Meeting new people and forming meaningful business relationships is the hallmark of the Women's Jewelry Association and its world-wide network of members.
To help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through networking, education, leadership development, and the provision of member services.
To be the premier business networking organization dedicated to enriching and advancing the professional lives of the women in the jewelry and watch industries.
It was an idea born of the belief that women networking with each other could change the world. The founders of the Women’s Jewelry Association also believed women could act as mentors, provide scholarships and seed money for new entrants into the industry, and recognize women’s talents and accomplishments.
All that and more has come true for this organization built on a dream.
The idea for a women's organization in the jewelry industry was born during the early 1980s, when Boston jewelry sales representative Toni Lyn Judd suffered unfair treatment at the hands of her company. She had been hired with a part-ownership agreement that would reward her when the company became profitable. Four years later, just as the company started turning a profit, she was fired.
Judd wished she had a mentor, or a professional network to call upon for help, but there was little to no networking system for females in the jewelry industry at that time. The most prominent networking organization in the industry, the Twenty-Four Karat Club of the City of New York was still an all-male group (it would not admit women until 1987).
To correct the situation, Judd and Cindy Geller, another New England-based sales representative and designer, gathered a group of local women together and the New England Women's Jewelry Association was born. Later that year at the JA New York Show, Judd and Geller shared their idea with jewelry buyer Ronny Lavin, and subsequently with a larger group of New York-based industry women. All agreed that a national group was needed.
In early 1983, Lavin hosted a meeting of prominent New York industry women to form the national Women's Jewelry Association. The women who gathered that day would become influential early members. They were – in addition to Lavin – Joan Benjamin, Linda Goldstein, Peggy Kirby, Beth Moskowitz, Jo Ann Paganetti, Gloria Rosensweig, Marian Ruby, Tina Segal, and Nancy Pier Sindt. They elected Gerry Gewirtz as their first president, in absentia.
The national WJA quickly developed by-laws and sought non-profit status. The original New England WJA group became an official chapter of the national organization. Following the NEWJA lead, the national WJA continued to stress education in its programming. It also established a significant scholarship fund to help bring young women into the industry; a job bank, and a variety of other services for members.
In February of 1984, WJA held its first annual Awards for Excellence dinner in New York City, to recognize women's achievements in the jewelry industry. It's hard to overstate how important it was at that time for women in the jewelry industry to hold a large event where both women and men could network professionally. In 1984, women were still barred from attending the most prominent networking event in industry: the Annual Banquet of the Twenty-Four Karat Club. It would be another four years before they were finally admitted to that previously male-only banquet.
The first WJA Awards for Excellence Gala was held at the Lotos Club in New York, then the larger Harmonie Club. They were two of New York's oldest clubs for men, which had recently started to admit women. After the Gala outgrew those spaces, it moved to the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. But it was soon selling out again, becoming the hottest ticket of the New York summer trade show season. Moving to Pier 60, at the Chelsea Piers, WJA at last found a space that could accommodate enough people. Pictured below are two winners of the Gala's Hall of Fame Award, Peggy Kirby (1985) and the late Gerry Gewirtz (1988).
Today, WJA members represent every facet of the jewelry and watch industries in more than twenty chapters around the U.S. and worldwide. Members include both women and men who are designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, media, or work in a wide range of organizations that serve the jewelry industry. They range from students to sole proprietors to CEOs of large companies.
The promise and intent of WJA's founders has been preserved in its benefits, too. There are local, national, and online networking events, such as Jewelry Night Out. Educational programs exist at individual chapters, and the national organization sponsors an annual WJA In The Know conference. Other benefits including mentoring programs, scholarships, grants, a membership directory, and member alerts.
WJA continues to offer national recognition to women who are scaling the heights in their careers, too. The Awards for Excellence Gala bestows annual awards to women in the categories of design, manufacturer/dealer/supplier, retail, sales and merchandising, marketing and communications, editorial media, watches, and special services. The Gala also each year honors a woman with its Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, the Ben Kaiser Award for Lifetime Achievement is bestowed upon a man who has demonstrated support for women in the workplace, and a Corporate Award recognizes companies that support women.
Women designers and jewelry makers also benefit from the WJA DIVA Design Competition, recognizing the best in design excellence. As well, a woman from each regional chapter of WJA is chosen annually by her fellow chapter members to receive a Shining Star award for her passionate commitment to volunteering. These volunteers are honored in New York at In the Spotlight, a spring gathering.
For more than 30 years, the Women’s Jewelry Association has been a source of support, education, and camaraderie for women working in jewelry-related industries. It also welcomes men who want network and volunteer with influential industry friends. Across the U.S. and overseas, industry members flock to its meetings, use its networks, and gain valuable education and funds to advance in their careers. Get more information on becoming a member.