Net Profits: How to Win a Spectrum Award

If you work with colored stones, whether it’s producing jewelry or faceting, you’ve probably dreamed of winning a Spectrum Award. You’re up against some serious competition. The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) received some 400 entries this year, all made with top-notch, often unique gem material and many awe-inspiring designs and metalwork.

ABOVE: Mikola Kukharuk, of Nomad, won Best of Show in the 2017 AGTA Spectrum Awards for this pair of neon blue tourmalines with a total weight of 53.56 carats. PHOTO: COURTESY AGTA

In early August, a team of judges gathered in a sun-drenched penthouse space in downtown Manhattan and spent two long days poring over the entries. Winners were gathered on the winner’s table, beside several other long tables covered with all the other entries, carefully labeled, and the doors opened to the media, including jewelry editors, bloggers, and magazine writers like myself.

The good news is AGTA not only photographs all the entries and posts them online — I’ve discovered many non-winning designers this way over the years — they invite in members of the press to photograph all entries, not just the winners. If you plug in the hashtag #AGTAspectrum17 on Instagram, you’ll find amazing examples of both.

Christopher Wolfsberg
32.75 ct. specialty-cut quartz with chrysoprase and opal
1st Place, Innovative Faceting

But many editors and jewelry bloggers also post their own favorite pieces. Here are just a few examples: Cheryl Kremkow top 10 picks, Brecken Branstrator of National Jeweler’s top 7, and my own top 10 rings on The Jewelry Loupe.

While the entry fee is substantial — $295 for the first entry, $225 for each thereafter — it’s worth remembering you’re paying not just for the chance to claim this prestigious award, but also for generating publicity. Consider it part of your marketing budget. You can enter free if you become a member of AGTA (if you can swing the $1,000 annual dues).

Here is a copy of the 2017 entry application. Notice it states: “Because winning entries historically have received substantial publicity, entrants must agree to consign winning entries to AGTA for the purpose of photography, display, and promotion.”

Adam Neeley, Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry
18K rose and 14K rose and white gold “Cosmos” pendant featuring a 24.06 ct. specialty-cut Morganite accented with diamonds (3.14 ctw.)
1st Place, Business/Day Wear

How to Win a Spectrum Award

So, that’s all very nice — but what does it take to actually win a Spectrum? I asked one of this year’s judges, gem carver Sherris Cottier Shank, and here’s what she divulged.

Spectrum-winning gem carver Sherris Cottier Shank was one of judges for the American Gem Trade Association’s 2017 Spectrum Awards.

How does the judging process work for the Spectrum Awards?

Sherris Cottier Shank: “First, you have a yes/no round where you push pieces out for whatever reason. I found that very difficult. I’ve entered a lot of these competitions. I know what goes into an entry. People don’t just pull something out of inventory and put it in a box, they put their hearts and souls into these pieces. The others laughed at me because every time I said no to something, I was apologizing. We weren’t told who had entered the pieces, so I’d say, ‘I don’t know who you are, but I’m really sorry.’ The bar was very high.”

After so many years of entering this contest, what did you learn from being on the other side, doing the judging?

SCS: “It was much harder than I thought it would be and I knew it would be hard. But I was impressed with the system AGTA worked out. It was really efficient. The panel of judges took their job really seriously. Nobody wanted to miss something —whether it was a very cool piece being overlooked or a piece with problems.”

Meg Berry, Pala International
625.0 ct. Chyrsocolla with drusy Quartz carving, titled “Metamorphosis.”
1st Place, Carving

What does it take to win a Spectrum Award these days?

SCS: “First, start with the very best materials you can because that’s how you’ll get noticed. Then take a shot on that really avant garde design, and work it down to the last detail. There were some really good pieces we said no to, not because there was anything wrong with them but because there were some better pieces. This one is a good piece but this one — wow, this one takes my breath away. So my advice to anyone entering is to make something that’s not just good. Make something that takes our breath away.”


CATHLEEN MCCARTHY has written about jewelry and business for Town & Country, Art & Antiques, Washington Post, and her own site, The Jewelry Loupe. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
NET PROFITS is a regular feature about using the Internet for jewelry selling of special interest to those with a home-based jewelry business that appears in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Learn more in “How to Win with the Spectrum Awards” in the December 2017 issue.


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