Retailer Hall of Fame 2022: Jennifer Gandia and Christina Gandia Gambale

IndependentsOct 20, 2022

Retailer Hall of Fame 2022: Jennifer Gandia and Christina Gandia Gambale

The sisters have a symbiotic relationship that serves them and their New York City store well.

20221020_Greenwich St header.jpg
Jennifer Gandia, right, and Christina Gandia Gambale, co-owners of Greenwich St. Jewelers, have been inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in the Single-Store Independent category. (Photo credit: Jason Crowley/BFA)
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the print edition of the 2022 Retailer Hall of Fame. Click here to see the full issue.

Carlos and Milly Gandia opened a jewelry store in 1976 that has persevered through a terrorist attack, a recession, a hurricane, and a pandemic that turned the city it calls home upside down.

Forty-six years later, that New York City jewelry store survives and is run by their daughters, Jennifer Gandia and Christina Gandia Gambale, who have used their respective talents to take what their parents built, make it even better, and move it from Lower Manhattan into a big, beautiful new space uptown. 

Now, these invincible women are marking an impressive series of Retailer Hall of Fame firsts.

Jennifer and Christina are the first two women and only sisters to be inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame together.

They are also the hall’s first Latina inductees.

Finding Their Way Home 
Both Jennifer and Christina say they found their way into the jewelry business organically.

As children, they didn’t necessarily think they’d grow up to work at their parents’ store and their parents didn’t encourage them to, either. 

Carlos and Milly wanted for Jennifer and Christina what most parents want for their children—for them to find happiness by following their passions.

They also, Jennifer and Christina would later come to learn, wanted their girls to find a job that was less grueling than that of a small business owner.

Both hailing from Puerto Rico, Carlos and Milly came from modest backgrounds, explains Jennifer, the eldest by seven years.

They built their business from nothing and, with no safety net, felt the constant pressure that weighs on business owners who know they have to make it work.

20221020_Carlos and Milly.jpg
Carlos and Milly Gandia opened their jewelry store in 1976.

“They gave a lot and they worked really hard at it,” Jennifer says. “They thought going and working for someone else, doing a 9-to-5, would be an easier life [for us]. That’s how they saw it. And they also wanted us to be happy. They wanted us to do what we wanted to do.” 

The more visually creative of the two sisters—the right brain, if you will—Jennifer loved fashion from a young age. 

She graduated with a degree in marketing from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, eventually earning what she thought was the ultimate job: public relations manager at a major company, NARS Cosmetics. 

Then 9/11 happened. The unthinkable tragedy caused Jennifer to reassess her life.

She determined that her job, the one she had worked so hard to get, wasn’t what she wanted after all. 

“I really felt like I was not as happy as I thought I would be doing the work I was doing,” she says. “It didn’t fulfill me in a certain way. I didn’t even really know what that meant. I just knew I didn’t want to do it that much longer.” 

So she took a year off and headed abroad, settling in Barcelona, Spain. 

As she walked up and down the city’s hilly streets, she found herself paying attention to the displays in jewelry store windows, then calling home to share ideas for her parents’ store.

She also spent a lot of time thinking about what she wanted to do next. 

Initially, Jennifer thought she might like to open her own business, but then began considering how difficult the post-9/11 road ahead was for her parents.

The original Greenwich Jewelers was on Greenwich Street, less than two blocks from the World Trade Center. The building it was in sustained structural damage in the attack, forcing Carlos and Milly to relocate.

Even though they reopened on nearby Trinity Place, Ground Zero was, and would remain for years, an open pit while companies all over Lower Manhattan were decamping to Brooklyn and New Jersey, taking their office workers with them. 

“It was always meant to be temporary.” — Jennifer Gandia on the start of her career at Greenwich St. Jewelers

So, during one phone call home, Jennifer proposed the idea of coming to work at the store.

Carlos rejected the idea at first—“they still felt like, this isn’t the path we want you girls to take,” Jennifer  says—but she carefully pitched it as a temporary situation.

She would stay for a year—just a year—and use her marketing experience to help the business recover.

“It was always meant to be temporary,” she says.

