WJA Honors Industry Leaders at 2017 Awards for Excellence Gala 

Scholarship and grant winners also recognized for their achievements 

Poughkeepsie, NY - The 2017 Women's Jewelry Association (WJA) Awards for Excellence Gala, which was held on July 24 at Pier 60 in New York City, hosted over 500 attendees, and inducted three industry leaders into its WJA Hall of Fame, while raising nearly $30,000 for the WJA Foundation's 2018 scholarship and grant program. In addition, WJA announced the 2017 winners of its Awards for Excellence in nine categories. The association also awarded its first Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award, to honor the late Cindy Edelstein, long serving WJA board member, who was renowned for her mentorship of designers and others in the jewelry industry.

WJA bestowed its Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award on Cecilia Gardner, who retired this year as president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee -- a position she held for nearly two decades. The Ben Kaiser Award, given to a deserving man who supports women leaders, was awarded to Michael Pollak, CEO of Hyde Park Jewelers. The Corporate Award was given to New England-based Day's Jewelers

"The Awards for Excellence gala gives us a chance to honor the leaders in the jewelry industry whose careers and personal efforts support the Women's Jewelry Association mission to help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally," says WJA President Brandee Dallow.

The 2017 WJA Awards for Excellence category winners were also named:
  • Design: Wendy Brandes, Wendy Brandes
  • Manufacturer/Dealer/Supplier: Betty Sue King, King's Ransom
  • Merchandising & Product Development: Laura Klemt, Artistry
  • Business Services: Pat Henneberry, Hearts On Fire
  • Large-Scale Retail: Judy Fisher, Signet Jewelers
  • Independent Retail: Alexis Padis, Padis Jewelry
  • Open-Format Retail: Beth Gerstein, Brilliant Earth
  • Marketing & Communications: Donna Jolly, American Gem Society
  • Media - Editorial: Severine Ferrari, Engagement 101
The WJA Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award was given to Peggy Jo Donahue of Peggy Jo Donahue, Writer. Donahue was nominated by people she has mentored during her decades-long career in the jewelry industry -- as a journalist, editor-in-chief, association director, public affairs expert, communications consultant, and WJA board director. Upon receiving the award, Donahue gave thanks to the male mentors who coached her at the beginning of her career. "And we still need our male, as well as our female mentors, to continue to give [women] a hand up, in our quest for boardrooms and executive suites that are 50-50 men and women." 

The Awards for Excellence is WJA's primary channel to raise funds for its scholarships and grants and features a popular auction and raffle; this year it raised nearly $30,000 for the WJA Foundation's 2018 scholarship and grant program. During the event, The Gabriel Love Foundation also announced a donation of $5,000 to the WJA Foundation to fund a future scholarship. To highlight the importance of WJA's fundraising efforts, Kim Kowalski, recipient of the Female Veteran Grant, sponsored by Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, was invited to speak about the impact of the grant on her burgeoning jewelry design career. The group also invited and recognized the 2017 WJA-Carelle Grant winner Rachel Weld Newton and the first 2017 Cindy Edelstein Jewelry Design Scholarship winner, Adrienne Sanogo, at the gala. 

"The Women's Jewelry Association and the WJA Foundation are deeply committed to providing support for women in the jewelry trade. The generosity of our community of donors and sponsors enables us to improve the industry by providing access and opportunities for women at all stages of their careers," said WJA executive director Bernadette Mack. 

The red carpet was hosted by style experts Michael O'Connor of Style & Substance and Amy Salinger of SassNStyle, who interviewed guests for WJA's recently launched online television channel, WJAtv. Scenes from the gala will be featured on WJAtv at www.womensjewelryassociation.com/wjatv.

WJA's Awards for Excellence Event Chair was Rebecca Moskal of Communiqué, and Awards & Ballots Chair was Jennifer Heebner, jewelry industry writer and consultant.

The 2017 Awards for Excellence gala was sponsored by many companies, including Presenting Sponsor: Signet Jewelers; Cocktail Party & Dessert Sponsor: Levian; and Photo Booth Sponsor: Synchrony Financial. 

Sponsors of Distinction included: Cartier, COUTURE, JA New York, Hyde Park Jewelers, JCK, Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, Mariner Wealth Advisors, and Rolex Watch USA Inc. Sponsors of Honor included: American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), Artistry Ltd., Ben Bridge Jeweler, David Yurman, ERC BPO, Gabriel & Co., Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Hearts On Fire, InStore Magazine, Jewelers of America, Lagos, LuxeIntelligence, Luxury Jewelers Resource Group, Platinum Guild Intl., and Rio Tinto. 

Media & Content Sponsor was Elias World Media, and Photography Sponsor was RSP Media.
Patron Sponsors, who made $1,000 or more donations to the WJA Foundation in honor of Michael Pollak, Cecilia Gardner, and Day's Jewelers, included: ABN-AMRO Bank, Beauty & Essex, Fine Girl Luxury Brand Building & Communications, Fire & Ice, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Gumuchian, Movado, Quality Gold, Ritani, and Stuller. Many other past winners of WJA Awards for Excellence also made contributions to the Foundation, in recognition of the 2017 nominees.

Lifetime Achievement honoree Cecilia Gardner with husband Dan Feldman

Ben Kaiser Award winner Michael Pollak (2nd from right) with family

Corporate Award winner Day's Jewelers husband-wife team Jeff & Kathy Corey

Peggy Jo Donahue, winner of the Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award

Kim Kowalski, recipient of the Female Veteran Grant

This was the first year WJAtv filmed the Red Carpet. Here Michael O'Connor interviews Myriam Gumuchian of Gumuchian

Photo credit: Bart Gorin Photography.
High-res photos available, email Lauren Thompson at lthompson@jewelers.org
About the Women's Jewelry Association
WJA's mission is to help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through networking, education, leadership development, and the provision of member services. For more information, visit www.womensjewelryassociation.com 
CONTACT FOR DETAILS & IMAGES:  
Lauren Thompson
WJA Public Relations Coordinator
(646) 658-5817
lthompson@jewelers.org