At the end of this month, Borsheims will say goodbye to longtime employee and friend Joanne Zabawa as she retires after 38 years in the jewelry industry. Joanne is leaving behind an incredible legacy of jewelry knowledge, having served for the bulk of her career in the industry and at Borsheims, as a jewelry trainer, educating all Borsheims employees on everything from the basics of jewelry and gems to the latest changes in technology that affect the jewelry industry.
An animal lover, Zabawa initially pictured herself in her first career as a veterinary assistant. But a quick holiday sales job at a jewelry store had her hooked on the industry. She earned her Graduate Gemology diploma from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). She then went to work as a teacher for the GIA. While traveling the world for her work, Zabawa studied with the Gemological Association of Great Britain and achieved its fellowship title, a Fellow of the Gemological Association (FGA).
In 1989, Zabawa began her first tenure at Borsheims as Trainer and in 1998 became our Shop Manager. After a brief hiatus, Zabawa returned in 2007 as the Jewelry Trainer. Borsheims and its employees have benefitted from Zabawa’s vast knowledge and passion for the jewelry industry. She has trained everyone from new employees with zero experience in jewelry to long-tenured employees who have intricate knowledge of the industry. Borsheims President & CEO Karen Goracke said Zabawa will be missed. “Joanne was truly one-of-a-kind – a vault of information about every aspect of gems, metals, and stones – and a real knack for teaching,” said Goracke. “We wish her a retirement full of trail rides with her horses and quiet nights on the front porch of her log home.”
We sat down with Joanne to ask her a few questions about her career and to get some pearls of wisdom one last time.
You changed your career plans after a brief holiday sales job. What about that experience made you decide the jewelry industry was for you?
I loved selling and found how much fun it was to sell diamonds and jewelry. The store I started in specialized in loose diamonds with a predominate engagement clientele. It was the customers and the product I fell in love with and created a passion I have carried with me my entire jewelry career.
What changes have you seen in the industry?
Oh my goodness – so many things have changed over the years. From the average diamond sale of a 1/3rd carat to now over a carat final sale is amazing to me. The ever-evolving changes in gemstone treatments & synthetics bring new challenges that I love (to teach) and will miss very much as I leave the industry now. The internet brought instant and huge changes in how we market jewelry, and especially how our customers shop. Keeping up with what customers are “learning online” is a new and important aspect of jewelry sales today.
Do you have a favorite gemstone, metal, etc. fact you’ve come across over your career?
When Paraiba Tourmaline entered the market, I was completely taken with its neon intensity. Along with Tanzanite, I gained new respect and appreciation for human contribution (heat treatment) to these lovely gifts of nature! As a GG, I love the unique internal characteristics of gemstones and diamonds. Observing gems under magnification is like a treasure hunt to me.
What was your favorite topic to train people on?
At GIA, I loved teaching the light theory of diamond brilliance and balance of diamond proportions. My years at Borsheims gave me the opportunity to take the science of gems and jewelry and apply it to the needs of customers. Translating beauty, rarity and durability into customer excitement, while separating fact from fiction is what I love to help my students with the most.
Favorite Borsheims story or memory?
Impossible to pick just a few great times at Borsheims. I loved the theme parties of the past and could tell many fun stories from line dancing to gambling at holiday parties. After 20+ Berkshire events, it may seem it would get mundane, but each was different and all a total blast in the end. Customer stories will remain in my memory, while the names are forgotten, the happy, funny and some unbelievable situations remain… retail is a hoot! My best memories are of all the classes and the students (all of you!) that attended. Every class gave me an opportunity to learn more about gems myself as students shared thoughts and asked questions. I thank you for giving me your time and attention, and truly hope you learned a few things that will help you in your life journey no matter where you go.
Any advice for those wanting to learn more about the industry or interested in getting their GG diploma?
Go for it! It takes patience and persistence. It is not easy, but I suggest it is a necessity for top professionals in the jewelry industry today. Be it retail or wholesale, sales or the jewelers’ bench, education in gemology is a huge plus, and GIA is the best on all aspects!
Any parting words for your Borsheims family?
I make it a habit never to say good-bye…but I want to thank the entire Borsheims family for making the past 28 years so extra special. I feel privileged to have worked with everyone, past and current, who make the Borsheims family so great! You are the true Gems of my gemology career that will stay in my heart as I move on to my next journey. I wish you all good health and happiness as we move on to our new home in Tennessee. Know that our door is open should your travels ever take you to the Daniel Boone National Forest. Happy Trails…till we meet again!