Christina reached her own occupational epiphany after following her lifelong, left brain-like interest in business, sales and operations (she had a scrunchie business in junior high, backed by Milly) through to a career in finance, a path she found similarly unfulfilling.

“I remember being in finance in corporate America and saying, ‘I hate this,’’’ Christina says. “I hated the idea of having to climb this ladder. I hated the politics of it.”

By that time, Jennifer already was working with their parents at the store, and it piqued Christina’s interest.

She put herself through the Gemological Institute of America’s graduate gemology program. While attending GIA full-time, she started to test the retail waters by working at the store on Saturdays.

After she earned her G.G. diploma, her parents suggested she work for other jewelry companies to learn more about the wholesale end of the business before coming into the family business.

Christina worked for Mouawad and spent a little over a year at Temple St. Clair before joining her parents and sister, making Greenwich an employer of five—the four Gandias plus one bench jeweler.

A Vision Takes Shape
Jennifer’s first few years at the store were just about helping her parents make the business solvent and rebuilding their clientele.

She started at the store in 2003, her entrance into the fine jewelry industry coinciding with the continuing growth of the independent designer movement. 

Jennifer saw pieces she loved from creators who were her peers, women like Melissa Joy Manning and Jamie Joseph. 

It caused her to have a revelation about fine jewelry: “This is a fashion product. It was almost like I never put those things together,” she says, having grown up with the idea that fine jewelry was something one received only as a gift for special occasions.

By the time Christina joined the business in 2007, the sisters were ready to get involved in designer jewelry.

Jennifer and Christina (who’d discovered Jamie Joseph on her own while working in wholesale) leaned into the trend. It was a sage move for the mid-aughts considering the increased weight independent designers carry in the industry today.

Jennifer Gandia, far left, and Christina Gandia Gambale, with their parents outside their store on Trinity Place, where it moved to after 9

Another change the sisters made when they joined the family business was to introduce bridal.

Selling engagement rings and wedding bands, along with offering a selection of lower-priced bridge jewelry, turned out to be key to helping the store thrive during the crisis that hit not all that long after 9/11, the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

But these changes happened only because Carlos and Milly listened to their daughters and were open to trying new things that ultimately benefited the business, even when it scared them.

Jennifer remembers talking her parents into opening on Saturdays—which turned out to be a big success—while Christina recalls the low-level terror her parents endured when she and Jennifer held a storewide sale to raise money to bring in new designers.

“I just remember, I could see the fear in their eyes at all of their inventory being just like slashed away. [But] they let us do it and it worked,” Christina says. “We raised money, we got new jewelry, and it moved us forward.

“As a parent, now I understand just how much courage it took for them to trust us and to give us room to succeed or fail.”

The Constant Advocates
Greenwich St. Jewelers was also out ahead of other stores when it came to recognizing the need for the jewelry industry to become more diverse and equitable.

In fall 2018—nearly two years before the murder of George Floyd ignited widespread conversations about racial discrimination, injustice and inequity—J.B. Jones and Bella Neyman, the organizers of NYC Jewelry Week (NYCJW), put together a panel discussion about diversity in the jewelry industry that Jennifer moderated. 

It was packed and the conversation was “incredible,” Jennifer says.

The following year, Jones and Neyman asked her to help build on that conversation.

A group of individuals came up with the concept for “Here We Are,” which supports diversity in jewelry through an ongoing series of panels, webinars and exhibitions.

At the inaugural “Here We Are” event in 2019, Jennifer stopped to admire the work of a Black jewelry designer named Lorraine West, telling her she could envision a lot of her brass and sterling silver styles translating into fine jewelry and that they should stay in touch, West recalls.

West had been designing custom and bespoke fine jewelry since 2011 but had plans to expand her fine line. Meeting Jennifer provided both confirmation she was on the right path and the connection she needed to make the leap.

20221020_Lorraine West hoops.jpg
Designer Lorraine West named this pair of 14-karat gold and diamond hoops the “Jennifer” hoop, in honor of Jennifer Gandia. The two met at a NYCJW event and the store began carrying a capsule collection by West shortly thereafter.

