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A Shout Out to Our Employees and Customers – Past and Present

Esther Fortunoff and FamilyOne of the greatest pleasures in my life has been becoming part of the fabric of the community. My grandparents began their married life in the 1920’s in Brooklyn, then moved to Nassau County. My parents established their own home and built the flagship Westbury store in the early 1960’s, in a then groundbreaking vote for the future of Long Island. I still live here, and consider myself a proud Long Islander.

For almost a century, my family has worked hard. We provided employment to thousands of employees along the way; helped young families establish and grow. We have always supported local charities that help to protect the world around us, and the people who live here. I’m honored to carry on this tradition.

As Labor Day and the end of summer approach, I remember the employees who worked at Fortunoff stores. When our staff members or I meet them, or converse with them online, they remember their working experiences fondly, and speak of the professional way my family and our management ran our businesses.

Esther Fortunoff at Jewelry BoutiqueWhen I reopened my boutique three years ago, I felt a sense of excitement at continuing the family legacy. I have a great passion for jewelry, of course, but more importantly, I sensed that our customers missed the connection we had shared.

What I did not realize was just how powerful the response from our customers and well-wishers of all sorts would be.

We re-opened our doors in September 2014 and our customers and neighbors flooded in, each with a story or two about how Fortunoff was part of their own family’s history. There were tears of joy, re-connections between customers and our own staff (from the old Westbury team), and, over and over, the thread common to us all: personal relationships, built on trust and friendship.

Fortunoff Fine Jewelry - staffSo many previous employees have come in also – from the stores throughout the tri-state area. Sometimes they say their Fortunoff jobs were their first – or laid the groundwork for their future careers. They remember and comment on our great employee benefits, the Fortunoff policy to promote from within, the very diverse group of employees who grew with the company, the tuition reimbursement, and the very unusual profit sharing and pension plans.

The foresight of my parents and grandparents helped thousands of families to work and prosper and retire – and enjoy the American dream. I try hard to live up to their example in the business I run today. Thanks to my entire team, and to all of our customers, and enjoy a great weekend off.

Fortunoff Jewelry Store Staff

Celebrating Women’s Suffrage on Long Island

I attended an inspiring event for women recently, hosted by the Women’s Collaborative of the Long Island Association (LIA). The evening gathering at the Crest Hollow Country Club celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State.

Author Gloria Feldt, striking the Wonder Woman pose, with the LIA Women's Collaborative.

Author Gloria Feldt, striking the Wonder Woman pose, with the LIA Women’s Collaborative.

Our state gave women the right to vote in 1917 – three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment made women’s right to vote the law of the land. Barbara Williams, the executive director of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission told us they will spend the next three years celebrating what women have accomplished and inspiring younger women to keep up the fight for complete equality.

Along those lines, our keynote speaker at the Women’s Collaborative event was feminist author Gloria Feldt, who pointed out that in 2010, the gender balance in the workforce equalized, and women now earn 57% of college degrees. Yet there is still a 20% pay gap between men and women, and women make up less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. The speaker also retold some stories of the original suffragists, pointing out their differing political tactics and leadership styles.

It was a beautiful summer evening for the almost 300 attendees.

It was a beautiful summer evening for the almost 300 attendees.

Feldt argues in her book, “No Excuses” that the most confounding problem facing women today isn’t that doors of opportunity aren’t open, but that not enough women are walking through them. She encourages them to embrace the power they have to lead, through a series of leadership power tools.

I serve on the executive committee of the LIA and the Women’s Collaborative is a favorite of mine — because it presents opportunities for the advancement of professional women. As such, I was happy to donate “suffragette” style necklaces as raffle prizes to the event.

Here I am congratulating the winners of the raffle at the Women's Collaborative event: Karen Holm of Wells Fargo and Lauren Candela of T. Weiss Realty Corp.

Here I am congratulating the winners of the raffle at the Women’s Collaborative event: Karen Holm of Wells Fargo and Lauren Candela of T. Weiss Realty Corp.

