Sparkling accident: Jewelry designer’s job started with mistaken identity

By M. Scott Morris | NEMS Daily Journal



Misunderstandings can lose games, sink business ventures and destroy friendships.
They also can open up worlds never imagined.
Nearly nine years ago, Tracy Garrett became a walking, talking example of the great things that become possible when people aren’t exactly on the same page.
She and her son visited Van Atkins Jewelers in New Albany to pick out a ring. The visit made a surprising impression on the owner, Chuck Cooper.
“He called me that night and said, ‘Why don’t you think about coming to work with us?’” Garrett said.
After a bit of convincing, she accepted the job. She worked one day a week at first, then became a full-time employee.
The working relationship went well, and neither had an idea about the mistaken belief at the center of that relationship.
Here’s the deal: Before taking a 13-year hiatus to stay at home with her family, Garrett worked in real estate and interior design.
But a Van Atkins employee, Margie Koon, told Cooper that Garrett had worked as a jewelry designer for 20 years.
“Somehow, she confused real estate and interior design with that,” Garrett said.
About a year later, it made perfect sense for Cooper to let Garrett take care of a wealthy friend and client, who wanted a custom-designed necklace and earrings for his bride to wear on their wedding day.
“Wolfgang Puck came to the wedding and cooked himself,” Cooper said. “Vera Wang did the dress.”
And Garrett was tasked with designing jewelry that cost about $150,000.
“That was then,” she said. “They’re probably worth more now.”
‘Cried and freaked out’
In the run-up to the wedding, Garrett talked to the bride-to-be to get a feel for what she wanted. Garrett pictured pieces in her mind that incorporated yellow and white diamonds, then put her design on paper.
She sent the design to Mike Boulos, a jewelry manufacturer in Los Angeles. A short time later, the finished pieces arrived in New Albany.
“I cried and freaked out,” Garrett said. “They were bigger, bolder pieces than I expected. I called the jeweler and told him, ‘This is too big’
“He said, ‘Get out your millimeter gauge.’
“I said, ‘What’s that?’”
That was about eight years ago. Boulos has dealt with many designs and designers since, but that conversation stands out.
“She’s definitely a lot better than she was then,” Boulos said.
Garrett provided Boulos with exacting detail about the designs she had in mind. He completed the work, and sent the pieces straight to the bride and groom because there wasn’t enough time for the folks at Van Atkins to check them before the wedding.
Garrett has never seen the necklace and earrings in person, but Cooper was at the wedding.
“Her pieces were the centerpiece of it, I can tell you that,” he said.
After the wedding, Garrett spoke to the new bride, who shared this tidbit: “Vera Wang said, ‘Oh, darling, who’s your designer?’”
Clearly, the misunderstanding between Garrett and Cooper was meant to be.
“Mainly, it opened up to me a big fact of life that we all have gifts,” Garrett said. “Given the right opportunity, they can come out when you least expect it.”
As Cooper said, “You either have it or you don’t.”
‘Mr. Smitty’
Garrett designs anywhere from five to 10 custom pieces a month. Each pencil rendering contains “too much information, all the details I can think of,” and they take two to five hours to draw, she said.
She can work with the client in person, over the phone or through email. Some clients provide the jewels.
“I’ll get stones from grandma’s piece, from mother’s piece and from an aunt’s piece, and turn them into a memory piece, so she can wear all of them,” Garrett said.
Smitty Harris, 82, of Tupelo, recently had a special request that took a little back-and-forth to get right.
“He was very hands-on,” Garrett said.
Harris spent nearly eight years in a prison camp in North Vietnam during the war, and he developed a “tap code” system that allowed prisoners to communicate.
In those days, two taps followed by a pause and two more taps signaled “G.” One tap, a pause and two taps were a “B.” Four taps, a pause and five taps meant “U.” Put GBU together, and it was shorthand for God bless you.
“You’d come back from one of their torture sessions and be very low ebb, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Harris said. “The first thing you’d hear was GBU, and it really meant something, let me tell you.”
Garrett and Harris – or “Mr. Smitty,” as she calls him – came up with a design that used four rubies for “G,” three diamonds for “B” and nine sapphires for “U.”
“Tracy was very helpful,” said Harris, who gave the finished broach as a Christmas present. “I really wanted to thrill my wife, and it did, so that’s the bottom line.”
Prediction?
Garrett fell into a romantic business, and it was definitely an accident. A few years after she designed the $150,000 earrings and necklace for that wedding, she had to correct Cooper in front of a different client.
“He said, ‘She has over 20 years experience as a jewelry designer,’ Garrett said.
“I said, ‘Who?’
“He said, ‘You.’
“I said, ‘No, I don’t.’”
A romantic might be inclined to think Margie Koon didn’t make a mistake in 2003 when she suggested Garrett for the job. Maybe she made a prediction, instead.
At 54 years old, Garrett has the time and momentum to someday reach 20 years of experience as a jewelry designer.
“I’m all or nothing. I can’t do a little bit,” she said. “I had a very successful mother who was ahead of her time. She always said, ‘If you think you can do it, you can.’ That’s what I did.”
scott.morris@journalinc.coma