By Ashley Davis
From left to right: WJA Executive Director Bernadette Mack, WJA President Jenny Luker and Cartier North America President and CEO Mercedes Abramo

New York—The Women’s Jewelry Association’s annual Awards for Excellence had a decidedly different feel this year, as it marked 35 years of supporting women in the jewelry industry.

On Monday night at New York City’s Pier 60, the organization honored a spate of high-level executives, and an initiative, with its first Visionary Awards.

Announced earlier this year, the honorees—Nadja Swarovski, the first female member of the executive board of Swarovski; Mercedes Abramo, president and CEO of Cartier North America; Caryl Capeci, president of Hearts On Fire; and De Beers Group/UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality—accepted awards for their part in advancing women in the industry, a feat accomplished by, more than anything, the professional careers to which they’ve dedicated themselves.

Leaders of this caliber had plenty to say about the state of the jewelry industry, the causes their companies support and advice for other women in the field.

Here are some of the best takeaways of the evening.


“Your support of leadership, development and education of women in the industry is remarkable.” – Nadja Swarovski

“Our goal at De Beers is not to rig the game for women but to level the playing field. That’s why we applaud … WJA, because we know that that’s your goal too.” – De Beers’ David Prager

On Women in the Past, Present and Future

“Women’s empowerment is something that is strongly engrained in our DNA. From Jeanne Toussaint, who was Cartier’s first creative director in the 1930s, to the inspirational Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, females have long paved the way at Cartier. Since 2006, Cartier has supported those female entrepreneurs leading socially innovative and responsible startups that work to solve contemporary global challenges through this Women’s Initiative Award. In that time the International Business Plan Competition has funded nearly 200 women-led businesses around the world that has created 6,000 jobs.” – Mercedes Abramo

On Creating Real, Positive Impact

“Swarovski thinks in generations and not in quarters. In the fifth generation of my family business, we have tasked ourselves with taking luxury to another level by combining it with sustainability. As we’ve evolved as a crystal manufacturer and cutter since 1895 to a gemstone cutter in the ‘60s, we’re proud to be a player in a leading position in fashion jewelry and jewelry manufacturing, and now we’re thrilled to embark on fine jewelry under the brand Atelier Swarovski.” – Nadja Swarovski
“Luxury and sustainability can truly go hand in hand.” – Nadja Swarovski
“We’re demonstrating that by using the most innovative and responsible materials, luxury and sustainability can truly go hand in hand. We call it ‘conscious luxury.’ Our latest collections are created in collaboration with people who share our values, such as Paige Novick, who is here tonight, Stephen Webster and Penelope Cruz, and they’re made with lab-created diamonds and lab-created and sustainably-mined gemstones, together with fair trade and fairmined gold. I’m proud to say we’re teaming up with our longtime partner and collaborator GIA from their program ‘from mine to market,’ supporting traceability of stones and supporting sustainable mining, truly wanting to protect and safeguard local communities and artisans.” – Nadja Swarovski

“This year Cartier will be granting over $1 million in funding, making (its) Women’s Initiative (Awards) the largest and most generous competition for women entrepreneurs in the world.” – Mercedes Abramo

“Hearts on Fire is really involved with an organization called Girls, Inc. Girls, Inc. inspires young girls to be strong, to be smart and to be bold. We share their belief that if you fuel her fire she will change the world. And this will happen one girl at a time.” – Caryl Capeci 

On Hard Work

“I believe that you do not need to be the smartest person in the room, and rarely will you ever be. If you invest the time and do the most homework in the end you absolutely cannot fail.” – Caryl Capeci

On What Women Bring to the Table

“I’m … hopeful that the current conversation here at WJA and throughout all business communities will result in recognizing the feminine traits that women bring to the workplace: empathy, resilience, courage, teambuilding, appreciation for others.” – Mercedes Abramo
“We need to work together to define the new norms of workplace culture.” – Mercedes Abramo
“We often talk about what women don’t do—they don’t self-promote enough, they don’t take risks. But let’s talk about what they do do, better than average in some cases, like making hard decisions and managing ambiguity. But also recognize that many men have these qualities and these too are the necessary qualities for today’s modern leadership and the future. We need to work together to define the new norms of workplace culture.” – Mercedes Abramo

On Female Empowerment’s Global Implications

“One of the things working with U.N. Women has taught us, and certainly being part of the ‘HeForShe’ movement has helped us understand, is that the role of women and the advancement of women is not a women’s issue, it is a business issue. It is an issue about innovation and creativity and where we can find opportunity. It’s an issue about development and economic prosperity.” – De Beers’ David Prager

On Work to Be Done in the Future

“There is a long road ahead of us to continue championing women within the industry. The World Economic Forum stated earlier this year … that we will not see gender equality for another 217 years. This is unacceptable. I’m honored to be recognized tonight alongside these amazing women who are helping to create a real change. I believe that working together we have the power to lead the fight for equality across our industry. Together we have the power to turn our industry into a champion for positive change.” – Nadja Swarovski

“Our industry will not grow and it certainly will not be relevant unless we do a couple of things. First we need to lean into technology to the greatest extent possible. We all need to come together and reinforce why jewelry is important in people’s lives, why the unique and symbolic nature of jewelry is different. Last but not least, we need to support and nurture our talent. We need to provide new experiences so we keep great talent in our industry and attract the brightest and the best of the younger generation.” – Caryl Capeci

Advice for Women in the Industry

“Invest the time, follow your passion and know your purpose. Find the right balance for you, one that brings you joy every single day but keeps the people in your life at the very top of your priority list.” – Caryl Capeci

“What counts is not the mere fact that we have lived. What counts is creating impact and impacting the lives of those around us.” – UN Women’s Executive Director and head of HeForShe initiative, Elizabeth Nyamayaro

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