Jewelry Industry Bullying on Facebook

EditorsFeb 24, 2017

Jewelry Industry Bullying on Facebook

A heated discussion over a ring featured in National Jeweler shows that jewelry designers (and editors) are not immune to online trolling.

Page Sargisson’s 18-karat yellow gold ring with multicolored sapphires ($3,800)

On Wednesday, National Jeweler published an article I wrote on a trend I’ve been seeing in the market--the use of light, pastel-colored gemstones in jewelry design.

In the article, I included images of jewelry from more than 30 designers. For the article’s main image, the first one you see in the story, I opted to use a picture of a ring from designer Page Sargisson.

The ring is a statement piece, earthy and organic looking with a nice heft to it as it’s made of a generous amount of gold. It was perfect for my story because it features various shades of light sapphires, exactly portraying the trend I was describing.

Thursday morning, my editor-in-chief, Michelle Graff, a woman with a vast knowledge of the jewelry trade that can only be gained through significant time and experience covering everything from the Kimberley Process to Tiffany & Co. to the woes of the retailer-next-door (which, in all honesty, is probably the most important issue to us here at National Jeweler), received a phone call alerting our team to a case of online bullying.

The caller informed us that a longtime jewelry designer had taken issue with my pastel stone article, specifically the Sargisson ring I chose to feature front and center.

The designer had posted a picture of the ring on his Facebook page, writing (these are his exact words, without editing for spelling and grammar):

“This is a $3,800 gold ring one of our leading jewelry trade magazines if featuring in its Style and Trends section. It makes me wonder why I put so much time into designing and finishing my creations.
I wonder how long this ring will survive before it gets recycled for the gold and gemstones.”

What followed was disturbing.

The designer went on to post a picture of Sargisson, her full bio and a link to her website. He seemed to be scrutinizing not only the ring with which he took issue but the designer herself.

Several Facebook users jumped on the bandwagon.

They attacked the ring’s aesthetic, its construction, the designer, the customer who would buy it, the editor who chose to feature it (yours truly), and the entire National Jeweler team.

Full disclosure: I have a dormant Facebook account I stopped using years ago. Even when I did use it, it was only briefly. This particular social media medium never struck a chord with me; it always seemed

a bit invasive (the need to display where you work, where you’ve lived, where you’ve studied, who you’re dating, etc.) and posts from Facebook friends felt unfiltered and, often, like an overshare.

I prefer Instagram, where the entire point is to filter, to show only what is beautiful or interesting, and leave out the mundane, such as a rant about a stranger’s piece of jewelry.

Though I’m not a Facebook user, I’m aware of the bullying climate in this country, which has been deeply exacerbated both online and off in the months following Donald Trump’s election.

The immediate uptick in hateful graffiti and instances of minority-targeted harassment after the election results came in last November was frightening to me.

It seemed like the election of a man who has publicly picked on women, Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled and even the press has served as validation to bullying behavior.

I’ve also heard much about online bullying, particularly cases in which children and teens have been targeted by classmates, leading to terrible consequences.

And, several friends have mentioned that over the past year-and-a-half, political Facebook fights among their adult peers have been rampant.

Perhaps naively, though, what I did not expect to see on Facebook was a jeweler who has worked in the industry for 40 years, and his Facebook friends, attack a fellow designer without provocation.

Here are some of the low points:

“Jesus! I will never unsee those settings.”
“This is nasty!”
“It’s kind of like when you go into an art exhibit and someone puts a half-eaten box of Kix cereal on a bench and the critics applaud it.”
“ANYBODY can be a jeweler these days!!”
“Man, is that ugly”
“Not going to sell.”
“That is crap and an insult to your work.”
“Absolutely disgusting”
“This is what happens when folk who have never made jewelry become editors of and arbiters of taste.”
“I think whoever made this sloppy object is shaming themselves and those of us who are appalled by this ugly thing are just identifying the shame of it,” one particularly vitriolic Facebook user said in a frighteningly Game of Thrones-esque comment.

This is only a small sampling of the conversation, which has been going on for nearly 48 hours on Facebook. Many of the comments are worse, and many are in the same vein.

Throughout, the designer continued to stoke the flames of the discussion, showing more pictures of Sargisson’s work that he disliked and even saying of the exceptionally talented jewelry designer Polly Wales: “She really needs to find a professional stone setter.”

I didn’t recognize the majority of names in the thread, until several established and credible voices stepped in to defend Sargisson.

Margery Hirschey, Erica Courtney, Jill Maurer, Rona Fisher, social media blogger Benjamin Guttery of Third Coast Gems, blogger Barbara Palumbo of Adornmentality, industry veteran Pat Henneberry, JCK’s Editor-in-Chief Victoria Gomelsky and even my Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff stood up to the designer and his cronies.

This group pointed out that the entire thread was mean-spirited, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that all new and exciting art is challenged, whether you’re Monet or David Yurman.

They emphasized that Sargisson has a great business and every right to create jewelry in whatever way she is inspired to do so, that the look of the ring was aesthetically intentional, that not everyone had to like it but everyone should at least respect it (I’m paraphrasing here). They supported Sargisson’s artistry.

Maurer, in particular, had a great response to the chaos of the thread, writing, “The big picture here isn’t whether you like the designer’s work (which I do), it’s whether you approve of publicly shaming another designer’s work (which I don’t).”

Palumbo also summed it up nicely when she commented: “This post feels like it was written by someone who is desperately trying to make themselves relevant in a world that is changing around them.”

The designer tried to back-peddle several times during the conversation, calling the vicious bullying bandwagon he started a peer critique and suddenly changing his tone (even asking Palumbo to coffee), but he was unable to tame the monster he had created.

Personally, I love Sargisson’s work, as do her many loyal clients and retailers, and I love the ring that I featured.

It pains me that adults, especially those in the jewelry industry who understand its struggles, would subject her to such cruel online treatment. I’m sorry to have put Sargisson in this situation, and I wish that any issue taken with my article would be directed solely toward my editorial eye, rather than the designer I chose to include.

However, if I had to do it over, I would still feature Sargisson’s ring, because I will not be bullied.

The rules we learned as children, and impart to our children now, are the standards to which we must hold ourselves: to speak kindly to one another and to express our dissenting opinions respectfully; also, to stick up for anyone being unfairly targeted.

As artists, art writers, art sellers or art supporters, this is even more imperative today.

I'll echo Henneberry, who came up with an appropriate hashtag: “#myindustryisbetterthanthis.”
Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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