Independents

In Memoriam: Remembering Those We Lost in 2021

IndependentsDec 20, 2021

In Memoriam: Remembering Those We Lost in 2021

National Jeweler honors the members of the industry who died this year.

The industry said goodbye to numerous retailers, designers, executives, wholesalers, salespeople, and jewelry historians this year.
New York—It hasn’t been an easy year, as the industry has said goodbye to many beloved members.

National Jeweler honors the retailers, designers, executives, jewelry historians and others we lost this year by remembering them below.

Our 2021 remembrance begins with a few people who passed near the end of 2020 and weren’t included in National Jeweler’s “In Memoriam” story last year.

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Master jeweler Fernando Abenoza died Dec. 22 of COVID-19 at the age of 79.

Abenoza learned the craft of jewelry-making and design from his father, and he became known for his detailed, high-end pieces and his precise methods for casting and laser welding, winning many jewelry design awards over the years.

He also loved animals, music—especially piano and rock’n’roll—and dancing the tango, and was known for being a hopeless romantic.

“You can be sure that he is flirting, cracking jokes and dancing tango wherever he is,” his online obituary said, “and that his exquisite jewelry will live on forever.”

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Jeweler Catherine “Cathy” Butchart died unexpectedly Dec. 29 at her home in Ohio. She was 72.

Butchart and her husband, Jim, successfully ran their retail jewelry store, Buchards Jewelers in Berea, Ohio, for more than three decades together.

Butchart was well known in her community. She served as a member of the Berea Chamber of Commerce, headed the chamber’s Retail Support Committee, and often supported local initiatives by donating to events, functions, and fundraisers.

She lived live fully, her family said in her online obituary, and was loved for her pure heart, feisty spirit, entertaining stories, and infectious laugh.

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Henry Verstandig, founder of Verstandig & Sons Diamonds, died Dec. 31 at the age of 96.

Henry and his brother, Willy, were part of the generation that formed New York’s Diamond District.

The De Beers sightholders represented the highest values and integrity of the diamond trade, known for treating everyone with kindness.

In an article remembering Verstandig, Martin Rapaport wrote: “The Dutch-English dictionary translates Verstandig as ‘wise, showing good judgement.’ I like to think of a Yiddish translation: ‘steadfast in values, trustworthy.’ That’s how I remember Henry. That is how he lived.”

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Designer Drew Ann Dunigan died Jan. 2 at the age of 59 after battling a degenerative brain disease.

Dunigan attended Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Gemological Institute of America in New York City for jewelry design.

After working for several jewelry designers in New York, she launched her own line of fine jewelry in 1988, creating collections in sterling silver, vermeil, and precious stones sold in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus stores.

As her family moved around, so did her jewelry store, and Dunigan eventually expanded into home décor and furnishing. She took pride being active in the community and in her family.

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George Walton, owner of George Walton’s Gold & Diamond Co. in Alaska, died Jan. 9 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Walton started his nearly-55-year career in the business working at a small jewelry store in New Jersey before moving to the West Coast and then Alaska, where he opened the business bearing his name.

The store focused on high-end goods, benefitting from a local customer base of professionals as well as proximity to the Anchorage airport. Walton and his team gained many longtime customers and helped generations of families pick out their jewels, going out of their way for those near and far.

He was also active in many organizations, serving on the boards of the Alaska Pacific University and Life Alaska Donor Services, and gave generously to many organizations and charities over the years.

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Jeweler and repair expert Robert Ulsamer died Jan. 10 at the age of 93.

He started his career as a watchmaker and jeweler at the age of 15, honing his skills while serving in the Air Force. When he returned home, he worked as a watch repair man at various jewelry stores in Pennsylvania.

In 1976, he opened his own store, Robert L. Ulsamer Jeweler, and continued his work even after his shop closed.

Ulsamer was known as a kind and gentle man who could always be counted on for help, and a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather, to whom time spent with family was time well spent.

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Retailer Dorothy “Dot” Riddle Hudson died at her Delaware home on Jan. 10. She was 79.

Hudson managed Rust Jewelers in Georgetown, Delaware for many years. She also loved horse racing, cards, slots, and her family.

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Jeweler William Corey “Bill” Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld Jewelry died Jan. 23 at the age of 77.

After serving in the Navy, working as a professional guitarist, volunteering in a local fire rescue squad, and moving his children to Georgia, where he met the love of his life, Rosenfeld opened a jewelry repair shop out of his home and, later, a storefront.

He was an advocate for small business, elected to city council, and was considered a pillar of his local community.

“Bill captured us with his festive spirit, tender heart, and open arms. We will forever miss his infectious smile, contagious laugh, and quick humor. His generous nature and ready willingness to help others stays with us,” his family said in his online obituary.

