Part two of two parts. See part one here.
Fourth generation jeweler Charles Winston has a deep appreciation of beautiful jewelry resulting from his family heritage.
Tell me about the challenges of doing business during the pandemic.
CW: This pandemic presented a lot of challenges. However, we faced the challenges presented, took them on one or two at a time and have thrived as a business, in spite of the circumstances.
The first challenge was figuring out how to get our production out of the affected factories and moving the freight. When the virus first broke out, 90% of our CZ and simulated gemstone production came out of China.
The factories were in a forced shutdown right after or during Chinese New Year 2020. We could not ship for about two months. Of course, then there was the lack of cargo space on the planes.
We had pulled a lot of strings to get our shipments expedited, but that came at a premium for our cargo rates.
I proactively engaged another factory in India to do a large amount of our production. This will hopefully lessen the chance of a complete stoppage of production, as I am hopeful that two countries would not be shut down at the same time. Fingers crossed!
Some of the biggest challenges are the production of the jewelry metal work, as well as the procurement of the stones. With social distancing policies in place at all of our facilities, our stone-cutting and jewelry manufacturing facilities are operating at about 30% - 40% capacity.
We are paying our workers a lot of overtime to help pick up part of that slack. Somehow, we are overcoming these obstacles the best we can. I am hopeful that by the end of 2021 we will have our facilities at 80% or more capacity, and with a bit of overtime, we should be back to 100% production capacity shortly thereafter.
That said, not everything was negative. Let me explain. In the world of TV Home Shopping, we experienced an influx of new customers, due to everyone being home with nowhere to go. The customers desired to shop and no place but TV or the internet to do the shopping left them very few options.
In my opinion, jewelry was one of the shining stars in retail. Things that sparkle tend to make you feel better and we all needed to feel better and hopeful.
The challenge that I think I met with overwhelming success was setting up my Skype studio in my home. Since travel was out of the question, and JTV was not having guests come into the building, Skype and Zoom quickly became the norm.
After a show or two, I wanted to get better video uploads, so I started upgrading my systems. First, I upgraded to commercial video equipment including switching equipment to handle multiple cameras, upgraded to commercial studio lighting, and of course, upgraded my internet and routers to get the highest available upload speed.
Funny how all the internet companies brag about their download speed, but to send high resolution video, I needed much better upload speeds. Today, I really think I send one of the best quality Skype broadcasts of any I have seen elsewhere.
Tell me about the most famous gems you have handled.
CW: While working for my family business I had the opportunity to see and work with some of the most notable diamonds and gems in the world.
I think one of the most notable stones I personally worked with was a 75.52 carat D-FL (perfect color and FLAWLESS) pear shape diamond. It was finished being cut in the spring of 1976.
The target weight of the stone after cutting was 76.00 carats. It came out .48 points shy. The stone was named “The Star of Independence” by my great uncle in honor of the USA’s bicentennial.
I had the honor of laying out the design and picking the over 200 carats of round and pear-shape diamonds in the necklace. The necklace was sold later that year to a private buyer from the Middle East.
Other stones I have seen include the Jonkers, Vargas, Idols Eye and more. It was hard not to see these important stones when you work for the “King of Diamonds.”
Of course, you have the family stories which included stories about stones and jewelry items from when I was not yet born or too young to recall. One of the most fun stories I heard was about the Hope Diamond and how it was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Do you get sad when you read of historic pieces being re-cut or reset?
CW: Yes, when I see some historic or iconic pieces broken up or re-designed I have to ask myself, “Why?”
I understand that on occasion it may be the right thing to do, but you hate to see something of beauty destroyed, only to be replaced by something not as beautiful.
For example, when they created a “temporary” setting for the Hope Diamond while the original setting was being restored, I was bothered. I would have rather seen the stone displayed unset.
I was a bit concerned that the “temporary” may become permanent.
If someone gets a little windfall, such as a work bonus or tax refund, what are some jewelry pieces you’d advise as “must own”?
CW: Classic stud earrings, preferably diamond or Moissanite Fire®. I would suggest making “color” and size the two primary considerations while keeping quality at an “SI-2” or better.
I say the quality can be “SI-2” because people don’t usually get really close to your ears, but the color and size is seen from any distance. I would make the quality or clarity a bit better on an engagement ring as people tend to inspect those quite a bit more.
The worst thing a newly engaged person wants to hear is “what are those black dots in the stone.”
If you already have stud earrings or it isn’t your thing, I suggest something that will become your statement piece. Something that you will enjoy wearing often.
Maybe a designer necklace or fancy cocktail ring? Whatever you decide on, please make it quality, even if you have to give up some size.
Long after you make a substantial purchase, whether it be jewelry, a car or a home, you will have to live with it for a while, if not forever.
There’s an old proverb regarding family wealth: “Rags to rags in three generations.”
Charles Winston lays waste to the saying because he’s vastly expanded his elegant designs for customers at all price points. His not-so-secret “ace card” is a genial, approachable personality, no matter who he is talking to.
Tamar Alexia Fleishman was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youngest female solo violinist. A world-traveler, Fleishman provides readers with international flavor and culture. She's debated Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil. Fleishman practices law in Maryland with a J.D. from the University of Baltimore, a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. Read Tamar Alexia Fleishman's Reports — More Here.
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