By Brecken Branstrator
Nadja Swarovski is the first female board member of her family’s 123-year-old crystal company.
New York—This year, the Women’s Jewelry Association revamped its annual Awards for Excellence gala.

Instead of voting on winners in more than a dozen categories and revealing them live at the event, the WJA pre-selected three individuals and one corporation/organization to recognize with the first WJA Visionary Awards.   

Prior to the awards ceremony, held Monday night in New York, National Jeweler reached out to each of the Visionary award recipients to ask them about their career paths, their mentors, the jewelry industry today and more.

Up first in our WJA Q&A Visionary series: Nadja Swarovski, who is the first female board member of the crystal company her great-great-grandfather, Daniel Swarovski, founded in Austria in 1895. She leads the company’s global branding and communications, oversees the company’s sustainability agenda and chairs the Swarovski Foundation.

National Jeweler: You started working for the family company in 1995. Compare what it was like to work as a woman in the jewelry industry then vs. now.

Nadja Swarovski: I had the wonderful chance to work at Swarovski Hong Kong at the beginning of my career, which gave me an incredible bird’s-eye point-of-view of the company but, most importantly, it really exposed me to different cultures and gave me a very strong understanding of the position of women in different cultures. Sitting around the boardroom at various meetings in Hong Kong, looking at who was talking during the meeting, and then observing who was doing the work after the meeting, was truly fascinating, and it motivated me to relocate to New York, where I felt that gender was not so much of an issue.

We have certainly come a long way as an industry, and I am proud to say that we have a strong focus as a business on gender equality, diversity and women’s empowerment. However, we are constantly looking at how to improve, and our recent report with BSR on “Women in the Jewelry Supply Chain” highlights some of the barriers we need to overcome.

NJ: What is the biggest challenge facing women in C-suite positions, particularly in the jewelry industry, today?

NS: Female empowerment is the major challenge for our generation, and as a member of the Swarovski executive board, I am proud to represent the 90 percent of our customers and the 70 percent of the craftspeople making our jewelry who are female.

According to the World Economic Forum’s latest figures, based on current progress, gender equality will not be achieved for at least 217 years. This is totally unacceptable, and’s it up to all of us to create positive change now. That is why we are working hard in the business, and across our Swarovski Foundation and Waterschool projects to ensure that we focus on educating and empowering girls and women.

20180718 Nadja Swarovski2 copyStyle icon Iris Apfel (right) presented Nadja Swarovski (left) with her Visionary Award at the Women's Jewelry Association's Awards for Excellence.
NJ: Whom do you consider your mentor and why?

NS: My first mentor was my grandfather, Manfred Swarovski. When I was growing up I heard his stories about working with Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, and he was a major inspiration for me when I joined the company. He understood the value of collaborating with amazing creative talent, and I knew I wanted to do the same.

I have also been lucky to be inspired and mentored by dynamic women in my professional life. My first boss in the fashion industry in New York, (publicist) Eleanor Lambert, was a tremendous influence on me, and the dearly missed Zaha Hadid was also an incredible mentor. She was one of our most inspiring creative collaborators and a woman who truly excelled in a male-dominated field of architecture.

NJ: What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in a career in the jewelry industry right now? 

NS: We have a saying in German which translates as “the continuous drop hollows the stone.” In other words: hard work paves the way for success. I also appreciate the motto of Kurt Hahn, the founder of my high school in Germany, the Schule Schloss Salem: “To serve, to strive and not to yield.” This remains my motto today. Success with the consideration of others, and as a result of hard work, is truly rewarding.

NJ: What has been the most memorable jewelry event of your career?

NS: It is very difficult to pick! Looking back, I am very proud of our efforts with Runway Rocks, where we asked cutting-edge, emerging jewelry designers to create their ultimate catwalk jewelry piece. We had Runway Rocks shows globally, and it was so fascinating to see how differently the designers in Japan or Shanghai would interpret (the challenge) than the designers in Moscow, New York or Los Angeles. It really made us realize the tremendous versatility in design, the tremendous abundance of creative talent out there and the joy of creativity every single time we work with a designer.

Today, I am extremely proud that we have been able to create a fine jewelry collection with Penelope Cruz using Swarovski created (lab-grown) diamonds and Fairtrade gold. Penelope shares our values of protecting people and the planet at every single step of the supply chain—to have a luxurious product does not mean you have to rule out sustainability.

We’re truly proving that both go hand-in-hand, especially after investment in research and development. My great-great grandfather, Daniel Swarovski, was an incredible visionary, and he was an incredible innovator. Now in the fifth generation of this family business we have tasked ourselves with the mission of taking luxury to another level, combining that with his values of sustainability.

NJ: Tell us one thing people would be surprised to learn about you.

NS: I never knew I would end up working for Swarovski. I was actually educated as an art historian and started my career in the art world. I also studied at the Gemological Institute of America on the basic gem grading, diamond grading and colored stone identification, and then eventually found myself in the world of fashion in New York City. However, it was only when I was in New York working for European fashion brands that were family businesses that I had the “aha!” moment and knew I had to start working within my own family company.

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