By Ashley Davis
Wendy Brandes received the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Award for Excellence in the design category.
New York--The Women’s Jewelry Association honored a number of jewelry industry leaders at its annual Awards for Excellence gala, held Monday night at Chelsea Piers in New York.

The first award of the night, for Design, went to Wendy Brandes, who thanked those who helped her launch her second career--the designer said she worked as a journalist at publications including The Wall Street Journal and People magazine before getting into jewelry.

Betty Sue King, owner of King’s Ransom, was honored with the award for excellence for a Manufacturer, Dealer, Supplier. King told the audience that her parents came to the United States from China and she had lived the American dream. “The WJA has no glass ceiling,” she said.

Laura Klemt, president of Artistry Ltd., won the award in the Merchandising and Product Development category, and Donna Jolly, director of marketing for the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories, won for Marketing and Communications.

The award for Editorial went to Severine Ferrari of Engagement 101, while Pat Henneberry, vice president of learning and development for Hearts On Fire and a National Jeweler columnist, won the Business Services award.

The retail award winners were: Alexis Padis, director of operations, Padis Jewelry, in the Independent category; Beth Gerstein, co-CEO of Brilliant Earth in the new Open Format category; and Judy Fisher, senior vice president of merchandising at Signet Jewelers Ltd. in the Large-Scale retail group.

And the first Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award--named in honor of a woman who was a beloved mentor to many--went to longtime industry writer and editor Peggy Jo Donahue, who got her start at JCK magazine and currently contributes to a number of publications, including this one.

Donahue said she “threw a hissy fit” at the initial suggestion that this new award be earmarked for women only.

“It has been men who have mentored us when were just starting out,” she said from the podium. “And it has been men ... who need to continue to give us a hand up and to help us to reach that 50 percent number in the board room and in the executive suites of our companies.”

While winners in the aforementioned categories were announced live Monday night, a few industry leaders announced ahead of time as honorees were also there to accept awards of the lifetime-achievement nature.

Cecilia Gardner, the former longtime head of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, received the WJA Lifetime Achievement Award. She recalled her shock at being “the only woman in the room” for much of her career, after having been raised in a family that never limited her potential due to gender.

Gardner urged women to strive for professional success and for men to make room at the table by allowing women to come into roles typically occupied by their male counterparts.

Michael Pollak, CEO of Hyde Park Jewelers, accepted the Ben Kaiser Award, which goes to a man who has been supportive of women in the industry. He encouraged the industry to embrace how people buy jewelry today, by both clicks and bricks.

The WJA Corporate award went to Jeff Corey and Kathy Corey of Day’s Jewelers.

“On the first day we met, we pledged to get married, have children and open a jewelry business together,” Kathy Corey told the audience, adding jokingly that her husband is a great salesman.

She said that she and her husband shared the award with Day’s 150 employees and noted the importance of relationships.

“Do you want to know how to get young people into your store?” Jeff Corey asked the audience.

“Hire them,” he said, adding that millennials are the most “value-driven” generation ever.

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.