On Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon smoldered, and a field in Pennsylvania burned, as one era in American history suddenly gave way to another.
In the 10 years since, the United States has endured two wars, a body politic divided by vast ideological differences, and a crippled economy that now points to an uncertain financial future. It’s been an emotional decade, to be sure. However, it hasn’t all been bad. Love-struck couples continue to get engaged, and people continue to celebrate the most joyous occasions of their lives: graduations, anniversaries, and birthdays. Members of the jewelry industry have watched the decade unfold from an interesting vantage point.
In the week leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, jewelers shared some of their thoughts and memories with JCK:
Only one member of the industry was killed in the attack—Bob Speisman, 48, executive vice president of Lazare Kaplan, who was on board United Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. In the years since, the AGS has erected a memorial to Speisman at its Las Vegas headquarters and GIA has established the Robert T. Speisman scholarship.
Probably the closest jeweler to the World Trade Center was William Barthman Jewelers, whose former gallery manager talked with JCK after the attack in 2001.
Today, manager Connie Swierkowski, who was working during the attack, didn’t want to share her memories of that day with JCK, saying it’s too painful. “It’s a very sore subject,” she says. “I lost friends, I lost customers. Life goes on, of course, because it has to. But it’s never going to be the same. It’s something you can never forget. You always look over there, and see the void, and feel the sadness.”
It took the store six weeks to re-open, and at one point, looters stole a few random objects. Even so, Swierkowski is amazed at the changes in the area. “There is a lot more construction, a lot more tourists,” she says. But the store doesn’t plan to do anything to commemorate the day.
“There really isn’t much we can do,” she says. “The streets are going to be closed. But we will be here. We have our 9/11 memorial sticker on the door. It will be a very somber day.”
Marvin Rafeld, president, Wall Street Jewelers in New York City, was deluged with questions from media and tourists after the attacks—all wondering “Was he there?” He stopped answering those questions years ago, but told JCK that his losses were purely financial, and that he was planning to visit the 9/11 Memorial with his family.
“We made it, we got through an incredibly awful time,” he says. “All we have to do is respect the memories of those we lost and to live our lives in the best way we can. It’s hard to do, and we still get caught up in the heat of trivial things, but sometimes someone hits us over the head and reminds us that here we are.”
Brenda Newman, president of The Jewelry Source in El Segundo, Calif., was asked to help her local mortuary to help repair the jewelry that was recovered on 9/11 from United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., much of which still retained the smell of jet fuel.
“We began receiving the approximately 100 items a few months after 9/11 and the power of holding articles that were worn by those who lost their lives was beyond words,” she says. “Each piece we worked on told a story about who wore it, especially the wedding bands that were engraved with a message inside.”
Jerry Bern, president of Marshall Pierce in Chicago, Ill., recalled a moving story about one of his customers, a driven, hard-nosed insurance businessman.
The customer and his team were in the World Trade Center dealing with some very challenging negotiations with another company days before the attacks. The negotiations weren’t going as well as this man had hoped, and he flew out of New York City the morning of 9/11, leaving his team to continue the negotiations. All of his team members perished. After 9/11, he was a changed man. He contacted me on the phone weeks after 9/11, and told me he wanted to marry the woman he’d been dating for some time. He told me to pick out a ring that was $15,000, $20,000 or even $25,000: it didn’t matter. He said he wanted to buy a ring that would make her happy, and that’s exactly what we gave him.