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Jewelry designer and industry leader Jose Hess died on Feb. 9 at the age of 87.

After starting in the industry at an early age to support his family, he learned under a Viennese goldsmith and took gemology courses at the Gemological Institute of America. He served in the military and then as a full-time jeweler for David Webb before pursuing a career under his own name, earning dozens of awards along the way.

Hess was known for championing independent, branded fine jewelry and mentoring other designers and industry players. He was very active on boards and groups in the industry.

“Jose is a one of a handful of people whom one can truly describe as having changed our industry, and he left it a better place,” CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri said.

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Jeweler Joseph Varjabedian, a fixture in the New York City Diamond District for nearly three decades, died Feb. 12 of complications related to COVID-19. He was 63.

He opened Jova Inc. in 1999, serving retailers and wholesale customers as well as independent and established jewelry designers.

Varjabedian had extensive knowledge of transposing designs into CAD and working with 3D printers and became a well-respected and beloved expert in CAD/3D printing, manufacturing, and sourcing for his customers. He also created his own designs, called Z.Jova.

“We remember him for his generosity, mentorship of many designers, dependable workmanship, commitment to excellence, loyalty, friendship, and imparting an inclusive feeling when working with him,” an homage shared with National Jeweler said.

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Well-known New York Diamond District jeweler Norman Landsberg died Feb. 13 from complications related to COVID-19. He was 94.

When he graduated in 1948, he wanted to commemorate the occasion with a custom class ring he could afford, so he decided to create one himself. After teaching himself and learning from his uncle, a polisher, Landsberg soon started selling the ring to classmates, who eventually turned to him for repairs and other pieces.

In 1948, Norman Landsberg Creative Jewelers was born on New York’s 47th Street. The business eventually expanded with a second location in Rye Brook, New York.

Landsberg was “really regarded as an icon in the industry, especially on 47th Street,” his son Jonathan said, even being featured once on “Access Hollywood” in a story about a celebrity engagement.

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Herbert Littman, former co-chairman of Elangy Corporation, died Feb. 21 at the age of 91.

The lifelong jeweler and his brother, Leonard, built Littman and Barclay Jewelers into what would become the largest privately owned jewelry retail chain in the U.S. with 130 stores.

Understanding the importance of the business’ people, Littman focused on development and executive innovative training programs for staff, including “Breakfast with Herb” sessions focused on selling skills and customer interactions.

He always greeted customers with a big smile, was adored by the Littman staff, loved art, and was big on giving to charity.

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John Michael “Johnny” Johnson, the longtime owner of Edward-Johns Jewelers in Marietta, Georgia, died Feb. 24 of complications related to COVID-19. He was 74.

Johnson started in the jewelry business in 1969 at the only store in the Atlanta area that custom-made jewelry but later moved with his wife to the suburbs and opened his own jewelry store, Edward-Johns Jewelers.

The longtime jeweler said what he loved most about the business was being involved in the happiest moments in people’s lives—engagement, birthdays, and anniversaries.

He was very active in his community, dressing up as Santa at Christmastime and participating in various parties and festivals. Johnson was once named East Cobb Citizen of the Year, and he received a Lifetime Membership Award from the Georgia PTA.

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Virginia jewelry store owner David Cohen died Feb. 25 due to complications related to COVID-19.

He served in the Israeli military at a young age and moved to Virginia Beach 30 years ago, starting out in the industry as a diamond cutter and then wholesaler.

Boyer’s Diamonds & Source became a regular customer of his, so when the owners were retiring in 2011, he bought the business from them, according to The Centurion.
https://news.centurionjewelry.com/articles/detail/local-tv-station-remembers-jeweler-david-cohen-taken-by-covid-19

His family said, “He was the best man we ever knew, and we are the luckiest people in the world to have had him in our lives … He was loved by so many people and left a mark on everyone that he met.”

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Mary Leach, global chief marketing officer at Movado Group, died Feb. 25 of cancer. She was 57.

Leach was at the watch manufacturer for more than two decades, starting as vice president of advertising and rising through the ranks to lead its marketing department, overseeing all promotional aspects and inking partnerships with celebrities like Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, and Amanda Seyfried.

Prior to that, she worked at ad agencies Mezzina/Brown and Young & Rubicam.

“Mary will be remembered for her intelligence, grace, humor, and patience by all who had the great fortune to know and work with her. A humble and private person, Mary inspired the many lives she touched and made us all better people in the process,” Movado Group chairman and CEO Efraim Grinberg said in an online obituary.

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Well-known salesperson Julie Moreno Franco died March 5 following a long battle with cancer.

