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Competitive edge: The ins and outs of entering design contests

Meet the press

For the Spectrum Awards, I felt this pendant ticked all the boxes. The full spectrum ammolite complemented by the rainbow-colour gemstones worked well. The skiff of diamonds completes the esthetic.

Most competitions receive a lot of coverage in the trade media, which can be good for you if you mainly sell wholesale to retailers. However, if, like me, you have a primarily retail business model, it will be up to you to ensure your winning status is communicated to your community and clients. You might want to consider hiring a publicist to help; otherwise you have to be very diligent and persistent in sending press releases and follow-up information to local media to get your message out there. I have found consumer media (e.g. newspaper, radio, and television) are far more interested in ‘bad news’ stories than they are in ‘hometown-designer-makes-good’ headlines. Local lifestyle magazines are generally a better bet, but it is important to develop a relationship with the right editors to maximize exposure.

As an aside, I do agree with some industry colleagues who would prefer to see judging focus on pure design that celebrates superior creativity, rather than stereotypes about what is marketable to the masses.

The judging process for competitions also varies. Some feature juries comprising three to five individuals or maybe even more. Usually the jurors are experienced in their fields, either as designers in their own right, dealers who buy and sell gems every day, gem cutters and lapidaries, jewellery craftsmen or manufacturers, and representatives of both trade and consumer media. Judging can be ‘rule by consensus’ where individual preferences have to be dealt with by using a point system. Sometimes, judges rely on ‘horse trading’ as they ‘fight’ for their favourite pieces.

It is difficult to second-guess the jury selection and
I generally recommend designing a piece with which you are happy, using the competition’s rules and guidelines to let your imagination take flight. For instance, entering a ‘classical’ category does not preclude you from re-interpreting traditional motifs in innovative ways.

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Another thing to remember is first impressions are of the greatest importance. When judges are confronted with 50 or 100 pieces all laid out, the designs that leap off the table visually have the best chance of placing. Once past the first cut, the finer details of gem quality, construction, and finish will help carry your design through to the winner’s circle. To this end, make sure your piece can withstand close observation. By that I mean symmetry, great polish, and well-cut gemstones without chips or abrasions. I was a judge for the Spectrum Awards a few years ago and I was amazed to see several pieces with shoddy craftsmanship featuring unattractive and terribly cut gemstones. These entries simply didn’t make the grade.

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