WJA’s West Coast Conference Inspires Women

After four successful years in New York, expectations were high for the Women’s Jewelry Association’s first “Women in the Know” West Coast Conference on Sept. 8 in Anaheim, Calif., at the Anaheim Marriot Hotel.

More than one hundred jewelry professionals from around the country and representing all facets of the industry attended the full-day event. And expectations were met—if not exceeded.  

“For an inaugural event, it was phenomenal,” said WJA National President, Ann Arnold. “It was so satisfying to see how inspired and excited the attendees were, and the enthusiasm they had at the conference.”

High-profile, successful businesswomen filled the speaker line-up, which focused on business strategies, entrepreneurship, reinventing your career, networking, taking over the family business, and even the healing properties of gemstones.

But for the women there, the conference wasn’t just about inspirational speakers and motivating breakout sessions – it was also about making connections and building friendships.

“The event was great, and the networking opportunities were fabulous,” said Jayne Schultz, sales assistant for the Las Vegas-based World Jewelry Center and a member of the San Diego chapter. “I really enjoyed spending time with my WJA friends, and meeting new and prospective members.”

The first conference was sponsored by Jewelers Mutual Insurance, Platinum Guild International, and the West Coast Jewelry Show

Opening keynote speaker Margeaux Cvar, chief executive officer of The Cvar Von Habsburg Group, discussed how to recognize and identify growth opportunities for jewelry businesses by thinking outside of the box. She emphasized the importance of creating a unique and sustainable competitive position in the jewelry industry.

“Differentiation is key,” she explained. “You have to make yourself the niche, not compete the same way the big boys do. Take a different route.”

How can you take a different route? By finding successful strategies implemented by companies that are very different in scope, but similar in structure to your business, said Cvar. “Your performance relative to competitors is irrelevant. It just means that you’re all making the same mistakes. Compare yourself to successful companies similar to your own in other industries, and see how they do business.” 

Marie Bodman (pictured), president of Breitling USA, spoke about her rise from an administrative assistant to leader of the third-largest watch brand in the world. She attributed her success to persistence, luck, knowing when to ask for help, and choosing valuable employees.

Bodman also stressed the importance of building a jewelry company to be distinct and unique. “In the beginning, Breitling tried to grab every niche possible—from the product, to the way we did business,” said Bodman, who transformed Breitling from a one-person operation to one of the top brands in the industry in just 15 years. “If you’re an independent business, what can you do that big companies can’t do?” An example Bodman gave is one that she uses herself: sending personal letters to very important customers.

The conference took an introspective turn when Pamela Mitchell, CEO of The Reinvention Institute, took the stage. Mitchell explained that in today’s rapidly changing global economy, the ability to recombine your skill set to move between different job functions—and even different industries—is essential. “Reinventing yourself is the new form of job security,” she explained. “The business landscape turns over every 15 years. You have to see where things are going and be prepared to respond in the moment.”

Breakout sessions offered three speakers:

Amy Swift, co-author of Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship and Creativity as a Lifestyle, discussed how women entrepreneurs can achieve success by using their intuitive capabilities, rather than following conventional business practices.

Judith Billson, founder and director of Medicine Energy Wheel, spoke about the beneficial health properties of dozens of gems, and offered suggestions about making and marketing jewelry using healing stones.

Elsa Martinez Phillips, president and co-owner of Roberto Martinez, Inc., provided tips on how to successfully transition a family business from one generation to the next.

The Conference continued with a “Women of Excellence” panel, featuring past winners of the WJA Awards for Excellence. Moderated by Bill Boyajian, managing director of the World Jewelry Center, the panel included Nancy Brewer, founder, Nancy B. & Company; Bev Hori, vice president, Ben Bridge Jeweler; Kathryn Kimmel, vice president and chief marketing officer, GIA; Caroline Stanley, president/CEO, Red Jewel, Inc.; and Erica Van Pelt, gem photographer. The group answered pointed questions regarding female stereotypes, gave advice on how to market and “brand” oneself, and offered inspirational stories about rising up in their own careers.

The “Women in the Know” West Coast Conference concluded with recognition of WJA’s Shining Stars, who were announced at its New York Conference last March.