SAYS STACEY LEA’S MOTHER, KITTY YOUNG, CREATOR OF DESIGNS BY KITTY, “BECAUSE EACH PIECE IS DONE BY HAND AND IS HAMMERED OUT. MY PIECES ARE AN EXPRESSION OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY and are therefore art; out of all the different lines, everyone expresses themselves a little differently.”

Jean Mayeur, a jewelry designer at Ad-elstein’s who spent 23 years with Cartier, says his work is a combination of art and fashion. “It is art because the shape is pleasing to the eye. With the exception of some extremely dramatic pieces, art is supposed to be pleasing. Jewelry must be practical because it is worn – it shouldn’t hurt you or anyone else. Other limitations arise because you are working with precious metals; glue is out of the question. You must show the best of what the medium can be; but within all the limitations, there is room for eccentricity.”

The questions then arise – as questions do when art is the subject at hand – of the difference between jewelry that is art and jewelry that is merely fashionable. Is a piece of jewelry art merely because it is handmade? Is a brass form art only when it stands in a museum on a pedestal and not when it hangs on a chain around a woman’s neck? Irena Brynner, Swiss sculptress, painter and author of the book Jewelry as an Art Form, writes that jewelry “should not be a mere decoration, but should become an integral part of the body. As architectural sculpture enhances a building, jewelry enhances a human being.”

A distinction Ms. Brynner makes between jewelry and sculpture is that abstraction in jewelry has a decorative purpose. A graceful swirl of gold is not normally expected to create a mood or convey an idea as would a piece of sculpture. Jewelry need only, Ms. Brynner explains, mingle with life.

In the jewelry business, the ideal is to do the mingling in a way that is both timeless and artistic, yet just trendy enough to be fashionable. The criteria seem incompatible, but every Dallas designer and jeweler we talked to felt his merchandise met those standards to some degree. Some of the enchantment we associate with subjects such as art dropped away the first time we heard a designer speak of his work as “merchandise”; but masters in every field must turn out some “safe” products – a little Muzak, a few customer-pleasing portraits or a bit of mildly spiced chili – if they are to buy groceries.

Bonnie Boynton, president of her accessory firm, Good Ship Enterprise, and designer of its diverse line of belts, buckles and jewelry, admits that she doesn’t love her own things nearly as well if they don’t sell. “If I hate something and it profits,” Ms. Boynton says, “I don’t hate it nearly so much.”

Ms. Boynton says she likes to create things that sell even if that means getting beyond her own tastes. Adelstein designer Mayeur agrees, saying that most of what he does is for special people. “I suit the pieces to their tastes and personalities. I can’t impose my own tastes.”

So jewelry designers must at times be bought artists if they are to be successful. Judy Schaffer, a designer who works primarily with beads, antique carvings and gems she buys in the Orient, began designing nine years ago and now works out of her North Dallas home. “I try hard not to be commercial,” Ms. Schaffer says, “but you must be to support your work habits and buy your materials. I like to make things work. When I choose things in the Orient, I enjoy knowing that if I arrange them a certain way, they’ll look good and sell.”

Ms. Schaffer’s watercolors, tapestries and crafts fill each room of her house. “I’m fortunate that I’m ahead of what’s happening intuitively. If I see beads that appeal to me, I’ll buy them regardless of fashion. I ordered that rug in my living room two years ago – I had to look all over for one like it – and now it’s right in style. Bright pastel prints are everywhere.

“There is a commercial aspect in my work: I try to see that some of my things have a more general appeal. But I always sell things I would wear. I design for stores where I like to shop – I make peer jewelry.”

Ms. Young is another who says her pieces are items she would wear herself. Some of her customers don’t believe they are built lean enough or tall enough for certain pieces, but she disagrees. “A person can wear anything she has enough confidence to wear. It’s all in confidence. A piece makes a statement. You can make your neck long enough or yourself tall enough just by carrying yourself with confidence.”

Ms. Young says she tries not to know exactly what other people are doing, but she does look for a feeling of the times. “Nothing is totally original,” she says. “People who say something they do is new are full of crock. Ideas filter down in different ways.”

An example of an idea filtering down successfully is one that began with Ralph Lauren, Ms. Young says. Lauren began pushing silver; he used silver accessories with many of his outfits, although most people continued to prefer gold. The best thing for designers to do in such a case, Ms. Young says, is to compromise, to combine gold with silver. “Then a designer has a winner: a fashionable piece that remains in line with what most people’s tastes prefer.”