Franco started in the jewelry industry at OroAmerica in 1982, working her way up to become sales manager of the wholesale division. She then joined Charles Garnier in January 2007, becoming vice president of sales.

Members of the jewelry industry remembered Franco for her warm personality and big smile, and for always bringing her “A game” and lighting up any room she entered.

“Julie was a great person,” a colleague wrote on LinkedIn. “She was always a ray of light. She touched the lives of so many. She will be missed by so many friends, family, and colleagues. God speed Julie.”

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Ruthie Tivol, the matriarch of Kansas City jeweler Tivol, died March 10. She was 91.

She worked at J.C. Nichols for a time before marrying the late Harold Tivol in 1978 and joining him at his family’s jewelry store. The couple worked together for decades, with her style and charm enhancing the business.

She was also very active in local organizations and chaired numerous fundraisers. Her hobbies included golf, tennis, and bridge, and she was part of a women’s study group that got together regularly for more than 50 years.

“She and Harold were the titans of the industry for years,” the store said in the post announcing her death. “It is truly the end of an era. May her memory be a blessing.”

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Longtime Sterling Jewelers executive Nathan “Nate” Light died March 12 in Florida at the age of 86.

After working for other jewelry retailers, he joined Sterling in 1977 and was the driving force behind the acquisitions that grew the Akron, Ohio-based retailer from what it was then—a 32-store chain—to the giant, publicly traded company it is today.

Light was a charitable man and was known for being a people person who treated everyone with kindness and respect. He inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in 1995.

“I have never known any individual with his business sense, people skills or personality in my lifetime. Sterling Inc. was built upon Nate Light’s success,” one person wrote on his memorial page.

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Longtime Philadelphia Jeweler Robert Wolf died March 15. He was 91.

At the age of 11, Wolf got his start on the city’s historic Jewelers’ Row, working as an errand boy. He worked his way up to being a salesman and then manager of Perloff’s fine jewelry store before opening Wolf Jewelers in 1961.

Wolf loved staying active, traveling, throwing parties, and fine dining, but his greatest love was his family, according to his obituary.

“Bob was an exceptionally friendly, gregarious guy who loved to tell stories and jokes and just adored people, who adored him back. He loved life and lived it to the fullest,” it said.

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Famed jewelry designer Elsa Peretti died March 18 of natural causes. She was 80.

After leaving her home in Italy at the age of 21 and modeling in Barcelona she moved to New York City to further her career.

Her first collection was shown in 1969, but after her close friend Halston introduced her to Tiffany & Co. executives, her career really took off. It kicked off an exclusive collaboration spanning her whole career and creating best-selling designs that are still popular today.

Peretti won numerous awards over the course of her career, had her first major U.S. exhibition at FIT in 1990, and received an honorary doctorate from FIT in 2001. Tiffany established the first endowed professorship at the school in her honor, the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design.

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Jeweler Ronald Irving Halverson died March 18 in Minnesota at the age of 75.

After helping start the art department at a local high school, where he taught art metal and ceramics, Halverson moved his family to the Twin Cities to open Goldwear Jewelers in Maple Grove, Minnesota with his business partner David Johnson. They operated the store for 28 years.

Halverson enjoyed craftmanship so much that he also assembled model boats and obtained a pilot’s license.

He was known for being fun, funny, kind, smart, adventurous, and brave.

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Jeweler and watchmaker Bruce Robert Garbe died March 25 at the age of 80.

His father was a watchmaker at a jewelry store, leading Garbe to follow the same career path. He enrolled in the same Elgin Watchmakers College his father had attended, took horology courses, and eventually joined his father as a partner at Garbe Jewelers in Los Angeles.

Garbe was active in the local community, volunteering his time and services to local organizations and churches.

He and his wife welcomed everyone into their home, and greatly enjoyed traveling to various U.S. state parks. Garbe also loved meeting friends for lunch, spending time with his grandchildren, golf, and cheering on the L.A. Dodgers.

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Longtime Tiffany executive Deborah Ann Kaufman died unexpectedly March 26.

She had family in the business—the exposure to which helped start her love for the industry—but she made her own way in the trade, working her way through a degree at Baruch College in New York before enrolling in GIA’s Graduate Gemologist program.

Kaufman worked at the GIA lab briefly before moving to Tiffany where she stayed for 30 years, working her way up to become director of diamond acquisition.

She was described as a “bright light” with a big smile who was approachable, open, kind, and fair. She always found the best in others, said her colleagues, and had a positive attitude that was infectious. 

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Beloved industry designer Alex Woo died March 30 at her home in New York after battling cancer. She was 47 years old.

