The Gemological Institute of America’s Board of Governors unanimously elected Helene Fortunoff as its new chairman, effective immediately. Fortunoff, a highly acclaimed business leader, is principal of Fortunoff and has served on the Institute’s Board of Governors since November 1999. She replaces former Board of Governors Chairman Ralph Destino, who was recently appointed GIA chairman.
A respected leader in the merchandising and design of fine jewelry for many years, she established the fine jewelry division of Fortunoff. As the firm grew from a small housewares store on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn to its collection of stores in New York and New Jersey, she became involved in many of the strategic decisions that enabled the company to become a nationally recognized leader.
Her career has been highlighted by many accomplishments and honors as she rose to become one of the country’s top female executives. She was the first recipient of both the National Jewelers Award for retailing excellence and the Morris B. Zale Award for Retailing Excellence. She has received the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Hall of Fame Award and has served as the WJA’s president. Fortunoff is also a recipient of the American Gem Society’s 2001 Triple Zero Award. In January, she will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Jewelry Information Center.
She became the first female member of the United States Carat Club, a private and prestigious De Beers group, and in 1997 she received an honorary appointment as Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, in honor of her long association with Italian jewelry manufacturers. GIA honored Fortunoff in 1997 as one of the recipients of the Institute’s Sovereigns of the GIA League of Honor.
“It is an honor to accept this new and challenging role,” Fortunoff said. “GIA’s mission in professionalizing the jewelry industry and upholding standards is critical in protecting the public’s confidence in our products, and I am pleased to play a part in furthering this important work.”
Destino said Fortunoff’s appointment comes at an auspicious time for the Institute.
“As GIA prepares to celebrate 75 years of serving the public trust in gems and jewelry through excellence in gemological education, research, laboratory services, and instrument development, Helene’s appointment is especially fitting. Her career is marked by integrity, dedication, leadership, and achievement, qualities which are vital in her new leadership role as Chairman of the Institute’s Board of Governors.”
GIA President William E. Boyajian added, “Through many years working with Helene, I’ve come to deeply respect her commitment to the Institute’s nonprofit mission, her care and concern for GIA’s people, and her devotion to helping guide the Institute’s growth and ability to better serve the industry and the public. Her election is a most welcome decision.”
Fortunoff is active in community and religious organizations. Serving as a trustee for the North Shore (New York) Family and Child Guidance Association, she was honored as its 1996 Woman of Achievement. She is a past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Hofstra University and continues to serve actively on its board. She was honored by the UJA Federation of New York, Diamond and Jewelry Division, as well as this same division by ORT. She is also a charter member of the UJA Women of Distinction and a Lion of Judah of that organization. In addition, she serves as an advisory board member of the Women President Organization.
A cum laude graduate in business administration from New York University, she makes her home in Manhasset, New York. Of her six children, five work closely with her in executive retailing positions at the famed retail operation.