National News

Camilla Dietz Bergeron, Stockbroker Turned Jeweler, Dies at 76

Posted May 29, 2018 5:53 p.m. EDT

Camilla Dietz Bergeron, who prospered in two divergent vocations, on Wall Street and on Madison Avenue, by proving equally adept at evaluating premium stocks and gem-quality rocks, died May 20 at a hospital in Manhattan. She was 76.

The cause was mesothelioma, said Gus Davis, her partner in the prominent antique and estate jewelry firm they formed nearly three decades ago and that bears her name.

Bergeron was an economics major who had worked as an investment analyst when she joined with other partners in 1973 to found Furman, Selz, Mager, Dietz and Birney, a boutique financial firm.

Bernard Selz, now a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, was the chairman. Roy Furman, who later became a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, was the president. Their research, brokerage and investment banking firm, initially capitalized at $500,000, was sold as Furman Selz Holding Corp. to the Xerox Corp. in 1987 for $110 million.

Ready to consider a career change, and coping with multiple sclerosis (she navigated Manhattan on a motorized scooter), Bergeron was introduced by her friend Lillian Vernon, the mail order retailer, to Davis, then a 25-year-old assistant at Sotheby’s.

Bergeron made herself clear from the start: Women should choose their own engagement rings rather than be surprised, they should not be allowed outside the house without earrings, and their jewelry should say, “Hello, I’m clever and witty and stylish” rather than “Hello, I’m rich.”

“She told me that she had an idea of starting an antique and estate jewelry business that catered to women who made their own financial decisions,” Davis recalled, “and did not need to ask their husband or boyfriend if it was OK to spend money.”

Davis thought at the time that the conversation was idle chatter, but in August 1989 Bergeron telephoned.

“I had my gemology degree, but did not have the business background,” he recalled. “Camilla had the business background, the taste and the beauty. We talked, and she asked me to consult. I thought this is another person with way too much money with a crazy idea, but Camilla had charm and determination. She sent out a letter to her entire list of Wall Street clients stating the following: ‘If you or your Aunt Tilly has jewelry to sell, call me.'”

Their first sales event was a cocktail party hosted by Vernon. Their first showroom was Bergeron’s dining room table. Twenty-two years ago, they opened a store named Camilla Dietz Bergeron Ltd. on Madison Avenue near East 68th Street, where she placed her personal imprint on high fashion with the certitude of a stock picker.

Unlike those of stocks, antique jewelry prices were less volatile, though they varied widely. Bangles in the store’s online catalog range in price from an antique amethyst and seed pearl ring for $950 to a 10.37 carat emerald cut diamond platinum engagement ring for $425,000.

Elizabeth Camilla Dietz was born March 11, 1942, in Covington, Georgia, just east of Atlanta. Her father, Harry, an immigrant from Russia, owned a dry goods store. Her mother Iola (Parker) Dietz, was a librarian.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, she was hired as an investment analyst by Chase Manhattan Bank. She later joined Seiden & de Cuevas, a brokerage and investment banking firm, and traveled extensively making institutional sales in Europe, where she began collecting antique jewelry, silver, perfume bottles and other items.

In 1982, Bergeron was a founding member of the Chicago-based Committee of 200 (now C200), which was organized to help women succeed in business.

She left with several colleagues to found the brokerage firm, where she specialized in consumer goods. It was sold to Xerox in 1987 six weeks before the stock market collapsed.

She is survived by her husband, Jean Maurice Georges Bergeron; and her sister, Harriet Nunnally.