Queens, NY—Carolyn Kelly, whose decades-long industry career included some of jewelry manufacturing and retail’s foremost names, died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 60.
A graduate of Marymount College, Kelly parlayed her business degree—and her keen instinct for merchandising—into leadership positions on both the manufacturing and retail sides of the industry. She began working as a buyer for Bloomingdale's shortly after college, becoming a fine jewelry buyer in 1982 and remaining with the retailer for a total of 15 years. She left Bloomingdale’s in 1989 and spent time working in product development for Mastoloni before the lure of retail called again and she went to Saks Fifth Avenue, where she worked as a buyer and DMM for fine jewelry for the firm for almost a decade.
Kelly was a staunch believer in the designer jewelry category and a solid advocate for designers. A tough, no-nonsense businesswoman, she also was a supportive mentor, willing to share her knowledge and help point rising designers and others in the industry onto the right path for success.
After 25 years in retail—during which she acquired an impeccable sense of what consumers want—she returned to the wholesale side of the jewelry industry. Already a longtime friend of Sybil Yurman, she joined the David Yurman firm as vice president of merchandising, before acquiring Old World Chain in 2006, together with her sister Nancy, another longtime industry leader.
As news of Kelly’s passing spread through the industry, Facebook lit up with tributes from longtime friends and colleagues both in and out of the industry. More than a few described her as a force of nature as well as emphasizing her kindness:
Sande Finkel wrote, “She was indeed a warrior. The best of the best!! Always the life of the party and a force to reckon with. May her beautiful memory be a blessing and may she rest in eternal peace.”
Evert DeGraeve echoed, “She is true inspiration to me. Carolyn helped me a lot. First met her at Bloomingdales and we remained friends long after.”
Maria Calabrese Breen wrote, “Carolyn and I shared many laughs and most of all she shared her incredible talents with me.”
Rebecca Moskal: “Carolyn was truly one of a kind and will be missed by many.”
Eve Goldberg: “Carolyn was an amazing force of nature and this is a tremendous loss.”
Michael O’Connor: “I will miss her greatly, her humor and seeing her. I admired her so much.”
Maggie Hess: “I'll always remember all the wonderful fun chats Carolyn and I would have in Basel.
Kerry McMillan: “She was such an amazing woman. I will never forget her amazing sense of humor and will always be grateful for her sage advice.”
Laura Moynihan: "Carolyn was the most amazing human being! She was always there to help wherever she could. She had one of the most generous spirits I have ever known.”
On a personal note, I always appreciated both her sense of humor and her sage advice, and that it was dispensed with her trademark no-bull directness. Carolyn didn’t sugar-coat anything, but when you needed someone to tell you how things really work in the industry, had questions about someone’s integrity, or just wanted to run an idea up the flagpole, Carolyn was your go-to girl. We spent many an evening in Basel, in Vicenza, and stateside at Couture and Centurion, laughing over a glass of wine. She was truly an innovative trailblazer in jewelry retailing, and many of the now-established best practices of a successful designer jewelry business can be traced back to Carolyn Kelly.
Preceded in death by her father, Kelly is survived by her mother, JoAnne, sisters Suzanne Kelly, Lauren Sanossian, and Nancy Kelly, plus a nephew, Gregory Sanossian, and niece, Suzanne Sanossian.
Visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Hillebrand Funeral Home in Rego Park (Queens), New York. Funeral services are set for Saturday. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to The Pancreas Center at Columbia University Medical Center.