During her decades-long career, Woo was a trailblazer in independently branded fine jewelry. She was known for personalization and charms and grew her business to the point where her jewelry was stocked by hundreds of boutiques and department stores.

She was passionate about spreading a positive message and supporting other women, and was known not only for her talent but also for her kindness and warmth.

Amanda Gizzi, Jewelers of America’s director of PR and events, called Woo a “remarkable person, a fierce and loyal friend, a trailblazing jewelry designer, a savvy businesswoman, and a wonderful mom.”

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Jeweler Jamie Browning Iverson was killed in an armed robbery in April.

Iverson and her husband, Rodney Iverson, were married for nearly 43 years and owned Paul’s Jewelry in the Mississippi Delta together for decades, working side-by-side not only as co-owners but also as best friends, according to her obituary.

The beloved and prominent local merchant was a mother to two sons and a grandmother to three.

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Former AGS jeweler Frank Henebry Molteni died April 11 at the age of 80.

After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned home to become president and sole owner of the family-run jewelry store, DB Ryland and Co., and became a passionate member of the industry for more than four decades until the store closed.

He also served as president of the Bristol Host Lions Club, vice president of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, was a supporter of the DECA Clubs of Virginia High School, and served on the Pastoral Council and the Knights of Columbus at his local church.

When not at the store, he spent time boating, playing poker, vacationing with his children and grandchildren, and going on the occasional guys’ tennis trip.

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Gemologist, jeweler, and appraiser Paul Thompson died April 11. He was 83 years old.

After getting his start as a hair stylist in Palm Springs, California, he moved to Los Angeles to start his career in gemology, becoming a graduate gemologist, accredited senior appraiser, and master gemologist appraiser.

He opened Paul Thompson Co. Jewellers in 1980 in L.A.’s Larchmont Village, serving as unofficial welcome wagon to make sure all new storeowners, merchants, and neighbors knew each other. He helmed the Larchmont Boulevard Association and served as the president of the Southern California chapter of the American Society of Appraisers.

Thompson also loved music, especially jazz and classical. He never stopped taking piano lessons and sang in the choir at his church.

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Former jeweler Katherine Dukes died at her Delaware home on April 13. She was 89.

She and her husband, Gene, opened Dukes Jewelers in Sharptown, Delaware, operating there for several years before moving to Delmar in 1957.

Dukes greatly enjoyed helping people with jewelry and watch repairs, continuing to operate out of her home even in her later years.

She was active in the local community, holding a membership of the Delmar Lioness Club and the Delmar Lions Club, among others, and sang in the choir at a local church. She will be remembered as a wonderful cook, baseball fan, and an avid fan of Alabama Crimson Tide football.

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Colored stone expert Jean Claude Michelou died May 3 of COVID-19. He was 72 years old.

Michelou was active in the gemstone industry since 1977, working in trading, mining, and cutting, as well as serving as a sourcing strategist.

He founded the International Colored Gemstone Association’s InColor magazine in 2004, serving as editor-in-chief up until his recent retirement. He also served on ICA’s board of directors for 18 years and, in 2017, co-founded Imperial Colors Ltd. with his daughter Zoe.

Michelou was known for the time and attention he gave to other members of the trade, and many members of the industry remembered him as a cheerleader for their work who also offered honest opinions.

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Karen Golembeski, a former president of the WJA New England chapter, died in early May at age 74.

Golembeski’s career took her to the jewelry manufacturing industry, and, before she retired, she was the director of sales and marketing at Elite Associates.

She was heavily involved in her community as well as the New England chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association, serving on various committees before serving as president from 2005 to 2012.

The Women’s Jewelry Association called Golembeski, “a mentor and motivator who believed in women helping women and … a source of encouragement for emerging professionals in the jewelry industry.”

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Jewelry industry veteran John Robert Goldman died of cancer on May 5 at the age of 67.

He started working for the family business, Medco Jewelry Corp., sorting diamonds before getting into the merchandising side of the business, then took a job in merchandising with Gordon’s Jewelers in Houston.

He later moved on to do merchandising for Marshalls, then product development for OroAmerica Inc., Aurafin LLC, and, eventually, Richline Group. His last job was in product development for jewelry manufacturer Cynergy Trading Corp.

His brother said he was a “character” who loved wearing funky glasses, was a huge fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, and will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

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James R. “Jim” Dunn, the cofounder of J.R. Dunn Jewelers, died May 21 following a brief illness. He was 78.

Dunn started his career as a door-to-door salesman for IBM, where he met his future wife and business partner, Ann Marie Pelliccia. The two married in 1969 and opened a business together, now known as J.R. Dunn Jewelers, in Florida.

