The JCK Power List: 50+ Movers, Shakers, and Tastemakers in the Jewelry Industry

Our guide to the people ­making waves and ­breaking barriers in the ­business

When compiling JCK’s first Power List, we kept circling back to the question: How do you define power?

We decided early on that this industry was too ­sprawling and diffuse for us to rank its most powerful people on a strictly numerical basis. So we opted to break down our rankings by sector (each list is numbered for ease of reading; we did not rank individuals in each category). Not everyone on our list racks up millions of dollars in sales or can make exhibitors snap to ­attention at trade shows. Some of them operate strictly behind the scenes. But all of them are innovators who are ensuring this tradition-bound business prospers in the 21st century.

Of the 50-plus people who made the cut, we chose to highlight 10 we thought deserved special attention­ because they likely fly beneath most people’s radars. But by our reckoning, all of them make up the industry’s powers-that-be.

The JCK Power List was compiled by the magazine’s editors in consultation with numerous outside experts. And yet we are well aware that the final tally does not include every notable person in the trade. We fully expect this to spark heated debate. (Lord knows there were some heated ones while putting it together.) We may have bruised an ego or two. But we feel confident that everyone on the list matters. 

By “matter,” we mean: The members of our Power List wield influence. They are listened to. They make things happen. And this business would be significantly different without them. We never really came up with a precise definition of power. But ­perhaps that’s as good as any.

Gems and gemology

Christopher Smith

1. Donna Baker, president, Gemological Institute of America
2. Christopher Smith, president, American Gemological Laboratories
3. Lewis Allen, buyer, Crown Color
4. Jerry Sisk, co-founder, Jewelry TV
5. Joel Schechter, CEO, Honora

Christopher Smith, G.G., has had many titles in his more than 25 years in gemology—including honorary fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, laboratory director at Gübelin Laboratory of Lucerne, Switzerland, and, most recently, owner and director of New York City–based American Gemological Laboratories. But Smith’s career accomplishments—such as making country-of-origin–based reporting, which significantly affects gem values, an industry standard, and being among the first people to prove that the lead-glass–filled ruby on the market today wasn’t ordinary treated ruby—are what landed him on JCK’s Power List. Not that the achievement is likely to go to his head. “You know Chris; he is a quiet guy that just gets down to business and sets policy based on measured consistency and not politics,” says Stuart Robertson, research director of Gemworld International Inc. in Glenview, Ill.

AGL was founded by C.R. “Cap” ­Beesley in 1977, acquired by ­Collectors Universe in 2006, and purchased and reprivatized by vice president and chief gemologist Christopher Smith in 2009.

International power brokers

1. Mehul Choksi, chairman and managing director, Gitanjali Group
2. Henry Cheng, executive chairman, Chow Tai Fook
3. Bernard Arnault, CEO, LVMH
4. François Curiel, head of Christie’s jewelry department worldwide
5. Johann Rupert, chairman and CEO, Richemont

As more and more luxury brands migrate to China, one brand is not only already well established there, it has catered to the country’s consumers for eight decades. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, which went public in December, controls more than 1,500 retail outlets on the mainland. According to the company’s website, it plans to grow to 2,000, which would make it one of the largest jewelers in the world. As the Chinese market expands, Chow Tai Fook is rocketing ahead with it. Its prospectus reports that sales climbed 52.8 percent in 2011, and that the company controls some 12.6 percent of the Chinese jewelry market. Executive chairman Henry Cheng, 65, is known as one of the highest-powered low-profile people in the industry. The son of former chairman Cheng Yu Tung, who stepped down in February, Cheng also heads New World Development Corp., a Hong Kong conglomerate with heavy investments in industries such as real estate and transportation.

For the year ending March 2012, Chow Tai Fook reportedly expects to make a net profit of HK$6.3 billion ($800 million), compared with HK$3.67 billion the previous year.

Diamond industry leaders

Laurence Graff

1. Varda Shine, managing director, Diamond Trading Co.
2. Martin Rapaport, chairman, Rapaport Group/Chaim Even-Zohar, diamond industry analyst
3. Beny Steinmetz, chair of Steinmetz Diamond Group/Laurence Graff, controlling shareholder in the South African Diamond Corporation (SAFDICO), and founder, Graff Diamonds Group
4. Lev Leviev, founder, Lev Leviev Group of Companies
5. Fyodor Andreev, president and CEO, Alrosa

When it comes to big diamonds, two men are the biggest machers in the business: Beny Steinmetz and Laurence Graff. Steinmetz is widely believed to be one of De Beers’ largest sightholders and the second-richest man in Israel; he regularly makes Forbes’ list of the world’s richest billionaires (2011 ranking: No. 162, with $6 billion net worth). Among the stones his company has owned or crafted: the 203.04 ct. De Beers Millennium Star and the 59.60 ct. flawless Steinmetz Pink. He owns stakes in several diamond mines, including Koidu Holdings, the largest diamond producer in Sierra Leone. The 73-year-old Graff, also a sightholder, has possessed some equally impressive rocks—such as the legendary 31.06 ct. blue internally flawless ­Wittelsbach-Graff (formerly the Wittelsbach), recently shown at the Smithsonian. But he’s best known for Graff Diamonds, his ultra–high-end 33-boutique chain, which filed for a Hong Kong IPO in February.

