1998: Notables and Notes

Another year is winding down, the last before we get into a full national tizzy on the upcoming 21st century. So it’s time to tip our hat to some of the personal and corporate achievements of 1998 and to recall some of the year’s more notable events.

Industry associations provided a lot of news and new faces. Robert Bridel took over as executive director of the American Gem Society, Cecilia Gardner took the top job at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, and Alberta Hultman was named to run the California Jewelers Association. Our congratulations and best wishes to all three, each of whom faces challenge and opportunity. Over the years, both AGS and JVC have battled constantly to raise jewelry’s ethical standards, and Bridel and Gardner seem well-qualified to carry on this critical task – always a matter of unfinished business. Also on the ethical good-news front, Jewelers of America joined the battle at mid-year with its own mission to raise the industry’s honesty standards.

One key association head, Lloyd Jaffe of the American Diamond Industry Association, called it quits in 1998 and headed for retirement. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy; his efforts did much to raise the diamond industry’s profile with the public at large.

The American Gem Trade Association was no slouch in news-making this year. Its highlight: the opening of its own colored stone gem lab in New York City. The lab is an important new gemological tool and further evidence of the growing importance of color in a jeweler’s inventory.

The Gemological Institute of America enhanced its role as the world’s No. 1 gemological voice with definitive articles in Gems & Gemology on fluorescence and on what constitutes the best possible diamond cut – the latter the first of a series on this contentious and critical industry issue. GIA continued its extraordinary fund-raising efforts – honoring its chief cash campaigner, Jim Littman, for his efforts – and went full steam ahead with plans for its next International Symposium, to be held in San Diego in June.

The Jewelers Security Alliance also broke new ground, publishing a remarkable study on our industry’s increasing love affair with technology. It showed that jewelers are using computers with a new sophistication to handle many store operating issues.

This also was – for a change – a year that produced good consumer reporting about jewelry. Glenn Rothman of Di-Star and Laurie Hudson of the Platinum Guild both made headlines in the Wall Street Journal.

In retailing, Beryl Raff continued her rise to prominence as a top retail executive when she was named president and chief operating officer for Zale Corp. It’s hard to recognize today’s Zale as the company that only a few years ago was stumbling from one financial crisis to another. Good wishes go to chairman Robert DiNicola and his team as they prepare for Zale’s 75th anniversary next year.

On the less-good-news side, we were sorry that a financial squeeze made it impossible for Nate Light to carry through with plans for his innovative Only Diamonds chain. We wish him well; he’s too good a jeweler to be out of the fray for long. It also was sad to see the Littman chain become part of the Fred Meyer chain, which in turn became part of the Kroger grocery chain. Our guess is that the Kroger people will come to love their new jewelry connection.

Many of us old-timers were saddened by news of the death of Bob Limon. He was a man who brought honor to his business, his industry, and his favorite association, the AGS. His wisdom, graciousness, and counsel will be missed greatly.

Now, as the year closes, we once again thank you, our subscribers and our advertisers, for your continued support during what was, for us, an unusually difficult year. It was a year in which we needed and welcomed industry help and understanding. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

All of us join in wishing all of you a prosperous end to a volatile business year and a very good 1999.