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WJA Awards for Excellence Nominees Announced




Winners will be named in July.

(Press Release) POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – The Women’s Jewelry Association has announced its nominees for the association’s annual Awards for Excellence. The awards are given to female professionals in the jewelry and/or watch industries who have demonstrated significant achievements throughout their careers in categories that include: design; manufacturer, dealer, supplier; merchandising and product development; business services; large-scale, independent, and open-format retail; marketing and communications; and editorial media.

This year, the WJA Awards for Excellence categories were reviewed and redefined, as necessary, in a committee led by WJA Awards and Ballots Chair Jennifer Heebner. “An eligible nominee must have a reputation for integrity, honesty, high ethical standards, and credibility, according to the new WJA Awards for Excellence criteria,” said Heebner. “She also must devote time and effort to help women in the jewelry industry excel.”

The winner in each category will be announced at the WJA Awards for Excellence gala on Monday, July 24, 2017. The awards will be presented at Pier 60 on New York’s Chelsea Piers.

The 2017 WJA Awards for Excellence nominees are:

Category 1 – Design

Wendy Brandes, owner/president, Wendy Brandes Jewelry; Deirdre Featherstone, founder, Featherstone Fine Jewelry; Annie Koenig, president, Annie K. Jewelry; and Pippa Small, owner, Pippa Small.

Category 2 – Manufacturer, Dealer, Supplier

Maureen Murphy, group director of customer service, Lee’s Manufacturing; Betty Sue King, owner, King’s Ransom; and Gabriella Harvey, director of procurement and product services, Gemfields.


Category 3 – Merchandising & Product Development

Anna Samsonova, assistant fashion buyer, Ben Bridge Jeweler; Nan Lung Palmer, owner and managing director, FACEts Jewelry Consulting; and Laura Klemt, president, Artistry, Ltd.

Category 4 – Business Services

Pat Henneberry, vice president of learning and development, Hearts On Fire; Jo-Ann Sperano, paralegal/mediation specialist, Jewelers Vigilance Committee; Judith Shechter, director of global business development, Gemological Institute of America; and Rachel Jackson, vice president of client solutions, ERCBPO, and former director of jewelry, XO Group.

Category 5A – Large-Scale Retail

Carol Pennelli, president and chief commercial officer, David Yurman; Judy Fisher, senior vice president of merchandising, Signet Jewelers; and Lisa Bridge, vice president of education, and designer, Ben Bridge Jeweler.

Category 5B – Independent Retail

Alexis Padis, director of operations, Padis Jewelry; Jan Rose, owner, Rose Jewelers; Tara Silberberg, owner, The Clay Pot; and Melissa Quick, president, Steve Quick Jeweler.

Category 5C – Open-Format Retail

Nadine Kahane, founder & CEO, Stone & Strand; Beth Gerstein, co-CEO, Brilliant Earth; and Sophie Kahn & Bouchra Ezzahraoui, co-founders, AUrate New York.

Category 6 – Marketing and Communications

Olga González, CEO/founder, Pietra PR; Donna Jolly, director of marketing, American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories; Megan Whitmire, marketing manager, American Gem Trade Association; and Monica Elias, CEO, Elias World Media.


Category 7 -Media: Editorial

Eileen McClelland, managing editor, INSTORE magazine; Brecken Branstrator, senior editor, National Jeweler; Barbara Palumbo, founder/editor-in-chief, Adornmentality; and Severine Ferrari, editor in chief, Engagement 101.

Earlier this year, nominations for the WJA Awards for Excellence were submitted by WJA members and industry professionals through an electronic nominations process open to all. The awards committee, consisting of past winners of the awards, then selected the final nominees in each category. Ultimately, a secret online ballot will be held, and each individual on the committee will vote for her choice of winner in each category. The votes are tallied at WJA headquarters, and the names of the winners are kept a tightly guarded secret until the evening of the gala.

Along with announcing the WJA Awards for Excellence winners, the gala also celebrates three WJA Hall of Fame honorees. Announced earlier this year, the 2017 honorees are: Cecilia Gardner, president, CEO, and general counsel of Jewelers Vigilance Committee, who will receive the WJA Lifetime Achievement Award; Michael Pollak, CEO of Hyde Park Jewelers, who will receive the Ben Kaiser Award; and Day’s Jewelers, which will receive the WJA Corporate Award.

“WJA congratulates our 2017 WJA Awards for Excellence nominees, each of whom has demonstrated significant achievements throughout their careers,” said Brandee Dallow, president of the Women’s Jewelry Association. “We look forward to applauding our honorees and nominees at the WJA Awards for Excellence gala on July 24.”

The WJA Awards for Excellence gala has been a part of the industry’s social calendar since 1984. The evening raises money for scholarships and grants to deserving women entering or working in the jewelry industry. A silent auction and raffle will again be mounted in 2017 to raise funds for these important causes. WJA scholarships and grants are managed by the WJA Foundation, a 501(c)3 corporation.

“The Awards for Excellence Gala is our prime opportunity to raise funds for our scholarship and grants program,” said WJA Executive Director Bernadette Mack. “We are grateful to all of our honorees, nominees, attendees, and sponsors for their dedication in participating in this event, to invest in the new women entrepreneurs, veterans, and students who win our grants and scholarships. Last year, the WJA Awards for Excellence Gala raised $40,000 for these cash awards. Our goal is to top that amount in 2017.”


Tickets for the gala are now on sale here:

A few select sponsorship opportunities at the Gala, considered one of the industry’s top networking events of the year, are also still available. Interested companies or individuals can contact WJA Executive Director Bernadette Mack,, for more information, or click here:



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Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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