On the brink of its third anniversary, the Black in Jewelry Coalition is celebrating a string of accomplishments without losing sight of how much work lies ahead
Revolutions often start with words. For the founding members of the Black in Jewelry Coalition (BIJC), creating an organization to promote greater representation for Black professionals within the jewelry industry began with a whirlwind of Zoom sessions, phone calls, and meetings triggered by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.
Since then, the organization has been committed to action. Its founding members, committee volunteers, and coalition members have funded scholarships, hosted thought-provoking events, fostered mentorships, boosted job opportunities, and created a strong, unified voice within the jewelry trade.
“People who did not know each other created this amazing organization and relationships among our nine directors and our volunteers,” says Annie Doresca, BIJC cofounder and president and chief financial officer at Jewelers of America. “We’ve done great work and we’re not done yet.”
As the BIJC approaches its third anniversary in May, several members of its board of directors spoke with JCK about the group’s hard-won successes as well as the issues that have yet to be addressed.
“Every activity that we do is rooted in creating more opportunities, increasing representation, and diversifying the industry voices,” says Nellie Barnett, BIJC communications chair and manager of corporate communications at GIA. “There will always be room for improvement in the industry, and we do what we can to help impact that.”
Whether it means getting involved by donating to BIJC or collaborating on the coalition’s sponsorship programs, industry members who want to further the cause should heed an age-old maxim: Actions speak louder than words.
Beyond allies, “what we really need are accomplices—individuals who are willing to get on the ride with us and help us push these efforts forward, not only in words but in deeds,” says Reggie Johnson, BIJC nominations chair as well as chief diversity officer and senior vice president at Akron, Ohio–based Signet Jewelers.
A Vision Turned Reality
George Floyd’s death at the hands of three Minneapolis police officers was the catalyst for BIJC’s formation, but the jewelry industry’s lack of racial diversity has long required attention, Doresca says. Issues of concern include how to get more people of color on executive boards, hired into leadership positions, and working their way up as designers or creatives in jewelry.
“We wish we didn’t have to exist as an organization, but obviously, that’s not the case,” Doresca says. “When we decided to become a coalition, it was more about a callout for people who looked like me. There was something going on in society, but how do we address what’s going on in our community and in our industry?”
Coalition cofounder and vice president Elyssa Jenkins-Pérez, director of membership and marketing at Jewelers Vigilance Committee, took that idea and ran with it. “I contacted everyone Black that I saw at previous industry events, online, or that I’ve seen in our industry,” she tells JCK. “I emailed folks and direct messaged folks on Instagram and LinkedIn. The more voices at the table the better.
“In the initial calls, we were just meeting to get to know each other since a lot of us had never met prior to being asked to be on webinars, calls, and initiatives in the summer of 2020,” Jenkins-Pérez adds. “The calls turned into smaller work groups, and the work groups turned into the cofounders of the Black in Jewelry Coalition.”
During that first pandemic summer, this core group agreed it was time to convene a more formal structure, Doresca says. “By October of 2020, we were an official nonprofit trade association and that was great,” she says. “At that point, the question was: Now that we created this entity, what do we do?”
The newly formed coalition debuted as a resource hub for Black professionals in the gem, jewelry, and watch industries. Although its nine founding members hold full-time leadership positions around the jewelry industry, Johnson says in those early days they willingly gave countless hours to starting a website, setting up an online directory of Black designers and Black-owned businesses, and seeking partnerships within the industry.
Around the same time, other groups and individuals, such as two London-based organizations, the Black Jewellers Network and the Kassandra Lauren Gordon Fund, were having conversations about racial diversity, systemic inequities, and the industry’s responsibilities when it came to sourcing materials, recruiting diverse job candidates, and more. Feeling that energy, allies such as the 24 jewelry professionals who comprise BIJC’s board of advisors—including Jennifer Gandia, co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers in New York City; Melanie Grant, executive director of the Responsible Jewellery Council; and Susan Jacques, GIA president and CEO—agreed to join the cause.
