When the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) was founded in 1983 by two New England–based industry professionals, Toni Lyn Judd and Cindy Geller, women weren’t allowed to be members of the industry’s then-most prestigious organization, the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York (the club wouldn’t admit women until 1987).
A handful of women jewelry pros comprised the first-ever WJA meeting that year in New York City and together defined the organization’s mission of supporting women in jewelry through networking, strategic programs and events, and scholarships.
Much has changed in the industry (and the world) since the early ’80s, but it’s clear that professional organizations dedicated to supporting women are more necessary than ever. WJA celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. But our current culture, which has been significantly shaped by grassroots movements decrying gender inequalities in every facet of society, renders its mission thoroughly modern.
The New York–based nonprofit will host its annual Awards for Excellence event at the Chelsea Piers in New York City on July 16, and there will honor five visionaries in the industry: Swarovski’s Nadja Swarovski, Cartier’s Mercedes Abramo, Hearts On Fire’s Caryl Capeci, and David Prager and Elizabeth Nyamayaro from the De Beers Group and UN Women.
I caught up with the current president of WJA’s international board of directors, Jenny Luker, to chat about the organization’s upcoming event and 35th anniversary—and its unique place in the jewelry industry.
JCK: How is WJA celebrating its 35th anniversary?
Jenny Luker: This year we’re reimagining some of the programs we have…. We’ve transformed the upcoming Awards for Excellence event to honor visionaries—people who have supported women in their advancement or they themselves have succeeded at the highest level. We’re also honoring the Shining Stars, the people from the local chapter, women and men, who are really the backbone of the event.
How would you characterize WJA’s place in the jewelry industry in 2018?
I think WJA’s place in the industry is really as an inclusive membership organization that everyone can be a part of and benefit from. We encourage membership of men, though our programs benefit women directly, because we hope to work together to ensure that everyone is included.
How do women in the industry benefit from WJA membership?
The benefits come through networking, and we provide mentorship by both women and men, and education. We also have a great scholarship program. We’ve given out $300,000 in scholarships over the last five years, and we hear from recipients that it’s changed their lives—they can create new lines, open new businesses. It’s really a testament to the organization and how it can provide women with resources to change both their business and their lives.
How has WJA responded to our culture’s increased awareness of gender imbalance in professional scenarios?
Last year we launched the Gender Equality Project, which is focused on providing solutions to issues of [gender inequality]. One of the initial endeavors we are looking into is analyzing industry boards. So we’re looking at the number of women that currently sit on boards and we’re working with industry organizations to make sure they have more of a gender balance on boards. Then we’re providing access for women who are qualified for these positions. We’re also gaining a better understanding of the requirements of the professional moving into those positions.
Your day job is as president of the Platinum Guild—that seems like a very demanding job! What made you want to dedicate your time to WJA?
I think it’s so important to give back, and I think WJA is such an important organization in the industry. We need to ensure that we have young people coming into the business and that we can help educate and mentor them, while retaining our ability to learn from those who came before us. Really, I feel like it’s honor to be a part of it.
Top: WJA board president Jenny Luker (all photos courtesy of WJA)