Circles of Power: JCK’s 2014 List of 15 Trailblazing Trade Groups



15 organizations and industry associations that keep the jewelry business spinning

While the jewelry industry has many—some say too many—associations, the 15 we’re spotlighting here are the most ­prominent and powerful, helping trade members connect with each other, protect themselves and their businesses, raise the bar on ethics, and bring their messages to the outside world. In truth, it would be hard to imagine our industry without them.

American Gem Society (AGS)

Since 1934, the American Gem Society, established by GIA founder Robert M. Shipley, has been unwavering in its two-pronged mission—to protect the public from unethical jewelry practices and to advance gemological education. The trade association’s 3,500-strong membership is primarily composed of jewelry retailers who adhere to AGS’ high standards for gemological knowledge and ethics, but also includes suppliers and independent appraisers. The Las Vegas–based association has ­developed its own cut, color, and clarity standards through its affiliated American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL). Additionally, AGS holds its own gem show within the annual JCK Las Vegas show, and hosts Conclave, one of the premier educational conferences in the industry. —Emili Vesilind

American Gem Trade Association (AGTA)

Class is in session at AGS’ Conclave 2013 in Phoenix.

Most retailers know the AGTA for its GemFair—a mainstay of the Tucson gem show circuit—as well as for the AGTA Spectrum and Cutting Edge awards, whose winners are honored there. But the Dallas-based organization also does plenty of behind-the-scenes work promoting ethics among its ­gemstone dealer constituency, educating consumers about the colored stone and pearl industries, and upholding the standards of the trade (hand in hand with the Jewelers Vigilance Committee). Recently, AGTA has even gone Hollywood, doing what virtually no other industry organization has done: touting the beauty of all colored stones to leading tastemakers. —Jennifer Heebner

Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)

Diamond and tsavorite Piece ring by CFDA member Mimi So

The Manhattan-based CFDA is not only instrumental in boosting the careers of fashion designers—through its Fashion Incubator program, for example—but it’s also helping build bridges between the worlds of ­fashion and fine jewelry. (Among the 450 members, about a quarter are jewelers—and the number is growing.) Last fall, CFDA hosted its first jewelry showcase at its headquarters to draw attention to its jewelry designer members. Nineteen designers, including Mimi So and Lisa Jenks, ­displayed pieces on petite pedestals for both visiting retailers and members of the press. CEO Steven Kolb wasn’t the only one who declared the day a smashing success. —JH

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

FTC headquarters in our nation’s capital

Like paying taxes, staying abreast of the guidelines established by the FTC may not be fun but it’s necessary. The FTC is dedicated to protecting consumers from shady or unfair business practices, and enhancing “informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process,” according to the agency’s website. Jewelers who are FTC-compliant can boast to their customers that they know how to accurately—and legally—describe the merchandise they are selling, use jewelry terms correctly, represent the items they sell truthfully, and recognize practices that may be deceptive. —JH

Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

Valerie Power
Hard at work at one of the GIA labs

Established in 1931 by Robert M. Shipley to protect public confidence in gems and jewelry, today the GIA, located on a spacious California campus overlooking the Pacific, wears many hats: It’s a school; it’s a highly respected research institution; and it develops gem and identification instruments (including, most recently, a much-sought-after detector for synthetic diamonds). In the trade, however, the GIA is best known for its grading laboratories, which now span nine locations in 14 countries and are easily the most influential in the diamond and gemstone world. —Rob Bates

Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT)

Now retailers can connect with the JBT via smartphone.

In a credit-dependent industry like jewelry, the JBT fulfills a fundamental role. Since 1884, the Warwick, R.I.–based group’s “Red Book” has become the industry’s bible on customer ­creditworthiness, with more than 70,000 businesses receiving the group’s widely watched credit rating. The JBT also offers reports that can be “pulled” on virtually any company in the industry, a weekly report alerting trade members to “financial embarrassments,” and even collection services to help recoup bad debts. —RB

Jewelers of America (JA)

JA: lobbying in D.C.

Founded in 1906, JA has evolved from a group best known for its twice-yearly New York City show—which it sold in 1992—to a modern trade association that lobbies in Washington, D.C., on behalf of 11,000 jeweler members and develops responsible business practices for the ­industry. Current campaigns include advocating for sales tax fairness—which would require online retailers to collect applicable sales tax—and opposing the LIFO (last in, first out) accounting method. JA also houses the Jewelry Information Center, which promotes jewelry to the press and general media. Former JCK Events director David J. Bonaparte took over the group in 2013 from longtime CEO Matthew A. Runci and has made it his goal to increase JA’s manufacturer ranks. —RB

Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA)