Dunn was very proud of the business they built, his wife said, and never felt any task was beneath him, doing everything from long-term strategic initiatives to stocking water bottles. He is remembered as a kind and genuine man who would do anything for anyone and gave back to his community.

“My dad was someone who always led by example,” son Sean Dunn said. “He just did whatever the day called for, and his team loved him for that.”

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Guy Benhamou, owner of the Charles Garnier Paris jewelry brand, died in June at the age of 69 due to cancer.

Benhamou founded gold jewelry manufacturer OroAmerica in 1977, which was later purchased by Aurafin and then Berkshire Hathaway.

In 2002, Benhamou acquired French jewelry company Charles Garnier Paris and moved its operations to Los Angeles. He combined that with Elle Jewelry in 2018 to create the Paris 1901 brand.

He was an active member of the jewelry industry, formerly serving as a board member for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee.

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Richard Swetz, former owner of the Independent Jewelers Organization, died June 4 at the age of 84.

Swetz was a retail member of IJO—he owned Chandel Jewelers in New Jersey—before he took ownership of IJO in 1998, which he led for 10 years, IJO said.

“He was well respected and a father figure to many, with an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm,” IJO wrote in an email to members. “He considered each and every member of IJO his family.”

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Designer and goldsmith Richard Kimball died June 5 after battling cancer.

Kimball was the owner of Richard Kimball Designs, a retail gallery and studio/workshop in Denver founded in 1972.

Taking inspiration from the landscape and topography of the American West, Kimball created highly individual pieces that won numerous awards.

Kimball’s work appeared in more than 30 solo gallery exhibitions and is in the National Metal Museum’s permanent collection. His large-scale scale projects include several pieces for St. John’s Cathedral in Denver and a sterling “Aladdin’s Lamp” for the Children’s Television Workshop in New York.

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Mansour Ojjeh, the man behind the “TAG” in TAG Heuer, died June 6 in Geneva at the age of 68.

His father started Techniques d’Avant Garde—better known by the acronym TAG—in 1975, and through that was involved in several industries, including motor racing, aviation, and the watch industry.

TAG bought Heuer, the watch brand that was the timing partner for British automotive manufacturer McLaren, in 1985, and a new watch brand was born—TAG Heuer.

TAG Heuer said via social media that it was saddened to learn of Ojjeh’s death, calling him “a great friend of the company whose support was key in building us into the brand we are today.”

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Jewelry designer Ruth Frank died June 13 at her Florida home. She was 99.

She and her husband, James, enjoyed traveling the world, where she would collect small artifacts and decorative items and use them to create interesting necklaces and earrings.

According to an article from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, her pieces were sold at Studio/Gallerie Chiz in Pittsburgh as well as Saks Fifth Avenue stores around the country, and she was once credited in Vogue for mixing objects from far-off places with her designs.

She also loved sports, being a competitive golf and tennis player, and staying active as well as giving back to the community through philanthropy. 

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Boryana Straubel was killed June 19 when a car hit her while she was riding a bike. She was 38 years old.

Born in Bulgaria, Straubel moved to the United States in 2005 and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from U.C. Berkeley and a master’s in management and master’s in industrial engineering from Stanford University.

She eventually joined Tesla and worked in several areas at the company, and also founded the Straubel Foundation with her husband, JB Straubel.

Earlier this year, she had launched jewelry company Generation Collection, which used recycled metals in its designs. 

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Jewelry designer Martyl Reinsdorf died June 28 following a long illness. She was 85.

The creator was known for making colorful cloisonné jewelry for decades.

The wife of longtime Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also designed five of the Bulls’ NBA championship rings and the White Sox’s World Series championship ring in 2005.

She was also known for her philanthropy, helping distribute more than 1 million coloring books, crayons, markers, and toys to hospitals, orphanages, and shelters around the world. The Reinsdorfs were supporters of many charities across the world.

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Beloved industry executive Estelle Hedaya died in late June when her condo building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. She was 54.

A Brooklyn native, Hedaya spent her career in jewelry, working for companies including Dinaro Creations, World Trade Jewelers, and Continental Buying Group/Preferred Jewelers International, where she served as director of operations for the past six years.

Those who knew Hedaya remember her as a happy, positive, and outgoing woman who was dedicated to her friends and family, her Jewish faith, and her job in an industry she loved. 

April Scorcia, who worked with Hedaya at World Trade Jewelers, said, “Estelle never had a bad thing to say about anyone, ever. Even in bad times, she always found the bright side. She was such a good-feeling catalyst for everyone around her … I will miss her so.”

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Former Pennsylvania jeweler Irvin R. Liachowitz died July 9 at 96.

He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and after getting honorably discharged in 1945, returned home to join his father in the family business, Liachowitz Jewelry Store.

Liachowitz loved working in the store and was considered a staple of the business, often working six days a week. He worked there until he was 80, finally retiring as the store closed in 2004 after 116 years in business.

He was also a vital part of the local community, and was admired and respected by all who knew him. Outside of work, he was passionate about music, playing bridge, faithfully doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, reading, and spending time in the sun.

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De Beers rough broker William “Willie” Nagle died July 14. He was 96.

While he started out studying to be an attorney in London, he quickly became acquainted with the diamond world. When clients would come to the city to trade, those who couldn’t speak English would ask for his help in working with De Beers, according to a 2018 story in The Daily Telegraph.

He opened W. Nagel Ltd. and became an official rough broker in 1959, serving as clients’ “political lobbyist, advisor, confidante, and sometimes even psychologist,” he is quoted as saying in World Diamond Magazine.

He played a central role in the evolution of the diamond industry and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Federation of Diamond Bourses for his pivotal role in establishing the Kimberley Process in 2003.

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Cardel Jewelers owner Nilda Zulueta died July 18.

Her company produced jewelry for award-winning designers, elite jewelry clientele and iconic retailers, and was featured in a PBS network documentary highlighting the high-quality pieces it created.

Zulueta was a fine jewelry industry icon and pioneer, paving the way for other women in the industry with her early success.

She was known for her strong character, ambition, knowledge, honesty, kindness, and selflessness, as well as her fierceness, generosity, humor, and independent spirit.

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Industry veteran Margie Miller Bucki died July 22 after a long battle with cancer. She was 76.

Bucki started her decades-long buying career at Citizen Jewelers in Atlanta before working at retail chain Service Merchandise, then Sterling Jewelers for 13 years, and finally Zales until she retired in 2007.

She was one of the first women to serve as a director in the industry, and was known for being strong, firm but fair, and great teacher to her employees. 

Bucki will be remembered as someone who always shared her wisdom and funny stories, and who had a generous, kind spirit and warm smile for everyone.

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Linda Rae Lambrecht, a longtime Sterling Jewelers executive, died Aug. 2 from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 67.

Lambrecht’s 20-year jewelry career began in 1983 on the sales floor of Shaw’s Jewelers in Wausau, Wisconsin, climbing the ranks to eventually became the company’s first female regional vice president of operations.

She eventually left the jewelry industry, holding various hotel and bank management positions, and retired in 2016 after being diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

“Linda had a heart of gold and gave generously to others. Her thoughtfulness was unmatched. She was a prolific sender of greeting cards and never missed an occasion. She knew that the best cards weren’t empty, so she always included something special for her grandchildren, such as a movie ticket, a gift card, or a few dollars,” said her obituary.

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Eiseman Jewels co-founder Louise Eiseman died Aug. 9 of natural causes at her home in Dallas. She was 91.

Eiseman married Richard D. “Dick” Eiseman in 1953, and the couple lived in Houston and Oklahoma City before returning to Dallas, where they opened their first jewelry store.

She oversaw marketing and community relations for Eiseman Jewels. She was known as its resident “Queen Mum” and was “undoubtedly the heart of Eiseman Jewels,” the store’s website states.

“Personal and business often blurred in her world. People recognized that she could do so much good, but she always did it from hard work and never sought attention for her efforts,” her son and Eiseman President and CEO Richard D. Eiseman Jr. said. “Our family is so lucky to have her legacy; her grandchildren and children are lucky to have her guiding us even if not here in person.”

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Alfred Woodill, who served as executive director of the American Gem Society for 40 years, died Aug. 16 at the age of 101.

Known to many as “Big Al” or “Mr. AGS,” Woodill was the nephew of AGS founder Robert M. Shipley’s wife, Beatrice. He worked for the Shipleys during high school and later traveled with Shipley to promote AGS and attend the organization’s Conclave events.

He took over as Shipley’s successor in 1947 and is credited with transforming the society into the association it is today, growing its membership and guilds and leading the expansion of its member services.

“We are all heartbroken at the loss of this great man, who was so instrumental in shaping the American Gem Society. Mr. Woodill was a direct link for many of us to Robert M. Shipley himself. But beyond that connection, the legacy he left on our community is immeasurable,” said Katherine Bodoh, CEO AGS and AGS Laboratories.

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Jeweler Peter Franklin Ball died Aug. 30 at the age of 58.

Ball opened Peter Franklin Jewelers in Indiana in 1988 after some time repairing and creating jewelry for other businesses.

He was a member of St. Louis Besancon Catholic Church, where he served on the school board, Parish Council, and taught classes for years. Ball also was on the board of directors for 3Rivers Federal Credit Union and a board member of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce.

