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America's Coolest Stores

2014 Big Cool 3: Mervis Diamond Importers



STORY BY CHRIS BURSLEM | Published in the August 2014 issue

Location: Washington, DC
OWNER: Zed & Ronnie Mervis
Founded: 1935
Opened Featured Location: 2005
Employees: 21
Area: 2,000 square feet
Build-out Cost: $900,000
Locations: 3
Top Brands:Tacori, Verragio, JB Star, Martin Flyer, Jeff Cooper, Memoire, Coast, Precision Set, Christopher
Online presence: 3.5 Stars on Yelp; 8,013 Facebook Likes; Alexa global rank: 696,809

The story of Washington, DC, is the story of proximity to influence, and in 2005 Mervis Diamond Importers edged a little closer to the center of power with a move to the corner of 17th and K Streets, just blocks from the White House.

While just a hop, skip and a jump from their previous address on L Street, the jeweler made a big leap in terms of market positioning. Indeed, it now counts the President’s motorcade among its regular drive-by traffic.

"Over 16,000 of the city’s most powerful attorneys and lobbyists work up and down K Street. Not only are they walking distance to visit on their lunch hour, but we felt there was an added prestige in having a K Street address," says Jonathan Mervis, VP of market development.


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To match their new power location and to cater to their specific local audience, the Mervis family laid on the luxury at their new store. The tone is set by a shimmering entrance that took inspiration from the company’s distinctive black ring boxes, and features a black granite floor studded with mica-composite sparklers and black padded walls. Just inside the front door, the main showroom is dominated by four floor-to-ceiling museum towers. Peering into the towers, customers can ponder a $50,000 diamond necklace or one of the store’s other large drool-inducing pieces.


Go Live. When the Mervis family opened its new space on K Street, it hired live models to stand in its windows and show off its jewels, drawing crowds around its windows for weeks. "We had moved from L Street to K Street for increased exposure and that’s exactly what we received," says Jonathan Mervis.


"Don’t sleep with your client," meaning don’t spend so much time getting to know that customer that you forget to sell the product. One of Mervis’ main aims in the sales process is to keep it simple. "Don’t show too much and confuse him" is a mantra.



A diamond-embedded cupcake, touted as the world’s most expensive, was created to support a trunk show in 2009.


an engagement ring customer became so captivated by a sales associate that he decided he wasn’t going to propose to his girlfriend after all. He said he’d still come in and pay off the remaining balance of his special-order piece, as he wanted the associate to get her commission, but he’d lost interest in getting married. As he explained all this, he asked the sales associate if he could take her out to lunch. Her reply: "I’ll get back to you."


Pandora — Anything from show tunes to ’80s and ’90s hits depending on the the mood of the staff.



"Are they real diamonds?" customers ask of the sparkly chips embedded in the black granite floor at the entrance. They’re actually mica composite, but it makes for a great conversational element.

"When you walk into the space, you immediately see the spotlights on the diamond jewelry. We wanted to evoke a sense of awe and inspiration for something magical," says Ronnie Mervis, who owns the business with his brother, Zed.

"Clients perceive a clear message," adds Jonathan, who is Ronnie’s son. "This place is different. It’s luxurious. Ten minutes ago you may have been in a Congressional meeting deciding the future of our country. Now you’ve stepped into another world. You are a powerful person and you deserve elite luxury."

In another seeming nod to the way things are done in Washington, most of the sales are conducted behind closed doors in small offices away from the main sales floor. Indeed, the display area at the front is kept to a minimum with the private viewing rooms taking up the majority of the space at the store. The result is a "concierge-type scenario," says Jonathan, with the salesperson sitting down with a client in a comfortably appointed room and running them through an enhanced four-Cs education, and then when the time is right, bringing out product from a vault in the back room.

"The intention is to focus on building relationships and trust. With the right quality and pricing, the diamonds sell themselves," says Jonathan.

The education-heavy model works particularly well in DC, he says, where many of the store’s clients take pride in their smarts.

The salespeople, all of whom have GIA credentials, are given a lot of freedom to manage sales as they see fit, with the power to place special orders, handle financing arrangements, and oversee repairs for clients. "In this way, our salespeople are entrepreneurial and really own a client and sale from beginning to end," says Jonathan.

