Tatyana Pfaifer: “In the world of jewellery, the truth is a luxury”
Last year was full of sensitive subjects – from the wars, political and economic crisis to the ethical scandals in the fashion and jewellery. At the first glance we can’t compare those areas, tragedies and high jewellery news can’t go together. But in life all is mixed. In jewellery industry where expensive fancy thing’s life starts with the miner’s morning, the complexity of discussion is even more difficult than in fashion, where sweatshop production and wastelands contrast to the haute couture and red carpets. Prices are simply incompatible.
We humbled by those who literally put their lives so we could see and buy the beauty. But is it a “sensitive” subject? We don’t want to know so not to be upset buying a new jewel. It’s definitely sensitive for the market, but is it the kind of sensitivity we should think about acknowledging the problems? What then will be the subjects worth of our discussion – the form of the cut and trendy shades of gems? How about to look at the sensitivity from the different – the interviewees’ – angle. To share on their thoughts and feelings they need to find inner strength, motivation, and the right dose of words, so to look sane, professionally responsible, and to bring their light and knowledge to us, the audience, during the talk.
We want to ask you, our readers, to be attentive and respectful. Whatever position of the experts is its result of their path, heart and mind work, they had courage to share their thoughts hoping that that will make change for better.
Last time, in the first interview on the subject of the 2022 results Lostinjewels talked to Elena Veselaya (@twentyonejewels_byelena) – a journalist and a jewellery expert from Russia. That material resonated very much. Though that was an expert opinion about the market, Russian and international, the geopolitical background was impossible to ignore. War in Ukraine is not just a humanitarian disaster it’s also huge moral transformation for many people in the world that goes on its own.
We continue our series. This time I, Olga Zakharova Kaetano, talked to Tatyana Pfaifer, who, according to Forbes, “is a pre-eminent voice in the jewellery world” and “widely recognised for spreading the culture of jewellery arts”. One of the most popular jewellery bloggers lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, she’s a creator of @Jewellery_Masterpiece, an Instagram platform with more than 326,000 followers.
LIJ: Tatyana, last time we talked in the middle of 2021, I think. None of us could imagine that in a year we will represent two countries in the war with each other. Now it seems like everything that was before 2022 happened to someone else. At least in my case, and I can’t imagine what it was for you. So the first question is: what was your life, as a jewellery expert, your plans and projects, before the war in Ukraine started?
I entered into January 2022 with anticipation of the beauty and freedom: I hoped that the pandemic was over and I could travel, meet interesting people, look and wear beautiful jewellery again. And it happened. I was invited to Paris, made a project for Lorenz Bäumer, saw new high jewellery collections of big brands, visited The Al Thani museum and the “Cartier and Islamic Art” exhibition. I met an amazing person, a talented designer Dalia, who at the time worked for Bvlgari, now – for Prada. We had a good time with her, Paul, and a couple of other friends in Paris. They supported me all time since the war started on February 24, 2022.
On that day I woke up at 5. I had only one question in my mind. “Are we bombed? Is it Russia?” – “Yes, Tanya, it’s Russia. And it’s really bombing.” – was the reply. – “Is it 100% real? Then, I will post it on Instagram!”
The exact conversation I had. I remember it as if it was today. Although I couldn’t believe it, standing at the window, watching as an instantly formed queue of cars rushed to leave the parking of our apartment complex. I said: “We’re staying at home”. I wasn’t scared. I had been there before. In 2014 I left Donetsk and everything that was mine. There was disbelief and that’s it.
LIJ: Russia invaded Ukraine. What is it now? What are your thoughts, feelings?
I don’t confuse Russian people with the Russian government. I don’t think that people are guilty of what is happening. But after the year of war, deaths of people I knew, after humiliation of my friends… My mother is still there, in the Donetsk region, I don’t know how she could get through a few months of war without electricity, heating and water, barely able to walk. I have no opportunity to meet her, help her… After all that I feel hate – hate to life itself. And I don’t like that feeling.
