Why Your Biggest Challenge May Be Your Best Advantage
At a certain point in every creative's career, they have to decide whether to go off the beaten path or play it safe in order to find success. For too many people, blending into the crowd is favored over standing out. Even if jeweler Zenobia Morrow wanted to, she'd have a hard time doing so. As a young woman of color with a modern aesthetic in a decidedly male industry that sticks to the old guard, Zenobia is hard to miss.
Name: Zenobia Morrow
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF:
I am a fine artist and fine jeweler. I live in downtown Los Angeles but I'll always be a southern girl at heart. I work as a private jeweler and gemologist creating engagement rings and custom fine jewelry for my clients. I also consult for jewelry collectors, helping them to expand their collections by brokering the right pieces. Even though I work with a lot of men I believe in women centering women, supporting women, and collaborating with women. These views inform what I do with my work. I want women to have the best because we are the best!
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A JEWELER AND GEMOLOGIST?
The path is chosen before you even get here. Everyone has a divine curriculum. I've always loved making things and I’ve been a fine artist my whole life. Growing up I would go antique shopping with my mother and my first stop was always the jewelry cases. We didn't have cable so I watched a lot of old movies. I loved the jewels that harkened back to old Hollywood even though they were mostly rhinestones and paste. My mother would take me to Woolworth’s and I'd get tumbled stones for my rock collection (which I kept in a Crown Royal bag.) Once someone gave me a Christie's catalog and that was it. I just started researching the different designers and reading stories about famous houses and collectors. I never knew that it was a job. After undergrad I worked in graphic design until I found the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and got into their Graduate Gemology program. This gave me the technical foundation to begin a new career in the jewelry industry.
HOW DID YOU GO FROM IDEA TO EXECUTION?
With my engagement ring clients I’m always thinking of the woman first, considering her personality and her lifestyle. From there I'm blending the technical aspects like diamond quality and design with the budget. I create and revise designs with the client then my talented team of jewelers brings the designs to life in metal.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
I have so many people that have helped me in this business but I wouldn't say I have a
mentor. I want one. I want a few!
HOW DOES LIVING IN LOS ANGELES INFLUENCE YOUR CREATIVITY?
Los Angeles doesn't have the electricity and pace of New York (where I lived before) but it's perfect for getting in your zone, buckling down and working through ideas. You have space here. Not just physical space, although that’s part of it, but mental space. I recently saw the documentary I Am Not Your Negro in it Baldwin elaborates on his decision to move to Europe. He talks about how hard it is to create in an environment where you have to worry about basic survival. For me New York at the time was survival and LA is a quality of life that leaves room to breathe and resources to execute. Nature is also a big part of living in Los Angeles. We are surrounded by Quartz in the mountains, hence the good vibes. The ocean, the flowers, it’s all so feminine and inspiring. The feminine is about giving birth to ideas.
HAS REJECTION EVER AFFECTED YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
Rejection is constant and it’s important feedback when you can be objective with yourself. My foundation in the fine arts prepared me for critique. For me, rejection builds confidence and reinforces the adage that "everything ain’t for everybody".
If you believe in your vision you have to be able to hold that space confidently in the face of rejection. How can you be deterred by someone that doesn’t have the same taste level that you do? You’re simply not the same. It’s not personal.
NAME 3 LESSONS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS:
1. Word is Bond: The diamond business is very old school. It’s built on close knit family business models. Huge deals are done over a handshake. Keep your nose clean and be honest. Pay your bills and do right by people.
2. Stand Your Ground: Being a woman of color in this business is a challenge but I understand that my difference IS my advantage. Having a unique perspective has been incredibly helpful for me relating to all kinds of people and making them feel comfortable and welcome when working with me.
3. Trust your instincts: Some jobs are not for you, some clients are not for you. Never be so pressed for anything that you are willing to override an inner voice of warning. Know that you will always be miraculously guided and supported when something is for you in truth.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PURSUE THE SAME CAREER AS YOU?
Get as much experience in the field as you can. Go to trade shows. Read everything. Ask questions.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE PIT AND PEAK OF YOUR WEEK?
I was working on a ring for a customer and my jeweler broke the center stone. I was heartbroken! We had worked so hard to find the right stone. Every gemstone has its own emotion and personality. Finalizing the design had taken a month now we had to start from scratch, scrap the whole mounting and find a new gemstone. We ended up changing direction and finding something very different for the new center. It came out even better than the original!
The peak was getting the call from my customer saying he loved the new ring.
IN YOUR WORDS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A "CREATIVE"?
For me being creative is understanding that nothing comes from you rather it comes through you from a higher power, when you’re locked in. When you’re open to a divine direction you don’t have to worry about being creative you just have to worry about being a vessel and having your skill sets as tight as possible. This is why, for truly creative people, the medium doesn’t matter. Whether I’m making a painting, designing a space, exploring photography, or creating jewelry I’m just using acquired skills and my aesthetic in service of a greater voice that is directing me.
ZENOBIA'S TOP RESOURCES FOR CREATIVES
Creative ladies should check out The Working Women’s Club. Members get access to the coolest collective of creative women, newsletters packed with resources, and great events.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
I’m working on paintings and I hope to show some work this year. In jewelry I’m always working on connecting with new clients who want to preserve their special moments in stone.
FINISH THIS SENTENCE:
I want people to remember me as: A woman of style and substance.
If I only had 24 more hours to live, I would: Take a long drive playing music and singing at the top of my lungs. Go to my mother’s house. Invite friends to her garden and laugh all night.
If I had to choose a theme song to represent me it would be: Queen B@#$H by Lil Kim
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?
Photo credits: Chandra Rodgers