The Women’s Jewelry Association’s mission is to help women in the diamond, jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through networking, education, leadership and the provision of member services. Programs include grants, interactive workshops, mentorship programs and awards of excellence. The Diamond Loupe had the opportunity to sit down with Ayelet Lerner, one of the women involved with setting up the WJA chapter in Antwerp.
The Diamond Loupe: Tell us a little bit about yourself in the business.
Ayelet Lerner: I joined our family business over 15 years ago, at which time my mom took a step back from the business. My mom was a tough and very effective business woman with a great reputation and real passion for diamonds. I grew up in a house with parents taking customers for dinner in the evenings and my mom regularly being on business calls, so strong women in business was part of the household.
Sadly, I don’t have the same style as her in business, but I like to think that I have combined the style of both my mother & father which seems to work. My parents were both great diamond buyers and I spent the first years learning the art of buying, especially cheaper goods.
I was lucky to step into an existing structure and have my parents support. Our business, like many others, changed drastically over the years and today we provide a high quality service for our wholesale and retail customers. Most days it’s a very nice business to be in. The very tough negotiation days my mom faced are not so alive anymore; today it’s more about turning the earth upside down to find anything your customer needs.
TDL: The WJA started in America with the belief that, “women networking with each other could change the world.” How did it get started in Antwerp?
AL: I met Bernadette Mack a few years ago in Chicago in the AWDC Diamond Pavilion at the Smart show. Bernadette runs WJA’s New York office. So in 2015 when Lita Asscher of the Royal Asscher company showed interest in starting a chapter in the Benelux, my name came up. I was of course very excited about the idea. With the help of both Lita and Marianne Georges of Diarough, we took on the project, and a couple of months after that we had our very first event to see if there was any interest.
There is no doubt that this is something very new for Antwerp and that women are not accustomed to having events, let alone an association, dedicated to them, but so far we have had a couple of great events and are extremely pleased with the increasing turnout and interest.
TDL: What needs to be accomplished in Antwerp?
AL: Our trade as a whole is still very male-dominated, and this is still especially true for Antwerp. We would like to see women acknowledge themselves as an entity in our business and make the commitment to join the association and support each other. Our events center around learning new things together, networking and progressing in our industry. We make it a point to create a comfortable and relaxed setting so we can sit and enjoy our time together.
Our idea is to create an opportunity and hope that women will step up to it rather than stepping back, which seems to be our more natural tendency. I would like to see women in Antwerp really own what they do.
TDL: Tell us about the difference between America and Europe. Is America as progressive as one would assume?
AL: There are women in the trade in all the major centers, but in the USA you will see significantly more business owners, women sitting on boards and vigilance committees and generally being more active. In Antwerp you could quite easily name all the women in the diamond business. That has also been one of the refreshing things in our last WJA events. We met new women, faces we had never seen before, which was great!
TDL: What does the WJA have on the agenda?
AL: The next event we want to set up is a working breakfast, giving the women a chance to really get to know each other and find out more about what each of us does. This will give us a chance to see if there are any business opportunities amongst ourselves. In the fall we intend to organize a trip to a 3D printing factory in Eindhoven for our jewelry designers. Some very interesting changes are happening in the 3D arena with regards to jewelry setting, and we saw keen interest for this in our last event.
We also hope to launch a mentorship program in 2018. This is something that has proven to be a great success in the USA, and with the WJA’s existing platform, we are definitely interested in making a go of it here.
TDL: What would a successful WJA in Antwerp mean specifically?
AL: In order to establish an international WJA chapter we need to reach our goal of 30 members by the end of 2017. This would enable us to become a fully established WJA chapter for the Benelux region in 2018. We currently have 15 members, so I definitely think we can reach that. It would mean more opportunities to get to know each other, do business together and learn new topics of interest together. It would also mean that women here would start taking their place around the table and acknowledging their place in our business.
TDL: What motivates you to be active in the women’s arena and with WJA?
AL: I think there is a lot of value in women recognizing themselves in business. Even if by means of WJA we can make the smallest difference, it would be a lot. Just before our last event my 11-year-old daughter said to me that she thinks it’s really amazing what I am doing, and as a woman my natural tendency would be to brush it off as if it doesn’t really mean anything. But actually, it does, and I am willing to fully accept that wonderful compliment.
To join WJA Benelux please visit www.womensjewelryassociation.com and click on join WJA