Independents

In Memoriam: The People We Said Goodbye to in 2020

IndependentsDec 29, 2020

In Memoriam: The People We Said Goodbye to in 2020

National Jeweler remembers those the trade lost during a difficult year.

New York—It’s never easy to say goodbye to family, friends or colleagues, but it was made even more difficult this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 took the lives of more than 1 million people worldwide—including more than 300,000 in the United States—and also meant families and friends weren’t able to gather to mourn and celebrate their loved ones’ lives as they normally would.

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

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Jeweler Herbert Rubinfield died Jan. 4 at the age of 89.

Rubinfield was originally from Pittsburgh, served in the U.S. Navy and then moved to Erie, Pennsylvania after marrying his wife, Jessie. The two owned Fisher Jewelers for 55 years, and he came to be known by many in town as “The King of Diamonds.”

He was also known for being a man of great integrity and many talents who was generous and kind, making everyone who knew him feel like family.

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Longtime pearl expert Raymond (Ray) Louis Mastoloni Sr. died Jan. 9 in his home at the age of 89.

He and his brothers joined the family company, Frank Mastoloni and Sons (Mastoloni Pearls), in the 1950s and built it into one of the largest cultured pearl companies in the world.

He was a well-respected leader in the industry, served as a role model in his community, and was known as a man of strength, kindness, and courage as well as a compassionate husband, father and grandfather who lived his life based on family, company and friends.

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Jerrold Samuel Rosenwasser, who ran New York Jewelers alongside his family, died Jan 21. He was 85 years old.

Rosenwasser, who was known as Jerry, served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps before joining his uncle in the family jewelry store, New York Jewelers, in 1957, and helped it grow.

The family store remembered its patriarch as a larger-than-life man with “a wonderful sense of humor and an incredible heart” who loved Chicago and sports but, most of all, people.

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Sheldon Jay David died of cancer on Jan. 23 at the age of 71.

David previously served as the executive vice president of New York City sightholder W.B. David, a top diamond company founded by his father, Herman.

David also was active in the industry as founding member of the American Gem Society and
American Gem Society Laboratories as well as a director of Jewelers of America, the Diamond Dealers Club and the Plumb Club, and helped create the Diamond Council of America.

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Ralph Hayhurst Overstreet died Feb. 3 at the age of 103.

After graduating from Elgin Watch College in 1941, he went to work in the Elgin Watch factory. He served in World War II and, after being released from active duty in the Navy, worked in a jewelry store in South Dakota.

He found a watch repair shop for sale while on a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, and Overstreet’s Jewelry was born. Overstreet worked at his bench six days a week, a habit he maintained until he was more than 101 years old.

Overstreet’s Jewelry became a local legend, honored as a family with the Arthur (Rabbit) Dickerson Award by the Chamber of Commerce, and Overstreet himself was honor by the city with a birthday dinner twice—when he turned 100 and again at 103.

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Longtime New York jeweler Ira Wilson died Feb. 5 after a five-year battle with leukemia. He was 81.

Wilson was a third-generation jeweler and worked in the business for seven decades, scaling back his involvement but never really retiring until about a year ago when his illness became more advanced.

He was on the board of the New York State Jewelers Association and, outside of the industry, was involved with his local Rotary Club and the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce.

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Author and jewelry historian Rosalie Berberian died Feb. 8 at the age of 92.

She was “fiercely independent and an early feminist” who loved learning and eventually turned her love of going to tag sales and flea markets into a career.

Berberian continued to research as she collected, eventually becoming president of the American Art Pottery Association, and her business, ARK Antiques, became known as a leading authority on American silver, jewelry and metalwork from the Arts and Crafts period.

“She was one of those rare individuals who presented without reading her notes; she would look at the slide and off she went,” said Gail Brett Levine of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. “One was spellbound!”