“When I came across my first diamond I was struck, ­mesmerized,” Laurence Graff has said. “I felt that I could see right inside the stone and could tell you what it contained.”

Industry services

Erik Jens

1. Ruth Batson, executive director and CEO, American Gem Society
2. John Kennedy, president, Jewelers’ Security Alliance
3. Erik Jens, CEO, ABN AMRO
4. Dione Kenyon, president, Jewelers Board of Trade
5. Dave Bonaparte, group vice president, JCK Events

In an industry so dependent on its banks, ABN AMRO’s international diamond and jewelry division has for decades occupied a unique place as the industry’s largest banker—accounting for an estimated one-quarter of industry credit—and one of the few major financial institutions in the world to retain significant exposure to the jewelry sector. And now what is arguably the most powerful position in trade financing has been passed on to Erik Jens. The 20-year ABN veteran succeeds Victor van der Kwast, who had held the position since 2008. So far, Jens—who formerly headed ABN’s private banking division for Switzerland—hasn’t talked at length about his plans, although he did appear in February at a New York City ­reception co-sponsored by the Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association, ­stressing ABN’s commitment to the diamond business.

ABN AMRO’s International Diamond and Jewelry Group dates back 100 years, and has offices in New York, ­Antwerp, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Gaborone, Botswana. It just opened an office in the Almas Tower in Dubai.

Power retailers (independent)

Georgie Gleim

1. Mark and Candy Udell, owners, London Jewelers
2. Marie Helene Morrow, owner and president, Reinhold Jewelers
3. Cathy Calhoun, president, American Gem Society Board of Directors
4. Georgie Gleim, board chair, Jewelers of America
5. John and Marc Green, owners, Lux Bond & Green

If the jewelry business were high school, Georgie Gleim would be student body president, head of the honor society, and yearbook editor. As the third generation to lead Gleim the Jeweler, the Palo Alto, Calif., retailer is a triple threat in the trade, like her late father, Arthur Gleim. Both won the Robert M. Shipley Award, were presidents of AGS, and served as leaders of Jewelers of America. Arthur was president from 1981 to 1983, while Georgie is currently JA’s board chair. With CEO Matthew Runci retiring, the board is searching for a replacement and Georgie will guide the decision—a blessing to those who know her. “Georgie is an extremely responsible leader among fine jewelry retailers, devoting a substantial part of her work week to helping the retail jewelry industry,” says Robert Headley, chief operating officer for JA. If JCK were the student newspaper, this much is clear: We would endorse her.

“If you had problems with any kind of organization, then you owed it to that organization to be part of the solution,” Georgie Gleim once told JCK, recalling one of her late father, Arthur Gleim’s, favorite sayings.

Power retailers (mass)

Pamela Mortensen

1. Warren Buffett, chairman, Berkshire Hathaway
2. Theo Killion, CEO, Zale Corp.
3. Michael Barnes, CEO, Sterling Jewelers
4. Mark Vadon, CEO, Blue Nile
5. Pamela Mortensen, jewelry buyer, J.C. Penney
For all its twists and turns, J.C. Penney remains an extremely important company to U.S. retail—and to the U.S. jewelry industry. As former Apple stores head Ron Johnson sets out to “transform” (his word) the legendary department store chain, it’s not clear what role jewelry will play: It’s the only product that (so far) has not transitioned to the retailer’s new “fair pricing” strategy. Which means industry eyes will be on Pamela Mortensen, the company’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager for jewelry. The former jewelry buyer for an even bigger name, Walmart, Mortensen took over the chair vacated by Beryl Raff in 2009. But as the 1,100-store chain embraces more branding and tie-ins, it’s worth noting that Mortensen has been trying to hitch Penney’s jewelry offerings to big names for some time, including launching the much-ballyhooed Modern Bride jewelry line in 2011.

While at Walmart, Pamela Mortensen launched Love, Earth, the first major jewelry brand that let consumers trace the path of their jewelry from mine to market.

Watch world decision-makers

1. G. Nicolas “Nick” Hayek, CEO, Swatch Group
2. Thierry Stern, president, Patek Philippe
3. Gian Riccardo Marini, CEO, Rolex
4. John Simonian, president, Ildico, and founder/owner, Westime
5. James Seuss, CEO, Tourneau
Nicolas G. Hayek, the founder of the Swatch Group, the behemoth of Swiss watchmaking, is often credited with rescuing the Swiss mechanical watch industry from the ashes of the quartz crises of the 1970s. After his passing in June 2010, son G. ­Nicolas “Nick” Hayek assumed the role of chief executive, seemingly determined to carry on his father’s iron-fist legacy. “There is nothing that cannot be produced in-house by our employees in our factories, our workshops, and our laboratories,” Hayek says in a message on the group’s website. “In fact, the whole of the Swiss watchmaking industry, and part of the global watchmaking industry, are in one way or another dependent on the Swatch Group.” And therein lies the rub. Nick Hayek is presiding over the group during a contentious moment in its history: The company has received the green light from Swiss authorities to gradually curtail sales of watch parts and movements—through its ETA and Nivarox subsidiaries—to rival watchmakers, beginning this year. And no watch entity, from small-batch independents to the big haute horlogerie brands, will be unaffected.

