Five women in leadership positions in the jewelry industry reflect on the management strategies that have earned them high marks in the trade
Nadja Swarovski, Swarovski
A lot of jewelry businesses are family businesses, but most of them aren’t like the $4 billion Austrian crystal juggernaut founded by Nadja Swarovski’s great-great-grandfather in 1895. Swarovski has overseen the brand since 1995 as a member of its executive board and creative director of Atelier Swarovski. During her tenure, she has partnered with fashion designers such as Prabal Gurung and celebrities including Penélope Cruz.
1. How do you honor a brand’s roots and keep up with trends at the same time?
It’s amazing to see how the fashion-jewelry industry has truly evolved over the last 20 years, and I hope we’ve had a positive contribution. We took a big effort to get away from the term costume jewelry and called it fashion jewelry because it’s an extension of what we see in the fashion industry—empowerment in embellishment and adornment, and symbolism of what that jewelry means for you.
And that’s where the trends come in. We feel it’s so important to work with emerging talent. They are right in the middle of the trends, and that’s our way to tap into those trends.
2. How has the conversation around alternatives to mined gemstones shifted since you joined the company, and what role does Swarovski play in that?
I hope Swarovski’s contribution will be a conscious increase of sustainability across the board. Our crystal is sustainable. We’re certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council, and we have a strong CSR [corporate social responsibility] department. As a company and as a brand, I think that element helps instill trust within our colleagues and our customers.
3. What lessons did you take away from the Great Recession?
It’s interesting—in terms of jewelry retail, we sometimes see an increase there. Because of people buying less fine jewelry, they might be adorning themselves with crystal jewelry. I think there’s still that need for adornment.
Within organizations, I find that resourcefulness is a tremendous element for problem solving and still delivering the product to consumers without compromising quality or aesthetics. It’s a time of reflection.
4. Is there anyone in the jewelry industry you look up to or who has taught you something valuable?
We have such a wonderful opportunity to work with amazing people. We certainly appreciate people who think out of the box, who have a clear understanding of who our customer is.
A great collaborator has always been Stephen Webster [who designed the Atelier Swarovski Double Diamond collection featuring recycled 14k gold and Swarovski lab-created diamonds]. You truly feel his spirit in the work he does. He’s very liberated and very expressive. It’s joyful. We’re in the business of sparkle. As long as the end consumer wants that sparkle, we’re here to promote our peers and colleagues.
5. What did you learn from studying gemology at GIA?
Each diamond—you think you’re looking at a straightforward stone and you realize there’s this whole landscape inside, just like you have individual fingerprints. When you realize that, you appreciate each stone so much more. It made me realize that the more I knew about the subject matter, the more I could appreciate the process, and the more the customer knows about the process, the more they’ll appreciate the outcomes.
Sybil Yurman, David Yurman Enterprises
David and Sybil Yurman are one of the jewelry industry’s most recognizable power couples. When painter Sybil founded New York City–based David Yurman with her sculptor husband, David, in 1980, they introduced the radical idea of having artisan metalsmiths craft in silver rather than gold—a watershed moment for the democratization of fine jewelry. Their collections’ distinctive designs—and the iconic cable bracelet style—have remained consistent even as the brand has grown. Sybil Yurman serves as chief brand officer for the company, which currently has 33 David Yurman stores in the United States and 11 internationally.
1. How do you think your employees would describe your style of leadership?
I try to be inspirational and to base everything on a position of collaboration and being open to ideas and to have people be fearless in their opinions so we can share. The key word is curiosity. I try to encourage people to be curious and to find the answers in an open and fearless dialogue.
2. How do you think being a woman leading a company in a male-dominated industry factors into your leadership style?
I think it definitely helped. There was a lot more based on intuition, and there wasn’t a sense of competition with me and staff—it was more a collaborative effort of people working together, sharing ideas, and me being able to hear what they were saying and take the best and leave the rest. I didn’t feel a sense of competition or challenge. It wasn’t a sports game with a sense of winning or losing.
Being a woman and being at the head of a creative company has given me a great sense of satisfaction in that we have 73 percent women running this company on a [vice president and higher] leadership level.
3. Which advertisement or campaign that you’ve run has gotten the most response, and why do you think it was so powerful?
