July 2020

Heidi Garnett & Lin Jamison

Heidi Garnett and Lin Jamison are the co-founders of Gem X, a private social club for jewellery professionals, collectors and enthusiasts. Founded in NYC in 2017, Gem X hubs now exist in London (led by Heidi) and Los Angeles (officially opening later this year). Along side organising events, get-togethers and private views in collaboration with renowned jewellery designers, scholars, writers and archivists, Gem X also hosts a very popular online streaming platform called GemFlix, showcasing interviews with some of the industries most influential players.

Beyond Gem X, Heidi is an independent writer with a passion for the arts, business and jewellery. She has contributed to such publications as The Wall Street Journal and JCK Magazine. She holds graduate gemologist and pearl degrees from the Gemological Institute of America, as well as a dual degree in Literature and Political Science from Barnard College, Columbia University.

Lin Jamison leads the NYC Gem X chapter. She works as an independent jewellery advisor and designer and is also is an active member of the National Arts Club’s Decorative Arts Committee, helping it curate and co-ordinate its jewellery programming. Lin holds graduate gemologist and pearl degrees from the Gemological Institute of America, a design degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as dual degrees in Literature and Economics from Yale.

 

IN CONVERSATION

Tessa Packard [TP]: What inspired you to start Gem X? And have your aims and ambitions for this platform changed over the course of its journey?

Lin Jamison [LJ]: We started Gem X as Heidi and I wanted to find a group of friends who loved jewelry as much as we did!  We have stayed true to this mission, with Gem X growing from a few members to a global community of jewelry enthusiasts.  We hope to keep growing to reach people, so that they can bring their varying perspectives and knowledge to our group.

Heidi Garnett [HG]: While finishing my gemology degree at the Gemological Institute of America in 2014, I met Lin Jamison. We are both very passionate about jewelry -maybe even a bit obsessed! We wanted to meet other people like us, and attend events that would immerse us in the world of gems and jewelry. Because we had trouble finding that, we started planning our own events and our club, Gem X, naturally came together.

The club has grown tremendously over the last few years, in exciting ways we never would have expected, but it feels exactly the same, which is very special. Gem X started with a couple friends planning their dream jewelry adventures in New York City. Since then, we’ve started chapters in London (where I live now) and Los Angeles; planned excursions to jewelry events like the Tucson Gem Show; started an online series called Gemflix; and even are experimenting with a new jewelry-sharing platform called The Vault.

[TP]: What impact would you like Gem X to have on the jewellery community? 

[LJ]: We would love for Gem X to be a platform for anyone who wants to learn more about jewels and gems.  Those who have been in the industry, those who are new and everyone in between are welcome.  We hope Gem X can become a place where our members feel comfortable enjoying new experiences together, rather than keeping that jewelry knowledge locked away.

[HG]: I’d like Gem X to help open up the world of jewelry to people who are passionate about it, and perhaps add some more sparkle to the industry. From the mines to the gem shows, auction houses, museums and high jewelry houses, the world of jewelry is incredibly exciting – and that comment only scratches the surface. Unfortunately, jewelry is also a world with quite a few closed doors that can be difficult to open, and there are some outmoded, old-fashioned approaches still in practice that can take away from the experience. I hope we can help open those doors and share the beauty of the world of jewelry with our members.

[TP:] What has been your hardest lesson to date founding and running Gem X? What would you say are your greatest challenges in this business?

[LJ]: Tough question!  One of the harder lessons I have had to learn is knowing when to say no.  At the end of the day, Gem X is a social club, and its heart is our community.  We do our best to protect its integrity, which may involve saying no to certain offers and opportunities even if they seem tempting at the time. I’d say the greatest challenge, especially now, is planning ahead, while being flexible to still very uncertain conditions.  Our industry is going through a lot of changes, and we want to be understanding and helpful in navigating them alongside our members.

[HG]: There have not been many challenges, which I hope does not sound lame. Lin and I are fortunate that Gem X is first and foremost a passion of ours. We let that passion and our members guide us.

That said, a difficult lesson for me has been handling criticism from people I don’t know. When the lockdown began, Lin and I started Gemflix, an online jewelry series for our members. To support the jewelry community, we opened up our live broadcasts to anyone interested in joining and made them free of charge with only a suggested donation to charity. That decision created a platform which allowed people around the world to come together to chat about jewelry, which makes me very proud and happy. However, a wide audience is always something of a mixed bag. There has been the occasional unkind comment from someone I do not know. Whilst those comments bother me, it’s been a lesson in learning what one can from the criticism and letting go of the rest.

[TP]: Your Gemflix series online has featured some amazing speakers to date. Aside from those we have seen, who else is on your dream hit list for a future instalment?

[LJ]: JAR would be our dream interview…

[HG]: There are too many to name! Jewelry is filled with so many amazing people and I cannot put into words how honoured I am to have had such fantastic guests. A few areas I am particularly interested in exploring right now include: pearls, pearl farming and sustainability; the jewelry traditions of Africa and Native Americans; and diamond and artisanal mining. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

[TP]: Has Gem X changed you as a person?