Within a year of that meeting, Greenwich St. Jewelers was selling West’s first capsule collection of fine diamond fashion jewelry, “Glimpse.” 

West says the collection did “fantastic,” with Greenwich St. Jewelers providing her with the solid and supportive partner every designer needs. 

“When I think about being with Greenwich St., I can grow slowly but surely,” she says. “And I am growing with them.”  

Greenwich St. Jewelers has remained at the forefront of the push for more diversity in the fine jewelry industry, making it part of its brand ethos. 

“We will never stop advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion. As Latinas, our passion is personal and we care deeply about BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] and LGBTQ+ representation in the jewelry industry,” says Jennifer. 

The store has actively diversified its roster of 40-plus designers and was the first retailer to carry jewelry created by the designers of the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, the Natural Diamond Council and Lorraine Schwartz-led program to provide more opportunities and access for BIPOC designers. 

“They are a force to be reckoned with. They’ve done it from the ground up, and they’ve had to innovate in their own ways.” —Jewelry designer Lorraine West

Jennifer is on the board of advisors for the Black in Jewelry Coalition and NYCJW, the committee for NYCJW’s Here We Are initiative, and the Couture show’s Diversity Action Council. 

Christina, meanwhile, sits on the board of directors for Diamonds Do Good and has been involved in the creation and launch of the new DDG bracelet campaign.

“They’re just such a perfect pair,” West says of the sisters. “The love and the respect they have for one another, their families and their staff is [incredible].” 

She likens Greenwich St. Jewelers and its staff to Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s home island of warrior queens who are unique, wonderful, and work well together. 

“They are a force to be reckoned with,” she says. “They’ve done it from the ground up, and they’ve had to innovate in their own ways.

“I enjoy working with them. They know how to work on both sides of the brain. They know how to celebrate and throw a good party. But when it’s time for business, they don’t play. They are about their business.”

 Related stories will be right here … 

The Sketches
Jennifer and Christina officially became co-owners of the store in 2008 when Carlos and Milly retired.

By then, they had navigated an economic downturn that was Great Depression-like in scale. Together, they also faced Hurricane Sandy in 2012—the superstorm that left Lower Manhattan under water—and a global pandemic in 2020 that emptied their neighborhood of foot traffic once again.

As if running a retail store was not complicated enough during COVID-19, Jennifer and Christina were also on the hook for the new store they were building out a little farther north, in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood.

To manage that project and keep their current store going during the pandemic was an amazing feat, says longtime vendor Ari Madilian, the husband half of the husband-and-wife team behind L.A.-based, vintage-inspired brand Single Stone. 

“They are very strong, impressive ladies, I have to say.”

20221020_Greenwich St interior 1.jpg
The new Greenwich St. Jewelers store is on Reade Street in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. (Photo credit: Tom Sibley)

The sisters credit their resilience to being open to change—a cue they no doubt took from their parents—and not getting mired in negativity.   

“When these things have happened, we were open to pivoting and figuring it out. [We said to ourselves], ‘This is the situation. We can sit here and fight it and mope about it and feel like it’s going to kill our business, or [we can recognize], this is it. How are we going to work with it?’” Christina says. 

Jennifer says their approach is to break down what they need to do into the smallest possible steps and then tackle them one by one.

With each step, they’re able to see a little further into the future and then really begin to plan for changes that need to happen. 

“Being open to change is so essential. There’s just no way you can be complacent or stuck in your ways running a business today,” she says.

Greenwich St. Jewelers officially opened at 93 Reade St. in June 2022, five years after the lease was signed.

Myriad complications delayed the move, including contractual issues with the new landlord on Reade Street and the fact they still had five years left on their lease for the 64 Trinity Place store, which they thought they were just going to get out of.

It was, Jennifer says, a naïve notion.

But they persisted once again, opening a 3,200-square-foot store that pays homage to New York City through various design elements, including exposed brick and its railroad-style layout. The new Greenwich St. Jewelers rivals any independent jewelry store today in its modernity.

