Despite what the name may suggest, men have played a role in the Women’s Jewelry Association since its inception in 1983.
Though men were restricted to associate memberships until a few years ago — associate members paid less to join and had no voting rights — the trade group estimates today that about 8 percent of its 1,000 members are men.
Now, however, all members regardless of their gender have voting rights and pay the same membership fee, according to Rachel Treitelman Rosin, a former WJA president.
One of Rosin’s objectives during her 1996-97 term as president was to increase the number of associate members. To help her do this, Rosin enlisted Baume & Mercier chairman Ben Kaiser — an active jewelry industry figure, charter WJA member and staunch WJA supporter. To honor him for his commitment, the WJA formally recognized Kaiser with an award at the 1996 WJA Awards Ceremony, then held at Tavern on the Green. It was the group’s first award given to a man.
“He was so instrumental in building the number of male associate members that we wanted to acknowledge his help,” Rosin said. “He was always so supportive of the WJA.”
Kaiser died almost one year later at the age of 72. It was at that time the WJA officially created the Ben Kaiser Award, which is given to men who lend unwavering support to the group and the industry.
While the WJA Awards for Excellence and DIVA Awards take place annually, the Ben Kaiser Award is granted at the group’s discretion. Aside from Kaiser himself, the only other person to receive it was former Cartier chairman Ralph Destino at the 1999 WJA Awards at Chelsea Piers.
Though Destino is not a member of the WJA, his career achievements paired with his support of women at Cartier made him an ideal candidate, according to Rosin.
“When Ben Kaiser was alive, he was always very supportive in breaking the glass ceiling for women in the jewelry industry,” Destino said. “When I was chief executive of Cartier, I had a countless number of women in the organization rising to positions of great importance. Not only do I have a record of that, I believe very strongly in it.”
However, the relationship between Destino and Kaiser didn’t start with the award. Over the years, the two co-sponsored several industry events together, as well as an Anti-Defamation League benefit for 10 consecutive years.
When Baume & Mercier came under the Compagnie Financière Richemont AG umbrella, the two became colleagues under the same corporate banner, since Cartier is also owned by Richemont. Among Richemont’s other brands are Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels and Montblanc.
“Many of the women in the Richemont corporation are members of the WJA,” Destino said, “so I was appreciative of receiving the honor. Ben Kaiser was not only supportive of women, but he certainly helped the WJA to grow and prosper. I was very thankful to receive an award that represents the character of a man I admired for so long.”
Kaiser’s son, Steven, who is also a WJA charter member, said supporting worthy organizations within the jewelry industry is a trait that he and his late father shared.
“I think it’s neat to be part of an excellent organization built by women,” said Kaiser, who owns Kaiser Time Inc., a jewelry industry consulting firm, and is also chairman of the Jewelry Information Center. “The point of the award is not just about being successful in business, but about giving time to the industry.”