Release Date: August 9,2016
Local gem expert on panel for distinguished design competition
August 8, 2016
After spending a recent weekend in New York City as a judge for an elite jewelry design competition, Diane Garmendia, owner and founder of 33 Jewels at El Paseo, is looking forward to creating new designs for her clients.
"My passions are jewelry and this industry, so to see, firsthand, creations from some of the best in the world is an exciting opportunity. I can't wait to share my experience and observations with my clients," said Ms. Garmendia.
She was one of five judges for the American Gem Trade Association's 2016 AGTA Spectrum Awards, which were established in 1984 and are considered the most prestigious and respected creative awards for the jewelry design industry.
"To me, it's the Olympics, the best of the best. I've always thought of this as the Academy Awards for our industry," said Ms. Garmendia, 46, who started 33 Jewels at El Paseo in 2005.
An enthusiastic member of AGTA for five years, she was totally surprised when she was called in May and asked to be one of the judges, who included another retailer, an appraiser, a designer/manufacturer and a lapidarist.
"This is an exciting group of judges!" noted Douglas K. Hucker, AGTA CEO, in a statement before the event. "We have top experts in their fields, innovative retailers, design gurus and lapidary geniuses, all represented this year."
Ms. Garmendia said there are more than 1,000 members in the organization, "and to be nominated and then selected by the board . . . I still can't believe it. It was such a high honor."
The judges' first task was to choose the AGTA Cutting Edge awards, which showcased loose colored gemstones, artistic carvings, innovative faceting and objects of art.
"These were stones only, not in settings," said Ms. Garmendia. "Our criteria was the quality of the lapidary work, the technique, the quality and rarity of the glass and overall beauty."
The 100 entries were narrowed down after two elimination rounds, and the contenders were then rated on a point grading system from one to five, with five being the best. Awards were presented for first, second, third places plus honorable mention.
"All the pieces were so beautiful, it was hard to choose," said Ms. Garmendia. "We also had the freedom to switch places after the point count. For example, after discussion, we could move a piece from third to second place or first, etc."
In the AGTA Spectrum Awards were almost 500 pieces of finished jewelry that were grouped into categories such as bridal wear, classical, evening wear, business day wear, etc.
They were judged on overall beauty, workmanship, innovative design and effective use of material in that category.
"We were told that if we didn't like something immediately to vote no. This eliminated many designs," Ms. Garmendia said. "I tried on many of them to see how comfortable they were, how the necklaces laid on my neck, how the earrings hung from my ears. I was interested in the practicality of the designs."
Winners were determined in the same way as the Cutting Edge awards.
"Despite the diverse backgrounds of the judges, we all agreed. The winners were very clear. I understand in the past there have been some serious disagreements," said Ms. Garmendia, who traces her love for jewelry back to the age of 7 when her grandfather, a retail jewelry store owner for 40 years, summoned her to his side and said, "Hold out your hands" and proceeded to pour diamonds from a small velvet pouch into her tiny hands.
In 1995, she moved to Santa Barbara from Wayne, N.J., worked with Glenn Espig, of Oliver & Espig Jewelers in La Arcada Court for six years, and at the age of 35, when her dream location became available in El Paseo, she struck out on her own with 33 Jewels at El Paseo.
The name is a misnomer because the place is filled with more than 33 pieces of exquisite jewelry - diamonds, natural pearls, gemstones, gold and silver.
"People think colored gemstones like amethyst, tourmalines, garnet and aquamarines are second class. That isn't so. They can be stunningly beautiful," Ms. Garmendia said. "After my experience as a judge, I am personally inspired to create new designs with our gemstones in collaboration with Lee Charles Buckingham, my in-house designer and goldsmith, a past recipient of five Spectrum awards in various categories."