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Lenore Dailey, the beloved antique jewelry dealer who was a fixture at trade shows, died Feb. 12 following a nearly three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Dailey worked in several fields before discovering her passion—antique jewelry—and specialized in hair and mourning jewelry from the Victorian and Georgian eras and even earlier. She traveled to shows on the East Coast, her booth a must-visit for everyone.

She also served as a font of well-researched information for collectors, other dealers and editors alike, including the editors of National Jeweler, and showed kindness and warmth to everyone she met.

“Lenore’s greatest strengths were her gregarious personality, her ability to personalize a piece of jewelry using historical facts and anecdotal stories, and her willingness to share knowledge without expecting anything in return,” antique and collectibles expert Harry Rinker said. “She made jewelry come alive. She was as much a teacher as she was a dealer.”

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Joseph Sherwood died Feb. 12, just shy of his 103rd birthday.

With beginnings as an artist and student at an art center in California, Sherwood eventually turned his attention to business and entered the family retail jewelry business in downtown Los Angeles.

In 1954, Joe and his wife, Helene, branched out on their own and opened their own store, Daniel’s Jewelers.

In addition to his commitment to the store, he was also a philanthropist for many causes up until his final days and had a deep love for his family.

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Edward Kahn, founder of storied estate jewelry dealer House of Kahn, died Feb. 14. He was 103.

Both of his parents and his sister died in the Holocaust, but Kahn survived and made it to the United States from Romania with just $100 to his name.

He started in the industry as a traveling salesman before he and his wife, Adele, started dealing in estate jewelry in the early 1950s. Over the years, Kahn built a jewelry business that became well-known and well-respected.

House of Kahn Estate Jewelers has acquired pieces from the estates of many prominent people, including royalty and Hollywood legends.

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Marshall Littman, one of the last jewelers of his generation to operate on Jewelers’ Row in Philadelphia, died Feb. 22 of complications from dementia. He was 98.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Littman and his wife started their business in 1954 as Marshall Littman Manufacturing Jewelers Inc. on Jewelers’ Row.

Littman made jewelry to be sold at retailers in the area—fine platinum and gold pieces—while his wife ran the business side. Marshall Littman Manufacturing Jewelers Inc. was eventually sold to family and then closed in 1999 amid declining demand; Graystar opened in its place to produce one-of-a-kind pieces but was sold in 2009.

Littman was described as scrupulously honest, the report said, and enjoyed painting, sculpting and playing golf.

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Marvin Solomon Heyman died Feb. 23 at the age of 89.

Heyman joined the family business, Oscar Heyman & Brothers, in his early 20s, starting as an apprentice jeweler and running the workshop for decades before becoming president in 2003.

“Marvin was selfless, modest and loving. A man of few words, all who knew him—his family, friends, coworkers, and caretakers—were moved by his playful and gentle spirit, kindness and charity,” the company said in a statement.

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Longtime American Gem Society jeweler Bob Lynn died at the age of 68.

In 1973, he opened his first brick-and-mortar store, Lynn’s Jewelry Studio, and joined AGS. He created a wide variety of custom designs for clients over the next 40-plus years.

He was also a 50-year member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and a member of the Academy of Magical Arts, earning him the nickname the “Magician Jeweler.”

“Bob made a lasting impact on our community … He loved our community, and what we represented to the industry and jewelry buyers. We will be forever grateful to Bob for his contributions,” AGS President Katherine Bodoh said in a statement at the time of his death.

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Julio Ramirez, a beloved member of the M.K. Diamonds family, died in his sleep March 16 following an undiagnosed illness with symptoms similar to the coronavirus. He was 43.

Ramirez worked for the Los-Angeles based jewelry manufacturer and its bridal brand, Natalie K, as a senior account executive. He was there for nearly 16 years.

The Atlanta Jewelry Show said in a post on its Facebook page that he was known as the “mayor of the show” because he always greeted people as they entered.

“He will be missed by many. Prayers to his beautiful wife and sons, family, the M.K. family and his friends,” the post said.

