WJA Names Winners at Awards for Excellence Gala on July 25

Thirteen individuals and one corporate entity received awards last night at the Women’s Jewelry Association’s annual Awards for Excellence Gala, held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City

The venue may have changed in 2016, but the energy and excitement level of attendees remained as potent as ever last night as hundreds gathered at the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Awards for Excellence Gala to celebrate friends and peers in the fine jewelry industry. With floors being refurbished in the usual space at Chelsea Piers, the WJA was forced to relocate the annual affair farther inland to a space as majestic in size and scale as the evening itself, paving the way for the event to occur at the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center.

After a moving tribute to longtime WJA member Cindy Edelstein, who was instrumental in so many aspects of the organization and for whom the Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award was named, national president Brandee Dallow announced winners—named below—across 11 categories.

Design, Fine Jewelry and Watches 
Winner: Claudia Kretchmer, president, Steven Kretchmer

Manufacturer, Dealer, Supplier
Winner: Tiffany Kay of Tiffany Kay (nominated for her work as former vice president of merchandising, Scott Kay)

Retail, 15 or More Doors 
Winner: Marta Nowakowski, VP divisional merchandise manager of Jewelry, Watches, and Home, Saks Fifth Avenue

Retail, 15 or Fewer Doors
Winner: Jennifer Gandia & Christina Gandia Gambale; co-owners, Greenwich St. Jewelers

Retail, Non-Traditional
Winner: Kris Kulesza, senior vice president merchandising, Jewelry Television

Sales and Merchandising
Winner: Maren Rosen, vice president, merchandising, Stuller Inc.

Marketing and Communications
Winner: Jen Cullen Williams, managing director, Luxury Brand Group

Editorial Media
Winner: Syl Tang, contributor, Financial Times Watches & Jewellery; CEO, HipGuide

Special Services
Winner: Dona Mary Dirlam, director of RTL Library and Information Center, Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

Winner: Michelle Peranteau, former director of marketing and communication, Baume et Mercier, and now director, U.S. marketing and public relations, Harry Winston

WJA Hall of Fame honorees
Winners: Sissy Jones, owner of Sissy’s Log Cabin, WJA Lifetime Achievement Award; Peter Engel, president of Fred Meyer Jewelers, Ben Kaiser Award; and Ben Bridge Jewelers, WJA Corporate Award

The affair raises money for scholarships and grants for women with membership through a silent auction and raffles. Last year, the group raised $60,000. Additionally, the winner of the 2016 Carelle-WJA Grant in memory of Brooke Tivol McGrath expressed gratitude to attendees for her honor. Melissa Spencer of Spencer Fine Jewelry won the $5,000 merit-based grant, while Amanda Bilberry, a newly appointed G.G., took home the first-ever Gets It Done grant, named in memory of WJA member Charlotte Preston, who died last fall.

Aside from the camaraderie on display during the evening, a few highlights were especially memorable. Among them was Dallow’s heartfelt tribute to Cindy Edelstein, sharing that “Cindy was one of a kind” and that “WJA would never be the same without her.” When accepting her award, Kretchmer noted that it would have been the birthday of her late father and company founder Steven Kretchmer. Peranteau reminded guests of sage advice—“People do business with people,” she said—from her grandfather. Dirlam urged others to get involved in causes because service had “its own reward,” while a bubbly Cullen Williams offered a lighter moment when she wished aloud for her acceptance speech to be made available on Snapchat. And when Bill and Sherry Jones accepted the Hall of Fame award on behalf of inductee Sissy Jones, who was unable to attend due to a fight with breast cancer, her son dished on the company’s motto, a clear indicator of why Sissy was being honored: “In our hiring process, it takes two men to do the job of one woman,” he said.


(Photo courtesy of @womensjewelryassociation)

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