Just a few of the Swatch Group’s watch brands: Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Omega, Tissot, Hamilton, and, of course, Swatch.

Manufacturing bigwigs

Dennis Ulrich

1. Matt Stuller, founder and chairman, Stuller
2. Dennis Ulrich, CEO, Richline
3. Allan Leighton, chairman, Pandora
4. Jonathan Goldman, CEO, Frederick Goldman
5. Eddie LeVian, CEO, Le Vian Corp.
When Richline was founded five years ago by combining Bel Oro and Aurafin, the former’s then-president, Dennis Ulrich, vowed to create one of the largest jewelry manufacturers in the business. Since then, he’s certainly kept his word. In fact, it’s become almost commonplace to hear that the Berkshire Hathaway–owned company has added another component to its growing middle-market empire. Richline now comprises 18 separate businesses; in February, it acquired the precious metal division of the Cookson Material Products Group—which means that Richline now has its finger in every segment of the manufacturing chain from factoring to designing. (Although that particular business, which will be rebranded Leach & Garner, will be operated as a standalone division.) It is also reportedly on the verge of buying Unoaerre to add to the several Italian companies it already owns. Yet Ulrich stresses that Richline wants to be a big company that thinks like a small one, noting that most of the businesses it acquires retain their original personnel. “With a lot of the smaller companies, we may roll them up financially and take care of the back end,” he says. “But everyone still runs their individual business. So they are still free to do what they do well.”

It was Dennis Ulrich who first approached Warren Buffett about getting into the jewelry ­manufacturing business. The ­billionaire decided that ­teaming up with Ulrich & Co. was an opportunity he “couldn’t pass up.”

Tastemakers and style setters

1. Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylist, blogger, designer, and reality TV personality
2. Ippolita Rostagno, founder and creative director, Ippolita
3. David Yurman, founder, David Yurman
4. Lorraine Schwartz, red carpet designer
5. Neil Lane, red carpet designer

Dressing Anne Hathaway in Tiffany jewels at last year’s Oscars doesn’t give Rachel Zoe influence in the industry. Dressing Tiffany & Co.’s 5th Avenue windows in glam, decade-themed, jewelry-centric designs to celebrate this year’s Oscars—well, that’s a clotheshorse of a different color. When the celebrity stylist took to Twitter for a Tiffany-sponsored chat the day of the unveiling, she didn’t get many questions about the gold-drenched ’70s window or the Liz Taylor–owned Fleur de Mer brooch anchoring the ’60s display. Her followers had more pressing queries: What jewelry trends had she seen at fashion week? Is yellow gold back? (For the record: “Really big necklaces, like over sweaters”; and “All gold is always relevant! yellow, rose, white & never be afraid to mix metals, there are no rules!”) Jewelry, from Deborah Pagani and Dana Rebecca to Tom Binns and Balmain, gets major—or maj, in Zoe-speak—play in the Accesszoeries section of her online Zoe Report; her own line (think Art Deco, in gold-plated brass and Swarovski crystals) hits Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman this fall; and QVC shoppers die—another Zoe-ism—for her chunky costume jewelry collection. “In the morning, I think accessories first, clothes second,” she writes in Style A to Zoe. And for a woman who regularly rocks caftans and capes, that’s pretty maj. 

“I always knew one day I would design jewelry,” said Rachel Zoe when her QVC collection debuted in 2010. “It’s what I am in love with the most.”

Social change agents

1. Russell Simmons, advisory board chairman, Diamond Empowerment Fund
2. Matt Runci, president and CEO, Jewelers of America
3. Michael Kowalski, chairman of the board and CEO, Tiffany & Co.
4. Cecilia Gardner, president, CEO, and general counsel, Jewelers Vigilance Committee
5. Gillian Milovanovic, chairwoman, Kimberley Process

It’s not going to be easy finding solutions to all the issues that plague the Kimberley Process, but ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, who the U.S. State Department appointed as the certification scheme’s 2012 chairwoman, may be the right person for the job. A former ambassador to Mali and Macedonia who also spent some time in the important diamond locales of South Africa, Botswana, and Belgium, Milovanovic is not only the first woman to head the flailing “conflict diamond” prevention scheme, but she is also its first full-time head—a sign of how seriously the State Department takes Kimberley Process reform. Seasoned diplomat that she is, Milovanovic tells JCK her “first priority is to try and restore a sense of collegiality and collaboration” in the Process—something very much welcome in an organization still scarred by two years of disagreement.

Gillian Milovanovic speaks seven languages, and has been awarded two Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards from the U.S. State Department.