Ms. Young, in line with that trend, is offering belts that combine nickel, silver, brass and copper. She says the bold brass craze in belts and accessories diminished just after the Christmas rush.

With precious gems and metals, marketability remains important, but trends become less significant. Irving Adelstein, owner of Adelstein Jewelers, says his company tries to follow trends, but “we want most for our pieces to be timeless, not something you’ll wear one year and discard.

“Beauty is still first. I don’t particularly care for some sculpture and mobiles, but I can look at a beautiful ruby or emerald and see where nature has created a beautiful art form. That’s why I love the jewelry business; I think most of it is art because it is beautiful.”

Zale’s executive vice president of marketing, Larry Tanner, says his company’s stores skirt trends. “Our diamond pendants and rings are pretty much staples, but we do carry a few items on a craftier level. Some stores carry fad looks such as hair combs and pins. But most diamond-type stores market this sort of merchandise judiciously.” Since Zale has so many stores, the company can afford to do market testing with unusual items. One piece currently being tested in several East Coast stores is a man’s engagement ring. The diamond bands look much like men’s wedding bands, but are meant to be worn before the wedding and, if the couple chooses, with another band after the big day. “A diamond is a sizable purchase,” Tanner says. “Our customers want to use it in many ways for many years.”

Henry Bullard, sales director for Highland Park’s year-old Bonds, a branch of the London-based jewelry emporium, says his company doesn’t pay much attention to seasonal trends. “If we did, we’d be changing our whole store every month. Larger stores, Tiffany’s in New York, for example, are the only ones that can afford to do that,” Bullard says.

“Classic, expensive clothes and accessories won’t go out of style,” Ms. Young says. “Some pieces may go out for a season, but they’ll bring them back out in a year.”

The truth of that statement can be tested by examining the history of jewelry. Looking 25,000 years ago to the first baubles and bangles, we see many shapes and styles that remain familiar today. David Freidel, professor of anthropology at SMU, says the first Homo sapiens carried objects similar to jewelry. Often the objects were pierced ivory carved into fish or reindeer.

“At that time it was much more than a display of status,” Freidel says. “Jewelry signified official responsibility and was used as an instrument of power. Early pieces were subject to all sorts of incantations.”

Specialists in jewelry making didn’t develop until at least 6000 B.C., Freidel says, when people began carving amulets of now semiprecious stones such as malachite. This period marked the beginning of the power/status association of jewelry. Then jewelry began to take on prosaic and currency functions instead of just religious significances. Modern man’s attraction has still, in part, been power and association with magic. Only recently has jewelry become generally available, Freidel says.

The instincts Renoir used in his paintings and that Stacey Lea used in her pin seemed the greatest common force behind Dallas jewelry designers. Judy Schaffer says all the things she does – her water-colors, pottery, needlework and travels – affect the way she looks at things. “I began working in interior design,” she says, “I’ve always had a creative outlet and I think I’ll always have that, but I don’t think I’ll be sitting here at my desk stringing beads twenty years from now.

“One of my rules is to never use anything for its original purpose. I also like to mix materials from different countries. One blouse I made has material from five different countries, including the cloth off a pair of Chinese slippers.”

Kitty Young also does much of her work intuitively. “I’m so busy I don’t get to the stores unless I’m doing a show. I don’t look at other people’s lines because I don’t want their ideas. But people’s comments influence me. My things have always sold; I’m very fortunate. If I don’t like it, I don’t make it. But I tend to have favorites and I know which stores will like which things.”

Thirty-three-year-old Bonnie Boynton began her company four and a half years ago as a part-time job while working for Nardis. Her creative expression began with suede flowers and then developed into belts, bags and more flowers. “My first year in business,” she says, “I held down my job at Nardis and slept only three or four hours a night. I had all the pains of entrepreneurship, but I made $100,000 my first year.”

Today Ms. Boynton’s belts are sold in about 25 Dallas stores. She says she finally feels comfortable showing her pieces in New York.

At first, she says, she wanted to be a buyer. “I was blessed with a praematic mind as well as with a creative mind – I may not even stick with belts and jewelry. Richard Gold, my boss at Nardis, told me that if I had the ability to create, I could create in any area. But I know nothing is created in a vacuum. I think that first year while I was working so hard, the creative forces at Nardis and the ideas I had about my own things fed each other. I did some of my best things for Nardis then.”

