Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2018, Vol. 54, No. 2

IAC Conference on Responsible Gold


Barbara Palumbo, Monica Stephenson, and Sarah Yood speak at the conference.
Barbara Palumbo, Monica Stephenson, and Sarah Yood participate in the panel “Who’s Got the Power? Influencers, Ethics, and the Regulations of Social Media.” Photo by Alice Catherine Young.

Gold: Vortex, Virtues, and Values was hosted by Initiatives in Art and Culture (IAC) at Bohemian National Hall in New York City, April 12–13. Now in its eighth year, the conference has become an annual industry gathering for those looking to evaluate the market, discover exceptional work, and discuss key gold-related issues.

Mark Hanna (Richline Group) opened the conference, stating that it is the leading gold event in the United States and introducing IAC founder Lisa Koenigsberg, who discussed the importance of bringing together people from various backgrounds. “Gold is the substance that can rivet our attention because the reality is the thing we ascribe value to in a social compact. Everyone in this room agrees that this has value.”

In the kickoff presentation, Jeffrey Christian (CPM Group) presented graphs showing that interest rates and gold prices are not correlated but indicated that surplus labor will become a problem due to computer-assisted manufacturing. Christian recommended gold as a way to diversify investment portfolios. In assessing international gold investment demand, he concluded that Indian gold investment is in long-term decline and that Chinese gold investment, while down from 2013, is ultimately rising.

Next was the update from Washington, DC. Tiffany Stevens (Jewelers Vigilance Committee) addressed the status of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guides, which are meant to champion consumers and protect them from unfair competition. Once the guides are issued, the JVC will translate them for the industry. Highlighting hot topics, Stevens addressed service applications of precious metals, advertising and disclosure, and anti-money laundering efforts. Susan Thea Posnock (Jewelers of America) discussed the importance of advocacy, touching upon hearings on sales tax fairness that could reflect the changing marketplace. Elizabeth Orlando (U.S. Department of State) discussed her team’s work with conflict minerals and diamonds, particularly regarding the Kimberley Process and the Dodd-Frank Act. Mark Hanna observed that the requirement for new FTC members to review regulations has slowed down the overall process. Linus Drogs (AU Enterprises) addressed regulations that dictate what can and cannot be marked “Made in the USA” domestically versus globally.

Andrea Hill (Hill Management Group) reframed the use of technology in business. Hill emphasized the importance of marketing coherently across platforms and offering customers help with the decision-making process. She noted that consumers generally shop online and buy in-store. Making the experience seamless over the phone and approaching marketing from the standpoint of consumer desire are key.

Next, Brandee Dallow (Fine Girl Luxury Brand Building & Communications) had a sit-down with jewelry designer Alexandra Mor, who is working with Balinese artisans to promote the tagua nut as a luxury alternative to elephant ivory. Taking innovation to the next level, Mor has created a material out of tagua that can be 3D printed to solve the problem of the nut’s limiting size.

Independent consultant Christina Miller moderated a session on sustainable jewelry. Miller laid out international commitments regarding responsible sourcing, celebrating the progress made and hoping “to push the needle further” during the gold conference. Monica Stephenson (idazzle.com and Anza Gems) spoke on the importance of reinvesting in source communities. Wing Yau (WWAKE) discussed sourcing in Colombia, where she has visited model mines. Blair Lauren Brown (VERTE Essentials) talked about the 120-year legacy of the Alaskan gold nugget jewelry she works in and how it supports local mining. Stewart Grice (Hoover & Strong) noted that the company imports from Peru, Colombia, and Mongolia, bringing gold to the U.S. and either selling it as 24K or karating the materials for use. The premium on fair-mined products goes back directly to the local communities. Third-generation retailer Robert Goodman (Robert Goodman Jewelers) discussed his commitment to bringing in designers dedicated to sustainability. Nina Farran (Fashionkind) came to the table with a style slant. Fashionkind, which stands for “fashion in humankind,” began as a blog before launching a retail platform. The group also spoke of industry collectives driving down prices in sustainable sourcing as consumer education drives the demand for sustainable products.

After the sustainability panel, Toby Pomeroy was presented with IAC’s inaugural award for Leadership and Responsible Practice in Jewelry. The award recognizes a transformational contribution to the worldwide gem and jewelry industry. A leader in the responsible sourcing movement, Pomeroy also founded the Mercury Free Mining Challenge, which seeks to discover a safe replacement for mercury.

Next, Jean-Jacques Grimaud (SolidWorks Sell) delivered a presentation on optimizing the consumer experience through personalization. Technology keeps the customer fully engaged with the product, while brands are able to maintain control of design integrity. Grimaud demonstrated a sample personalized software for ring design that is accessible from a computer, tablet, or phone—all on the cloud.

Thursday’s closing panel on blockchain technology was jointly presented by Mark Hanna, Marla Beck Hedworth (UL), and Catherine Malkova (IBM). The overview of blockchain technology included provenance assured by the blockchain ledger, permissions to ensure visibility and security, consensus by all parties to verify transactions, immutability, smart contracts, and finality once an operation is completed. Trustchain is proposed to be a consortium permissioned private blockchain, focused on the provenance of a diamond engagement ring from the diamond and gold mines, tracking the full supply chain from the mine to the end consumer.

