The world of jewelry is a vast one, with estimated sales of $61.9 billion in the U.S. alone, according to the Jewelry Industry Research Institute. But despite the fact that 65% of the world’s diamonds were mined on the African continent, there appear to be limited opportunities for African Americans looking to enter the field.
Some experts say this is because of the institutional nature of the jewelry business: Recruitment has been an exclusive in-family tradition, with very few exceptions. As a result, openings for African Americans have been confined mainly to the industry’s retail segment. “We just don’t realize it’s a viable industry with all the arms and facets of a regular business,” explains Nicole Davis, vice president of marketing and public relations for Goldstein Communications.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” adds Larry H. Barkley Sr., president of the luxury jewelry chain Georg Jensen. “Somehow [many] feel the luxury retail sector is off limits based on not seeing a lot of African American faces there. You don’t see them so you don’t aspire to it.”
Sales, however, is the heart of the industry and the most-traveled avenue to gain access, affirms Veronica Clark-Hudson, an 18-year industry veteran and director of the Gemological Institute of America–Los Angeles (www.gia.edu). “Most everyone [in the jewelry industry] will ask if you have retail experience then train you in their procedures.”
Barkley agrees about the importance of the sales professional: “Without that person, your brand doesn’t have a chance.” He estimates base and commission salary ranges from $65,000 to as high as $300,000, depending on the luxury brand and the company’s commission structure.
Barkley says that jobs in public relations and marketing and as company president are perhaps the most coveted opportunities in the industry due to their high visibility and the fact that there are so few positions. He says a PR/marketing director can command $95,000 to $200,000 plus bonuses, while a company vice president or president can expect compensation of $175,000 to $500,000 plus bonuses.
The employment of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers is expected to decline slightly through 2014. But in general, employment opportunities promise to be excellent, according to the 2006–07 Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational outlook. “The increasing numbers of affluent individuals, working women, double-income households, and fashion-conscious men are expected to keep jewelry sales strong,” notes the report.
Advancement opportunities, however, depend greatly on an individual’s skill and initiative. The specialists assembled in this story highlight the varied career possibilities in the luxury jewelry industry and exemplify the drive and resourcefulness that inspire new directions.
Larry H. Barkley Sr. President Georg Jensen USA New York: “My aspiration at Saks Fifth Avenue was to become vice president of a single store,” recalls Larry H. Barkley Sr. Unfortunately, as assistant general manager, he was offered larger volume and salary but no possibility of advancement.
In 1999, he decided to leave and joined Bvlgari as vice president of the retail sales division. In his seven-year tenure there, Barkley steered its retail business from $30 million to