He loved camping, motorsports, spending time with his family, his grandchildren, and supporting his daughters at horse shows.

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Jewelry designer Alex Šepkus died Sept. 5 at the age of 67.

Šepkus immigrated to the United States in 1988 and launched his eponymous collection at the New Designer Gallery at the JA New York Show in 1993. He also later exhibited at Couture.

He was known as a profoundly talented artist, creating designs that were both unique and classic, and was also a man of faith.

“We are so shocked and saddened to hear this news,” retailer Fox’s Seattle wrote on the Instagram post announcing his death. “Alex has been surprising, delighting, and amusing us with his incredible jewelry for nearly 30 years. He was truly one-of-a-kind and will be sorely missed.”

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Texas jeweler James “Jimmy” Green died Sept. 18 of natural causes. He was 65.

After discovering his sales skills early while working at fashion retail stores in San Antonio and then joining the jewelry industry in various roles, he opened his own fine jewelry store, J. Green Jewelers, in 2005 with his team, including his wife, son, and daughter.

Green was called a “giant” in the jewelry industry, and prioritized design innovation, top-notch services, and quality delivery in his store.

He also believed in public service and giving back, was a devout Christian, held his family at the center of his life, and was known for being smart, funny, loving, playful, generous, and supportive.

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Longtime retailer Harriet Ann Long died Sept. 18 at the age of 96.

Long married her husband, Richard Long, in 1946 in Iowa while en route to Illinois, where he attended watchmaking school.

After his training, he worked in another store while she worked in an insurance office, before moving back to his hometown of Webster and opening Long’s Jewelry store, which stayed in business for more than seven decades.

Long continued to run the store by herself after her husband’s death in 2015, working well into her 90s, but sold the store and the building when she had to move into a care center. 

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Ricardo “Rick” Valentine Antona Jr. died Sept. 18 at the age of 54.

He joined the industry as a gemologist in 1992. After almost two decades in the jewelry business, he opened Uptown Diamond in Houston’s Tanglewood neighborhood, catering to an exclusive clientele and even designing and creating championship rings for sports teams.

His love for his business came second only to his love for his family, which was his greatest joy, and he also made religion a priority in his life as an active member of a local church.

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Hugh Bell, the longtime president of Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, died at home on Sept. 20 after a long illness.

The son of company founder Saul Bell, Hugh was serving in the military when his father became ill, so he received a hardship discharge and went home to help.

Bell stepped into the role of president in 1966, guiding Rio Grande as it grew from a small, regional jewelry wholesaler to a company with more than 400 associates and customers worldwide. He worked with three of his siblings, in addition to his father, at the company.

Bell was pivotal in introducing and fostering the company’s participative management culture, which was based on 15 principles he created and championed.

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Longtime industry and watch veteran Larry Abels died Sept. 21 in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the age of 82.

Abels joined Selco, a regional jewelry store chain started by his father-in-law, Jack Seligson, in 1962 and  became president in 1976. Four years later, Abels decided to sell the fine jewelry division, which consisted of 59 stores and salons, to Zales, allowing him to focus on his passion—watches and clocks—and create Selco Custom Time Corp.

He ran the company until 2000, but even after his retirement, Abels was active, traveling to trade shows regularly until 2019 and counseling his son, Mark, who stepped into the president role, until his death.

Abels also loved traveling the world and spending time with his wife, children, grandchildren, and friends.

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Former jewelry retailer George Gray died at his Florida home on Sept. 23 at the age of 101.

Gray was the president of Gray Jewelers in Barrington, Rhode Island, for 25 years before he retired in 1982.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran, stationed in Panama during World War II, a past president of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island Retailer Jewelers Association, and was involved in the Veteran Motor Car Club of America and the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association.

Gray was a mason of the Panama Canal Consistory and a member of the Overseas Lodge of Providence and the Moose Lodge of Daytona Beach, Florida. He enjoyed sailing, antique cars, and racing his open-wheeled vintage race cars.
 
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Jewelry store owner Glenn Gooding Bellinger died Sept. 25 at 99 years old.

He worked for the former Coast and Geodetic Survey and served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II before owning G.G. Bellinger Mfg. Jeweler in Washington, D.C., for over 25 years and Ye Ole Jewel Shoppe in Rehoboth Beach for nearly 30 years.

He brought his skills not only to jewelry design but also to gardening and various other forms of art, and he considered himself a master re-purposer long before it was the popular thing to do.

Bellinger also enjoyed camping at the beach and in national and state parks, and playing golf. In retirement, he and his wife travelled around the U.S. in their RV visiting relatives and friends, who were at the top of the list of things most important to him.