In the evening, IAC hosted “A Rising Tide: Women in the Jewelry Industry.” Hedda Schupak (Centurion) moderated the discussion, and panelists included: designer Wendy Brandes, Brandee Dallow, Jenny Luker (Platinum Guild International), and Barbara Palumbo (Adornmentality.com and WhatsOnHerWrist.com). A variety of topics were addressed, including: women’s involvement in political movements and willingness to perform unpaid labor to promote change, the increase of more women working independently due to lack of upward mobility in corporate settings, minimal presence of women on industry boards for products directing marketing towards women, and more.

Day two started with “Moda Operandi: A New Business Model for Jewelry.” Mickey Alam Khan (Mobile Marketer) interviewed Deborah Nicodemus (Moda Operandi). The company’s online luxury business model is currently based on three channels: trunk shows, boutique business, and the showroom. Of the three models, only the boutique carries inventory.

A panel moderated by Rob Bates (JCK) that included David Bouffard, Toby Pomeroy, Christina Miller, Tiffany Stevens, and Elizabeth Orlando opened by discussing issues related to gold. Orlando detailed the smuggling of artisanally mined gold, money laundering problems, gold’s use to support armed groups and cartels, and labor problems such as the U.S. interest in eliminating forced labor, mercury use, deforestation, and wildlife trafficking. Bouffard spoke on Signet’s efforts to identify the sources of its gold. After years of coordination and tracking from banks to refineries, Signet now knows where 99% of its gold comes from. The company is on the ground to make sure gold that comes from the legitimate supply chain and that workers are paid fair wages, helping promote a responsible cycle. Stevens described how the JVC office helps the industry combat money laundering. Pomeroy noted that his group is raising a million-dollar prize for a safe alternative to mercury in gold mining. Miller spoke about the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance and its work on large-scale mining standards. Five sectors form the current setup: mining companies, purchasing companies, labor unions, NGOs, and mining-affected communities. She concluded by reminding the audience that we rely on mining every day, so as an industry we need to advocate for it to be done responsibly.

Leo and Ginnie de Vroomen, the husband-and-wife designers behind the de Vroomen brand, presented selections from their stunning body of work, including the step-by-step making of a gold repoussé bangle. They use brightly colored gemstones and enamel and a variety of traditional metalsmithing techniques to create sculptural forms.

Enameler Jane Short detailed her more than 40 years of enameling. Her enamel is focused on the interplay of color or self-expression. Short presented examples of enamel throughout history, explaining technique and chronicling the creation of an enamel on silver beaker.

Next, designer Jen Townsend, Renée Zettle-Sterling (Society of North American Goldsmiths), and Lin Stanionis (University of Kansas) spoke on casting. Townsend and Zettle-Sterling are co-authors of the new book CAST: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process, which covers jewelry, architecture, and everyday objects made by casting. They described how life events influenced their designs and later inspired them to write the book to combat the stigma associated with the process. The pages feature exceptional cast work, from ancient jewelry to computer-aided design. Stanionis related how casting is a part of her jewelry design process. She explained her dedication to expressing human experience. Her pieces use organic forms such as rattlesnake vertebrae, bones, cracked eggshells, and leaves. She and her husband also excavate fossils and incorporate elements such as dinosaur bones, memorializing links to the past.

Andrea Hill returned to moderate “Industrial Revolution 4.0: Cultivating and Perpetuating Old World Skills.” Patricia Madeja (Pratt Institute) noted that our country must do more to appreciate makers. Ted Doudak (RIVA Precision Manufacturing) added that there are rules for supply and demand—we should see where the demand is, understand what crafts need to be filled, and encourage those. He also emphasized the importance of valuing artisans by compensating them well and acknowledging their accomplishments. Rich Youmans (MJSA), Katrin Zimmermann (Ex Ovo), and designer goldsmith Ann Cahoon rallied around education and the importance of teaching and apprenticeships outside the family.

“Who’s Got the Power? Influencers, Ethics, and the Regulations of Social Media” ended the conference with a follow-up panel from last year. Sarah Yood (Jewelers Vigilance Committee), Barbara Palumbo, Wendy Brandes, and Monica Stephenson (see above) interacted with the audience, under the moderation of Peggy Jo Donahue. Yood explained that the FTC is monitoring social media channels, and action can be taken if material connections between influencers and products are not clearly disclosed. She urged the audience to review the FTC endorsement guides and a new Frequently Asked Questions section on their website regarding the endorsement guides. Other topics included early disclosure of sponsorship on posts, pitching, and the purchasing of fake followers. Stephenson added, “Generosity, plus vulnerability, plus accountability, plus candor, equals trust.” The panel also took up the issue of followers, and how the question of how many followers an influencer had was usually brought up before getting to know the influencer. The use of fake and purchased followers has also become rampant.

The excitement around the annual IAC conference was palpable. Attendees anticipated a spectrum of calls to action after the gathering. The networking opportunities and the chance to appreciate gold among like-minded colleagues made for an enjoyable and enlightening experience. To learn more about the conference and other upcoming IAC events, visit www.artinitiatives.com.

Olga González is an independent jewelry professional based in New York.