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Andrew Meyer, owner of Continental Wholesale Diamonds in Tampa, Florida, died March 21 after his private plane crashed outside Charleston, South Carolina.

Meyer, who was piloting the plane and was the only passenger aboard at the time of the crash, was reportedly taking a trip to visit his first grandchild.

The 64-year-old is remembered for his skill as a jeweler as well as his kindness and philosophy.

“He was much loved by the Tampa Bay community and will be missed by all of us,” Continental Wholesale Diamonds said in a post. “Andrew loved his work, his customers and the jewelry business. Most of all, he loved his children and was delighted when he became a grandfather last week.”

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Jeweler Mark Vuono died March 28 after a fatal armed robbery at his Stamford, Connecticut store.

He founded Marco Jewelers with his wife, Annie, and was known for his work ethic and attention to detail. He loved going to work every day and believed in treating everyone fairly and serving his community.

He also loved to work with his hands—whether it was creating a ring or building stone walls—his family and traveling with his wife.

Vuono was known for his kind and caring soul and was considered a fixture of his community.

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Jeweler Randy Flatau, 70, of Randy’s Fine Jewelers in Beaumont, Texas, died April 1 from complications related to COVID-19.

Those who knew Flatau remembered him as an “exceptional person” with a “glowing personality.”

“We could always count on his friendly face and kindness,” one commenter on his online obituary said.

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Award-winning jewelry designer Leila Tai died April 2 after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 77.

She made and sold her jewelry collections in Beirut for several years before moving to New York to begin what would turn out to be a long, fruitful career as a jewelry designer.

Tai designed fine jewelry for Van Cleef & Arpels and with French designer Jean Vitau, as well as fashion jewelry for Trifari, Monet and Liz Claiborne.

She also never stopped learning or teaching, and loved traveling, visiting museums and all enjoying New York City has to offer—shopping, fine dining, arts and culture—with her friends.

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Irving Korwin, founder of Wideband Coin Jewelry, died April 3 of natural causes. He was 99.

After serving in World War II, Korwin started Wideband in New York in 1951, eventually working alongside his son and daughter-in-law and creating jewelry for several famous Americans.

As so many do in the industry, Korwin made a lot of friends along the way.

“Each of you, in your own way, were special to him,” his son Richard said in a note to 24 Karat Club members. “He will be missed.”

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Beloved diamond dealer Emanuel “Manny” Gordon died on April 7 of COVID-19. He was 79.

Gordon got his start in the jewelry industry working as a traveling salesman for GC&G before joining his brother-in-law, famed diamond dealer William Goldberg, in the diamond business. He then opened his eponymous company in 1984.

He was known for being like a big brother to many and a man of exceptional integrity as well as his kindness and generosity.

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Iraj Yonatan Namdar, patriarch of H.J. Namdar, died in early April at age 87.

He is survived by his wife, Lena; three sons, Benny, Joel, and Effy; and a daughter, Rachel Nouriely. Memorial donations may be made to the Namdar Foundation.

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Lucia Greene, who owned and operated Wick & Greene Jewelers (now Spicer Greene) for decades with her husband, died April 18. She was 90.

She was a hard worker her whole life, working in various positions including alongside her husband at the jewelry store. Together, the two grew the business into one of the premier jewelers in the country.

Greene was a loving and dedicated wife, and a devoted mother to her children; her family was her greatest pride and joy. She also loved animals and philanthropy and was known for her compassion, humility, generosity and perseverance.

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Award-winning jewelry designer Yupadee Kobkul Boonsiri died April 28 after a month-long battle with COVID-19. She was 51.

Kobkul Boonsiri created both classic and avant-garde jewelry described as “sculptural, bold and often fantastical” and won numerous awards throughout her career.

“Yupadee was a free-spirited genius, by far the most talented jewelry designer, bar none. Even her stationary work seemed to be kinetic, complimenting the human body and emphasizing every movement of those who wore her jewelry,” said James Grunberger, third-generation owner of Grunberger Jewelers in Stamford, Connecticut, which produced her designs.

