As Joan Hornig says, “Philanthropy is beautiful.” So is her jewelry.
By Stephanie Wilson
Photography by Stephen Ladner
In 2003, Hornig created the Joan B. Hornig Foundation as a way to combine her passion for jewelry, education, and philanthropy.
We’re going to let you in on a secret that First Lady Laura Bush and Oprah already know: Joan Hornig is a gifted jewelry designer. Ok, so it might not be that much of a secret, especially since Oprah appeared on the cover of the February 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine wearing pieces from the Joan Hornig ‘Georgette’ line, and the pieces were endorsed in the August 2007 issue in O’s “Style Report.” As we know, when Oprah supports something, so do her fans.
But that is the result of the woman’s exquisite taste. It comes as no surprise that the legendary talk show hostess would choose to wear Joan Hornig Jewelry. Not only is her jewelry beautiful, unique, and of amazing quality, it is in support of a good cause-any cause the buyers of the jewelry deem worthy! Because, just like Hornig says, “Beautiful things can generate beautiful and important actions.”
She has been creating jewelry since she was a child in a suburb of Cleveland. “I was a sculptor, with clay,” she explains in her soft, gentle voice from the comfort of her beautiful Park Avenue home. Speaking with her is a pleasure, she has a peaceful demeanor that is soothing and endearing; just one conversation and you feel as if you have been, and will be, friends for life. It is more than fitting that upon graduating from Harvard, she and her husband spent four years as freshmen dorm parents. She moved onto being the director of corporate relations and external affairs for the elite university before getting her MBA at Columbia Business School. With her MBA, she was armed for Wall Street, where she made a name for herself in the corporate world.
While most people are either blessed with a business sense or an artsy-side (or cursed with neither, as some cases may be), Hornig created beautiful jewelry throughout her whole life, even while working on Wall Street. With Joan Hornig Jewelry, she has taken her remarkable business sense and love for jewelry and created a company that is garnering national attention, despite its limited availability. It has to do with more than just the jewelry; it is the woman and the story behind the company that has caught the interest of people across the country.
It all began in 2003. While attending an event at the Guggenheim Museum, Hornig was wearing a necklace she had made “just for fun.” A friend complimented her, and Hornig took her back to her apartment and showed her Tupperware bowls full of pieces she had created for her own use. Her friend picked up the phone and called a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman to set up an appointment for the next day. “I went in from my day job,” Hornig explains, “and I walked in with my briefcase and tote bag…. I had no idea people had anything like jewelry rolls; I brought my Tupperware!” she laughs. “I proceed, in my suit, to sit down on the floor the same way I have done since I was a child, and lay it out… I think they said, ‘This is really beautiful, but this woman!'” Despite the lack of pretentious presentation, the Joan Hornig Collection caught the eye of the decision makers at Bergdorf’s, and they invited her to sell her products at their store. “They called me and said, ‘We want you to do some trunk shows for us because we like [your line]…. We think it is Bergdorf’s appropriate.’ What they didn’t necessarily think was that it was a sustainable business.” But that is not how they feel now. Hornig attests, “Now, I am an important designer to them because of the volume, and because of the attention. It really grew into a business because I had to grow with it; I couldn’t tolerate not doing a good job.”
While this story is inspiring for any aspiring entrepreneur, the philanthropic aspect of the Joan Hornig collection is truly what makes the story worth telling. In 2003, Hornig created the Joan B. Hornig Foundation as a way to combine her passion for jewelry, education, and philanthropy. One hundred percent of the profits from her sales go to registered philanthropies around the globe of the choice of the individual buying the piece. To date, more than $300,000 has been donated on behalf of the Joan B. Hornig Foundation. “I always cared about non-profits,” she explains. “That’s my beginning, that’s my end, that’s my whole thing. I started to see a trend in people responding to crises, which is critically important. Every time I saw that, I saw the generosity of Americans. I saw something good, but I also saw something that was worrisome to me. So I thought that it would be very interesting to do something where I could essentially not sell an intangible, but sell a tangible in such a way that I would be satisfied that I would be making things, but also be doing something that I thought was critical towards the next step.” When she first began selling the pieces through trunk shows at Bergdorf, a group of people she designated helped her decide where to donate the profits. Now, she says to each purchaser, “You choose your charity, and I will give all the profits from the piece that you bought to the charity in your honor.”
The Joan B. Hornig Foundation has made donations on the behalf of their clients to an amazing number of philanthropies, literally everywhere from the Abyssinian Development Corporation-a non-profit community development corporation dedicated to building the human, social, and physical capital of Harlem-to the Young Adult Institute-a national leader in the provision of services, education, and training in the field of developmental and learning disabilities.
Her Park Avenue home serves as the setting for the creation of the masterpieces. She is exclusively responsible for the design of each necklace, ring, and earring, and seeing that her collection comprises of hundreds of pieces, one has to wonder where she finds her inspiration. “Everywhere,” she says. “I get my inspiration from the market, I get my inspiration from sort of everywhere in the world, and different countries and continents. I get my inspirations from pieces of art over periods of time. I get it from pieces of silverware over periods of time. People who are artsy, are just artsy. That just happens!”
Her main goal is to always showcase women in the right light. She says, “People love my pieces because they say that they dance on women, and they move. What they do is enhance, they don’t overpower.” In addition to being available at Bergdorf, Joan Hornig Jewelry can be found at Halls in Kansas City, Goodie 2 Shoes in Jackson Hole, and online at joanhornig.com, neimanmarcus.com, and bergdorfgoodman.com. She often also holds events for specific charities to raise large amounts of funds. “I will do special events as long as they are well organized, and the people who ask me to do them work hard to make them a success. I will turn myself inside out for a chance to raise money for these causes.”
It is her passion for causes that has allowed the jewelry line to grow so immensely, garnering a sixty percent increase in sales in the past year alone. It seems that women all over are coming to understand what Oprah and Laura Bush already know: “[A Joan Hornig piece] carries with it a message that the woman has personal taste in her jewelry and personal passions in her commitment to whatever philanthropy she’s working for,” Hornig explains.
She has worked the idea of the philanthropies into the jewelry, with pieces inscribed with slogans like “Philanthropy is Beautiful,” “Make a Statement, Make a Difference,” “Keep the giving going,” and “Indulge Your Passion.” Hornig herself wears the “Giving Rocks” piece almost every day, which is complete with the “give” and “get” clasps that are unique to her pieces.
While she is thrilled that her lines are doing good while selling well, in addition to making women of all ages look and feel great, she strives for more. “We have donated more than $300,000, but it’s not enough,” she says. “We want to sell more jewelry, and give more back.” With such a compelling and heartwarming business philosophy, Hornig’s jewelry line will continue to experience extreme levels of success.