4 out of 4 stars
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First there was Mexican silver and Italian gold, then sapphires and rubies from Thailand and Hong Kong. Israeli diamonds presented their own allure, and then this author’s gem-laden inventory expanded exponentially from there. In Diamonds and Scoundrels: My Life in the Jewelry Business, businesswoman extraordinaire Adrienne Rubin shares her unbelievable memoir, one sparkling carat (and criminal) at a time. Originally a high school French teacher, Rubin ambitiously became an importer and distributor of fine jewelry, and then eventually opened her very own jewelry store in Beverly Hills, California.
The story begins in the late seventies, where her family of four is living quite comfortably in west LA. While she self-reports being affluently cocooned within a true life of leisure, this stay-at-home mom, with a degree from UCLA, finds her life as a simple homemaker lacking identifiable substance. She busies herself with cookbook committees and children’s cancer funds, but when substitute teaching and charity work fail to provide adequate fulfillment and purpose, she realizes she might be stuck in “the age-old story of the over-educated housewife.” During a vacation with her husband to Mexico City, they stumble upon an opportunity involving a family-owned silversmith company, and Rubin spontaneously becomes a California distributor of their fine silver jewelry pieces.
With a sudden identity that encompasses more than that of just wife and mother, she finds herself navigating a labyrinth of extortionists with questionable ethics. Through trial and error and a significant amount of blood, sweat, and tears, Rubin sacrifices time at home in order to drive daily to buyers, cold call potential retailers, network, persuade, and attend multiple trade shows with her wares. Thieves lurk surreptitiously, and scammers try to exploit her naïve gullibility at every turn. But while shadowy characters and street criminals seem to occupy the greatest threat, it turns out that shareholders, Russian contacts, silent partners, Colombian cocaine traffickers, bankruptcy cases, and friends within your inner circle may the biggest scoundrels of all. When debts and assets, ongoing legal battles, manipulated documentation, and fiduciary duties begin to consume your world, the ambitiously deceitful nature of those around you becomes glaringly apparent.
The true chicanery of that progressive day and age appears on every page, but in a time of perceived sexist subservience, when females had to fight to earn their rightful place in the workforce, Rubin was a devoted trailblazer, determined to bejewel lives and make a lasting mark in the industry. She states: “Every woman with brains and energy to spare needs to find a way to develop herself independently as a fulfilled, independent, and happy individual.” I greatly enjoyed coming across a surprise section of personal and family photos, and a grouping of colored illustrations featuring paintings by Picasso.
There was nothing I specifically disliked about the book, although the recurring mention of financial improprieties, plundering of assets, shareholder stakes and investment blunders can start to seem repetitive throughout some of the later sections that are more densely litigious. I did come across a handful of grammatical errors throughout the 296 pages, but they were minor issues that did not detract from the overall story progression. There is only one instance of profanity, and a single, brief episode of reference to indecent exposure.
I feel this book would be appropriate for any woman who possesses a curiosity or insatiable desire for furthering her business acumen, and also for any mother who has struggled or is struggling with finding the appropriate work-life balance appreciation. The memoir also helpfully concludes with a list of potential book club discussion topics. Even today, the world of entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and this sentence of Rubin’s realistically sums up the typical experience of anyone who seeks self-employment:
I give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars for being a well-structured and honest account of one brave woman’s ventures into a tricky facet of entrepreneurial self-reliance. It is often said that when you fall, the only place to go is up. If you’ve ever found yourself craving recognition, desiring the power of influence, and feeling the desperate need to be needed, then this is a title I highly recommend. Step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover where your true capabilities lie. Remember to “calculate the risks before you take them, and take the good ones as often as possible.”“I ended up riding a roller coaster from high hopes to heartache, from trust to suspicion, from triumph to frustration, from glee to rage, and from glad to sad and back again.”
Diamonds and Scoundrels
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