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William Warren “Bill” Thompson died May 1 at the age of 88.

Thompson’s career in the jewelry industry spanned a total of 52 years, all with the A.A. Friedman Co. (Friedman’s Jewelers), starting at 12 sweeping the floors and working his way up to president and CEO.

Randy McCullough, who met Thompson when was manager of the Friedman’s store in Augusta, Georgia in 1971, described his longtime friend as a “strategic thinker, a real visionary who was savvy, innovative and very creative” and generously shared his knowledge and skills.

“The character of the life he lived might be summed up in a few words: he was sincere, he was earnest, he was loyal,” McCullough said. “Nothing was more typical of Bill Thompson than that large-hearted fairness.”

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Didier Giard, president of the French Association of Gemmology, died May 3. He was 68 years old.

After his studies and apprenticeships in the jewelry trade, he took over the family jewelry manufacturing business in 1887 and stepped into his position with the association a decade later.

He also organized the first World Ruby Forum in Bangkok in 2017 and served as former vice president of the French Union of Jewelry, Silverware, Stones & Pearls, and chairman of the Manufacturers Jewelers Group.

Albert Robinson, who worked with Giard to promote last year’s gemological conference and speaker lineup, said he “found him to be a gentle and pleasant man” who knew the worlds of diamonds and gems inside and out.

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Irvin Aaron Reiner died May 7 at the age of 94.

He opened Reiner’s Fine Jewelry in 1945 and made his business his passion. His family said the store was his stage and one could “find him holding court” in his chair until his final months.

The only thing he loved more than the jewelry business was his family, of which he took exceptional care. He also loved religion, a perfectly cooked steak, a fine glass of Scotch, horse racing and traveling.

Reiner was known for being a friend to all, having a big heart and helping everyone, as well as his honesty, charisma and wit.

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Longtime industry veteran and cancer survivor Linda Zimmer died peacefully May 8 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. She was 70.

Zimmer was born into jewelry—her father worked for Harry Winston before returning to Belgium with his family and setting up his business there.

Zimmer worked for her father for a time before moving to New York and graduating from GIA. She taught jewelry and gemstones at the Fashion Institute of Technology then moved to manufacturing at Fabrikant and Gumuchian, and retail at Bergdorf Goodman.

The Centurion reported Zimmer was a staunch advocate for women and one of the earliest members of the Women’s Jewelry Association, serving on its board of directors for years.

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Industry veteran Robert “Bob” Sears Siragusa died in mid-May from complications related to COVID-19 after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 72.

Siragusa founded jewelry manufacturer Aurion International in the mid-1980s before stepping into the role of president of Maurice Lacroix U.S.A. and growing it into a successful brand in the country.

He then worked with designer Michael Beaudry to create his eponymous company’s watch division, Beaudry Time, serving as its president for two years before retiring from the industry around 2010.

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Johnnie Baskel Gilreath Jr. died June 1 after a hiking trip into the Mojave Desert.

Gilreath had a passion for collecting coins, his first and favorite hobby and how his business, Golden Eagle Jewelry, was born. It was eventually expanded to include jewelry.

Gilreath is remembered as a giving man, known for his many charitable causes.

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Former St. Louis Police Captain David Dorn died June 2 while protecting his friend’s jewelry store during a night of violence and looting.

David Dorn spent 38 years on the St. Louis police force, starting as a rookie patrol officer and working his way up to captain and deputy commander of the Bureau of Patrol Support.

After retirement, he took a job as police chief in Moline Acres, Missouri.

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Jewelry designer Roberto Faraone Mennella died June 4 at his family estate in Italy. He was 48.

He launched jewelry brand Faraone Mennella with partner Amedeo Scognamiglio in 2001, offering a modern take on Scognamiglio’s cameo-carving family business, and the two became inextricably intertwined.

The industry remembered Mennella not only for his great talent but also his welcoming, warm smile.

