Service Industry: How the Jewelry Business Is Battling COVID-19



Since the coronavirus crisis hit the United States in March, jewelers have shared myriad examples of grace under pressure

(Above and below) Manos and Kelle Phoundoulakis and their at-home mask-sewing business

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of which were first detected in the United States in late January, brought with it mandatory quarantines and business closures around the country. Jewelry stores, manufacturing facilities, showrooms, and business offices were all temporarily shuttered in an effort to promote social distancing.

At press time in May, several U.S. cities are slowly ­reopening after business closures and stay-at-home orders that began in mid-March. But coronavirus infections are still on the rise in many regions, keeping nervous consumers out of malls and off Main Streets. Retailers, manufacturers, and independent designers are grappling with painful realities, including layoffs. And everyone’s concerned about the looming prospect of a ­global recession.

Yet the jewelry industry—which tends to attract resilient, passionate, and often entrepreneurial-minded individuals—is soldiering on. In this shaky new era, many in the trade have stepped up to help their clients, their contemporaries, vulnerable populations, and frontline health care workers, both emotionally and financially.

Feeding the Needy

When COVID-19 began its ­insidious creep across the country, jewelry brands of all stripes began donating a portion of their sales to nonprofit groups that answered immediate needs.

With schools shut down, kids who typically receive free lunches were left in the lurch—a reality that horrified public relations professionals Danielle Gadi of Danielle Gadi PR and Jen Lowitz of IHPR. The two women began an industrywide movement to donate to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit that brings food to children who need it.

Gabriel and Co 91 19 bracelet
All the proceeds from Gabriel & Co.’s 91>19 bangle benefit Jewelers for Children ($91; gabrielny.com).

“We both live in cities where kids are going to be seriously affected by school closures in terms of their food sources, and as a parent and neighbor it wasn’t an option to not try to mobilize the community,” Gadi says.

At press time, more than 125 fine jewelry brands—­including Andrea Fohrman, AUrate, Jacquie Aiche, Retrouvaí, Harwell Godfrey, and Alison Lou—are ­donating a percentage of sales to the organization. Jewelry ­designer Brent Neale, who donated 30% of her total sales for a two-week period in March to No Kid Hungry, told her Instagram followers that she sent an astonishing $52,457 to the nonprofit.

French fine jewelry brand Messika announced in March that it would donate 20% of sales made at the Messika Los Angeles boutique through the end of April to After-School All-Stars—a nonprofit that works to provide nutrition and physical and emotional well-being for students in major cities.

Meanwhile, Samantha Jackson, founder of jewelry brand Heavenly Vices, was among the handful of industry professionals who auctioned jewelry pieces on Instagram to benefit nonprofit Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to people in need. Says Jackson, “Putting a smile on people’s faces is so much more valuable to me than sales right now.”

Jewelry to Honor the Fight

Honora hope bracelet
(Above and below) The Honora bracelet gifted to health care workers by J.R. Dunn Jewelers

Jewelry companies also ­rallied behind those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Retailer J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, Fla., to name one, created a social media giveaway on March 27 asking users on Facebook and Instagram to tag nurses and doctors working with coronavirus patients. The retailer then gifted every tagged individual an Honora freshwater cultured pearl Hope bracelet.

Within three days, all 200 of the bracelets were claimed and shipped to South Florida health care workers.

Honora JR Dunn bracelet“The doctors and nurses are putting their patients’ needs first, and it really hit home the sacrifices they’re making for all of us,” says company vice president Sean Dunn. “Even though we didn’t have masks to give, we wanted to do something to lift spirits and let them know they are appreciated.”

Fine jewelry brand Gabriel & Co. made a special ­sterling silver bracelet engraved with the equation 91>19—a ­reference to Psalm 91 (“No harm shall overcome you”) and COVID-19—and is giving 100% of proceeds from its sale to Jewelers for Children, which channels the funds to children’s nonprofits.

Pitching In for Protective Equipment

(Above and below) The Pac Team Chicago factory pivots to face shield production.

As more than half of Americans went into quarantine in mid-March, a few jewelry professionals got busy making masks and face shields to help with the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care professionals.

Manos Phoundoulakis, business development manager of jewelry brand Omi Privé, and his wife, Kelle Phoundoulakis, posted a GoFundMe page to raise $750 for the fabric and shipping of hundreds of masks the couple were making at their dining room table in Denver. At press time, they’d raised $9,820 and they have been able to outsource some of the sewing to friends.

“We were, like a lot of people, sitting at home and feeling like we’re not doing enough,” says Manos, who bought an old Kenmore sewing machine on Facebook and taught himself to sew, while Kelle cuts the fabric from a pattern. “I thought, I’m capable of learning to do this, I can learn to sew. If we can provide free masks to health care people and people in need, I feel really good about what we’re doing. Altruism is the key to happiness.”

On March 20, the day Illinois received its official stay-at-home order, the Chicago factory for Swiss-based Pac Team Group pivoted from producing and manufacturing luxury jewelry showcases, packaging, and fixtures for top jewelry and watch brands to churning out protective face shields for the medical community.

Pac Team covid 19 testing booth
Pac Team’s COVID-19 testing booth

Pac Team Group president and co-owner Eric Zuckerman says that at first he thought he would need to furlough his team during the pandemic. Instead, he began thinking about how the company’s existing machinery could help support the medical community. “When I saw that face shields were desperately needed, I saw a path and knew we could do that well,” he says.

Within less than a week, the factory had created a successful prototype, procured bulk materials for masks, applied for the proper certifications, and was talking to city and state government officials about distributing the shields. At press time, the company was producing 5,000 shields per week and was gearing up to build a COVID-19 testing booth, which would allow health care workers to have maximum protection while testing people without the need to change their personal protective equipment.

“This was a system that was utilized in Korea successfully, and we have been engineering ours to be more modular and easily transportable across the USA,” Zuckerman says.

“Everybody on the shop floor can keep working full-time, and our country will have another reliable domestic source producing personal protective equipment,” he says. “It’s a win-win.”

Top: Coil diamond ring with ruby heart in 18k yellow gold; $4,750; Brent Neale; 646-745-6831; brentneale.com