Congratulations to Karen Holm of Wells Fargo and Lauren Candela of T. Weiss Realty Corp. who won! Thanks also to Ivy Algazy, CEO of the Ivy Network and executive director of the Women’s Collaborative, for the great photos, and for all her hard work on behalf of the Collaborative. Joy Fernandez, office managing partner for Ernst & Young LLP (EY) Long Island; and Cheryl Korman, partner at Rivkin Radler, put together great events!

Happy summer, everyone!

Celebrating the Diamond Empowerment Fund

While attending our industry’s annual Jewelry Week trade shows in Las Vegas, I was happy to attend a gala dinner to raise funds for the Diamond Empowerment Fund (D.E.F.), a global non-profit based in New York City, which empowers youth from diamond communities around the world through access to higher education.

Russell Simmons with students from the African Leadership Academy, one of the educational institutions supported by donations from the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

Russell Simmons with students from the African Leadership Academy, one of the educational institutions supported by donations from the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

The event marked the 10th anniversary of D.E.F., which was co-founded by hip-hop entrepreneur and philanthropist Russell Simmons, after he received inspiration and encouragement from the late Nelson Mandela. The South African president encouraged Simmons, running a diamond jewelry brand at the time, to spread the word about the good that diamonds do for Africa – and to do more to support Africa’s youth.

D.E.F. supports various beneficiary organizations in Africa and India, including the African Leadership Academy in South Africa; the Botswana Top Achievers Program; The Diamond Development Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Flaviana Matata Foundation in Tanzania; and the Veerayatan Colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, and Business Administration in India.

The students honored at this year's Diamond Empowerment Fund Gala.

The students honored at this year’s Diamond Empowerment Fund Gala.

At the gala, we had a chance to hear from some of the students who’ve received scholarships and other assistance to complete their educations. “Without the help of the Botswana Top Achievers program and the Diamond Empowerment Fund, I would not have been able to be pursuing my geodetic science, which involves using satellite positions to find gravity over the earth,” said student scholar Nlingi Habana.

I was honored to be among 450 diamond and jewelry industry leaders in attendance, who hailed from China, India, Russia, Botswana, South Africa, Coté D’Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Altogether, the event raised almost $1.1 million. “This event symbolizes the collective good the diamond and jewelry industry continues to do in communities around the world where they do business. Not enough consumers are aware of this positive fact,” said Anna Martin, D.E.F. board president and vice president of Global Development and Beneficiation at the Gemological Institute of America.

Esther Fortunoff, chatting with Susan Jacques, president and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America, at the Diamond Empowerment Fund gala.

Esther Fortunoff, chatting with Susan Jacques, president and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America, at the Diamond Empowerment Fund gala.

At the dinner, award winning actor and global philanthropist David Oyelowo was awarded the Diamonds Do Good International Vanguard Award for his dedication to empowering communities in Africa. “Enabling girls to be educated will change the dynamics of persistent poverty in countries like Nigeria where out of a staggering 10.5 million out-of-school children, the majority are girls,’ said Oyelowo. The British actor, who is of Nigerian descent, recently started the David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship for Girls, which aims to provide leadership opportunities for Nigerian girls. The actor also works with the GEANCO Foundation, which runs surgical missions and provides maternal and infant healthcare in Nigeria.

Graca Machel, former first Lady of Mozambique and South Africa and the widow of Nelson Mandela, was awarded the Diamonds Do Good Global Humanitarian Award for her international leadership to transform the lives of women and girls throughout the world. Machel has served as the Minister of Education and Culture in her home country of Mozambique, and is an expert on protecting children in armed conflict for the United Nations Secretary General. She is the founder of the Graca Machel Trust, which aims to improve visibility for African women and children.

To learn more about the Diamond Empowerment Fund, click here:

A Mother’s Day Message to Support Melanoma Awareness

As we celebrate Mother’s Day and the special women in our lives, I wanted to share a cause we recently supported, involving a Long Island family. Jack and Maggie Biggane lost their daughter, Mollie, at the age of 20, after she discovered a mole on her thigh that turned out to be melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.