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Arun R. Mehta, one of the founders of global diamond giant Rosy Blue, died June 14 in Mumbai. He was 80.

Mehta started his diamond cutting and polishing business in 1960, which grew to be a force in the diamond industry and eventually became a Diamond Trading Co. sightholder.

He was also an active member of the industry known for his integrity and ethics as well as his willingness to mentor other Indian diamantaires, with GJEPC calling him the “doyen of the Indian diamond industry.”

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Jewelry designer Jennifer Carroll Wilson died June 27. She was 51.

She created sculptural jewelry inspired by her time spent in nature, and also was a former board member of Ethical Metalsmiths, serving from 2016 to 2017.

Wilson was also known as a vibrant woman with a zest for life and who greatly enjoyed the mountains, where she skied, hiked, biked and camped.

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Henry Nelson Keyser, head of Simons Brothers Co., died June 29 at age 101.

He helped open the second location of his father-in-law’s jewelry store, James J. McCaffrey Jewelers, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, managing it until the late 1950s.

He then moved on to Simons Brothers Co., a gold and silver jewelry manufacturer based in Philadelphia, which he bought in the early 1960s and worked at until he was 99.

Keyser was a “doting husband” and was a dedicated retailer, meeting with his customers even in his old age.

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Joseph Sindt died of congestive heart failure on July 7 at the age of 71.

Sindt spent his career in the watch industry, serving as an executive at Seiko Corporation of America for several years and later running its sister brand, Lorus.

He established his own company in the mid-1990s, supplying brand-name watches to several corporate clients, and was known for being dedicated to the growing the business and doing the right thing.

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Thomas Rosanio, who helped establish Zak’s Jewelry, died July 23.

After meeting his future wife, he started working for her father, serving as a bench jeweler to create and repair jewelry and helping grow the business for decades, taking over when his father-in-law died.

He was a loved and respected father and husband who showed warmth to everyone and never failed to help others.

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Bob McIntire, a longtime executive with Finlay Fine Jewelry, died suddenly July 25 after going into cardiac arrest. He was 52.

He worked in the industry for decades and was known for his professionalism, humility, kindness, and commitment as well as his sense of humor and infectious laugh.

Outside of the jewelry industry, he loved cooking and traveling to food and wine festivals.

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Roger Gesswein Jr., chairman of global jewelry tools and equipment supplier Paul H. Gesswein Co., died July 31 after a battle with mantle cell lymphoma. He was 77.

Gesswein was the third generation of his family to head the company founded by his grandfather. He joined in the 1960s, working alongside brother Dwight Gesswein and sister Janet Gesswein Mutti.

He was known for being generous and cultured. His interests outside of the jewelry industry included traveling, food and wine, cigars, art, and music.

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Edward Foulke Shoemaker died of neuroendocrine cancer on July 31. He was 85.

He became a certified gemologist and loved working with fine gemstones during his career as a jeweler, which culminated in years at Tiffany & Co. in Boston.

Shoemaker was known for his dry wit, impressive vocabulary, and love of print. He also was a fan of dapper attire, single-malt scotches, gummy bears, music, antique furniture, clocks, and fine automobiles.

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Intellectual property attorney Peter Berger died in late July at the age of 80.

The Centurion reported Berger was a go-to source for intellectual property law for the jewelry industry, including giving seminars to the trade, and was elected to the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York in 2010.

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Nancy B. & Co. jewelry designer Nancy Brewer died Aug. 5. She was 78.

Brewer created her namesake jewelry company in 1978 and was particularly known for her gold earrings and colored gemstone jewelry, all targeted toward working women like herself.

She was a member of the Gemological Institute of America’s Board of Governors from 1997 to 2007, and many there remembered her warmly.

GIA President and CEO Susan Jacques said: “I fondly remember Nancy as gregarious, determined and always ready to offer strategic guidance as a valued member of GIA’s Board of Governors. Her charisma and drive set her apart as a pioneer in the 1970s, at a time when there were few women-owned gem and jewelry businesses.”

