Undersung Heroes

For most people, New Year’s Day marks the end of the holiday season and the start of a new year. For the jewelry industry, it’s more like a pause in the festivities, for the second weekend in January heralds the real kickoff of our new year.

The weekend surrounding the annual banquet of the Twenty-Four Karat Clubof the City of New Yorkdraws industry leaders fromall sectors to almost three solid days of meetings and celebrations. It’s a time to catch up with friends and see how business fared for the holiday and the previous year as a whole, and take the pulse of the industry for the year ahead.

The atmosphere at this year’s banquet was lighter and happier than last year. That’s not surprising, given that jewelry as a category posted a 5.6 percent gain in holiday sales from 2008’s abysmal performance. But there was a new feeling of optimism in the air—cautious optimism, to be sure—and a refreshing change from the palpable fear and anxiety clouding industry events throughout 2009.

Two key events of this festive weekend are the annual luncheons given by Jewelers Vigilance Committee, on Friday, and Jewelers’ Security Alliance, on Saturday. These two organizations play vital roles in the survival of our industry. While both have been recognized multiple times, changing realities drive a need to reemphasize their importance.

When I began my career in the industry in the mid-1980s, JVC’s major focus was consumer protection issues—deceptive pricing, misleading advertising, under-karated gold, etc.These issues were, and stillare, important, especially in light of the explosive growth of “cash for gold”businesses. But such incidents tend to be local, so unless a retailer or manufacturer had been directly affected by a competitor’s bad behavior, the issue wasn’t top-of-mind.

But when the conflict diamond issue came to light, JVC executive director and general counsel Cecilia Gardner instantly recognized the need to expand JVC’s role. The organization became not only a watchdog for local issues but also a powerful voice and advocate for global human rights in the jewelry industry—whether in connection with the Kimberley Process,Burmese rubies, potentially hazardous blue topaz,etc. After 9/11, its role expanded again to encompass industry compliance with the USA Patriot Act, a set of complex rules designed to keep money out of terrorist hands.

Jewelers’ Security Alliance has been working, since 1883, to protect those in our industry from crime and its personal danger. Our livelihood is built on small, valuable things that can easily disappear into a pocket and later be converted to cash. Inevitably there will be some sticky fingers—and worse—to contend with. But through its diligent work with theFBI and local law enforcement agencies, JSA has played a vital role in significantly decreasing the number of jewelry crimes. While there are years, such as 2008, when crime spikes, the long-term trend has been a reduction in jewelry crime, and this is directly creditable to the work of JSA and its president, John Kennedy. Every year at JSA’s annual luncheon, Kennedy reads the names of those in the jewelry industry killed as a result of a jewelry-related crime. This year there were three names to honor, all retail jewelers. As the audience bowed their heads for a moment of silence, one could not help think that it was three too many—but also that a decade ago it was not uncommon for 10 to 15 names to be read.

Jewelry crime today also takes on a larger and more ominous implication. It’s not only greedy individuals who profit from the ill-gotten gains of a jewelry crime, as in years past. Today, stolen gems may be used to fund the operations of a drug lord or terrorist cell, making the work of both JSA and JVC more vital than ever.

Both organizations are leanly funded, relying on dues and the support of industry members who recognize their invaluable work. While neither organization would qualify as an unsung hero, at times—especially lean economic times—they could be considered “under-sung” heroes and greatly underfunded heroes in relation to the work they do.

If you aren’t a member of both, please join today. The livelihood you help preserve, and the life you may help save, might be your own.

heddaschupak@gmail.com