Events & Awards

WJA Honors Helene Fortunoff With New Scholarship

Events & AwardsMar 02, 2023

WJA Honors Helene Fortunoff With New Scholarship

Applications are being accepted now for the $7,500 Helene Fortunoff Women in Retail Scholarship.

20230302_WJA Helene Fortunoff Scholarship.jpg
Helene Fortunoff, right, with actress and longtime Fortunoff spokesperson Lauren Bacall at the 2006 Gem Awards, where Fortunoff received the Gem Award for Lifetime Achievement.
New York—The Women’s Jewelry Association Foundation’s new scholarship honors late jewelry industry pioneer Helene Fortunoff.

She was a jewelry retail legend, joining her husband Alan Fortunoff’s housewares business and establishing its fine jewelry division in 1957.

Over time, the business grew from one store in Brooklyn, New York, to a network of stores in the New York metro area. Helene became a respected leader in the merchandising and design of fine jewelry.

She died at 88 in November 2021.

The Fortunoff family has pledged $50,000 to the WJA Foundation to fund the Helene Fortunoff Women in Retail Scholarship in her honor. The announcement, made Tuesday, fell on what would have been her 90th birthday.

The $7,500 scholarship will support leaders in retail by providing them with education and management training opportunities.

It will be awarded each year to a retail professional looking to develop their management skills, offering training in talent management, project management, effective communication, collaboration, managing conflict and resolution, and merchandising and marketing.

Applicants must be currently employed full-time in a retail jewelry store and have three to five years of experience in retail sales or management or want to focus on support roles, like marketing and merchandising. Those interested also must either be a WJA member or join upon receiving the scholarship.

Applications, available online, are being accepted now through April 30.

“With this new scholarship, Helene Fortunoff’s spirit of generosity and support for women in our industry will be commemorated and will continue to benefit the next generation of leaders shaping retail’s future,” said WJA Foundation President Gabrielle Grazi. 

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Helene’s daughters, Esther and Ruth Fortunoff, shared how important it is to their family to continue their mother’s legacy.

“Helene was an inspiration and a mentor to so many women throughout her career. She was committed to higher education and always encouraged our team of all female buyers to take classes, read articles and stay on top of changes in the jewelry industry,” they said.

“Jewelry was her passion and she loved her life in retail, traveling the world, and working with other women. Helene was a brilliant leader and would be proud to know her legacy will live on in the next generation of women in retail.”

Helene was a founding member of WJA in 1983, serving as the organization’s president from 1992 to 1995 and leading its fashion group for 15 years. She later received the WJA Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Helene recognized the importance of a community for women in the industry as there were few seats at the table four decades ago for women in the jewelry business,” said the WJA Foundation.

Her numerous achievements include being named chair of the Gemological Institute of America’s board of governors and being the first woman member of the United States Carat Club.

In 1990, she became the first woman inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame.

She received the honorary appointment as Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy in 1997 in honor of her work with Italian jewelry manufacturers.

In 2001, she was awarded the American Gem Society’s Triple Zero Award. In 2006, she received Jewelers of America’s Gem Award for Lifetime Achievement, presented to her by actress Lauren Bacall, a spokesperson for the Fortunoff brand.

The organization’s partnership with the Fortunoff family comes on the heels of WJA’s 40th anniversary.

“The impact WJA has had on women in the jewelry and watch industry over the past four decades would not be possible without the positive support and commitment of members like Helene Fortunoff who paved the way for women to connect, learn and shine together,” said the WJA Foundation.

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