Steven Kaiser, a widely respected industry figure and consultant who headed numerous watch companies and trade groups, died in his sleep on May 20. He was 68.
Kaiser’s shocking and unexpected passing occurred two months after he was twice feted during the industry’s annual 24 Karat Weekend. At the March 18 Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) annual luncheon, he was honored with the group’s Stanley Schechter Award, for his commitment to industry ethics. The next day, he was elected to a second term as chair of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance.
The JVC award was presented by Schechter’s son, Joel, who hailed Kaiser a “beacon of integrity and hard work.
“He says ‘yes’ when asked to support industry causes. He’s a doer. He shows up and steps up.… He’s a connector. He understands the industry. He knows and ‘gets’ the key people.”
Schechter said that Kaiser was never guided by “what’s popular” but “right and wrong…giving back, speaking your mind.”
Accepting the JVC award, Kaiser laughingly reminisced about his first industry job: a summer stint working at Honora for Stanley Schechter. The first day, Schechter took one look at Kaiser’s seventies-style hair mop, and told him to leave and not come back before he got a haircut. He did.
Despite that bumpy start, Schechter later become one of his mentors, he said.
After receiving a B.A. from Boston University and a master’s degree from Columbia, Kaiser went to work for his father, Ben, in 1982.
Ben then headed David G. Steven, the exclusive distributor for Baume & Mercier in the United States, and was credited with building that brand in the U.S. market. His son wasn’t sure if he should join him.
“You always have some trepidation that people will look at you and believe you’re only there because you’re one of the owner’s sons,” Kaiser told JCK in 2005. “You have to work three times as hard to prove yourself.”
He did that by hitting the road and rubbing shoulders with the company’s key customers. He soon became the company’s manager of national accounts and then vice president of sales.
“There was a whole new generation of younger leaders coming in then,” he said. “These were my peers, and they were taking over the leadership at many of the top chains and independent stores. “
In 1993, Kaiser succeeded his father as president and CEO of the company’s U.S. division, which by then had been sold to its parent company.
“We were transitioning from an entrepreneurial business to a multinational corporate business, so that was a major change,” he said. “I [learned] how to integrate Baume & Mercier into the U.S. market, how to launch products and build brands, and how to market those brands.”
The brand’s business doubled during Kaiser’s five years as president. But in 1998, he stepped down.
“I knew that at some point I would go out on my own when I was ready. It was like a calling for me.”
In 1999, he became executive shareholder of Benedom, an LVMH subsidiary, where he introduced the Christian Dior and Fred Joaillier brands to the U.S. market.
“A year later, a whole new group was formed,” he said. “I had no desire to become part of another corporate entity. So I sold my shares to LVMH in June 2000…and tried to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”
That turned out to be Kaiser Time. In its 20 years of operation, the New York City–based consultancy became a prominent force in the watch business, advising companies in executive search, mergers and acquisitions, and general business building. Clients included Richemont, Tiffany & Co., Tourneau, and Citizen Watch. In 2005, along with longtime associate Diane James, Kaiser helped launch Swiss Watch by JCK.
In August 2021, he undertook yet another challenge, becoming U.S. president and CEO of Kennedy, the Australian watch retailer.
Kaiser was also extremely active in industry groups. He chaired the JSA since 2019 and the JVC from 2016 to 2018. He also served as president of the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York and headed the Jewelry Information Center, where he helped launch the Gem Awards. He was also a longtime board member of Jewelers for Children and the American Watch Association.
In 2007, the Women’s Jewelry Association awarded him its Ben Kaiser Award, named after his father.
In his spare time, Kaiser was an avid New York Giants fan. When he couldn’t attend their games, he was a regular fixture at Blondie’s Sports Bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he had his own stool.
Steven Kaiser is survived by Vivian, his wife of 39 years, and children Jeff and Emily.
Funeral services will be held May 25 at Riverside Memorial Chapel.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Kaiser’s name to Jewelers for Children, one of the many groups to which he devoted his time.
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