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Jewelry designer Marilyn F. Cooperman died on Aug. 19.

She started as a fashion journalist in New Zealand before relocating to New York City, where she held a few different jobs in fashion.

Cooperman launched her eponymous line, the Marilyn F. Cooperman collection, in September 1993, creating elaborate statement jewels mixing silver, gold and gemstones that reside in the permanent collections of various museums.

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Howard C. Heiss Jr., former owner of Howard C. Heiss Jewelers, died of complications from dementia Sept. 14. He was 96.

After graduating from Duke University, he joined his father’s business. The store got customers from all over the Baltimore area, but according to a local news report, the 1990s recession and flight of customers to the suburbs affected the business. It ended up closing in 1994.

Heiss enjoyed gardening, traveling and collecting antique cast-iron mechanical banks.

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Vincent “Vinny” Polisano died Sept. 29 from cancer. He was 63.

Polisano and his wife, Diane Chrambanis, owned and operated the award-winning Diana Vincent Jewelry Designs, which has a studio and showroom in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania as well as fine jewelry gallery in Lambertville, New Jersey.

Polisano was an extrovert who enjoyed meeting new people—he had a knack for engaging with strangers at any time or place and leaving a smile on their faces—and never worried about the small things.

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Gene Morris Sistare died Oct. 1 at his home. He was 66.

Morris was the co-owner and operator of Lancaster Pawn and Jewelry. The bench jeweler, goldsmith and general contractor loved making things with his hands.

He was described as a humble man who enjoyed fishing, working in his garden, riding his motorcycle and spending time with his family.

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Raphael Karel “Ralph” Vantyghem died Oct. 3 after battling kidney cancer for three years. He was 72.

He and his wife, Arlette, started Vantyghem Diamonds in 1973 and grew it nationwide, placing value on the relationships he had built and offering his expertise.

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Richard M. “Dick” Kern, the longtime owner of Churchill Jewelers, died Oct. 8 at the age of 97.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Kern finished his education and went back to the jewelry store he worked at through high school and college, Churchill Jewelers.

After the store owner’s death, he bought it and ran it alongside his daughter for more than four decades.

Kern was active in the jewelry industry, serving as president of the California Jewelers Association, a two-term board member for Jewelers of America and on the board of Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company.

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Parvin Mayer, founder and CEO of Afarin, died in October. She was 82.

She emigrated from Iran to the United States to escape persecution, opening her company in the U.S. in 1980.

Mayer was known for being the entertainment at all the trade shows, putting a smile on everyone’s faces and treating everyone like family.

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Henri Barguirdjian, who once led Graff Diamonds in North America, died Oct. 13. He was 63.

He was involved in some of fine jewelry’s biggest names, like Harry Winston, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels, and finally, Graff North America.

At the time of his death, the French-born businessman was managing partner of gem investing company Arcot Finance.

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Helen Sher, owner of Camelot Jewelers since it opened in 1977, died Oct. 24 after a 20-year battle with cancer. She was 93.

She was a fixture in her store in Dunwoody, Georgia, which won several service awards.

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Hans Moeller died Oct. 31 at the age of 93.

He and his wife moved to America from Germany when a cousin told them their town needed a good watchmaker, but his aspirations were delayed while he served in the Korean War.

He was honorably discharged due to tuberculosis and was quarantined at the VA hospital for two years, where he practiced his watchmaking skills. Once he was discharged, he and his wife opened Hans Moeller Jewelers in Attica, New York.

Moeller lived a life of happiness, gratitude, and joy, and was gentle, kind, and always sure to entertain with his accordion, yodels or stories.

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Frank Hawks Maier Jr., chairman and CEO of Maier & Berkele Jewelers, died Oct. 31. He was 81 years old.

Maier earned many awards during his time in the jewelry industry, including the prestigious Robert M. Shipley award from the American Gem Society, and was inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in 1991 in the multi-store independent category.

Outside of the jewelry world, Maier was an avid cyclist, traveling across most of western Europe by bike.