Their loss drove the family to start Mollie’s Fund, a non-profit with a mission “to increase awareness for melanoma prevention, provide information and services on skin cancer detection, and support melanoma patients through education of the latest treatments.”

Today, the fund raises awareness via a variety of means, and on the Thursday before Mother’s Day, Fortunoff Jewelry donated a portion of its sales to Mollie’s Fund, during a New Designer promotion featuring designers Lauren Chisholm and Meaghan Hennelly of Goldhenn. Thanks to Lauren for introducing us to this cause.

Mollie Biggane StoryI wanted to highlight Mollie’s Fund also because May is Melanoma Awareness Month. We all do so much today to protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and I learned that keeping kids out of the hours of sun between 11-3 is particularly important. Protecting the skin during the first 18 years of life can reduce the risk of some types of skin cancer by 78%, according to Mollie’s Fund. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles kids’ risk of developing melanoma later.

Mollie’s Fund is also leading the fight against the use of tanning beds, popular among young adults. Yet, just one indoor tanning session increases the risk of melanoma by 20%, and using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your chance of getting melanoma by 75%. I was surprised to learn that the World Health Organization includes tanning devices in its Group 1 list of agents that are cancer-causing to humans. Group 1 also includes plutonium and cigarettes.

As we head into the high summer sun months, I encourage you to protect yourself and the young ones around you. Mollie’s Fund makes the following suggestions:

  • Use a SPF UVA/UVB of 30 or more on a daily basis and re-apply frequently (especially after exercise or swimming)
  • Wear sunglasses and utilize SPF clothing
  • Limit time in the sun during 11-3, whenever possible
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Report any change in a mole or skin lesion to your doctor
  • Be a role model for your children in these practices

For more information and to support the fund’s work, click here:

Remembering an Accomplished Woman in the Diamond World

Did you know it was a woman who wrote “A Diamond Is Forever,” the phrase honored in 1999 by Advertising Age as the ad slogan of the century? Yes, Frances Gerety, a pioneering, mid-20th century copywriter, penned the famous saying, after she was assigned to the De Beers diamond account at her ad agency, N.W. Ayer. I thought in honor of Women’s History Month, I’d share her story.

Frances Gerety

Frances Gerety

Gerety surely had a tough road to walk as a woman in the very male advertising world of the time. If you watched the television series “Mad Men” – you can get some idea of the way women were treated. Yet she looks like an extremely self-assured person in the photo I share here – her elegant suit, strand of pearls, and carefully coiffed hair bespeak a dignity that I’m sure helped her navigate that world.

Gerety got her big chance when De Beers asked her agency, at the end of the Great Depression and World War II, to build demand for diamonds again. During the hard times of the 1930s and early 1940s, diamonds were very low on the list of things that most people had time (or money) to think about. But after the war, a whole generation of soldiers was returning home and planning to marry – and De Beers knew the moment was right to remind them about the tradition of the diamond engagement ring.

In the ad agencies of that era, women copywriters were hired exclusively to write about products for women, and that’s how Gerety landed the De Beers assignment.

Frances Gerety - Dali adThe story goes that after spending an arduous day on the De Beers account, the conscientious writer was about to tumble into bed when she realized that she hadn’t devised a tag line. Gerety prayed to her Muses: “please send me a line.” And out came “a diamond is forever,” which she scribbled down on a slip of paper. And the rest is history.

By the early 1950s, sales of diamonds had increased 55% and news accounts of the time noted that a woman didn’t feel she was engaged until she received a diamond engagement ring.

Gerety would remain the De Beers ad copywriter for 25 years. During the early years of the ads, she went for a fine art approach to describing love and commitment. With significant resources from De Beers, she ended up using artwork from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali (a Dali ad is shown here)!

In the mid-1960s as the women’s movement was getting underway, Gerety was also credited with the first ad campaign that encouraged women to buy diamonds for themselves – regardless of their marital status. Gerety herself had never married, sticking to her brilliant career.

Though the great copywriter retired in the 1970s, she was honored by De Beers in late 1980s for her work on the account. Gerety died in 1999, just two weeks after Advertising Age named her slogan the century’s best. I’m glad she lived to receive that great honor. Here’s to women – may their accomplishments go on … forever.