Jennifer says they aimed to create a store that felt luxurious but, at the same time, comfortable and homey.

The store has colorful couches throughout that look luxurious but are not so imposing that guests might hesitate to sit down.

20221020_Greenwich St interior 2.jpg
In designing their new store, the Gandia sisters wanted it to look elegant but not intimidating—see: the playful chandelier at the store’s entrance—and to be an homage to New York City by incorporating elements such as exposed brick. (Photo credit: Tom Sibley)

An elegant-yet-playful chandelier at the store’s entrance calls to mind a tangle of chain, while the blue sconces on the wall look like they’d be just as at home in an ice cream shop. 

The designer West says the new store represents not only the hallmark of their family—the foundation Carlos and Milly laid nearly 50 years ago—but also Jennifer and Christina’s vision for the future.

“This is their vision on a whole new level,” West says. “It truly lives up to the Wonder Woman analogy.” 

Since the store’s opening, Milly has visited a few times to see how her daughters are carrying on the family legacy and she loves it, Jennifer says. 

Their father Carlos died in 2018 at the age of 76, but he is present in his own way. 

Before his passing, Carlos saw the Reade Street space in its unfinished state. 

A few years after his death, Christina was helping Milly unpack in a new apartment when they came across an old sketchbook that belonged to their dad. In it, they discovered drawings of the new store according to Carlos, his visions of what Greenwich St. Jewelers could look like. They had remained undisturbed and unseen since he’d visited Reade Street in 2017. 

Those lost sketches look a lot like the new store.

“Christina and I feel like, oh we’ve been creating this space with him this whole time. He’s been here with his hand on [it], sort of blessing this space and working through this design with us,” Jennifer says.

“It’s very woo-woo but … woo-woo is what I do, and I believe in that kind of thing. It, of course, makes us emotional but also makes us feel so much joy. Even though he’s not with us, he is really part of this space.”   

The Latest

Alexandra Rosier gold and opal Eternal Love Hands necklace
TrendsJun 02, 2023
Take a Peek at Couture’s Newest Design Talents

This year’s Design Atelier is full of gems.

Saboo Fine Jewels emerald and titanium earrings
CollectionsJun 02, 2023
Piece of the Week: Saboo Fine Jewels’ Emerald Earrings

They’re a testament to the power of excellent design.

Jane Taylor letter pendants
TrendsJun 01, 2023
See 50+ Jewels Debuting at Couture in Las Vegas

The industry’s most influential contemporary designers are showcasing their latest jewelry designs.

Brought to you by
The Next Step for GIA Diamond Reports

The most trusted diamond report, available in print or the GIA App.

35-carat lab-grown diamond created by Maitri
Lab-GrownJun 01, 2023
35-Carat Lab-Grown Diamond Going on Display in Vegas

Created by Maitri Lab-Grown Diamonds and graded by IGI, it’s slightly bigger than the record-setting lab-grown diamond GIA just examined.

Weekly QuizJun 02, 2023
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
Bottom Line Marketing Chief Growth Officer Gus Garcia and CEO Jackie Brooks
MajorsJun 01, 2023
Bottom Line Marketing Announces Restructured Leadership, New Service Offerings

The marketing agency has integrated its first C-suite.

Events & AwardsJun 01, 2023
Meet JCK’s 2023 Keynote Speaker

The jewelry trade show also will debut educational content centered around social media.

Brought to you by
Beyond Borders: Crucial Factors in Colored Stone Origin Determination

Navigate origin determination with Continuing Education seminars offered by the GIA Alumni Collective™.

Lauren K gold and gemstone rings
TrendsMay 31, 2023
Here’s a Sneak Peek of New Jewelry to Check Out at JCK

Luxury kicks off today, with the full show in swing on Friday.

A pearl pendant and a pearl ring
CollectionsMay 31, 2023
Verragio’s Debut Fine Jewelry Collections Honor Company Heritage

One of the three new collections was inspired by the legend of a woman who traded her mansion to Cartier for two strands of natural pearls.

Rob Ballew
MajorsMay 31, 2023
Signet Jewelers Names New Head of Investor Relations

Rob Ballew will be tasked with communicating the jewelry giant’s plans and financial performance to investors.

