JCK’s 150th: Fortunoff Fine Jewelry’s Esther Fortunoff on the Changing Jewelry Retail Game

JCK magazine is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year! To commemorate that milestone, we’re talking to 150 veteran jewelry professionals in 2019 for a feature series meant to distill the voices of some of the industry’s most enduring and successful professionals.

We can’t print every interview in its entirety in the magazine—so we’ve been posting full interviews here on JCKonline.com every Thursday.

This week we hear from Esther Fortunoff, president of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry.

JCK: How long have you been in the jewelry industry, and how has it changed since you joined?

Esther Fortunoff: Fortunoff as a brand goes back almost 100 years. We were founded in 1922 in Brooklyn. But the jewelry part of our business really got going after my mother Helene married my father Alan and joined the business. She introduced jewelry in 1957. I joined my parents in the business in the late 1970s, as they were opening up on Fifth Avenue and expanding beyond our superstore in Westbury [on] Long Island.

I remember the heady days during the jewelry industry’s most recent boom years in the last decades of the 20th century, when there would be customers eight deep at the counters at Fortunoff stores during the holiday season—at our store on Fifth Avenue, as well as our stores on Long Island and in New Jersey.

Today, those crowds are more likely to browse our inventory online at FortunoffJewelry.com, where they can check out the variety before shopping in store. Luckily, fine jewelry is a category where seeing it in person and trying it on matters, so we do still get a chance to interact with a lot of our customers in person. But we also communicate quite a bit with them on our social media pages. It’s great to have these one-on-one conversations online, and we can answer a lot of questions about our jewelry there.

What’s your experience with JCK magazine?

I remember my mother Helene marking up the pages of JCK and then passing on dog-eared copies to my sister Ruth and me and to all of our buyers. She wanted us to pay close attention to the articles, the trends, and the growing designer jewelry movement. Today, I still do the same thing with my team, but I also tend to do it via email, by passing on interesting articles that I see at JCKonline.

What was your first impression of JCK magazine, and how has it changed over the years?

JCK has been a constant presence in our stores over the years. The photos of featured items in JCK were always of interest to me and our team. Since the recent redesign of the magazine, it’s been inspiring me even more. When we’re on our way to trade shows, we don’t leave home without it! We start on the plane, and then keep our copies in our bags throughout! That’s been a constant.

What has JCK meant to you?

Facts I can trust. Ethical reporting. Analysis that helps me make decisions in my business. Though we’re young compared to you, Fortunoff Jewelry appreciates brands with history, and we’re very glad to congratulate JCK on its 150th anniversary. Thanks for always being there for all of us retail jewelers.

Top: Esther Fortunoff (photo courtesy of Esther Fortunoff) 

Catch up on all of JCK’s 150th interviews:

Terry Burman, former Signet chairman
Brandee Dallow, president and founder of Fine Girl Luxury Brand Building & Communications
Tom Chatham, CEO of Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds
Tom Heyman, partner, Oscar Heyman & Brothers
Duvall O’Steen, jewelry publicist, Luxury Brand Group
Pat Henneberry, founder and president of the Jewelry Coach
Marty Hurwitz, CEO of MVI Marketing
Hank B. Siegel, president of Hamilton Jewelers
Erica Courtney, jewelry designer
Robert Weldon, director of GIA’s Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center
Stuart Robertson, vice president of Gemworld
Bill Furman, longtime JCK magazine ad sales manager
Kathryn Kimmel, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GIA
Katie Kinsella Murphy, owner of Kinney + Kinsella
Frank Dallahan, publisher, The Retailer Jeweler
Jen Cullen Williams, managing director of Luxury Brand Group
Sally Morrison, chief marketing officer of Lightbox
Susan M. Jacques, president and CEO of GIA
Marie Helene Morrow, president of Reinhold Jewelers
Jenny Luker, U.S. president of Platinum Guild International
Beth Gerstein, co-CEO of Brilliant Earth
Russell Shor, GIA senior industry analyst
Walter McTeigue, cofounder of McTeigue & McClelland
Caryl Capeci, president of Hearts On Fire
Eddie LeVian, CEO of Le Vian
Peggy Jo Donahue, freelance writer and former JCK editor-in-chief
Rebecca Moskal, jewelry marketing veteran

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