IJO Founder Dies

William F. Roberts Jr., the founder of the Independent Jewelers Organization, the world’s largest jewelers’ buying group, died Aug. 8 while vacationing in Highlands Falls, N.C. He was 83.

A statement from IJO, located in Norwalk, Conn., praised its founder: “For decades the recipient of extraordinary respect, Bill will be missed by many friends and former colleagues, but his legacy will continue with the ongoing perpetuation of his business philosophy to IJO members.”

Roberts served as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart. He was a salesman with the Orange Blossom jewelry company when he founded IJO in 1972 in Westport, Conn.

Propelled by his salesmanship, IJO quickly attracted members and notice from the industry. Beginning with 52 members, it grew over the next two decades into the largest buying group of independent jewelers in the world. Roberts closely oversaw that growth, missing only one biennial IJO meeting in 20 years—because of heart surgery.

In the early 1990s Roberts and his staff made major changes in IJO. Hundreds of nonactive members were dropped, more big-name suppliers were added, and the Master IJO Jeweler program was created. Today, IJO has 850 jeweler members and 175 vendor members.

In early 1998, Roberts sold IJO to Richard Swetz, then an IJO consultant. In 2007, Swetz retired as chairman, and Roberts’s son Jeff, president and chief executive officer since 1998, bought the organization.

Roberts is survived by his wife, Barbara; five children; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Roberts’s memory may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or The Smile Train.

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