The Concert for Bangladesh Redux in Westbury

Westbury has not one but two great music venues: NYCB Theatre (formerly Westbury Music Fair), and The Space, a converted movie house on Post Avenue. Last week, to celebrate the birthday of late Beatle George Harrison a tribute concert was planned. Harrison’s renowned Concert for Bangladesh raised millions of dollars for refugees back in 1971 and was the first charity rock concert in history.

Godfrey, Joshua and EstherOne perk of being married to someone who wrote a bestselling biography of Harrison is going behind stage at events like this. My husband Joshua has been doing a tribute concert to George with Long Island based singer-guitarist Godfrey Townsend for more than a decade. The Bangladesh redux was fantastic. People were dancing in the aisles. And we got this great photo with Godfrey. Look for Godfrey at other Long Island venues. He’s the best.

Godfrey with Kenny Forgione, event organizer and guitarist for the group Wondrous Stories

Godfrey with Kenny Forgione, event organizer and guitarist for the group Wondrous Stories

Designing Jewelry Around Colored Gems I Love

When I visit the gemstone trade shows our industry holds each February in Tuscon, I feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store. The shows are vast, and in every direction are precious gemstones from all over the world.

GemstonesOver the years I collected a little “treasure trove” of gems, including Umbalite garnet from the Umba River region of Tanzania, green tsavorite from East Africa, and another wonderful garnet from Madagascar. I also purchased pretty pink, blue and mocha zircons, bright green peridot, and various amethysts, citrines, aquamarines, and a yellow sapphire.

My next step was to find the right designer to achieve the vision I had in my head for jewelry designed around the gems. At the Design Center, I was lucky to find Michael Jensen Designs. Owners Catherine and Michael Jensen have combined their individual talents – she as a graduate gemologist with a passion for art, history and archeology; he as a sculptor and metalsmith – to create a jewelry line where each piece is truly a wearable work of art. I knew right away I’d found the right artists to set the gems I had amassed. I was looking for unique designs that had “edge” and could be worn daily.

Catherine and Michael JensenFrom my archeological background, I’ve always loved the rich, high-karat gold aesthetic that you see in ancient jewelry. Those long-ago jewelers used a very pure form of gold, and I loved that Catherine and Michael incorporated 22k gold in their designs to achieve that ancient-inspired look, while using sterling silver and “ancient” finishes. The Jensens also incorporate little dots of gold on some of their jewels, an ancient technique known as granulation, and bezel set many of the gems, which enhanced their antique look.

The Jensens and I sat together for a very long time at that first meeting. First I looked at each of their collections, to understand the aesthetic of each. Then we began to talk about each of my gemstones: their beauty, luster, unique gemological properties (brilliance, diffraction, hue, durability, etc.). Based on each gem, we discussed how they could custom-design jewelry around them, using elements that we agreed fit my vision for these special jewels.

jensen-6The Jensens returned to their studio, and soon sent through sketches and photos of their process, which fascinated me. After some back and forth, Michael got to work on the fabrication, which he does all by hand, just as ancient jewelers did.

I couldn’t wait to see the final pieces, and I wasn’t disappointed. They are truly beautiful and honor the gems I carefully selected. A few are shown here, and you can see the whole collection by visiting our Michael Jensen collection here. This is a collection that will make you feel like an exotic ancient goddess or queen, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Raw materials

Raw Materials to be crafted by Michael Jensen

Square Amethyst Ring, 22K Yellow Gold and Sterling Silver

Square Amethyst Ring, 22K Yellow Gold and Sterling Silver – $1,695

Oval Bezel Set Peridot Pendant, 22K Yellow Gold

Oval Bezel Set Peridot Pendant, 22K Yellow Gold – $2,250

Bezel Set Pink Zircon Drop Earrings, 22K Yellow Gold

Bezel Set Pink Zircon Drop Earrings, 22K Yellow Gold – $1,050

Refresh, Renew, Repair, or Recycle!

diamond-ringsAt Fortunoff Jewelry, we have a tradition of helping to refresh, renew, and repair jewelry in January. But recently, I’ve noticed that many of our customers ask us to completely “recycle” their older jewelry, which may no longer be in fashion. We send the jewelry settings to the refiner, who pays for the precious metals. With the cash our customers receive, plus any gems our in-house jeweler has carefully removed, we work together to create a brand new custom-designed piece in the latest style.

