#FiftyWomenofJewelry: An interview with Barbara Palumbo

Paloma Picasso, Gabriella Forte, and Mercedes Abramo. These are just some of the impressive women Barbara Palumbo is celebrating in her #FiftyWomenOfJewelry campaign. By day, Barbara is a trailblazer within the jewelry industry in her own right, as the Director of Business Development South at Gumuchian. Self-described as ‘designed by women for women’, the luxury brand is widely revered for pieces that women fall in love with, and buy for themselves. Barbara also blogs at Adornmentality, where she never fails to put a hilariously refreshing spin on the industry’s trends, practices and idiosyncrasies. I caught up with her to talk about women in the industry, the importance of representation, and the future of bridal jewelry.

Barbara Palumbo.
Barbara Palumbo.

Can you explain, for those who might not be aware, what #FiftyWomenOfJewelry is about?

Absolutely. Recently, I had been interviewed for a podcast on FourGrainer.com called Inside the Jewelry Trade. During a discussion with the host, Rod Worley, he asked me what changes I’d like to see the trade embracing, and my answer was simple: that it would be great to have more women holding executive positions in larger companies being that the industry is predominantly marketed to us as a gender. A few weeks after the podcast aired, JCK Magazine released what they call their yearly Power Base list, comprising who their editors and staff believe to be the fifty most powerful and influential people in the jewelry industry. Out of the fifty, thirteen were women. And that’s when the hashtag, #FiftyWomenofJewelry was born.

The two issues as I see it are such: Firstly, as mentioned in the podcast, women are still a minority as it relates to being board members or executives in the jewelry industry, even though we are a majority in terms of U.S. population, as well as the majority of all U.S. workers in high-paying management positions according to a study by the Department of Labor in 2010. However the second issue, I feel, is that those women who are in positions of “power” – and I purposely put that term in quotes because power is defined differently depending on the individual – aren’t highlighted enough in trade media lists such as the one released recently. For every woman who has worked longer, harder, or smarter than her male counterpart to attain a position in the boardroom, there is a twenty-something-year-old woman waiting to be mentored. Had I not had someone to look up to, and someone I believed I could be when I got older, I may not have chosen a career in this industry at all. If the young women of today don’t see the faces of the successes before them, what’s stopping them from leaving the jewelry business entirely? If we continue on this path, we, as a gender, as hyperbolic as this statement may sound, will never be the majority.

#FiftyWomenofJewelry was created to draw attention to the hard-working, deserving women of this industry who are in, what some would consider to be, “traditional” positions of power. My hope is that they’re recognized by the list makers of the future, and that even if they’re not, they’ll find solace in knowing that they were recognized by their peers of the present.

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What do you think the jewelry industry could do to address potential biases?

Talk openly about it. Look, I get that we have made strides. I understand that things today are much better in terms of progressiveness than they were twenty or thirty years ago, and I understand that change isn’t going to happen overnight, but I also feel that sometimes, as women, we get our diplomacy and our complacency mixed up. We tend to take diplomatic approaches as to not make waves or not be labeled as “emotional,” however in doing so, we will sometimes find a comfort zone and settle in even when we’re not happy about it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of exactly that. But right now, it’s being talked about, and attention is drawn to it, and if people are thinking about it, they’re more likely to discuss it, and discussion is the key to bringing forth change.

myriam

Do you think there’s a place in a traditional luxury industry for progressively feminist attitudes? Have you directly experienced resistance of such values?

I’m going to flip that question around by telling you what other things I have unfortunately “directly experienced” in this industry – thankfully by only a few individuals – in the nineteen years I’ve been in it: Sexist attitudes. Racist attitudes. Gender bias. Religious bias. Sexual harassment. A little feminism here and there isn’t going to tarnish the industry’s reputation, trust me. But I also don’t burn my bra in the middle of my customer’s showroom, either. There is a time and a place for everything to be discussed. Right now, the time is right to talk about equality. We have a presidential election coming up where gender is likely going to play a part. It’s on our minds, and it’s on everyone’s minds. If not now, when?

paloma

Through your blog, you are known for approaching possible ‘taboo’ subjects in jewelry, with a wry sense of humor. An example I’m thinking of is your holiday gift guide that included the perfect presents for mistresses. What do you enjoy most about challenging conventional notions of luxury buying, and do you consider your writing political?

Political? No. My writing is often satirical, however, like when I alluded to Amanda Gizzi stabbing me to death with a nail file while at the Platinum breakfast in Vegas. Clearly, that never happened – but it made for a damn good visual. In terms of the gift for the mistress, you had to read the blog post all the way through to see that it was more of a slam on the buyer if he/she had indeed had a mistress in the first place. But you see, it’s all about that title, isn’t it? The title is what pulls the reader in. The story is what keeps the reader there. And the humor is what makes them come back. If I have to do a product piece on the blog because the time is right to do one, I’m going to do it in my own way and in my own voice. People lose interest really quickly, I find, so I try to give my readers something they can have a little fun with.

dorothee gizenga

The bridal jewelry industry, by definition, is built on the tradition of marriage. Do you see it evolving, and if yes, how? Some factors I’m thinking of include more women being breadwinners, the average person waiting longer to get married and, of course, the advancement of marriage equality.

Yes, I do see it evolving, greatly. Marriage equality is now and while the jewelry industry is traditionally a conservative one, there is a bottom line here that most retailers will likely agree on: they need to make a living. The majority of the retailers I know, even here in the conservative South, are accepting of marriage equality. Thankfully, I feel like it will evolve so much that it will eventually become a non-issue entirely. In terms of more women being breadwinners – we’re back full circle, almost, aren’t we – I’m not sure that we will see a change or even a drop in the amount of men who still do the engagement ring buying for their partner. If anything, as I’m sure you’ve read, weddings are big business, and all of that spending starts with the ring.

See more of Barbara’s selections for #FiftyWomenOfJewelry by following her on Twitter or Instagram.