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Eshagh Natanzadeh died Nov. 3 after a fatal robbery at his Beverly Hills, California store. He was 62.

Members of Southern California’s Iranian-Jewish community remembered Natanzadeh for his kindness and for the way he treated everyone like family.

A family friend launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the jeweler’s family in the wake of his death.

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Prabodh Kirtilal Mehta, notable philanthropist and pioneer in the diamond community in Belgium, died Nov. 3.

He moved to Belgium and started the diamond company Gembel with his father, eventually taking charge of it and growing it into one of the world’s largest.

As one of the first diamond businesses to set up in Belgium, he paved the way for many more to come and was given the two highest civilian awards by His Majesty the King of Belgium.

Mehta later set up Pace Gems in Dubai. He was also a traveler and sportsman who continued his philanthropy long after he had said goodbye to the diamond world.

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John J. Ahee, co-owner of Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers, died Nov. 5 at the age of 56.

After graduating from college, Ahee returned to the family store, where he had been learning about the trade since the age of 8. During his 45 years at Ahee Jewelers, he served in many positions, from assisting customers or buying inventory to appraising and working with designers.

Ahee and his siblings were committed to carrying on their parents’ legacy, both in the store and in their community through philanthropy.

He was known for his lightheartedness, the ability to laugh at himself, his positivity, love, kindness, and deep commitment to faith. Ahee also loved to plan a party and was a master at organizing events.

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Lawrence “Larry” John Devenny died Nov. 14 at the age of 60 due to complications from his cancer treatment.

After trying roles in sales and starting a beer distribution company, Devenny tried his hand at engraving, teaching himself at home, and ended up being one of the best in the world.

Starting as a pieceworker at Fortunoff, he later joined Tiffany & Co., working his way up to master engraver. He engraved the Super Bowl trophy multiple times, the FedEx Cup, a gift from President George W. Bush to the Pope, and more.

He was a music trivia aficionado, sports and travel lover and talented golfer. Devenny was known for his kindness and for not only being the best father to his daughter but providing that support to everyone he met.

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Jay Brian Siskin, husband of designer Penny Preville and president of the jewelry company that bears her name, died Nov. 15 after battling liver cancer for several months. He was 70.

Siskin was involved in the business side of Penny Preville since the company’s launch, working for years alongside her and building up the business together.

He was a respected figure in the jewelry industry who was known for his kindness, generosity, larger-than-life personality, and ever-present smile.

“Jay touched so many lives and meant so much to all of us,” the Penny Preville team said. “We will always love and miss him more than words can express. His life and memory will be forever cherished and live on in all of our hearts.”

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Lecil Henderson, founder of The Henderson Collection by Lecil, died suddenly Nov. 22. He was 62.

Henderson studied under his father, who was an account executive for an Italian jewelry design firm, in high school and college.

He joined the company full time after graduation. He then launched his eponymous fine jewelry collection in 1990, combining traditional craftsmanship and modern components.

The company called him a “true road warrior” and “bigger-than-life personality” who treated everyone like family. He was also known for his gregarious nature and being quick to laugh and make others laugh.

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John G. “Jack” Putters died Nov. 22 at the age of 87.

Putters’ career spanned more than six decades. He was the owner of Putters Jewelry Store in Norfolk, Nebraska, which he helped run until illness stopped him.

He was also active in his community, serving as president and director in many organizations, including the Norfolk Lions Club, Northeast Rock & Mineral Club, Norfolk Community Theater, Norfolk Jaycees, and more, and received numerous awards over the years, including from the American Gem Society.

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Roger L. De Capito died Nov. 24 at the age of 83.

De Capito was the president of Diamond Wholesale Inc. and Republic Wholesale Distributors Inc. in Ohio and was certified in diamond grading and evaluation by the GIA.

He also served in the Army National Guard and was licensed to pilot a single-engine airplane. De Capito also enjoyed cooking, golfing, traveling, and spending time with family.