The sales process has its origins in the early days of the business: Ronnie and Zed, recently arrived from South Africa in the late 1970s and looking to pursue careers in law and accounting, respectively, found they could make some money on the side doing diamond deals, sourcing goods from their family contacts back in Johannesburg. Those deals grew into a second-floor retail space in Washington, as well as two other modestly appointed stores that reflect their particular markets in Tysons Corner, VA, and Rockville, MD, and finally the uptown moves to L Street and then K Street.

Through it all, the focus has been on one-on-one transactions with lots of education, and the store now has a database of thousands of clients that it keeps in regular touch with. Among them are a number of high profile Washington entities (although being DC, the store’s celebrity clients tend to run toward the cerebral rather than the good looking, meaning Supreme Court justices, congressmen and media personalities.)

"They are looking for quality. They don’t want to be sold, they are shrewd, and they know how to negotiate," Jonathan says of the store’s typical customers. In a place that has such a transient population, they also appreciate a family business with history in the city, he says.

The often temporary nature of the city’s population works for Mervis in other ways as well, with lots of young, college-educated professionals moving into the area to pursue careers, and a constant flow of workers on short-term, usually government-related contracts.

Overall, it adds up to the perfect market for a diamond retailer with the right connections, and the right address. "We couldn’t be in a better place, at a better time," says Jonathan.

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1. IT’S SAME-SEX FRIENDLY. Mervis has done well with the gay market, something it attributes to a "Coming Out" party the store held months before same-sex marriage became legal in the district. "(Same-sex couples) know we’re gay-friendly and that we stuck our neck out to support the community, and they have rewarded us for that," Jonathan Mervis says, adding that gay customers are very loyal and often willing to spend large sums on engagement rings.

2. IT HAS CONNECTIONS. Ronnie and Zed Mervis originally came to America to build new careers distinct from their family’s jewelry business, which was founded in Johannesburg in 1935. But their knowledge of the diamond industry and connections created a business opportunity that was too good to pass up. Zed was the main buyer, often sourcing diamonds from visits to mines, which translated into great deals for their buyers in America. Ronnie, meanwhile, was the voice of Mervis in ads that became a fixture on the town’s airwaves. He became so well known that a competitor tried to copy his South African accent, says Jonathan. The store now reaches beyond Africa to source its diamonds, but touches such as wooden elephant figures and safari-themed wall prints remind customers of the family’s origins.

3. IT RANKS HIGH. Type "diamonds" and "DC" into Google, and Mervis Diamond Importers will invariably show up as a top search result. Mervis’ Internet marketing isn’t designed, however, to sell goods online. Rather, it is to bring customers into the store. "What I love about the Internet is that everything is measurable, and the feedback is almost instantaneous," says Jonathan Mervis. The company knows how long visitors watch its educational videos — 12 minutes on average, how many people looked at its opening hours page and what percentage created a wish list. It has also had success with "remarketing" campaigns, which post ads on visitors’ computer screens following a visit to

4. IT’S MEDIA-SAVVY.Jonathan Mervis says he takes it personally when someone unsubscribes from his email bulletins. As the executive responsible for social media, he goes the extra yard to ensure the store’s offerings are tailored to meet its clients’ interests. "A 29-year-old is a very different person from a 65-year-old. You can’t send them the same message," he notes. The store’s success with social media can be seen in its numbers: Several of its 70-plus YouTube videos have attracted over 34,000 views, its chatty, fun Facebook page has more than 8,000 followers, while its Pinterest board draws thousands more.

5. IT’S CREATIVE. Back in 2009, when cupcakes were all the rage, the store put on a "Cupcakes and Wedding Rings" trunk show, headlined by the "world’s most expensive cupcake," a creation Mervis came up with in collaboration with a local bakery.


Heather Hanst: Mervis Diamond Importers has a impressive online presence. Their website has educational materials to help customers choose a diamond that suits both their taste and their budget. We also appreciated the story of Mervis’ Coming Out Party in support of their same-sex customers. And we’d love to see those sparkly, mica-composite floors in the D.C. store!

Danny Clark: Mervis’ marketing ideas jumped off the page — from cupcakes (whou would have thought?), to live models; and from building a store that caters to the market, to the ability to catch a local news story and turn it into a win. Bravi!

