It’s not surprising that Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin scored a hit song in the mid-Eighties bolting out “Sisters are Doing it for Themselves.”
Just ask Women’s Jewelry Association members. Though the WJA may have its national headquarters located in Fairfield, N.J., many female jewelry executives have started smaller regional chapters since the organization was launched in 1983.
The individual chapters aim to give women in the jewelry industry an opportunity to network, enhance their business skills, help newcomers to the business and have some fun.
“When we have our big WJA conventions, there are women from all over the country that are members,” said Kris Higgens, WJA’s new chapter development chair. “If you’re a member in a state or city that doesn’t have a chapter, you put in for a national chapter.”
Higgens assists newcomers with opening chapters and typically flies out to different regions to work on setting them up and explain the benefits of being a WJA member.
“It takes about a good year to get a chapter running,” she said. “To open up, you need to have at least 15 members.”
There are 10 chapters: Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Midwest, New England, Pennsylvania, San Diego, San Francisco and Southwest. Seattle has been an active chapter, but it is currently being reorganized.
Here, a look at some of them:
WJA’s first chapter now comprises 72 members, from designers to retailers and manufacturers.
“We have a phenomenal group of women that support each other in all aspects of the industry,” said president Lorraine Garvey, who is also vice president of Stahl Design USA, a Lincoln, R.I.-based manufacturer of silver, gold, steel and titanium jewelry. “It’s about enhancing and building the industry and helping each other along the way. The women will jump to the front and give their expertise in their field to help a person move to the next level.”
Garvey pointed to such initiatives as teaming up with local high schools, helping jewelry design students with supplies and judging jewelry design courses.
“If you can get them at high school level, then you’ll get them into the college level or into the industry,” she said.
While the board members meet monthly, the chapter gets together periodically for what Garvey calls “Chill, Chat and Chew” events, an informal meeting at a restaurant or venue.
“It’s an informal meeting for networking, where people feel more comfortable and are more relaxed,” she said.
Besides these, the chapter also co-sponsors events with industry institutions, such as the International Precious Metals Institute; organizes a spring weekend retreat, typically at a resort spa, and holds an annual holiday party.
Last year, the chapter featured guest speaker Barbara Raleigh, a fashion and color-trend forecaster.
“Designers said they were in a little bit of a slump, but after the seminar it gave a whole new life for them,” Garvey said. “We are looking to get new people that we can help.”
WJA’s Florida chapter was launched last November and is run by two co-presidents, Lynn Verikios in the Tampa Bay area and Maureen Shankey in the Miami-Dade area.
“Since you have to have 15 members to get a chapter, we decided to combine ourselves,” said Verikios, who is also sales representative at Tiffany & Co. in Tampa. For spring, Verikios is planning to organize the chapter’s first event, featuring guest speaker Jonathan Bruckner, the director of Tiffany in Tampa, discussing how to buy diamonds and possibly other gemstones.
“We are trying to use that as a kickoff to promote it within the Tampa area, to get people’s interest, to see what WJA is about and maybe to promote it,” she said.
Verikios said she hopes to tie in chapter events with local charities, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Organization and Breast Cancer Awareness.
“There’s a strong community feel around the area,” Verikios said. “Tiffany is new here, so it’s a good way for us to be involved in the community. It’s social, networking and community outreach. We will go in different directions to see what the community needs are and what each of the individual in the group would benefit from.”
For her part, Shankey, a jewelry designer, said she hopes WJA will be a good place for students to get a jump-start in the jewelry business.
“I’d really like to help the students network so that they can be successful quicker…getting them right as they first come out of their metals class,” she said.
Founded in 1993, the San Diego Chapter counts about 80 members, which gather up to 10 times a year to network and exchange their experiences from the jewelry world.
“Throughout the year, we have six or seven general meetings, a Christmas party and a summer event,” said chapter president Susan Elliott, who is also Dean of Students at the Gemological Institute of America.
The chapter’s holiday party is usually held at a member’s home and the annual summer barbeque takes place on the beach or the Del Mar Racetrack.
“We have a very diverse group of women,” Elliott said. “Whereas a lot of chapters have a strong corporate base, we have individual business owners, designers, fine-crafts people, as well as GIA members.”
San Diego organizes meetings to help enhance members’ businesses, including visits by jewelry specialists, financial planners and even feng shui experts. At the most recent holiday party on Dec. 3, the chapter held its first silent auction, with goodies such as harbor cruises, dinners at local restaurants, visits to day spas, and wine and cheese gift baskets. It raised over $2,000 and a portion of the proceeds went to the chapter’s scholarship fund.
“We give $100 scholarships at each of our general board meetings,” Elliott said. “This benefits our members — if they want to take a course or need to buy computer software or books.”
As for the chapter’s specialty, she said: “We have the privilege of having GIA be a big factor in our chapter. When students want to start their networking process, they start here. We have a lot of fresh faces all the time, with energetic people. I personally want to keep the influx of the students. This is a great place for women to start networking.”
Launched last September, the Pennsylvania Chapter has 25 members, according to Gena Alulis, its president, who is also in charge of Superfit, a Haverton, Pa., manufacturer of ring shanks.
“Because [Pennsylvania] is so big and spread out, it’s hard to network unless we commit to attending events in New York,” Alulis said. “My goal at every meeting is not only social, but that everyone has a chance to do some networking. And another goal is to create a tiny exhibit where designers can showcase their work.”