“So many industry leaders came around and embraced us and welcomed the purpose of who we are and what we are here for,” Doresca says.
“We knew that our board of advisors needed to have diverse voices and roles, so we curated a list of nominations and began reaching out,” Barnett says. “We are grateful for the variety of expertise that each board member brings to BIJC.”
In its first two years, BIJC focused on developing scholarship and mentorship opportunities. The group worked with Seattle-based retailer Ben Bridge Jeweler to create the Lonia Tate Scholarship, which supports a BIJC member attending the GIA Graduate Gemologist program via distance learning. And the organization joined with the Women’s Jewelry Association and Jewelers Mutual Group to introduce the Radiant Minds Technology Scholarship for women of color.
In addition, BIJC established grants with organizations such as the American Gem Society to send members to key industry events, including the 2022 AGS Conclave in Oklahoma City. Members also came together to represent BIJC at top industry events such as the 2022 JCK and Couture shows in Las Vegas.
In summer 2022, the coalition debuted Together By Design, a design competition open to members. Patricia Carruth, a Black designer from Royal Oak, Mich., created a one-of-a-kind engagement ring and won the contest, receiving a cash prize and additional educational training. She has since opened her first retail store, Your Personal Jeweler, in her hometown.
During New York City Jewelry Week in November 2022, BIJC hosted a well-attended Under the Faceted Sky fundraising mixer that brought together industry professionals for drinks, conversation, and a feeling of community, Doresca says. Another recent coup: In December, BIJC held its first Career Day, a virtual event featuring Black professionals in the gem and jewelry industry open to students and people ready to shift careers.
Amid all those accomplishments, members of BIJC also found time to host Black History Month raffles, Zoom meditations, and networking events and engage online on the group’s social channels, where they not only share information about the coalition but also highlight members and their accomplishments.
Johnson says the IDEA Program (Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity for All), a free two-part webinar series aimed at confronting bias and promoting equality, was for him a highlight of the coalition’s 2022 calendar of events. Part one was a conversation with the renowned diversity and inclusion expert Risha Grant. In “Get Rid of the BS,” she offered advice on how to get past ingrained biases to create more respectful communities in the workplace, social circles, and everyday encounters. Part two featured a panel discussion led by Johnson in which the audience heard first-person accounts of bias and racism and learned how industry leaders handle these encounters and how they avoid them.
The Black in Jewelry Coalition “has created opportunities for awareness in the industry, educating people who may not have access to the information and sharing what the opportunities are for a career path in this industry, whether you choose to do it on the retail side or if you want to be an independent,” Johnson says. “It’s had so much impact in such a short amount of time.”
The successes of the past three years will inform what BIJC does going forward. For Doresca, making sure the public and the industry understand its mission is a key goal. So is expanding membership internationally. The organization is open to everyone in the industry, including people from the mining and manufacturing sectors.
Lisa Garris, who serves as BIJC secretary and GIA’s vice president of human resources, says she appreciates the career advice and panels the coalition has held. She also loved being on calls where BIJC members received scholarships or awards, which truly made a difference in their lives. “It’s such a great opportunity to create awareness because there’s a lot of people who aren’t even aware of the different career opportunities that exist within the gem, jewelry, and watch industries.”
Doresca and Johnson say BIJC’s next steps include creating tools for the industry to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion—such as a diversity scorecard and recruiting aids—with results that are measured and actionable.
As BIJC enters its fourth year, Barnett says many opportunities and events are in the works. “We will be attending AGS Conclave, where we will participate in the designer showcase and have a panel on ‘Building Brand Presence and Community,’” she says. “The BIJC Collective will also be exhibiting at JCK Las Vegas this year.”
The work on creating a more diverse and equitable jewelry trade, however, is a year-round effort. “We’re available to consult and give counsel and advice,” Johnson says. “It’s about having a seat at the table. We hope individuals understand that we’re here and we’re here to stay.”
Top: The engagement ring designed by Patricia Carruth of Your Personal Jeweler for the Together By Design competition–winning couple. The piece nods to the Brooklyn Bridge, where the couple had their first kiss.