Jewelry, Women, and Power (or Lack Thereof)

Last week, the cover story from our April 2015 issue—“Power Base: Our annual list of 50 (or so) CEOs, retailers, designers, and tastemakers who shape and innovate the jewelry and watch biz—went up online and caused a mild sensation on Facebook when a number of commenters noted how few women appeared on the list.

The comments were impassioned, angry, chastising, and poignant. I dodged the conversation online (my personal rule for Facebook is that I comment only on birthdays, babies, and weddings), but I knew the subject was far too important not to address publicly.

We’ve published our Power issue for the last four years, and it’s interesting and exciting (and a little curious) that it’s finally sparking an industry-wide conversation. My initial reaction to the comments, some of which blamed JCK for the industry’s gender imbalance, was, I admit, a bit defensive. I wanted to explain that just because JCK reports on the power structures that exist in our industry doesn’t mean we create or endorse them. Don’t kill the messenger!

Then, I stepped back from the chatter and mulled over our rationale for choosing the 40 men and 13 women on this year’s list. (Note: We are committed to capping the list at 50, and to not mentioning companies more than once, which means some spots end up being shared. For example, Ed and Jon Bridge are co-CEOs of Ben Bridge Jeweler, so they share a spot; BaubleBar founders Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky also share a spot.)

When we talk about power, we’re talking about money, we’re talking about influence, we’re talking about organizational authority. Some people on the list check all three boxes, but some check only one. For example, many of the detractors on Facebook questioned our inclusion of actress Lupita Nyong’o. Last year, we featured Jennifer Lawrence for similar reasons: We always select a celebrity who has made a major jewelry statement on the red carpet over the past year, because her presence drives trends that fuel significant amounts of business and inspires consumers the world over. That’s one kind of power.

Next, we ask ourselves, “Which companies truly make this business go- round?” Most of them are pretty obvious: De Beers, Rolex, Stuller, to name three. If we chose not to include the heads of these companies on our list, we’d have something other than a power list.

Once we’ve cited the chief executives from the biggest companies in the business, we run down the list of industry associations. There is less of a gender imbalance in the industry bureaucracy (associations, magazines) than the business at large. Our list reflects that. 

This year, we also ran a “Power Designers” list in the same issue. It had 20 names, precisely half of them women. We felt that three of those designers—Irene Neuwirth, Todd Reed, and David Yurman—were powerful enough to warrant inclusion on the Power Base, so they appear twice in the issue.

We welcome debates over our choices. Remember, this isn’t a science.

Things get murky when we look to finalize our 50 (or so) names. We engage in interoffice debates. We toss names back and forth. Sometimes we go with nothing more than our gut feelings. One thing we don’t do is gender-weight the list so it has an equal amount of male-female representation. Doing so would do women in our industry a much greater disservice; masking the problem makes it more difficult to have an honest conversation.

While all of the above may help elucidate our decisions, I haven’t come close to settling the underlying problem: Too few women in our industry are in positions of power. Here I think about all the smart, talented, cool women I know who have built long and meaningful careers in jewelry. Many of them hold high-ranking positions in their respective companies, but there’s no denying that most of them report to men (white men, it must be said, which reminds me—our industry’s lack of racial diversity is another long and difficult topic that we need to address collectively).

Like the passionate commenters on Facebook, I hope to see the power structures that have defined the jewelry business over the course of its long history give way to new ones that are diverse, progressive, and reflect the wonderful mix of voices in our trade. In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation. With the 2016 election in sight, it’s a good and important time to have it.