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Jewelry industry professional Roberta “Bobbi” Freeman died Oct. 1 at the age of 73.

In the 1970s, Freeman moved to Los Angeles to work for her sister and brother-in-law’s jewelry manufacturing business, H. Jack Gordon, where she learned the ins and outs of the trade.

She served in various roles at the company before moving to other manufacturers when they closed the business, and her career took her to Thailand, China, Milan, Paris, and Basel, Switzerland to source product.

“Bobbi always kept her special customers in mind while concentrating on product development,” her sister said. “She designed items specifically for them. She always knew what each buyer would be looking for to put in their stores. Most of her contacts in the jewelry business remained her good friends even after they left their various positions in the industry.”

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Retailer David Charles Bruno Sr. died Oct. 10 at the age of 62.

Bruno was the proud owner and jeweler of David Charles Ltd. of Hammonton, New Jersey, for 36 years and was a longtime member of the Hammonton Chamber of Commerce.

He loved his family, golfing, music, and annual trips to the Bahamas.

“David was a respected Hammonton businessman and faithful member of the chamber, who always supported our goals. He was a talented artisan whose reputation as a meticulous craftsman was well known,” Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Runfolo told The Hammonton Gazette.

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Jeweler William Henry Francis Morgan III died Oct. 11 at the age of 80.

The longtime businessman was a jewelry manager for Sim and Co. and then owner and manager of William Morgan Jewelers.

He was also an avid sports fan, had a deep love of the outdoors and the Adirondacks, a passion for foreign films, foreign cars, and classical literature, and was known for his quick Irish wit and his love for his family.

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David Walker, president and owner of well-known retailer Shreve, Crump & Low, died in October.

The son of a Boston jeweler, Walker’s nearly-four-decade-long career started when he was in his early 20s in Boston.

He started his own business in the late 1970s called David & Company, building a presence in the wholesale jewelry community, before purchasing storied Boston retailer Shreve, Crump & Low in 2006 when it ran into financial problems, growing it “beyond his wildest expectations,” his family said.

Walker is remembered as a kind man and a great businessman whose involvement in the industry touched many lives.

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Legendary retailer Helene Fortunoff died Nov. 8 at her home in Miami Beach of a non-COVID-related respiratory illness. She was 88.

She met her first husband, Alan Fortunoff, in a class at New York University and eventually joined his family’s business, establishing the fine jewelry division of Fortunoff’s in 1957.

Fortunoff was a respected leader in the merchandising and design of fine jewelry, blazed trails for women in the fine jewelry world, and set standards for the industry at large. She was a founding member of the Women’s Jewelry Association, the first woman inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame, and was knighted in Italy for her work promoting Italian jewelry.

“She just set a wonderful example of how a woman could handle a family, run a business and do it all with grace and a wonderful personality,” said longtime friend Phyllis Bergman.

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Former JCK publisher Donna Borrelli died Nov. 22 from a breakthrough case of COVID-19.

The longtime industry veteran helped run the publication for 17 years, joining it in 1999 as director of operations and jumping to associate publisher the following year. She had also recently taken over project management for InStore Magazine’s Design Awards.

In 2015, Borrelli was nominated for a Women’s Jewelry Association Award for Excellence in Special Services.

“She was conscientious, thorough, eminently capable, and she always kept a dry sense of humor about the craziness of the project,” said InStore Editor-in-Chief Trace Shelton. “She was a pro in every sense of the word, but she was also patient, kind, and easy to work with. We are all stunned here at InStore. She is already incredibly missed.”

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Human rights activist Dewa Mavhinga died Dec. 4.

Mavhinga had been with Human Rights Watch since 2012, first documenting human rights violations in his native Zimbabwe during the final years of the Robert Mugabe government. At the time of his death, he was the Southern Africa director, overseeing and supporting a broad range of work in the region.

Recently, he had been supporting locals in Marange who were protesting the operations of a diamond mining company called Anjin and helping document what was happening there.

He is remembered for his passion, commitment, and leadership in human rights, but also for his big heart and the kindness, empathy, and solidarity he showed to others.

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Americo Modesto Rebelo, an expert technician at precision tools and equipment manufacturer Gesswein, died Dec. 13 at the age of 59. 

He joined the company when he was 23 in the technical department and would spend more than 35 years at Gesswein, traveling the world to learn about jewelry industry technology and attend trade shows. 

He was known for being a devoted and “charming” expert in his work, and a loyal friend to those close to him.

“As a young child walking through the office, I remember that he would be so friendly to me. He would be repairing equipment and turn to me with a big smile and talk with me for a little bit. I just enjoyed being in his presence,” President and CEO Greg Gesswein said. 

Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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