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To be more precise – I’m afraid to live. It’s not about fear of death. It’s when you constantly question your thoughts and cannot make any decisions. “Can I do this or not? Is that right or not?… What if?…”
My Instagram feed was and is full of people enjoying life – nonstop, all through the year. “I want to live too”, – the thought is beating in my head. Pain cannot be read, it can only be felt.
A lot of people have written to me with the words of support. I want to thank everyone for their compassion and that they found the time for it. There are people who have been with me the whole year: Anthony, Paul, Sonia, Peggy, Dalia, Beata, Michelle… Some of them I had never met in my life. I won’t write how much I’m grateful to them because I simply can’t find the words. Those are not invented yet.
As for the industry, “We are thinking about you, be safe” – that was all. The exhibitions didn’t invite me, the jewellers didn’t book me either.
Like with Ukraine – everyone supports us but the war still goes on – I received a lot of “support” but no actual work.
LIJ: Your neighbourhood is shelled regularly, all the terrors of war literally part of your everyday life. How and why do you continue posting? Where do you find motivation for that?
You can’t always live in the darkness even in the time of war. I wanted to see some light. That light for me is sharing beauty. But I couldn’t do it for a long time because there were real death stories on the other side of the window and you go back into darkness.
When I signed advertising contracts, in order to warm up the audience I had to start posting. I need work. If you don’t post, people forget you.
Also let’s not forget that I’m in that world because I’m inspired by the nature of creativity and rareness.
I feel alive when I see something original, authentic, exceptional, and have interesting discussions with the artists.
Now… I’m talking to you and at the same time a man with a child lives in Dnepro. On 19th of January he buried his wife. She walked with her friend to a fitness centre along the building that happened to be shelled. I knew the man for many years. He was a regional director of Luxoptica in Donetsk and my client when I lived there. About the tragedy I learned from his Facebook. Do you want to know what I had written to him among other stuff?
“Dear Eduard, I’m so sorry that something like that happened to you. In the name of life…” – “That’s destiny, Tanya,”- he replied – “One minute could change everything”.
I don’t know how to connect that tragedy with my words about creativity and all the beautiful things. I talk as I live, one minute or one miracle – who knows what is next?
LIJ: What would you want to be next for Tatyana Pfaifer – the jewellery?
It takes me time to adapt to circumstances. I couldn’t come up with anything in 2022: no courses were written, no pendants made of the tank’s wreckage were sold by me. I had a dream – to organise the Award to give deserved recognition to outstanding jewellery artists and to inspire the new generation of designers to create original, honest, “true-to-who-you-are” works of art. That dream doesn’t exist anymore.
But for me love for jewellery art is more important than career failures.
Last year I have been working on the idea of creating a virtual museum of jewellery arts using VR and AR. It is far from the 3D tours you might think of. It is meant to be a project that would show the beauty and the complexity of creating masterpieces.
Also in January 2022, together with a production agency we were to develop a script of a documentary for Fabio Salini, a prominent jewellery artist based in Rome. I was impressed by his vision, the way he explained design, technology, and his life philosophy. Live-stream with him is saved on my Instagram, so you can watch it anytime. He could be a great teacher for jewellery designers. It has been a long time since I noticed that there are not any documentaries about prominent contemporary artists. They are alive, and they have much to tell and to show us.
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I was always drawn by the idea to preserve and to share the exceptional pieces which I and few people in the world were lucky to touch and to see. I still want it!
Today more often I am thinking about opening my own gallery. I know the artists I want to present and I want to choose the jewellery pieces to sell myself. “I will do documentaries. Will invite artists to my gallery, they will share their vision and show their works to my clients…“ – dreams, dreams, dreams. Talking about such plans now is like speaking about flying without growing wings.
LIJ: Back to reality then. What is on your mind right now? Were there insights last year – good or bad? What was the most difficult to accept?
The greatest insight was witnessing how exactly nations having the same traditions, speaking the same language were pitted against each other. I could watch it closely, precisely – that was in front of me in flesh and blood. There are many examples in contemporary history: Armenia and Azerbaijan, wars in former Yugoslavia divided Serbs, Slovenes, Croats, Boisnians and Albanians. Now it’s our turn: Russia and Ukraine.
I let all the new feelings flow through me – from compassion to both nations to tremendous pain for my country. War is death. Each day it brings new masses of torn apart souls.
I wonder how strong some people are born. I don’t know how they cope with everything. I’m not only speaking about the wars, but also about diseases, family and children losses, all sorts of cruelty… There’s so much pain in life, why does no one prepare us for that in our childhood?
From personal insights, I was deeply disgusted by the promotion campaign Katerina Perez made with a company that sells gems. Smiling, she opened the boxes with beautiful stones explaining that we [the Ukrainians] didn’t have electricity and we needed help. I don’t remember the last time I felt that much disgusted.
Katerina was the only blogger that didn’t say a word about my campaign. Why to promote actual people when there are gem sellers. And the funny question is: how many people would decide to buy gems on Instagram “to help Ukraine”?
But she wasn’t the only one. Such PR tricks are old; we all see them here and there. People rarely ask themselves: “What can I actually give to the world?”
Everything is about PR, self-branding and tricks. “How to make people believe that you are a super expert so you know something everyone should know if they want to succeed as you”. I guess that’s the trend. And as far as it’s about the business it’s ok. But don’t you dare to play with war!
Everyone who donated to my project asked not to mention their names, or they intentionally masked their identity as anonymous. I respect that.
On the other hand, were there Ukrainians that profited from the war and promoted themselves? Yes, including public people.
LIJ: You’ve mentioned your campaign. What was it? What was the feedback from your followers and the jewellery community?
I organised a charity campaign with Sophia Boettcher, a director of “501c3 disaster relief charity” (PPEforHCP Limited), based in the USA. Sophia contacted me when I couldn’t find a fundraising platform because of my Ukrainian citizenship. Only thanks to her we could help a few people. So, dear Sophia, I thank you from all my heart.
As for results… I have 326K followers, 45 of them made donations from $100 (average) to $5000. We collected $15000. At the same time there were about 83K views of the videos with bombings, 914 comments under the 2 related to the subject posts.
It took 2 months to withdraw the money, and at the time when we were ready to help, the village I fundraised for was occupied by the Russians. Today it’s part of Russia. So instead we helped refugees, those who needed a place to live, to pay the rent and buy food, and so on.
LIJ: Money is a motivation for many, and publicity helps to earn more. People are sceptical about the influencers, even if they follow them and admire their content. You are one of the jewellery bloggers who earn on advertising. Katerina Perez as well. At the same time you are an expert so people trust your opinion. There’s a conflict of interests. How do you solve the dilemma of “money or heart”?
That’s true. I had a lot of clients all those years. And the question of professional ethics and honesty is one of the most sensitive and hard to deal with. There was a period when it was solved for me. I was told: “Tanya, aesthetics is very subjective, people love different jewellery, so advertise all of them”. That helped me for some time.
But to the jewellers I used to tell the truth if I saw that their pieces were either copies or had any other faults.
By nature, I’m very picky. I stand for design and hunt for rareness. I personally believe in «inspired by architecture, nature, fashion, style, etc.», but not by other jewels. It’s pretty simple with me: if I think about another piece of jewellery while looking at the one in front of me, I call it a copy. That’s why for me it’s always a huge pleasure to see jewellery that stands out and is unique in design. Showcasing a lot of antique art objects, works of art of prominent designers, reporting auction’s results on my platform, I develop my audience’s taste.
As for advertising posts, a simple example of the previous year: I refused to advertise two pieces. To one advertiser I had to say “no” because their aesthetic wasn’t close to mine, and to another – because their jewel looked like a Boucheron’s necklace copy. And frankly saying, I let one contract get through, because I needed money. With the rest of the advertising posts I was at peace.