For designers who do choose to follow trends, the Dallas market is interesting; Dallas jewelry buyers are sophisticated. Larry Tanner of Zale says his company sells the full spectrum of men’s rings – from elegantly simple solitaires to Western-styled diamond cluster horseshoes. Bridal sets are tailored in Dallas. The style is elegant and simple, without lots of massive gold mountings. “People here want to see the stones,” he says.

Zale’s executives have many more mar-kets to tend besides Dallas. Tastes change so drastically across the country that the company publishes two different catalogs in order to please all their customers.

The East Coast look is the simplest and most elegant. Although the West Coast is also simple, people there prefer a little more swirl and style. In the Midwest, heavier looking rings with bigger mountings are more popular. And Midwestern-ers, Tanner says, would just as soon have more mounting than stone.

The South is becoming the most fashion-conscious area of the country, Tanner says. “Nugget jewelry is very fashionable in the South, especially in Texas.

“Jewelry trends generally originate on the West Coast and move East. But sometimes trends move inward from both coasts and finally meet somewhere in the middle of the country. People in the East are possibly more conservative, with the exception of New York City – it’s an island in itself. The more elegant men’s rings are popular in the West, but those aren’t gaining much popularity here. Texas men go for the chunky rings and still seem to shy away from styles that might be seen as effeminate.

“Larger men’s rings with colored stones are just now becoming popular in the Midwest,” Tanner says, “but you couldn’t give the things away here. Women are the only ones who buy the colored stones in Dallas.

“Diamonds are more popular than ever in Dallas, and anything with a horse on it sells as fast as you can make it.” Though the urban cowboy phase may be slowing down at some of the country and western spots, it’s still going strong at Zale.

Tastes of buyers of more expensive jewelry are different from those of the buyers of semiprecious stones and more casual pieces. Henry Bullard at Bonds says diamonds and rubies are sold more in New York than in Texas. “We sell more gold and more earrings and necklaces with more diamonds and colored stones than anything else we offer.”

Business in Dallas is not as good as company executives had hoped, Bullard says, but things have been looking up in the last six months. The elegant Bonds opened in December 1980. The other two stores are in New York and London. “For years people have shopped at Zale’s and Neiman’s – we haven’t been around long enough for people to know and trust us.”

An important influence on trends in jewelry is availability. Much of the creativity that is done in all levels of jewelry design is done in an attempt to accommodate available resources. Tanner points out a $1,500 diamond heart advertised in the Zale’s catalog: “That heart is made of 40 three-to-five-point diamonds. If we are to manufacture just one of those hearts for 800 of our stores we would need 32,000 diamonds, all of them relatively the same size.”

Availability changes, Tanner says, according to consumer’s tastes and the dictates of Debeers, the diamond syndicate that controls the number, prices and offering sites of small and large rough diamonds.

But the Debeers stronghold may be loosening, according to a February article in Atlantic Monthly. The South African company that has controlled the world diamond trade since the 19th century has, in the past, been the only major source of diamonds, and thus has had the clout to regulate the demand and supply. But the possibility of an influx of diamonds from several other sources could flood the market and cause the price of diamonds to spiral downward.

One of the trends developing among jewelry buyers that has only been apparent in the last four or five years is the practice of jewelry buying for investment’s sake alone. Bonds’ Bullard says certain stones – emeralds, rubies and sapphires – are particularly good investments now.

Lois Sasson, a designer for Bonds in New York, has this advice for investors: “When a woman buys a good piece of jewelry, she is getting an investment as well as pleasure out of being able to wear it. Each year the value should go up; and unlike land, which takes time to sell, an emerald or ruby can be sold quickly.”

But Irving Adelstein encourages caution before sinking a great deal of money into a colored stone for investment purposes. “Occasionally, opportunists create markets that simply aren’t there,” he says. People who didn’t know about diamonds told the public to invest in diamonds in March 1980 and drove diamond prices so high that investment-quality diamonds have plummeted in value by 50 percent, the Atlantic Monthly article says.

“Those people sold their stones and disappeared,” Adelstein says. “Many people were hurt, and now I see the same thing happening with colored stones. Some of the claims are true, but a person must be more careful when buying a colored stone than when buying a diamond.

“I can tell exactly what I’m getting when I buy a diamond, but with colored stones the standards aren’t so distinct or highly developed. Good quality synthetics can fool experts, and there remains a wide variance of what defines a fine ruby. I still think people should buy gems first because they want to wear them and secondly as an investment,” Adelstein says. “We sell jewelry thinking people will wear it a lifetime and then pass it on. From that standpoint, it’s a lasting investment.”

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