David Brown: The private viewing rooms are bold and modern and certainly add a point of difference. The store could be intimidating to less powerful or elite consumers … but I don’t think they care, which is cool because they know who they are, and who they are not.

Bob Phibbs: I love the museum towers to engage shoppers to browse and be taken to another place. Loved the narrative as well. So very smart to create the Coming Out event.

Natalie Bos: Mervis definitely stands out from other jewelry stores solely in the way it does business. I think their unique philosophy of working one-on-one with clients in private rooms is a smart and highly personal way to sell jewelry. What’s more, the private rooms are brightly colored and uber chic with the glass panels. The minimalist design of the cases keeps the customer from being overwhelmed by too much to choose from and keeps the customer’s focus on the jewelry rather than busy decor.

Andrea Hill:I love the private viewing/private jeweler approach to the store. I can see where some people — not knowing what to expect — might be intimidated or put off by it. But to the correct target customer, this would be a lovely experience. I think the promotion with live models wearing diamonds in the windows of their new store was very cool, and I can see where it would get attention. Grabbing and keeping the loyalty of the gay community is not only cool, it’s smart.





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America's Coolest Stores

These Retailers Know What (Manhattan) Women Want

Couple creates inviting niche for Manhattan’s bridal elite.



Marisa Perry, New York

OWNERS: Marisa Perry and Douglas Elliott; FOUNDED: 2002; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; ARCHITECT: Julie Hardridge/Architexture; EMPLOYEES: 5 full-time and 2 part-time; AREA: 1,000 square feet, TOP BRANDS: Douglas Elliott, Christian Bauer, Benchmark, Zenove, Marisa Perry


MARISA PERRY knew it was past time to move her store into larger quarters when she realized that the staff member in charge of manufacturing (the most organized man she’d ever met) had a desk so small that diamonds were sliding off its surface and becoming ensnared in electrical cords.

Transitioning from 500 square feet in Soho to 1,000 square feet in the West Village may not seem like that big a deal, but doubling the space of a ground-floor atelier is a leap of faith when Manhattan-size rents are involved.

The wish list was: spacious, functional, secure and compatible with the distinctive look and feel of the brand.

“We carried over the design elements of the store,” Perry says. “The chandeliers were a signature look in my old store, three chandeliers running down the center.” So, of course, the chandeliers made the trip to the West Village location on Hudson Street, which turned out to be perfect.

“It’s the bomb. It’s mind-blowing,” Perry says. “When I moved here, Hudson had a lot of closed stores. It’s turned out to be a spectacular location, which I did not know in advance of renting it. A lot of my customers find me by being in the neighborhood.”
The look and feel of the place also needed to appeal to a client of 25 to 35, the demographic at the heart of the business, which is shared by Perry and her husband, jewelry designer Douglas Elliott.

When the couple met in 2001, Perry fell in love with Elliott and his jewelry designs at the same time, she says. Elliott was then designing a fashion-driven, semi-precious jewelry collection, Elliott, which was sold at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, among other stores. Concurrently, he maintained a custom jewelry design business for private clients, for whom he created elaborate diamond pieces. Enchanted, Marisa saw an opportunity to create a new venture to bring Elliott’s diamond jewelry designs to the forefront.


Prior to establishing her fine jewelry company, Marisa had a successful career in gourmet food marketing, working with top chefs and artisanal food producers. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she moved to New York City to work in the fashion world after graduating from L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Together, they launched Marisa Perry Atelier in 2002. At the new location, Marisa Perry Atelier showcases Elliott’s artistry along with a curated selection of pieces by other designers. They specialize in diamond jewelry, with a particular focus on wedding jewelry, including engagement rings, wedding bands, and other custom-crafted pieces.

While the previous store had the look of a Parisian boutique, Perry wanted this one to combine classic and antique elements — French moldings, custom-made showcases and luxurious furnishings — with contemporary lighting elements and edgy art. Pops of color from fresh flowers add drama to the soothingly neutral room with its light and airy ambience and diaphanous white draperies.
A long, custom-made community table is the centerpiece of the store’s selling area.

“No matter what I have in my showcase, people want to design their own rings,” Perry says. “They want it round instead of emerald cut, 2-carat instead of 3-carat. We get a selection of diamonds in and they pick it. We make sure they get the best stone for their money.”

Salespeople can be as comfortable as clients when they’re collaborating around the table, where Elliott works on the pieces from drawing to execution, choosing every diamond, no matter its size, himself. Elliott and his team made 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year.


“Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend,” Elliott says. “But our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring, and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love. If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. Everything is bespoke and made in New York.”

The experience of shopping at Marisa Perry Atelier is elegant, of course, and serious, but also relaxed and inviting. Max 2.0, the couple’s chocolate Lab, is the company’s greeter.

“Every sale is a party,” Perry says. “We hand them a glass of champagne. On weekends, men don’t have to wear a suit, so they’ll come in with their dog, carrying a coffee cup and wearing gym clothes and buy a $50,000 diamond. It’s very relaxed, easy to just pop in. It should be really fun and not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.”

Elliott says most of the New York brides-to-be he works with want the most delicate diamond rings possible with very thin bands.
While Perry runs the business and marketing side, Elliott runs design and production.

“He has his department and I have mine,” Perry says. “ If I want a piece of jewelry made I can tell him, but whether he makes it or not is his choice. I’m not allowed to interfere. He wants full creative control. Our marriage would not survive my butting in.”
On the other hand, Perry has complete control over branding, marketing, decor, and how the company is run.

“We’re very compatible and we’re both strong people,” Perry says. “He’s really bossy. I can be very bossy. By some miracle we get along well. We understand each other. We will ruffle some feathers, but it just kind of works. We do respect each other’s boundaries … sort of.”



5 Cool Things About Marisa Perry Atelier

Behind the magic curtain. To accommodate celebrities and others seeking privacy, concealed pocket doors can be closed to make the back half of the store completely private. There’s also a side entrance behind a blue drape.

Trial period. Perry credits divine intervention for finally being able to have the level of talented staff she’s always wanted. But because of some difficulty hiring in the past, she began asking job candidates to work for three months before either party made a commitment.

Sales strategy. “We do a lot of training, and Douglas and I are involved in every sale. We talk strategy before every appointment. If they’re walking in my store — unless they’re here to shop for a gift — they’re going to buy an engagement ring. It’s just a question of whether they buy it from us or not. There’s lots of competition from the Internet and 47th Street, but people are willing to pay more for our settings, because they are better.”

If the shoe fits. They created a Christian Louboutin sales incentive program. “When any employee hits a certain profit margin on any given sale, we take them to the Christian Louboutin men’s or women’s boutique for a pair of shoes of their choice,” Perry says. “We love that brand and we wear that designer shoe most all the time.”

Only precious metals. “I was selling tungsten carbide because I love it, but I’d have to tell a guy I didn’t recommend it because if something happens, you can’t cut this ring off your finger,” Perry says. “It’s dangerous. The ER can cut silver and gold right off you, but not tungsten carbide. I’m like the mother hen for my customers. I want them to have something they can leave to their son or grandson.” Elliott strongly agrees that men’s bands should be made only in gold and platinum. “If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here,” he says.


Try This: Be Specific About Responsibilities

The buck stops there. Each team member has specific jobs for which they are ultimately responsible. “It’s great for me as an employer because if something doesn’t happen, I know who to go to,” Perry says. “The buck stops there.” Not having assigned responsibilities for every staff member is the most critical mistake business owners can make, Perry says.

And Try This Too …

Express yourself. “We have started to put extra emphasis on encouraging our employees’ individuality by having them dress in their own unique style and sell in their own unique way,” Perry says. “We think it is better for them to be different from one another and create a balanced set of skills and talents over all, then all be the same, and all offer the same things. Employees are happiest when they can be themselves and are encouraged to develop their own self in a safe and happy environment.”


What Our America’s Coolest Judges Said

  • Sofia Kaman: Everything about this store is so cohesive, and represents high-quality craftsmanship. From the online experience to the marketing materials, to that adorable dog, I’d want to shop here!
  • Lyn Falk: Great story and fun interior with interesting pops of design elements (chandeliers, black and white wall mural).
  • Tiffany Stevens: Inviting and organized; very attractive.
  • Mia Katrin: The husband and wife collaboration is a nice touch. A compelling story for a bridal boutique!
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    America's Coolest Stores

    Louisiana Jewelry Store Is Inspired by Residential Design and Museum Interiors

    The Fakier family creates a museum-quality retreat customers would be happy to call home.