The next chapter event is scheduled for September and will be running alongside the Pennsylvania Jewelers Association’s annual business expo in Valley Forge, where manufacturers gather to show their assortments and attend seminars on new equipment.
“I am trying to get high-end representation,” she said. “I never realized what we were missing until I got involved on a national level. I went to WJA and thought, ‘this is what I want to bring home.’ The goal is to create opportunities for education, support, and personal fulfillment.”
The two-year-old Las Vegas Chapter has about 22 members. While it’s been one of the less active chapters since its inception, its current president, Debra Carter, hopes to bolster the chapter calendar this year.
“We are just now trying to get it off the ground,” said Carter, who also owns Cardia Design, a jewelry design and manufacturing firm. “Las Vegas is the host city for the JCK every year, so the industry comes to us on an annual basis. We’d like to create a local version with our members. My intention is to have at least two jewelry shows for the locals, which helps our members bolster their businesses.”
Like other chapters, Carter said she wants to bring executive guest speakers to the area.
“Las Vegas is unique because we have such a high tourist rate and the economy is based on this money being brought into area,” she added. “There are people who gamble and win a lot of money, and first thing they want to do is put on a brand new Rolex. You have a lot of potential for spur of the moment buying.”
The San Francisco Chapter is 12 years old and has about 150 members.
“We are very active,” said Judy Jingirian, executive vice president of the chapter and co-owner of jewelry import firm Jingirian Designs. “Every other month, we have a guest lecture on the industry or job-related issues. We also put out a quarterly newsletter on our own.”
The chapter’s big annual event is “Designers By the Bay,” which is usually held in April at upscale jeweler Shreve & Co. and is a showcase for up-and-coming designers in the Bay area. For the first time, the chapter launched a judging contest last year, which was won by newcomer Amanda Warner.
“We are a woman’s organization, so my plan is to help the new designers achieve their goals,” said Maria Piano, president and manager for jeweler Shreve & Co. “We’re like a source of information for them.”
The chapter also organizes an annual fund-raising event, where it honors industry executives. It is always tied in with a charity organization, and last year it raised $5,000 to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“We’re really a team,” Piano said. “We really want to help people. That’s what makes us different.”
For this year, the chapter is in talks to start what Piano referred to as a “Swap Meet,” where retailers can loan or trade merchandise. Also, Piano may be visiting a diamond mine in Africa next August and is planning to share her experiences with members.
The three-year-old Southwest Chapter has a wide range of members, from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado. Because the region is so large, much of the networking is done online, said president Janisue Rigel.
“We have an ongoing chat group via e-mail,” said Rigel, who is also exposition manager for the Dallas Fine Jewelry Shows by Midas, in Grand Prairie, Tex. “With being so widespread, chapter meetings are physically impossible. So we decided to meet during all major trade shows.”
The chapter was founded by Rigel, Pam Welborn and Patricia Henneberry.
“We try to promote each individual,” said Rigel. “If I am aware of someone that needs South Sea pearls, I can recommend one of our WJA members.”
The chapter goes on an annual retreat, an initiative launched in 2001 when members gathered in Santa Fe, N.M., to get to know each other better. The chapter recently also started supporting “Liv In The Game,” an organization to help increase self-esteem and confidence in young girls through group sports.
“We felt it was a worthy cause,” she said. “Studies showed that girls who are more active in sports do not become involved in drugs, have children out of wedlock or drop out of school prematurely.”
Rigel said, “My goal is to be more interactive, and more active with our membership…to provide [members] tools with which they can enhance their own businesses. It’s so difficult for everyone to find everything they need, and in helping each other, we only make each other better and we grow.”
Five years ago, the Midwest chapter launched its annual fund-raising gala, which features a live auction of which some of the proceeds will be given to a local charity such as the Chicago Abused Women Coalition.
At last year’s BeJeweled Gala, several celebrities, including actress Lara Flynn Boyle, and Curly “Boo” Johnson of the Harlem Globetrotters, submitted jewelry designs, which were then manufactured and auctioned off. So far, these events have garnered in excess of $50,000 for charity.
“It is an opportunity to reach outside the industry and to give to the community,” said jewelry designer Michelle Dené Reagan, its current president.”It’s brought a lot of attention to WJA and the industry in general.”
The 14-year old chapter, which currently has about 100 members, awards education grants, and frequently hosts educational events with guest speakers. In 1998, it also sponsored a national design competition to create a symbol for the Chicago Abused Women Coalition in 1998. The winning design is a shooting star breaking through a barrier of barb wire, which was made into a gold pin and is sold to this day.
The Los Angeles chapter was founded by Kathryn Kimmel and Tamara Pereg in 1983. Today, it has about 100 members, according to its current president Monica Kolbly.
Besides helping to put together the Diva awards, every other month the chapter organizes an event featuring a guest speaker. On Feb. 19, jewelry designer Erica Courtney, who is also a member of the chapter, will be discussing design trends in jewelry.
“Our main goal is to provide information for various jewelers, from retail to design,” said Kolbly, who is also a regional account executive at OneService International, a shipping and insurance firm for the jewelry industry. “It’s to educate people and to help their business, and it’s great networking.”
In addition, each holiday season the chapter donates gifts to the Sojourn Home for Women, an organization for abused women.