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Canadian designer Holly Dyment died Nov. 25 following a battle with cancer. She was 61.

She launched her own jewelry line in 2009 after several other artistic ventures and amassed a legion of devotees with her unique point of view and the sense of humor she added to her designs.

Dyment had a love of color that she showcased in gems and her enamelwork, in which she depicted people, flora and fauna, with a particular penchant for skulls.

“Holly was an absolutely unique and exceptional designer,” jewelry author and editor Marion Fasel said. “Her work was unlike anything else in the field. That’s a rare achievement in jewelry today.”

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Elmer Louis Nelson Jr., a longtime jewelry and watch salesman, died Dec. 3 after a three-year battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 84.

Known as Buddy to all, Nelson was a top salesman for Omega watches beginning from the 1960s to the 1980s, then worked for SB&T Imports in Houston through the early 2000s.

Nelson loved the jewelry and watch industries, his family said, and all the people he worked with over the years.

He will be remembered for his uproarious and rowdy personality, and for the traits that formed the pillars of his character: his fierce love of family, his tireless work ethic, and his unfailing faith.

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Longtime retailer Frank Kumor died Dec. 4 of complications from COVID-19. He was 71.

He got his start in jewelry and watch repair when he was in high school and eventually enrolled in classes at a watchmaking and jewelry repair school. He finished his training after serving in the Air Force and moved to Bellevue, Nebraska to work at Erwin’s Jewelers Co. in 1975, eventually taking ownership of the store.

He became an integral part of that community, serving in so many areas and having such an impact that one comment on a local Facebook page called Kumor the “heart and soul of Bellevue.”

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James Breski, a longtime colored gemstone and jewelry wholesaler, died Dec. 9 from complications related to COVID-19. He was 75.

He got his start running errands for his father to the Jewelers Building in Chicago and worked for manufacturer Juergens & Andersen before branching out on his own in 1975.

He was highly respected in the industry, known for his knowledge and expertise.

He also loved the Chicago Bears, literature, language, music, art, the theater, traveling and flying. He was known for being wise, witty, and sarcastic, his family said, spreading love, knowledge, and jokes wherever he went.

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Dr. Walter William Hanneman, the gemologist known for sharing his knowledge and helping make gemology accessible to all, died Dec. 12 at his home in California. He was 93.

He worked as a research analytical chemist, but after being introduced to gems and minerals at a young age, decided in the mid-1960s he wanted to learn gem identification. 

After being told about the necessary classes and their costs, Hanneman decided to teach himself. Ever the champion of those interested in gemology, he went on to create a line of affordable instruments under his own name and contributed articles, books and lectures to share his knowledge for anyone interested. 

He will be remembered as a man who wanted to make gemology accessible to all, as well as for his brilliance, contributions to the area, and his warmth and kindess. 

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Jeremy Pudney, a former marketing executive with De Beers, died Dec. 14 at the age of 82.

He joined the company in 1962, according to JCKOnline; at the time, De Beers advertised only in the United States.

Pudney helped expand the business to Japan and is credited with creating the trade-facing Diamond Promotion Service and the consumer-facing Diamond Information Center.

He joined the De Beers’ board in 1992 and retired from the company in 1999, handing over the reins to the young American he had recruited to De Beers in the ‘80s—Stephen Lussier, who is now the company’s executive vice president, consumer markets.

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Fran Zimniuch, a beloved member the InStore magazine team, died Dec. 17 of complications related to COVID-19. He was 66.

The Philadelphia native joined SmartWork Media in 2004 and served as InStore’s East Coast sales manager.

He is remembered as a pillar of the InStore team who helped define the magazine’s character—“honest, sincere, big-hearted, earnest and loving.”

Outside of the jewelry industry, Zimniuch was a baseball historian and author, writing more than half-dozen books on the sport as well as one on his hometown football team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 5, 2021 to add William Hanneman, who died near the end of 2020 but whose death wasn’t announced until then. 
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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