As for those rejected advertisers, another blogger posted both of them. Below the piece I didn’t like for aesthetics, there were a lot of laudatory comments, by the way. Perhaps that’s why all bloggers have different audiences.
You asked about honesty… here it is.
LIJ: Art criticism is usually subjective. But in jewellery where quality is based on the aesthetics, investment characteristics and precision of craftsmanship there’s ground for an objective opinion. Why then do we doubt the sincerity of its providers?
As one wise influential man from the jewellery told me when I asked why he didn’t like Prince Harry’s book “Spare”: “A lot of people will be hurt by my truth”.
The whole industry is built on flattery and vanity. Have you ever seen any blogger or journalist criticising any jewellery artists or their work?
Most of the jewellery brands representing high jewellery are owned by big corporations: Kering, LVMH, Richemont. Who’s ready to fight with them? The journalists that dine on their expense and whose publishing houses depend on their advertising budgets? Bloggers who need content and exclusivity, and who don’t mind recognition and dinners as well?
Truth is luxury. It’s for people who don’t care about advertising contracts with the jewellers and about the content access. But I depend on that. Our job is very much defined by exclusive content. You have to be seen everywhere: you should be invited to the shows, exhibitions, and private events. But if you criticise someone’s work, who would want to see you?
Here’s a small example. Look at the Ninotchka jewels’ ring video I had made. You see my fingers are spread widely, I can tell that it was impossible to wear it and feel fine. And here’s another video about a Wallace Chan’s ring with 116 carat amethyst which was absolutely comfortable.
In a private conversation I shared my opinion about the first ring with my colleague – she’s an expert and a journalist from Russia. I knew that she was friendly with the brand but I couldn’t imagine that my words would reach that far. In a few days Ninotchka Jewels demanded to delete all their videos, otherwise they would report to Instagram and demand to block my feed. When I had asked why, no explanation was provided.
So about honesty, I don’t know how to tell the truth and survive the consequences. You will be most certainly dead, professionally speaking, if you decide to tell the public your sincere opinion.
LIJ: What would you wish to yourself and to the jewellery artists this year?
Look, for the last 8 years, I have been travelling around the world seeing different markets, visiting all significant exhibitions, filming and wearing high jewellery collections of big brands: Cartier, Boucheron, Chaumet, Chopard, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, etc …
I own an exceptional video collection of art objects such as Al Thani and Art Nouveau masterpieces auctioned at Christie’s; remarkable pieces of influential contemporary artists, such as Wallace Chan (when I visited TEFAF we filmed the whole his collection), Edmond Chin, Glenn Spiro, Fabio Salini, Taffin, Hemmerle, Viren Bhagat, Michelle Ong, Cindy Chao, Anna Hu. I believe it’s the only one in the world. I want hundreds of thousands of people to see it.
So it’s hard for me to accept the fact that I don’t have access to the jewellery because of the war. I can’t realise my potential. I couldn’t find a way to use my knowledge and materials I produced last years. This year will be the fourth since I’m not present in the industry. I’m not seen at the exhibitions, at the auctions, at the presentations – people from the professional community, clients might forget me. I miss communication. I miss making my own content, so I’d appreciate more opportunities to make it.
Plus my work is a real – emotional, mental and, yes, financial, – support for me. To be clear, I understand that nobody has to support anybody. I am only telling you my story. From being a major player, I turned into an observer. Football professionals would get it better than anyone. So for myself I wish to find my own new path to the jewellery world, because no one misses work as much as I do!
For the artists… The sad thing is that discovering life through jewellery arts I felt that many artists were suppressing their creative instincts and killing their enthusiasm. I regret to see talented designers when they stop developing their vision and choose commercial production and safe play.
I understand times have been difficult for everyone in the industry. But nevertheless I wish to all the artists that everything meets up in their lives, so they can produce more authentic and outstanding jewellery designs. May we all be blessed with luck!