Gem X marks the spot for jewellery debate and knowledge
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Describing itself as a “private social club” for jewellery enthusiasts, Gem X takes a deep dive into all manner of jewellery-related subjects, sharing insights with an international audience of 1,000 plus. Members include designers, historians and collectors. There are also those who may be unconnected to the industry but are passionate about jewellery and eager to gain knowledge and access to the inner sanctum of this often closed-off world.
And through its work, the club has gained a reputation as a credible jewellery authority. Its founders are treated like editors and invited on to panels. It even has a philanthropic programme, Gem X Scholars, which launched in 2021. “The world of jewellery is such an incredible treasure chest, filled with an amazing cast of characters,” says Heidi Garnett, who co-founded Gem X with Lin Jamison in New York in 2017, after they met while studying at the Gemological Institute of America.
Fast forward five years and Jamison was being called on to moderate a “meet the expert” conversation at the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in New York. Then, at TEFAF in Maastricht, Garnett was asked to interview Natacha Vassiltchikov, international deputy heritage director at Van Cleef & Arpels.
“With Gem X’s global profile, it is well known for connecting jewellery enthusiasts from all over the world,” says Simone Stunz, TEFAF programming manager. “We have a personal connection to Gem X as it regularly features members of TEFAF’s exhibitor community on Gemflix [Gem X’s series of jewellery-themed virtual conversations].”
The team keeps members engaged with a full calendar of events. During the Queen’s platinum jubilee weekend in London, in June, the society organised a tour of “royal and aristocratic tiaras” at Sotheby’s, led by Kristian Spofforth, the auction house’s head of jewellery and a Gem X member. The next event takes place at Anabela Chan’s Knightsbridge flagship storeon Monday.
Then, in April, there is a Gem X excursion planned to Lisbon in partnership with jewellery historian Rui Galopim de Carvalho. “It’s our dream jewellery trip, from tours of the Crown Jewels at the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda and the Lalique collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian to visits to antique jewellery dealers and designers,” says Garnett.
It was Garnett’s move to London in 2019 that helped give Gem X transatlantic appeal and led to an increase in London-based members. Gemflix also attracted new members when the Covid lockdown arrived in early 2020.
“I discovered Gem X at the beginning of lockdown — it was my saviour,” says Valery Demure, who runs the Objet d’Emotion jewellery gallery in Marylebone, central London. “The first webinar that I listened to was Christian Hemmerle [the fourth-generation German jeweller], then Francesca Cartier Brickell talking about her book The Cartiers.” In November, Demure hosted her second in-person event for members, at which journalist Melanie Grant interviewed designer Sharon Khazzam.
Valerie Genty, who runs the jewellery platform Ethos of London, became a Gem X member in July 2021 after discovering the society on jewellery-related Instagram accounts. “The sole focus on jewellery relates to my business and this shared passion and professional overlap appeal to me greatly,” she says. “I love the friendliness of the club, and its highly knowledgeable community of members.”
The organisation was originally inspired by book clubs, the idea being that members take turns hosting events, each with a different focus. This gave rise to the Gem X ‘Core’ of 16 members, including Garnett and Jamison, who are based largely in London, New York and Los Angeles, and are integral to leading and curating events. In May, a US-based Core member arranged a Gemflix talk by Nancy E Zinn, a curator at the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington, that focused on the diplomatic significance of the pins worn by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright.
London-based jeweller Dalia Daou, until recently a Core member, explains: “The Core acts somewhat like a board, bringing and brainstorming development ideas and contributing to the contacts, and arranging events and interviewing new members.”
In this way, Gem X is to its mostly female audience what RedBar or Hodinkee are to male watch enthusiasts. Indeed, all three organisations started as passion projects, nurturing fan-based communities through storytelling and in-person events. But this is where the similarity ends. Hodinkee, for example, has secured millions in venture capital investment, has an online shop and even offers specialist watch insurance. Garnett says she has no interest in commercialising Gem X in this way.
“I often feel we are as much members as founders of the club,” she says, adding that it remains a passion project, rather than a means of employment, for herself and Jamison. “I look forward to every event in the same way that I hope our members do. We don’t want to make any changes that could take away from this experience, either for us or them.”
Excursions to private studios, including past visits to Judy Geib in Brooklyn or artist and goldsmith Joy Bonfield-Colombara in London, involve no commission or pressure to buy, just an invitation to learn and appreciate. This “clear division between church and state”, as Garnett describes it, is what Gem X members value most. Indeed, the $15,000 proceeds from Gemflix have been put towards awards for five scholars, including Melbourne-based maker Ellin Geary and Yeena Yoon, who is based at London’s Goldsmith’s Centre. The search for 2023 scholars is under way.
Gem X has three membership levels, starting with a $10 monthly subscription that gives access to the Gemflix archive. “We vet for a genuine enthusiasm and passion for jewellery, not for knowledge,” adds Garnett. For $100 annually, Gem X membership allows full access to the website and invitations to in-person events that come with a reservation fee of $10-$25. Priced at $1,000 a year, Gem X Unlimited is the highest tier and includes dinners, salon tours and the opportunity to borrow items from the Gem X collection. This comprises pieces from designers including Castro Smith, Melanie Georgacopoulos, and Nicholas Lieou. The most recent addition is a brooch by Ute Decker.
“Every one of these pieces began with a relationship with the jeweller and an appreciation for their craft,” Garnett says. It is the common thread in all of Gem X’s activities, she believes.