This article is an interview with jewelry designer Mark Schneider. Read on to get his insights and genius behind his jewelry and designs!
How did you decide to enter the jewelry industry?
My first choice of career was veterinarian. Unfortunately, a career training counselor said that I didn’t have the aptitude for science. I also enjoyed drafting, but didn’t like that engineering involved so much math.
When I was 12, I had hip surgery and had to be in bed for a couple of weeks. My father, a wholesaler, wanted to do something nice for me, so he asked his suppliers to send him broken stones that couldn’t be set. He received boxes of them. That sparked my interest in gemstones, and I decided to become a third generation jeweler.
What was your path toward becoming a designer?
I graduated from Long Beach State College in California with a business major and an art minor. I got all A’s in my art classes. When I started working for my dad, we were wholesalers. Back then, in the 1960s and ’70s, most designers were coming from Europe. It wasn’t until Jackie Kennedy started wearing American designers that she ignited design here.
How did you become successful?
I entered the field for a practical reason— survival. I didn’t know I’d be good. Stores were looking for ways to differentiate themselves from other stores. They promoted designers who would separate them from the crowds. JCK launched me, gave me publicity with its advertising. I’ve been very successful in competitions. Being at the right place at the right time propelled me.
Who were some of your mentors?
I had great mentors. Jose Hess, a fellow American Jewelry Design Council member, and Henry Dunay, whom I met at a show, were an inspiration. Some retail jewelers were extremely good. Skip [Emerson] Robbins [founder of Robbins Bros.] helped me develop my bridal line. He was a visionary. Skip gave me honest criticism, explained that I needed more than a dozen rings. Or he’d say, “This display is terrible,” and he was right—it didn’t look great. He put my line into his store, and it became one of my best accounts.
What advice from your mentors has stuck with you?
My father, David Schneider, taught me three lessons: open your own mail, sign your own checks, and have positive cash flow. I think he’d be extremely proud of me.
My inspiration comes from architecture, sculpture, and nature. When I travel, I look at modern art in museums. I take photos with my iPhone and later go through the shapes and forms, trying to transform them into pieces of jewelry.
What were some of the challenges you experienced?
During the big recession of the 1990s and early 2000s, stores changed gears. Large, expensive color stones—tanzanites, emeralds, rubies—were not selling. People’s buying habits changed. I needed another avenue, so I went into bridal. Everyone was doing halos, micro-pavé. My work was more organic, contemporary.
The biggest challenge was when we lost an account that made up 50 percent of our business. The client brought in a new buyer who wanted us to take back half of their inventory and restock it. It was a huge amount of money. I decided to walk away. We had to downsize from 34 to 17 employees. I’ll never again have an account that consumes so much of my production. Now, I don’t take clients that take up more than 5 percent of my sales. Having that account made us lazy. We were able to generate a lot of business without having to work hard. It took us several years to get back on track.
“Jewelry should be three-dimensional; it has to look beautiful from every direction.” – Mark Schneider
What do you wish you had done differently?
I wish I’d jumped on certain trends quicker—changes in marketing, advertising, web design. I was late to the game of social media, but I’m trying to catch up now. Millennials don’t like shopping in traditional ways. That’s why I’m focusing on my webpage. I get more hits on it from Pinterest and Instagram.
Also, I like handmade jewelry, but I use CAD now to work out problems. CAD is a tool, like a file. It’s hard to be recognized as a great CAD person. You’re taking the human side out of the jewelry industry. The art behind it is getting lost to the technology factor. My goal is to exceed expectations. I want to show human interaction.
What advice would you offer to new jewelers?
Be very open and realize that whatever you are doing now is going to be changing. Learn as much as you can about the industry—even the things you don’t enjoy doing. Take business and marketing classes. You’ll develop the ability to find good people you could trust. Work toward your strength and don’t spend a lot of time trying to improve something you aren’t good at.
- Mark Schneider
Mark Schneider Design
Long Beach, California