This tribute was originally posted in March 2018. We are reposting it now in memory of Helene Fortunoff.
During Women’s History Month, I wanted to pay tribute to my mother, Helene Fortunoff, pictured here with my sister Ruth and me, who both followed her footsteps into the jewelry industry. My mother is well-known as a pioneering woman in the jewelry world. In 1957, she spearheaded our company's first entrance into the jewelry category – because she understood the power and significance jewelry had for women. In 2000, after our father died, she took on the presidency of Fortunoff, ably steering our entire company.
Along the way, Helene picked up many honors and firsts from the jewelry industry: She was one of the first members of the Women's Jewelry Association after its founding in 1983, recognizing that most women did not yet have a place at the table in jewelry businesses. Later, she received WJA's Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as being one of the first recipients of National Jeweler magazine's Hall of Fame designation for prominent retailers.
She was also the first woman invited to join the prestigious Carat Club, a diamond industry leadership group sponsored by De Beers. She was a member of many boards of directors, both in the jewelry industry, and in her Long Island community, serving as chair for both the Gemological Institute of America and Hofstra University boards.
To my sister Ruth and me, she has been both mother and mentor, as we continue to pursue our jewelry careers. She taught us how to balance motherhood and work, so that we could raise our own children as she raised us. Her guidance and example have been central to our lives.
As women press forward again for equal pay, promotions, and relief from sexual harassment in 2018, it’s important we remember the pioneers who came before us. I’m grateful that my mother laid the groundwork upon which we continue to build today.