Artpartner/Getty Images
JSA: keeping jewelers safe and sound for 130 years

Jewelers have been vulnerable to robberies since the industry began. Fortunately, the New York City–based JSA has been around nearly as long. (It was established in 1883.) The 21,000-member group, headed since 1992 by John J. Kennedy, keeps people in the industry safe by informing them about ways to avoid criminals, and alerting them to crimes in their local areas, through emails, its website, publications, and seminars. JSA also works with the FBI and local law enforcement to raise awareness of, and share knowledge about, jewelry-related crime. —RB

Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC)

One of JVC’s trusted Guides

The jewelry industry doesn’t have an official in-house counsel. Its unofficial one, however, might be the JVC. Since 1917, the organization has tried to raise the bar for ethics and standards in the jewelry business, in particular by working with the FTC on its much-consulted jewelry Guides. But since being taken over by former federal prosecutor Cecilia Gardner in 1998, the group has also offered guidance on the industry’s myriad regulatory and legal challenges, giving jewelers tips on how to navigate new regulations in the Patriot Act, anti–money laundering rules, and the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals provision. —RB

Kimberley Process (KP)

Eric Nathan/Alamy
Uncut diamonds being sorted in Kimberley, South Africa

Sometimes lauded and often disparaged, the Kimberley Process has since 2000 brought the industry, NGOs, and 70 governments together to eliminate conflict diamonds through an extensive certification scheme that aims to track the import and export of every rough diamond in the world. Along the way, conflict diamonds have gone from a major problem to a minor one, and diamonds have become one of the most-tracked commodities in the world. Which is why, despite occasional criticism about its tortured decision-making process and limited mandate, even the KP’s fiercest critics haven’t given up on it. —RB

Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)

RJC member Rio Tinto’s Argyle diamond mine in Australia

Any company can say it’s ethical. But the RJC makes you prove it. With consumers increasingly interested in the provenance of the goods they buy, the 470-member RJC certifies members for compliance with its ethical, social, and environmental standards via regular inspections conducted by independent auditors. In just eight years, the RJC has emerged as the industry’s premier standard-setter, with miners like Rio Tinto requiring RJC certification of its customers. The council has also developed a chain-of-custody standard for gold and platinum—especially timely in the wake of Dodd-Frank’s conflict metals provision—and is working on one for diamonds. —RB

Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO)

Bridal ring set from RJO member Stuller

Among the trade’s scores of buying groups, the RJO stands out for its many high-quality vendors. Founded in 1966 by a small group of independent jewelers who banded together to command better vendor prices, the Newton, Iowa–based business has real discounting power (for a membership price, of course) and stages a popular biannual buying show for its retailers. RJO also offers a no-fuss online billing system, and recently began collaborating with JewelConnect.com, which points online consumers to RJO’s brick-and-mortar retailers. Finally, the company arranges buying trips to gem capitals such as Antwerp in Belgium and Germany’s Idar-Oberstein. —EV

Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA)

Emanuela Duca’s Dazzle DIVA–winning cuff, set with 30 diamonds, one for each year of the WJA’s history

In 1983, a group of women with careers in the jewelry industry gathered in a Manhattan living room to learn more about their businesses and each other. That friendly huddle formed the seeds of the WJA. Today, the WJA is composed of a national chapter, 12 domestic chapters, and one international affiliate, all of which sponsor scholarships, recognition programs, design contests, and educational and networking opportunities for members (including, notably, the Women in the Know conference, held in March). But it’s not all work for the women of WJA. If January’s 24 Karat Club gala is the industry’s premier formal wintertime event, the WJA Awards for Excellence gala, held in July, is its equally important summertime soiree. —JH

World Gold Council (WGC)

Find more beauties like this Azva creation at the World Gold Council’s lovegold.com.

While it hardly seems necessary for gold—one of the most coveted materials on earth—to have a promotional body, the WGC exists just for that reason: to serve as the global authority on the gleaming yellow metal. Over the past few tumultuous years, with gold prices ricocheting like heartbeat readings on an EKG machine, the WGC has handled the fluctuations masterfully. The organization recently published a robust research study on gold demand and investment worldwide, and is helping boost consumer interest in gold jewelry through its digitally savvy LoveGold initiative. —JH

24 Karat Club of the City of New York

Members Anna Martin (far l.) and Ann Schonwetter Arnold (far r.) with Kishore Lall and Mark Schonwetter at the 24 Karat 2013 gala

In an industry full of glitzy, high-powered networking parties, no networking party is bigger, glitzier, or more high-powered than the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York’s annual January gala at the Waldorf Astoria. The event, built around a headline act whose identity is a closely guarded secret until hours before the performance, has become so prominent that the days leading up to it are called 24 Karat Weekend. Membership in the club is restricted to 200 persons—a number that’s remained constant since 1911—and within the industry, being inducted as a 24-Karater is generally considered a sign that you’ve arrived. —RB