Industry Pillar Nate Light, Architect of Modern-Day Sterling Jewelers, Dies at 86

MajorsMar 16, 2021

Industry Pillar Nate Light, Architect of Modern-Day Sterling Jewelers, Dies at 86

He grew the company from a chain of 32 stores to a national retailer with more than 1,000 doors.

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.—Longtime Sterling Jewelers executive Nathan “Nate” Light, a pillar of the industry who made the retailer the massive powerhouse it is today, died March 12 in Florida.

He was 86.

Light was born on Nov. 13, 1934.

After working for other jewelry retailers, he joined Sterling in 1977, when he was in his early 40s.

He was the driving force behind the acquisitions that grew the Akron, Ohio-based retailer from what it was then—a 32-store chain—to a giant, publicly traded company with more than 1,000 doors, 14,000 employees and annual revenues of nearly $1 billion.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Signet Jewelers Ltd. since 1987, Sterling’s banners include some of the most recognizable names in jewelry retail, like mall staple Kay Jewelers and the standalone Jared the Galleria of Jewelry stores, which are pillars of Signet today.

Light was also a charitable man.

Beginning in the 1980s, he was active with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and helped to organize the industry’s “Party with a Purpose” at JCK Las Vegas in 1994.

The Party With a Purpose was the foundation for the annual, well-attended Facets for Hope gala still hosted by Jewelers for Children today.

Light was named to National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in 1995, the same year he retired as Sterling’s CEO.

In 2016, what was then known as the Diamond Empowerment Fund presented its inaugural Diamonds Do Good Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing an individual who has promoted the importance of developing social purpose programs and charitable giving to help communities where the diamond industry does business.

Light was first recipient of this award since, DEF said at the time, he was someone who epitomized this ideal.

According to posts on an online memorial page and on social media, Light was a “people person” who was known for treating everyone with kindness and respect. 

“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 the memorial page

Another stated: “Nate was truly the backbone of Sterling Jewelry. I remember one time him coming to distribution for a quick meeting. Seeing everyone standing and sitting around, he proceeded to drop to the ground and sit like everyone else. 

“He never acted better than anyone else and that’s why we all liked him. God bless his family and loved ones.”

Signet Jewelers also provided a statement on Light’s passing. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Nate’s family,” said David Bouffard, Signet’s vice president, corporate affairs. 

“In honor of his contributions, and in line with the cause he cared deeply about, Signet’s Love Inspires Foundation has made a donation to the Foundation Fighting Blindness.”

Light is survived by his wife, Candace; five children, Shelly and Michael Paolercio, Cheryl and Scott Golant, Mark and Andie Light, Alyse and Doug Storm, and Jared Light; as well as numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and many other loving family members.

The family held a private service for him on Monday in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Those who wish to honor Light can do so by donating to Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens, 7026 Fairview Lane, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418, or to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, P.O. Box 17279, Baltimore, MD 21297. 

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

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