Mobile mock-up screens of the new LUX Digital Vault app from Jewelers Mutual Group
MajorsMay 31, 2023
Jewelers Mutual Launches App for Retailers, Introduces New Brokerage

With the app, customers receive a 15-day insurance offer on new purchases while their coverage needs are being evaluated.

Rendering of Lightbox lab-grown diamond store in House of Showfields
Lab-GrownMay 30, 2023
Lightbox Is Testing Out a Trendy Concept Shop in Brooklyn

It is in House of Showfields, a bazaar-style retail space in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

Attendees at the JCK Las Vegas show
Events & AwardsMay 30, 2023
These Are the Can’t-Miss JCK Talks Education Sessions

From consumer trends to retail technology, these are the JCK Talks sessions that should be on attendees’ radar.

Constance “Connie” Barber Mellon’s David Webb Elephant Clip-Brooch
AuctionsMay 30, 2023
Sotheby’s to Auction Mellon Family Jewelry

Signature pieces from Cartier and David Webb will appear in the June jewelry auction.

Georgie Gleim, Shelly Sergent, and Molly Peterson
Events & AwardsMay 30, 2023
24 Karat Club of Southern California Recognizes 3 Honorees

They will be celebrated at the annual dinner dance and gala in the fall.

Historic and modern photos of diamond grading GIA
GradingMay 26, 2023
State of the Diamond Industry: AI and the Future of Diamond Grading

Gemologists have long used machines in diamond grading but technology has made it possible for them to “learn” how to do it on their own.

Supplier Spotlight Webinar John Pollard and Garry Holloway
Recorded WebinarsMay 26, 2023
Watch: Diamond Cut Quality: The Final Frontier Part 2

Supplier Spotlight Sponsored by IGI

My Next Question webinar series episode on selling lab-grown diamonds
Recorded WebinarsMay 26, 2023
Natural and Lab-Grown Diamonds: What It’s Like to Sell Both

Watch retailers Jeffery Bolling and Bobby Bengivengo discuss employee training, customer education and the sticky subject of future value.

Models wearing Calvin Klein watches and jewelry
FinancialsMay 26, 2023
Movado Sales Slip in Q1 Amid Inflation Woes, Tough Comps

The company has plans to revamp the Movado brand and offer less expensive watches this year.

Bulgari necklace set with 118.35-carat unheated Sri Lankan sapphire
AuctionsMay 26, 2023
Piece of the Week: A Bulgari Sapphire and Diamond Necklace

Set with a 118-carat unheated Sri Lankan sapphire, it just sold for $3.4 million at Phillips jewelry auction in Hong Kong.

Supplier BulletinMay 25, 2023
RAE Fine Jewelry Collection Debuting at JCK Luxury 2023

Sponsored by Noam Carver

Graphic of phishing scheme
TechnologyMay 25, 2023
State of Retail: Why Jewelers Need to Invest in Cybersecurity Now

As cybercrime incidents threaten the industry, jewelers need to know what they’re up against and the best ways to protect their businesses.

Yurman Family Crystalline Pass at American Museum of Natural History in New York City
SourcingMay 25, 2023
David Yurman Unveils Quartz Exhibition at AMNH

The Yurman Family Crystalline Pass is inside the museum’s brand-new Richard Gilder Center.

Stanley Zale new principal consultant Hill & Co.
MajorsMay 25, 2023
Stanley Zale Joins Hill & Co. as Principal Consultant

Zale has more than 40 years’ experience in the diamond industry, including 17 years as Stuller’s VP of diamonds and gemstones procurement.

 Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign
Events & AwardsMay 24, 2023
New To-Dos in Las Vegas During Jewelry Market Week 2023

The Strip is full of new restaurant and entertainment offerings.

State Property necklace, Briony Raymond two-stone ring, and Emily P. Wheeler earrings
TrendsMay 24, 2023
State of Design: The Jewelry Design Trends to Know Now

National Jeweler’s senior editor covering fashion, trends, and design highlights the latest looks in the market.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy