‘She Pivots’ with Joan Boyce: From Teacher to Jewelry Designer and Style Icon

Before her success as a jewelry designer, Boyce was a teacher at schools in Brooklyn and inner-city Manhattan. Here, she discusses reinventing herself in her 70s and beyond.

Headshot of Joan Boyce donning sunglasses and jewelry.
(Image credit: Joan Boyce)

Welcome to “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. 

Joan Boyce is larger than life. She sports huge glasses with tinted lenses, so you never quite see her stunning blue eyes. Although her vibrant personality and love for all things opulent have been a part of her identity for decades, she was not always the famous jewelry designer she is today. Once a teacher in New York City, she has grown her business from a small counter in Westhampton Beach in the 1960s, to a multi-million dollar luxury and costume jewelry business.

Her jewelry has been sported by the most famous of celebrities, and she even calls Mariah Carey her “adopted daughter.”

“There is absolutely nothing subtle about me. I can tell you that right from the start,” Boyce says.

But her success did not come overnight and is rooted in a place of humility. She was first a teacher in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she met her husband, Allen. He was the principal at her school and had worked in education for more than 30 years. Together they'd start a family, and opened their home to many foster children. Meanwhile, she slowly built her jewelry business.

At first, she only sold to friends and family, but one summer, Boyce took the leap and opened a counter in Westhampton Beach for one summer. But there was one problem: housing. As an interracial couple in the 1960s, their attempt to find a place to live was met with red tape and racism. It wasn’t until one man took a chance, went behind the town council, and rented them his house.

Eventually, with the encouragement of her husband, who she describes as the most extraordinary thing to happen to her, she left teaching after more than a decade.

Boyce went on to work with some of the most prominent retailers throughout her career. From Saks Fifth Avenue to Neiman Marcus, her designs have been donned by women around the world.

After more than 30 years in design and retail, Boyce’s career recently entered a new chapter. In 2009, at the age of 68, she signed with HSN to create and sell a costume jewelry line on the home shopping network.

“I never looked at it as just selling,” said Boyce. “I wanted to make them feel entertained and to feel good about themselves. And that meant a lot to me.”

Now, more than 80 years old, Boyce is still selling her jewelry in her original Westhampton store, surrounded by leopard print and diamonds. She is plotting her next steps while she talks fondly about the women in her age group who have inspired her over the years.

Boyce’s magnetic personality carried her from teacher, to jewelry designer, to TV personality. However, as a businesswoman in the 1960s married to a Black man, her journey was far from simple. But for Boyce, her love story very much fueled her career to great heights. Listen to her full story, below.

Emily Tisch Sussman
Contributing Editor

Emily Tisch Sussman is the Founder and Host of “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. She is a contributing editor to Maire Claire and the guest host of the Marie Claire Instagram Live series “Getting Down to Business.”