And nowhere is this happening more than with older diamond jewelry. If you’re lucky, you’ve received or purchased some beautiful pieces through the years, and, those diamonds are every bit as precious as they were the day you acquired them. I think you’d be surprised if you looked through your own jewelry collection to realize how many pieces with diamonds you may own.

Today, we jewelers often say “the next diamond mine is located in the jewelry boxes of Americans” – because of this treasure trove of inherited gems. If that describes you, then here are two stories and photos of custom designs we recently completed for our clients to whet your appetite.

Ring in the New
jeannieJeannie came to us with a little baggie of diamond rings, containing various sized diamonds, none of which she wanted to wear. Our onsite jeweler gently removed the diamonds and cleaned them until they sparkled again. Then, we recycled the precious metals in her settings, using the proceeds of the sale to defray the cost of a new ring. Reaching out to a designer we love, we asked for a custom design making the four different-sized diamonds look graceful in the setting. Voila! Here’s the result. Now Jeannie wears her diamonds every single day, and is thrilled when she looks down at her hand.

Swingin’ Diamonds
barbara-1bBarbara came in to see us, holding a ring that glittered with diamonds, in a style that was quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s. It featured invisibly set princess-cut diamonds in rows on the top, with round pave-set diamonds on the edges. Over time, as her ring size changed, she tried to have it made larger, never to her satisfaction. In the end, a couple of the diamonds were lost, and a few others broke. Eventually, she stopped wearing it.

barbara-2cBut now, she wondered if we could do something with the diamonds to enable her to wear them again. She wasn’t committed to another ring, so we suggested a station necklace, a style that Tiffany & Co. made famous with its version, which it still calls “Diamonds by the Yard.” Working with one of our favorite designers in New York, we made a stunning 48-inch long necklace in 14k white gold, alternating the princess-cut and round diamonds along the chain in a scattered style. The diamonds were secured in very protective and durable bezel settings, so she wouldn’t lose any more of her precious gems! You can see what a fabulous look it is. From abandoned in a jewelry box, to decorating a long, flapper-style chain, these diamonds (and Barbara) are swinging again!

If you have jewelry you’re not wearing, Fortunoff Jewelry – Westbury boutique during January, and we’ll work with you on a brand new custom jewelry design. It may have been a marketing slogan, but it really is true: A diamond is forever.

Helping Engaged Couples Realize Their Diamond Dreams

One of the best parts of being a jeweler is working with engaged couples to design the diamond jewelry of their dreams. Fortunoff Fine Jewelry has a robust capacity to help you choose and set any shape or size diamond. We use a rich network of designers – most local to the New York area – to help you create exactly the ring you want.

If you’re thinking of using inherited diamond/diamonds for your ring, we welcome you. If you’re looking to buy a diamond, Fortunoff has access to an amazing inventory of gems, from among the finest diamantaires in the world, most located right in our New York Diamond District. We are really lucky in where we live.

To whet your appetite for the exciting process of choosing diamonds and settings, here are a few stories of couples we’ve helped recently.

Like Father, Like Son
Larry came to see us for the best of all reasons: He was planning to propose to his girlfriend, Leah, and needed a diamond engagement ring. We were particularly delighted because he is the second generation of his family to trust us with this most important diamond purchase. His Dad, a longtime customer of ours, told him: “There is simply nowhere else for you to go, but Fortunoff!”

Larry, who I’ve known since he was a child, knew that Leah had admired oval diamonds, so we reached out to our network of diamantaires in New York City and selected the prettiest oval diamonds we could find. (Oval-, pear-, and marquise-shaped diamonds, by the way, seem to be having a moment with brides!) Larry made his choice, and we asked one of our wonderful bridal jewelry designers to honor the gem with a setting that made it sing. Just a few weeks later, Leah shared her joy on our Facebook page: “Thank you for my amazing engagement ring!! It is so beautiful and the centerpiece of a dream come true!” We loved these photos that Leah posted!