[LJ]: Gem X has been such a wonderful part of my life for the past 3 years.  For me personally, it has been a cornerstone of sanity and inspiration, especially with 3 young kids at home!

[HG]: Yes and no. Whilst I feel like the same person, Gem X has helped me open up and get more comfortable putting my ideas out into the world to see where they’ll go. For example, when Lin and I first started talking about Gemflix, we had no clue what the reception would be or where it would go. We had the idea and tossed it out into the world, so to speak. From there, it has taken on an exciting life of its own.

[TP]: What does jewellery mean to you, both as a person and as a business woman?

[LJ]: Jewelry, in my view, is the perfect vehicle for storytelling.  It is given meaning by the people that have interacted with it: the designer, the makers, the setters, and ultimately the wearers.  With every new encounter, the story of the jewel grows and can outlive any person or era.

[HG]: As a person and as a business woman, jewelry means the same thing to me: it’s about being human. I am fascinated by the craftsmanship, the gems, the history and all the other incredible elements of jewelry. At the end of the day, it’s the moments when I feel the humanity of jewelry that I am most moved (I might even tear up!).

For example, this past May, I had the honour of hosting a Gemflix with Beth Carver Wees – a curator of American decorative arts at the MET – about the museum’s “Jewelry for America” exhibition. The exhibition includes an aluminium torque necklace by Daniel Brush and he agreed to a cameo. Daniel shared with the group that he created the piece in homage to a Scythian torque in the Museum of Historical Treasures in Kyiv, Ukraine. He made the comment:
“I’ve thought about the power of a jewel for 50 years. I’m sure all of you know that in the early writings — meaning the writings from the Talmud, or the writings you find in Arab cultures — it was the closest thing you could have to something bigger than yourself. That torque for me had it — it was community, family and dreams.”
That comment sums it all up for me and yes, I got a bit teary on screen!

[TP]: In your opinion, what needs to change in the jewellery industry?

[LJ]: We have found the jewelry community to be an extremely warm, receptive and tight-knit one.  If I had to identify one area for change, it would be the need for more transparency for consumers.  The modern-day buyer likes to know where their goods are sourced from, and our industry can do more to lift the curtain on this.

[HG]: I hope the industry continues to open up and share its incredible stories with the people who want to hear them. Through Gemflix, I have seen that there are far more people in the world than I expected who want to learn about jewelry. For example, one of our most popular Gemflix was a talk by Amanda Triossi about jewels in Renaissance paintings. I think it is pretty cool how many people want to go that deep into jewelry!

[TP]: In an ideal world, where would you see Gem X in 3 years time, and again in 10 years time?

[LJ]: We would love to see Gem X continue to grow, and more chapters appear around the world.  We are so excited to see our LA chapter launching this year, and would love to start other ones.  Hong Kong would be a dream Gem X chapter.

[HG]: I hope we are able to open up chapters in more jewelry hubs around the world. I moved from New York City to London last year and it has been such a pleasure to make new friends and get to know the jewelry scene here. It has opened my eyes to how exciting and fun it would be to have a global network of jewelry lovers and events to attend – one that allows us all to get to know other jewelry enthusiasts and other jewelry scenes around the world.

[TP]: If you were ruler of the universe for the day, what three things would you change in this world?

[LJ]: End covid; liberate North Korea; banish mosquitos

[HG]: Hard question! I think I would: do away with sickness (for people, animals and the planet—so a big one); create a teleport machine that anyone can use to visit family and friends who are far away (especially with the pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, it has been tough not to be close to family); and give everyone a heart for unity.

On the last, Gem X has received many lovely notes expressing how much community and enjoyment Gemflix has brought people. That has been very touching and inspiring. If we could all come together around the things we share and love a bit more, I can’t help but think the world would be a little better. Speaking of lessons from Gemflix, we planned two episodes on tiaras and I noticed that pretty much all of our members are obsessed with them—so I might have to work tiaras for all into one change… 🙂

[TP]: How would you describe London’s jewellery scene? And how does it compare to your experiences in the US?

[LJ]: I defer to Heidi on this!

[HG]: The jewelry scenes have quite a lot in common, despite our very different spellings of “jewelry”—of course!

What stands out to me about London is goldsmithing and experimentation. Thanks to the guilds in the UK and organizations like The Goldsmiths’ Centre, I have seen incredible metalwork being created in London. I’ve also noticed an experimental spirit, which I suspect might be related to the fashion scene here. Don’t get me wrong, the US has fantastic metalwork and experimentation as well—but these have stood out to me in London.

With regards to NYC, New York City jewelry stands out for its global perspective, a greater focus at times on the business side of things and more of an emphases on technological innovation.

[TP]: What are your views on selling fine jewellery via e-commerce sites? Do you believe jewellery needs to be touched and tried on to be understood, or can it be bought ‘blind’? Does purchasing a piece of jewellery online remove any of the magic of buying it?

