Women Who Gem is a weekly series about women in the industry, who are doing incredible things. Whether designing, marketing, or merchandising, these women are leaving their mark and inspiring us all. This is the second interview in the series. To read the first click here and the second click here.
I first became familiar with Wendy Brandes Fine Jewelry, while doing one of my first internships in the jewelry industry. The woman I was interning with, told me I reminded her of Wendy, ( I think it’s the red lipstick) and to check out her blog. I’ve been following Wendy ever since, reading her blog, drooling over her unique, irreverent, gems, and just enjoying her fresh take on jewelry, fashion and life. Whether she’s blogging about her design process or doing one of her signature ‘What Wendy Wore’ posts, you’ll always find yourself smiling as you read her posts. When I decided to start the Women Who Gem series, Wendy was one of the first people I wanted to approach. The intersection of history and jewelry has always fascinated me which may be what draws me to Wendy’s designs. She finds much of her inspiration in history and pop culture, which makes her jewelry, great conversation pieces.
I felt that her fabulous and on trend designs, as well as her jewelry career journey, were wonderful things to share with all of you. Wendy was very gracious to indulge me. Read on and enjoy.
Gem Therapist: You left journalism to pursue your passion as a jewelry designer. What spurred you into that?
Wendy Brandes: It would never have happened if there wasn’t an in-between step between journalism and jewelry. After spending years in business news, I’d obtained my dream job as managing editor of People magazine’s website. Then AOL agreed to buy People’s parent company in a deal that’s now considered to be one of the worst corporate mergers of all time. I wanted out before it all went down and accepted an offer to be the managing editor of websites for Lehman Brothers, the investment bank. I always figured I’d go back to journalism, but while I was at Lehman, one of my employees introduced me to someone in the diamond business. One thing led to another, and I left Lehman in 2005 to start my jewelry business. Of course, in 2008, Lehman played a big role in the global financial crash. One thing I will say for myself: I am GREAT at the well-timed exit!
WB:I’m still interested in telling stories, just like I was in my journalism days. That’s what ties it all together. I love history, but I’m just as fascinated by what’s going on culturally now. All of that turns up in the jewelry.
WB:Oddly enough, I think I have to give credit to Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII! When I was little and first read her story — which was illustrated by the famous portrait of her wearing a “B” initial pendant — I thought, “I want to have a big ‘B’ necklace one day.” I especially liked that Anne’s necklace referred to her last name instead of her first name. When I was a kid, I was very bothered by the idea that some day I’d grow up, get married and be expected to take someone else’s name, as my mother had done. Sure, Anne lost her head, but she kept her name and that impressed me! Anyway, I grew up, got married, kept my name and designed myself a big “B” necklace very early in my jewelry career. Thanks for the inspiration, Anne Boleyn!
WB: I do have a special love for rings. I think it’s because I can look down and admire them all day, which isn’t something you can do with an earring or a choker! A ring on every finger makes me happy. My barbed wire rings in yellow gold and platinum are my go-to pieces these days.
WB: Finances! The current business model for fine jewelry is truly stacked against the designer. Retailers sell fine jewelry on consignment, meaning they pay nothing up front. The designer takes on all the financial risk in making the jewelry and just hands it all over to the stores. You’re supposed to get paid when the pieces sell, but without any skin in the game, how motivated are stores to push your work? That’s why I have devoted so much effort to my online presence, which connects me directly to customers. I love working with the customers personally!
WB: Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Her father tried to keep her off the throne, but she wound up surviving her two half-siblings and ruling very successfully for 44 years. Take that, Henry!
WB: Every step of the way, I’ve been learning essential lessons through experience. So I don’t feel like I’d go back and say, “Never do that.” I would, however, say to myself, “Learn this lesson the first time. You don’t need 10 lessons on the same topic!”