A Radiant Couple
Jenna and John are a young couple we know locally, who were certain early on that they were a “forever” couple. So I wasn’t surprised, though I was delighted, when John came to us to design Jenna’s engagement ring. After some discussion, we found an almost 2-carat rectangular radiant-cut diamond, and John immediately knew what design he wanted.

Like our other custom designs, we selected a bridal ring designer we knew would do a superb job with that particular stone, and would honor John’s other design ideas. This is a polished and well-dressed couple, so the ring needed to be smart and sophisticated. According to the happy couple, we hit the mark!

A Beach Wedding

kerry-1What happens when two redheads find each other and decide they want to spend their lives together? Lots of laughs, and journey to stand under the chuppah and be joined in marriage. Kerry and Mati chose Long Island Sound at sunset for their nuptials, and the setting is as gorgeous as the photo suggests.

kerry-2With a honeymoon in Hawaii as their plan, we thought it was delightful to craft Kerry’s rings using a twisting vine pattern, not unlike the flower leis that we knew would be placed around their necks when they arrived in Hawaii. Aloha and congratulations to you both.

6 Jewelry Pieces You’ll Love This Fall

It was wonderful to talk through the fall trends this year with Beth Ann Clyde of LI Pulse magazine – she did an article that appears below:

From statement to understated, the jewelry trend forecast is all over the map. Let Esther Fortunoff of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry help you sift through the bangles, cuffs, silver and gold.

Multiband and Stacking Rings
“The ring stacking trend is not new, but it is certainly here to stay.” This season, multiband rings are taking the guesswork out of getting ready to go out and providing another way to achieve levels of interest with a single piece.

Fortunoff’s silver ring set will add a little extra sparkle on a big night. The texture and understated gems on the stacking set of gold and gemstone rings make them perfect for a day at work that you know will end in happy hour.

Stackable rings at Fortunoff Fine Jewelry take the guesswork out of accessorizing

Gemstones add something different to your look

The open waves on Fortunoff’s Wavy Wire Cuff Bracelet make the piece extra special

Statement Cuffs and Bracelets
Bangles, bracelets and cuffs were all over the runways during fashion week. Expect to see multi-strand bracelets and wide hinged cuffs in various metals, with and without gems. “For fall, you really can’t go wrong because they stand up to the bold patterns of the clothes.” The open waves on Fortunoff’s Wavy Wire Cuff Bracelet add a fun element of surprise that won’t get lost against the dark floral-printed skirts people will be wearing this fall.

The Alice Earrings in sterling silver with 18K rose gold plating are lovely and graceful

Geometric Shapes
Minimalists will love this one: geometric jewelry with defined shapes and angles are en vogue. Often petite and understated, these pieces are cool without trying too hard and are office and date-night appropriate. “Designers are also playfully balancing negative and positive space.” Rock the trend yourself by donning this rose gold pendant.

This Oval Loops Gold Necklace is a great way to amp up your jeans-and-t uniform this fall

Return to Yellow Gold
Time to break out of that silver-and-white-metal rut. “Yellow gold is having a moment right now. Some of the petite pave set diamonds will stand out against the yellow gold, and bold new designs are coming from the influence of the 70s and 80s.” We love the oval shapes and double chain on this eye-catching gold necklace, available at Fortunoff Fine Jewelry. Let it makes its statement and keep the good 70s vibes going by pairing with a t-shirt and wide-legged jeans.

Elegant back-and-front 18-karat yellow gold earrings with pave diamonds are sure to sparkle this fall

Elevated Earrings
Earrings will shine more than ever this year. From tiny sparkly studs to threaders in front-and-back styles, there’s no wrong way to go. “Large and small earrings may be worn together and the proliferation of multiple piercings allows for over-the-top creativity.” One of Fortunoff’s favorite is an elegant back-and-front 18-karat yellow gold earrings with pave diamonds.