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The Costume Jewelry Collector’s Conference

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a very fabulous, inspiring conference in Rhode Island called The Costume Jewelry Collector’s International conference. This is a bi-annual event (with smaller meetings on off years) where high-end costume jewelry collectors and dealers from all over the map come together for a weekend of selling, trading, learning and making. I only recently learned about the group, helmed by Melinda Lewis (who wrote one of the best books on vintage costume jewelry that’s ever been published) and Pamela Paschal Wiggins who are fabulous, dedicated ladies who know their vintage costume jewelry and own some of the best of it! I attended this conference with another designer, Justin Giunta behind Subversive Jewelry as I knew his talent for assembling his luxury statement pieces would put him in a position to appreciate a unique experience. We stayed in Downtown Providence in one of my favorite neighborhoods – Federal Hill. Its new England charm is enough to make me painfully homesick for the Northeast every time I visit – so I soak in as much as possible each visit I make to RI:

Everyone at the conference was dressed fabulously! This woman came from Canada to attend with her husband and literally had a different amazing vintage outfit and coordinated vintage jewelry for almost every hour of the conference. I loved seeing all her wardrobe changes…

I was fortunate to kick-off the weekend with a class with Wendy Gell – a designer who rose to fame in the 1980’s for her sculptural, over-glued cuffs (or “wristies” as she calls them), hair pieces, earrings, and pretty much anything else you can glue things on. She was so sweet and taught us, over several hours, her step-by-step intricate gluing technique. LOVED meeting her and will be following up with an interview with her in the next few weeks.

Her creative process is so different than mine – she starts with raw materials and assembles them organically. I start with an idea and figure out how to execute it and what materials I need to do so. It was good for me to have to be a little more freewheeling in my approach and less rigid. So much fun, although I think I inhaled enough glue fumes to last a lifetime.

I thought the lobster as a centerpiece was in keeping with being in New England for the weekend. It got me craving lobster and later that day I ordered a lobster roll for lunch.

Here are a few of my fellow classmates glueing away. It did take a fair amount of patience (and a few hours) to let the glue dry enough to keep working on our pieces. Wendy can do this in her sleep but we definitely struggled a bit more.

The conference provided us with plenty of “jewelry education.” One of my favorite speakers was Kris Brandriff who was kind enough to take me to lunch (and on an emergency post office run!) the first day of the conference. She is a native Rhode Islander and helmed the Quality Control at one of the most incredible vintage jewelry houses – Trifari – for a decade who once operated out of Rhode Island. Here is a picture from one of their factories – I love how elegant everyone looks while assembling jewelry. Bow ties and all!

Justin and I also had a chance to take in a little local culture and visited the RISD museum, which has both a wonderful permanent collection and had a great temporary exhibit by contemporary artist Martin Boyce – really worth seeing if you are in Rhode Island this fall/winter.

Probably the best part of the conference was the shopping. Tables upon tables of jewelry from dealers who know their stuff! I got some really beautiful pieces there – some of which can be viewed and purchased at Candy Shop Vintage in Charleston.

The “finale” evening of the conference had a 1960’s “Glam to Groovy” theme – and involved these wild centerpieces on ever table. We definitely had fun with the theme and it came as no surprise that a group who loves to collect big, bold pieces of jewelry also likes to party. There is something so fascinating and wonderful about people who collect a lot – or in some cases too much – of anything. Where there is passion, there is education, fun, and always an opportunity to learn more than what you already know. I felt really lucky that my career landed me amongst such a passionate, entertaining group of people for a weekend. Looking forward to the next one!

 

 

 

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