Many women throughout the jewelry industry have been affiliated with the WJA over the last two decades. Here, members share their thoughts and reflections on the organization, its history and its place in the jewelry industry.
This story first appeared in the January 27, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Helene Fortunoff, President And Chief Executive Officer, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry & Silverware Inc.
“It became a cause for me to make the WJA a financially stable organization with the opportunity to grow. We were fortunate in that there were a number of women who really were anxious to cooperate and communicate, and share and do hard work. There aren’t so many organizations where so many people will contribute willingly. In the original concept, it was just a small group of women getting together to be sociable. Today, the WJA has emerged as a power and a great energy-giver to the entire industry. We have educated the men as well as the women in terms of what’s out there.”
Peggy Kirby, National Board Member
“I think this anniversary is remarkable: We now have our second generation of women in the jewelry business. That we have survived is wonderful, and that we’re going ahead is even better.
“In the first meeting at Ronny Lavin’s apartment, we all unanimously decided, without consulting her, that Gerry Gewirtz was going to be the first president. She set a marvelous tone for the organization, one of great taste. When we told her, she looked a little astonished and then said, ‘Oh, OK.’ That’s probably my favorite, most fun memory. It’s very satisfactory to see how well all those original women have done in the industry, and I think every one of them would say that the help and the networking in WJA has been very valuable to them. It’s a very loyal membership when you get right down to it.”
Phyllis Bergman, President Of Mercury Ring Corp.
“The WJA gave me a tremendous advantage in networking and meeting people in the industry, and getting to know people from different faces in the industry, aside from meeting a lot of great women. The industry never had a place for women to network. The WJA enabled women to grow in their positions and be able to move up, and I think it gave them status, which they never really had. Through that, women who became more upwardly mobile were able to take better positions in the industry.
“I am very proud of the DIVA Awards — we give money and recognize women designers, scholarships to women pursuing careers in the industry. I think WJA can only get better and bigger. I think there are so many people, women especially, who can use this as an opportunity to further their development in the industry, hearing what’s going on.”
Gerry Gewirtz, Author
“The WJA originally appealed to me because until that time, women were not considered equally important as executives in branches of the industry. Also, the idea of bringing fashion into jewelry was anathema. WJA made possible a platform for women to grow in fashion and in design and in executive positions. It helped that development and maturation and I had one hell of a good time!”
Cindy Edelstein, Founder And President Of Jeweler’s Resource Bureau
“I’m part of the lucky generation — the door was opened for us and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do. I really benefited from all of the WJA founders’ hard work. I don’t think the next generation thanks the founding sisters enough for breaking down the doors. I’ve always appreciated the WJA and thought it was just a wonderful thing. I’ve never not been a member — it’s always been a part of my life.”
Toni Lyn Judd, Toni Lyn And Co.
“I’m very nostalgic about WJA’s 20th anniversary. I recently went through some three-ring volumes of things I saved from the very beginning: the original invitations to the first cocktail party, all of our mailings and our original membership list. It reignited some of the memories of those days, which feels both satisfying and sad because I’m not at the beginning of my career, I’m in the sunset, so to speak.
“In the early days I spoke to several men who thought that the WJA was kind of a silly concept. Why did women need to get together and network? I also chuckle about the first few networking meets we had — before the meeting would end we would take about 20 minutes to figure out who would bring what dish to the next networking group. But my connections are certainly very broad now in terms of people I know in the industry, and I certainly grew as a person along the way.
“Women who are assertive and have a clear focus of what they want to do within the industry have a tremendous opportunity to network. That ordinarily might have taken years and years. And I think the WJA has been a shining example to many other organizations within the industry.”
Tina Segal, Jewelry Designer
“When WJA first started…we were all in the dark about how many women were business owners and in executive positions within the industry. Thanks goodness for the women in Boston.
“Today, so many younger women have no idea that this outlet didn’t exist before. For them, this is everyday stuff, the way it’s supposed to be. Over the years, I’ve gotten to meet women in every part of the industry — manufacturing, sales, retail, editorial, public relations and more…which has been wonderful for me and my career.”
Linda Goldstein, President, Goldstein Communications
“When we first started the WJA, I had no idea that it would get to where it is today. I just knew that the industry needed this type of organization. I think it’s had a profound affect on me. Working alongside my peers and women who I look up to has given me some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned in my professional and personal life, and all of the relationships that I started 20 years ago are people that I still call my dear and special friends.”
Gillian Schultz, Vice President, Metronet Safe & Sound
“I feel that the WJA is a much more national, functioning organization than it has ever been before. It is very vibrant; it’s so strong, because of the activities and personal commitments that the women at the board and committee levels in various chapters put into it. While other organizations are suffering, WJA has a real strong core and strength. The camaraderie, the networking, the pleasure and strength that can be gained from peer support is great, and I hear feedback from people who find that to be the best value of all.”
Barbara Mooty, Director Of Advertising, AJM Magazine
“I tell everyone to join WJA; I don’t care if they’re a man or woman. If they want to be involved in the industry and watch their business take off, it can only help. When I first started, I was just a little worker bee in a big organization. Getting involved in WJA made me feel special. We have a lot of fun and we enjoy each other’s companionship, but we also value each other’s experience and advice.”