Obituary: Don McNeil, Former JCK Editor-in-Chief

Donald S. McNeil, former editor-in-chief and managing editor of Jewelers’ Circular Keystone, died June 18 at the age of 92. His career at JCK totaled 25 years.

McNeil was a moving force behind many JCK products, including the Jewelers’ Dictionary, Who’s Who in the Jewelry Industry, the annual JCKDirectory, the Brand Name & Trademark Guide, the Sterling Silver Flatware PatternIndex, and the Jewelers’ Book Club. He initiated the JCK Retail Jewelers’ Panel, a key source of industry data and the basis of many editorial features. He also launched a series of special JCK Part II issues, the first of which—A Growing Desire for Diamonds— was published in 1967. That edition marked the first time in jewelry industry publishing that an entire issue of a magazine was devoted to a single subject.

McNeil came to the jewelry industry well versed in its ways. His father, William D. McNeil, was a New York state jeweler who became president of the American National Retail Jewelers Association, a forerunner of today’s Jewelers of America. He served as president of its Jewelry Publicity Board and, in the 1930s, as head of the NRA Code Authority for the jewelry industry. Don McNeil joined JCK in 1935 as managing editor, a post he held for nine years before leaving to become managing editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Pathfinder Newsmagazine. He later became chief editor of Town Journal, also in Washington. He returned to JCK as chief editor in 1957 and, after his retirement in 1973, continued as the magazine’s editor emeritus. In his early “retirement” years he maintained a regular office at JCK and, among other duties, devoted a huge amount of time to the creation and management of the Jewelers’ Book Club. This task included production of the project catalogs and recruitment of book reviewers—”and he never let up on you,” recalled one reviewer. “He’d be on the phone to you every day until you did your work.”

To the many men and women who worked for him, McNeil was much more than an editor. He picked his staff editors carefully, then mentored them and used his own considerable skills to help them produce their best work. His editorial criticisms generally were oblique (he disliked confrontation) but made their point, and he was unfailingly generous with praise.

His primary passions were editorial quality, the jewelry business, genealogy, and his family. In his time with JCK, he brought editorial purpose and discipline to his job. McNeil was a firm believer in the intelligent use of statistics to form the framework for important stories. He also pioneered the development of trendspotting features. For his work, he was honored three times with excellence awards by the American Business Press. He also was honored by the jewelry industry with a complimentary membership in the American Gem Society, an honorary membership in the American Watchmakers Institute, and an outstanding service award from the Golden Nuggets of Southern California. In addition, he was a longtime member of the 24 Karat Club of New York.

Genealogy was another important part of McNeil’s life, an interest he shared with his late wife, Doris. He was a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, and the Clan McNeil Association of America. He was devoted to his family: his son, Alex, an attorney with the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Boston, and daughter Mary, an educator who lives in California.