[LJ]: I think there is a growing appetite for e-commerce in fine jewelry.  We’ve seen so much success with online auctions in recent months, which shows that people are definitely open to purchasing pieces online.  It feels safer and more convenient, especially if there is an exchange or return policy.

[HG]: I think jewelry will always struggle to sell itself without being tried on. Jewelry is meant to be worn and it comes to life on the body. Also, the feel of jewelry is such an important consideration. That said, any brand ignoring digital is ignoring an incredible opportunity. With Gemflix, we have seen first-hand the reach and strengths of digital.

The brands who can create incredible experiences for people across the physical and online worlds will eventually shape the future of jewelry. For example, there are very exciting opportunities for brands to harness regarding virtual reality – helping people to immerse themselves in a story impossible in the physical world.

[TP]: In your opinion, which heritage or estate jewellery brand do you most admire; which contemporary brand do you find most interesting; and which new, young brand are you following closely?

[LJ]: One of the young makers we interviewed on Gemflix that left a deep impression is David Michael Jewels. They do everything in house from the Gold Coast of Australia, from sourcing the stone, to sketching the design, to setting the stones and finally selling the piece. Their pieces are like miniature works of art which can be displayed and worn.  The heritage brand I am obsessed with is Belperron. Her bold pieces speak so strongly to the modern woman and transcend time.

[HG]: Your jewelry! I love the wimsy and the magic of it!

However, as I assume you mean beyond your work, I am a bit stuck. There are truly too many to name. I have an immense amount of respect for Van Cleef & Arpels and the L’École des Arts Joailliers. Also, I think the LVMH plans with the Sewelô diamond are very exciting. I’m a big fan of Silvia Furmanovich and love her commitment to protecting local craftsmanship. I’m pretty interested in the work being done by Melanie Georgacopoulos, the twins David and Michael of David Michael Jewels and Ana Khouri.

[TP]: If money was no object, what unique piece of bespoke jewellery would you have designed for yourself? Please describe the aesthetic, metal(s), gemstone(s) and inspiration behind the piece.

[LJ]: A pair of JAR earrings, celebrating my favourite vegetable: brussel sprouts!  If money were no object, I would love a matching vegetable parure to match.  I would trust JAR to do this in any materials.

[HG]: A custom Chaumet tiara. The reason for this choice might be influenced by the recent episode of Gemflix I worked on with Chaumet. Not only is something like their ‘Vertiges’ tiara stunning, it is inspired by the gardens of Versaille. It is a gorgeous jewel and it also has a story – jewelry does not get any better for me!

[TP]: Finally, when lockdown is all over, and the world is back to normal, how will Gem X be celebrating?

[LJ]: We have been meeting more jewelry lovers and masters from all over the world through the Gemflix chats.  From these, we are dreaming up international excursions that we can plan when this quarantine ends.

We are beginning with small reunions for our core (something of a steering committee, for us) in each of our chapter cities. It will be wonderful (and crazy) to see each other and catch up in person. Next, we are hoping to restart our in-person chapter events in addition to Gemflix. Typically, we plan 1-2 events in each city per month. Gemflix has been exciting and a lot of fun to work on and I am excited to add our in-person events into the mix!

[TP]: And what dream holiday will you plan to get away from it all?

[HG]: My husband and I just booked a trip to Provence. The sun, ocean, biking through vineyards and rose – I can’t wait! I’m also keeping an eye on travel restrictions, and hoping to plan a trip to the US soon to see family and friends. I have a new little nephew to meet! At the end of the day, my dream holiday is always being with the people important to me 🙂 .

 

LIN’S ON THE SPOT

Town or Countryside? Countryside, especially for 2020!
Favourite city? So hard… NYC, Paris and Shanghai are all favourites
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? Coco Chanel
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? Roaring 20s to buy all the jewels!
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? Anyone I don’t have to cook
The one essential you can’t leave home without? i-Phone
Pet hate? Twitter
Biggest extravagance? Travel
Favourite book? The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
What would your gravestone read? No idea – I will let my kids decide

 

HEIDI’S ON THE SPOT

Town or Countryside? Countryside – 100%
Favourite city? NYC
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? My husband Matt – not only is he alive, he will probably do the cooking!
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? I’m pretty happy right here, but I would not mind a stint to NYC during the Gilded Age
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? Before getting married, Matt and I stopped in Annecy during a drive through Europe. Our first night we had an incredible dinner. Beyond amazing food, the town of Annecy and the restaurant belong in a fairytale. My husband and I were falling in love, we found ourselves in such a beautiful place and restaurant, and it was the best meal I have ever had.
Pet hate? Eggs – in every form!
Biggest extravagance? Besides jewellery and gems, travel!
Favourite book? There are far too many, but Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen has always had a special place in my heart—perhaps because I read it when young and felt a lot in common with the main character.
What would your gravestone read? Heidi Elizabeth Kreamer Garnett, I think – I’m cool with keeping it simple.


 

FIND OUT MORE

www.gemx

@gemxclub

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