Our first campaign [in 2000–2001] was groundbreaking. There was nothing like it. It was lifestyle, which was about showing how we lived and who we were, with people doing real things. People were sitting at a table and there was a bottle of Champagne, we were dancing. If there was a feeling of a party, it’s because it was a party. We had a great deal of fun, and people responded to the surprise and the accessibility of it.
4. You and David have said that the brand was started on a shoestring. How do you position a business for growth while keeping the integrity of your aesthetic?
Whatever we made, we had to be able to sell so we could make more. So we had to stay true and focused with what we believed was our vision. If you’re staying true to a very particular creative vision, it doesn’t really go out of style. By doing that, we show what our values are and our values tend to resonate. It has a consistency. We don’t chase trends.
5. Although you sell online, how do you view the role of the in-store experience?
We believe in brick-and-mortar, and we believe it’s very important. People want to feel and touch jewelry. They want the romance of it, the physical experience. With both of us being artists and showing in galleries, we brought that same way of presenting ourselves in jewelry stores, which was to show by collection. It had to be shown by collection to show you that it had a power to it and an energy to it.
Suzanne Miglucci, Charles & Colvard
Suzanne Miglucci became president and CEO of Charles & Colvard in December 2015—and immediately began shaking things up. The Morrisville, N.C.–based company manufactures moissanite, a lab-created diamond simulant. In October 2016, Miglucci oversaw a major expansion in the company’s focus, creating the consumer-facing Forever One brand and marketing this brand-name moissanite as an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to diamonds.
1. How do you think your employees would describe your style of management?
My management style is ultimately to get out of the way. And if I have really strong people around me that I can rely on, giving them the direction and then getting out of the way is the best way I can manage.
2. What’s the most surprising thing you look for when you hire someone?
One of the things I look at is the way the candidate manages their personal brand, because it’s probably going to be reflective of the way they’ll represent the Charles & Colvard brand. To me, that personal brand element is reflective of how you’re going to eventually be as a staff member. Having someone walk into an interview that has really well thought-out questions—that’s someone who’s done their homework and knows they want to be part of that company.
I’m famous, or maybe infamous, for having locked a candidate out because they came with nothing in hand—no pen, no printed résumé, just a person in a suit. I knew immediately they weren’t a candidate. I thanked them for their time but I said, “Given your level of preparedness, I don’t know if you’re a good fit.”
3. What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
When I came in three years ago, we were very much a traditional manufacturing company. We manufactured lab-created gemstones and relied on our distribution partners to bring our brand out to the market.
Charles & Colvard didn’t have a recognized brand in the industry, but I saw the opportunity. We felt like unless we were going to own our brand and speak directly to the consumer, she was never going to learn what moissanite is. In order to create this direct-to-consumer touch, we really had to become a jewelry company and create a true jewelry brand. It was risky because we were working in a very traditional industry. We had the possibility of upsetting our distribution partners.
4. What do you consider the role of e-commerce in jewelry sales?
I come from e-commerce so I’m a little biased, but I think it’s the future of all retail. Certainly, there’s the in-store experience that’s going to be a part of shopping, but it’s the presence online, on social—all that comes together to create this omnichannel experience. Consumers often showroom, so online presence is critically important. Right now we’re trying to bridge that gap. I think AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality] are going to evolve to the point that you’re almost having that experience that makes it feel so real, you have a level of comfort buying those goods without seeing them on your hand.
5. Is there a company that inspires you or that you really admire?
If there’s a brand that’s doing an amazing job, it’s Etsy. They’ve done such a great job building a community of consumers. Watching how brands handle themselves is so influential.
Susan Jacques, GIA
Before taking on the dual role of president and CEO at the Carlsbad, Calif.–based GIA in 2014, Susan Jacques spent more than three decades at Borsheims Fine Jewelry & Gifts in Omaha, Neb. Borsheims became a subsidiary of famed investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1989, and Jacques was handpicked by Buffett to be president and CEO in 1994.
1. What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Back in the early 1980s, I was working for a very small grading lab in Southern California, and the market took a significant downturn. I had remained friends with a classmate at GIA who said to me, “Come work in our store in Omaha.” I packed my car and went to Omaha—and I think it turned out great, because I ended up spending 31 years there.
2. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever gotten?
I was fortunate our company got purchased by Warren Buffett. He’s an amazing boss. He doesn’t micromanage, and he expects you to run your business as if it were your only asset.
When he offered me the CEO role, I spent the next half an hour trying to convince him it wasn’t a smart idea, because I was 34 and female in a very male-dominated industry. I asked him for a piece of advice, and he said, “Don’t say or do anything you don’t want to read about on the front page of the newspaper. It takes years to build your reputation, and it takes minutes to lose it.”
3. What do you consider the role of e-commerce in jewelry sales?
I think we’re in an evolutionary stage. I don’t know that the market will ever all go online. I think [brick-and-mortar] retailers still play a very, very important part in how consumers shop.
Almost all consumers buying today go online to do research and go into a store to touch and see it. The important thing is really fulfilling that emotion that they have, and I think many of the large brands today are looking to ensure that they have a seamless omnichannel experience so consumers can purchase in the way that suits them best.
4. What role do you think GIA has played in the growth of online jewelry retail?
The adoption of technology has enabled this industry to become exceedingly global, and our GIA Four Cs public outreach campaign helps to educate the consumer on diamond quality as well as our globally recognized standards. The Four Cs has truly become the international grading standard.
Our focus has always been on consumer protection, and our mission is to ensure the public trust in gems and jewelry. That authentication of the product they’re buying enables somebody to make a purchase online they wouldn’t be comfortable with if it was just a generic product being offered.
5. What lessons did you take away from the Great Recession?
When everything falls off a cliff, it’s not likely you’re falling by yourself. Teamwork and commitment are critical during the difficult economic times.
Also, managing the expectations of your staff, I think, is critical—helping them understand we’re all in this together and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the biz survives and thrives.
Beth Gerstein, Brilliant Earth
When Beth Gerstein couldn’t find an engagement ring made with humanely and sustainably sourced materials, she realized there was an untapped market to be claimed. In 2005, she cofounded Brilliant Earth. Today, the San Francisco–based company uses recycled precious metals and diamonds that meet rigorous eco- and worker-friendly standards, and donates 5 percent of its profits to better the lives of people in mining communities in developing countries.
1. How would you describe your corporate culture, and how do you think your leadership philosophy has shaped it?
Partnership and positivity are very important to us. It’s important that we foster high levels of communication and collaboration, and that we’re hiring and advocating for people that think it’s really important to focus on the mission. My focus is really on empowering employees to ensure they have a sense of ownership, a sense of accountability in their work—and that they’re able to make an impact not just in the business but in the world.
2. What’s an example that you think best illustrates what kind of leader you are?
In everything I do, I think, I lead by example because the focus on our commitment to customers really starts at the leadership level. Once, when there was a customer who had a very tight timeline for their wedding ring, as soon as it became available, I personally drove to City Hall so they would have it in time for the ceremony.
3. There’s a certain level of awareness now about sustainable diamonds beyond the Kimberley Process. How has Brilliant Earth developed and contributed to that narrative?
Educating the consumer and creating a common language was definitely important. When we first started out, I think conscious consumerism more generally was in its early stages. What has happened over time is that, as Brilliant Earth has demonstrated, there’s a really strong consumer segment, particularly among millennials, that is looking to support businesses that contribute to positive social change.
4. What lessons did you take away from the Great Recession?
It’s important to be able to closely manage your resources and be sensitive to inventory management. Those [companies] that had very large inventories were probably the ones that were most at risk. The other aspect to us is we focused on really testing at a smaller scale. We tend to be more prudent on very large investments. We operate pretty lean generally, so for us it was an opportunity to take share and expand.
5. You’ve said that you draw on TED Talks for inspiration. Which one has had the most influence on how you run your business day-to-day?
There’s one from [What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast author] Laura Vanderkam on time management called “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time.” What appealed to me about that TED Talk is she talks about time as a choice. I have two kids, and it’s important that I have dinner with them as much as I can. So there’s kind of sacred time for me that I set aside, and I know these are my boundaries and this is what I focus on, and it allows me to say “no”—and I think saying “no” is as important as saying “yes.”
Top: Atelier Swarovski Fluid Statement Necklace in light amethyst, $999