From Prism Volume III: Ethics in Action, The Kazanjian Foundation’s Gem and Jewelry Philanthropy

By Kyle Roderick

Ever since brothers James and Harry Kazanjian opened their Los Angeles jewelry store in 1928, the fourth-generation family-owned Kazanjian firm has been making gemological and jewelry history. It has also been making philanthropic history since 1957, the year it established an eponymous philanthropic foundation.

“James and Harry founded their 501(c)(3) nonprofit because they believed that a successful company has a responsibility to give back to its community,” says Joseph Barrios, Executive Director of the Beverly Hills-based Kazanjian Foundation, who works on a pro bono basis. “The Kazanjian brothers came to the U.S. from France and succeeded in business beyond what they’d ever imagined possible. The Foundation was established out of gratitude for the many opportunities afforded them by their adopted homeland and the Los Angeles area, which included jewelry-loving people associated with the film industry.”

From Prism Volume III: Ethics in Action, The Kazanjian Foundation’s Gem and Jewelry Philanthropy

The Kazanjian Foundation generates funds for medical, cultural, and research programs that benefit underprivileged youth, including children’s physical and mental health, in several ways. First and foremost, the Kazanjian family donates, including about a dozen jewels a year, to charity auctions for different nonprofits.

“We always provide a written appraisal for the jewel,” Barrios says, “And I attend charity auction previews and sales events to provide information to potential bidders and help increase the likelihood of a sale.”

Secondly, its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status allows private individual donors to realize the highest deductions allowed by law through a “Jewels for Charity” program. It specializes in encouraging donations of jewelry and fine collectibles for charitable purposes. According to Barrios, donors can choose where 70% of proceeds go, and the Foundation decides on what group or groups benefit from the rest. In every case, charities benefit 100% as the Foundation never takes a fee.

“If someone sells a jewel for $30,000, then the Kazanjian Foundation donates the full price of $30,000,” Barrios notes.

A final component of the Foundation’s philanthropic works is powered by the firm’s historic Hollywood-related jewelry collection. It was amassed by Harry and James over several decades and was donated to the Foundation by Michael Kazanjian after his father, James, died in 1988. Kazanjian retail partners can request the collection on loan to drive interest in their stores.

From Prism Volume III: Ethics in Action, The Kazanjian Foundation’s Gem and Jewelry Philanthropy

Rechristened as the Jewels for Charity Hollywood Collection, the 50-odd jewels in this stellar array were previously owned by eminent film and television actors like Clark Gable and Joan Collins. Pieces worn by more recently popular entertainers like Madonna also color the collection. The circa-1910 Asprey & Garrard Old Mine-cut Diamond (80 ctw.) and platinum tiara that she wore at her 2000 wedding to filmmaker Guy Ritchie shimmers with 765 Diamonds and features seven floral garlands connected at the base by ornate scrolls. (The tiara converts to a fringe necklace by releasing it from the fixed brown velvet-wrapped frame and removing the top swag pieces.)

“This tiara has traveled all the way to Australia to be exhibited at one of our retail partner’s boutiques,” Barrios notes.

At press time he was planning Jewels for Charity Hollywood Collection press events and a fundraising bash timed around the 2024 Academy Awards.

“We’re continually designing gem and jewelry-related events that can show people the extraordinary pieces in our Hollywood star and entertainment-related collection,” he adds.

Only retail partners can request a Collection loan or tour, and interested parties must provide proof of insurance.

According to CEO Doug Kazanjian, “Exhibiting pieces from the Jewels for Charity Hollywood Collection gives jewelers an intriguing way to attract existing clients and bring new ones into their spaces.”

And while pieces are part of a traveling museum of sorts, an occasional sale does occur. If that happens, Barrios informs the retailer which charity the Kazanjian Foundation will donate sales proceeds to.

Just a few years ago, the Collection was featured at an event held at the Carlsbad, Calif., campus of GIA, and a couple of items did sell. As it has done in the past, the Kazanjian Foundation donated proceeds to children’s charities. “We often donate to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” says Barrios.

“The Kazanjian Foundation gave substantial annual donations to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles while I was at that institution,” says Terence Green, who retired in late 2022 as the Hospital’s Associate Senior Vice President of Development.

While Children’s Hospital Los Angeles doesn’t disclose donor data, Green notes, “In addition to what the Kazanjian Foundation has contributed to the Hospital, Michael Kazanjian, the son of James, has introduced me to many of his friends, who also eventually became donors. The Kazanjian family has a substantial philanthropic history with the Hospital that extends beyond their Foundation.”

Next up for the Foundation is a fundraising event for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation (ECF), which Barrios and Doug Kazanjian were planning at the time of this interview.

“We will be holding this gathering in our 5,000-square-foot Kazanjian Gem Gallery on North Camden Drive in Beverly Hills,” Barrios explains. “We’ve been supporting ECF for over a decade as it helps developmentally disabled individuals by creating and implementing early intervention programs for infants and toddlers as well as residential, work, and day programs for adults. ECF currently supports more than 5,000 children, adults, and their families at 15 service sites, in clients’ homes and in community settings throughout Los Angeles County.”

As always, the goal is to serve.

“Our mission is to show people how easy it is to convert jewelry donations into life-changing philanthropy.”

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This article first ran in Prism Volume III 2023. See the flipbook by clicking here.