Mentoring can be life-changing for young jewelry and gem industry professionals. Whether through a formal mentorship program, a company match-up of veteran and newbie, or an old-school bench apprenticeship, the mentoring relationship can enrich the careers of both mentor and mentee.
But it can be a tricky relationship to establish and maintain. In many ways, it’s as precarious as a house of cards, requiring a delicate balance of dedication, time management, trust, and open communication—all high stakes dynamics—from both participants. If any of these factors are fall flat, the house can collapse.
But first, let’s focus on the positive: “The perk of having a mentor is getting an outside perspective from someone you trust,” says Brooklyn-based Malyia McNaughton, founder and designer of fine jewelry collection Made by Malia. “The feedback from my mentor has provided clarity on something I was struggling with or helped confirm I’m heading in the right direction.”
But she concedes that the mentor-mentee relationship takes work, and persistence, saying, “The challenges are often scheduling due to the high demand of their schedules, so I have found it helpful to add a date to the calendar for our next session during our conversation. This helps to demonstrate that I am intentional about our conversations and making the most of our time together.”
Finding the right mentor or mentee is as difficult as finding a rare gem. Just ask Melanie Grant, writer, curator, and stylist who’s been mentoring for over a decade. She asserts that it’s important to “find someone who is doing what you want to do and is also at the top of their game,” adding, “This person will likely be extremely difficult to get to, so you must be aggressive in your pursuit.”
And once you identify a mentor, “you both need to agree with how much time can be devoted to the relationship. Meeting in person is ideal, but if you’ve selected someone in a different country or far away, virtual meetings are the next best thing. The mentee should take care to be on time, take good notes, and follow up.”
Grant recommends meeting every three months or so, which allows time for the mentee “to achieve goals that have been agreed upon by both parties.”
In the end, most agree that the responsibility for keeping any mentorship belongs to the mentee—the one asking for guidance and in need of a professional’s time and expertise. But when either party breaks the code of mutual respect required for a fruitful mentorship, the consequences can lead to immediate dissolution, or a slow fade-out.
We spoke with a senior vice president at a jewelry manufacturing company (who asked to remain anonymous) who recently devoted six months to mentoring a young professional who initially reached out to him on LinkedIn. But the mentee couldn’t keep up his end of the bargain, and the relationship started to fray when the VP found himself waiting on Zoom or Facetime one too many times, his mentee ghosting him or coming to calls late. He’s still in touch with his mentee, but is thinking of formally ending the relationship.
Halle Millien, founder of Heart the Stones Fine Jewelry and global associate creative director of Skagen Jewelry, clarifies, “A mentee can help maximize efficiency and demonstrate an appreciation for their mentor’s time by coming prepared to each meeting or call with a list of questions or points for which they desire guidance, in addition to representing early on what they hope to accomplish professionally long-term vis-a-vis this partnership. This should include an assessment of how they see their mentor helping them achieve some of those goals while the mentee also looks to make the relationship as symbiotic as possible, so that the mentor feels that they too are growing from the relationship. Everyone has something to offer and the dynamic between the two should reflect that balance.”
Pat Dambe, vice president of market outreach for Natural Diamonds at De Beers, who helped pioneer of De Beers’ Shining Lights program—which creates opportunities for designers in countries De Beers mines in by providing high-level exposure to international retail—values the mentor/mentee relationship so highly, she worked to include practical experience into the program for designers to understand “what it really means to work on a commercial piece in the real world.”
Dambe, a mentor to many designers herself, says a successful mentor-mentee relationship requires open lines of communication, so less-experienced mentees feel comfortable reaching out when they need to.
“It’s a privilege for me to work with our emerging designers and to provide them with access to pathways for building long-lasting careers,” she says. “But to do this successfully requires time and energy and a real vested interest in the outcome. The truth is it takes a lot of work and a strong commitment from both sides. But in the end, it is immensely satisfying to see the fulfillment of potential.’’ —Adrianne Sanogo
Photo by Viktoria Goda