    AT THE HEART of Fakier Jewelers in Houma is an international love story.

    When Louisiana-native Greg Fakier met his wife, Montreal-born Manon Phaneuf, in Switzerland at a school for young jewelry-store owners, it quickly became clear that they belonged together.

    Naturally, there were some obstacles to overcome. Manon spoke French and Greg spoke English, with very few words in common. But love won out over language. “To make it work, he has to be your soul mate,” says Manon — now, of course, fluent in English, with an intriguing inflection that is part French-Canadian, part Louisiana. “Her teacher told her that she would never learn English,” her husband says. “He was wrong! The accent is the best part of her English.” 

    Manon had planned to take over her father’s jewelry store one day, but once she met and then married Greg, she found herself worlds away from Montreal. Greg says Manon brought great taste to his family jewelry business when she joined the operation in 1983. In addition, she brought knowledge of an ahead-of-its-time inventory control system her dad had developed, which helped the Fakier business grow and thrive.

    Greg’s grandfather, George Fakier (pronounced Fa-Kay) had founded the business in 1928, selling jewelry first from a briefcase and then a very small storefront alongside a clothing store. In 1967, George moved the business into a renovated 4,300 square-foot former movie theater. George died in 1977 and Buzzy, his son, died just 18 months later in 1979.

    Greg was just 17 when he and his younger brother, Glenn, were faced with the decision of whether or not to succeed their father, Buzzy,  in the business. Somehow, it felt natural to commit to that, even as a teenager. “There was some infatuation with the jewelry business, just being brought up in it,” Greg says. “I don’t think we had anything else on the horizon that we had locked into. So we said, ‘Why not?’”

    While the boys learned the business, their mother, Lois, and two aunts orchestrated the transition and held it all together, even after a devastating robbery. “Mom was the glue,” Greg says. “And she still comes in every day.”

    Sadly, Glenn died suddenly in 2004. Greg, Manon and Lois continued to work in the renovated theater, all the while envisioning what they’d like a future store to look like. “We tried to make this more of a home, a museum and a jewelry store mixed into one,” Greg says.

    It’s hard to imagine a museum — or a jewelry store for that matter — that feels comfortable enough to move into, but that is precisely the feeling that the new Fakier Jewelers evokes. Airy, light-filled rooms with high ceilings, soothing neutrals predominated by white, and sophisticated furniture inviting enough to sink into all conspire to give the illusion of a high-end home. “I wanted you to be able to come in and sit down, have a cup of coffee and feel like you are home,” Manon says. “I wanted comfortable, but elegant. Now clients say, ‘I would move here to live.’”

    After years working in a space that had its drawbacks — one of which was that Manon, who worked behind the scenes in an isolated cubbyhole of an office, couldn’t even see the sales floor or the customers — they decided it was time for their dream store, which took about two years to build. They grabbed the location in the heart of downtown Houma overlooking a bayou when it became available six years ago. 

    In their previous store, showcases created barriers between customers and staff. “We decided that in this store, we were going to be 95 percent shoulder to shoulder — and the customers love it. It’s an enjoyable experience to be on the same side of the counter with your customers looking at jewelry together rather than upside down,” Greg says. He also wanted some chairs on wheels, so that if a customer stopped to chat anywhere in the store, he could roll a couple of chairs over and offer them a seat.

    They agreed it should be white and bright with color provided by accent touches and the jewelry itself. And they wanted it to fit in with its surroundings and to reflect the charm of Louisiana, while at the same time being different enough to create a local sensation. It was a tall order.

    Manon compiled design ideas from photos she had seen and places she had visited, particularly New Orleans, Montreal and Paris, and then worked with The French Mix interior design firm of Covington, LA, to pull it together. “We wanted to bring a little bit of that French culture in the store,” she says. “I would take one picture of something I liked — like long windows in Paris — and another part I liked from something else.” The French Mix team understood her idea of blending antiques with comfortable seating for everyday function. “It’s a clean look and the focus is on the jewelry,” she says. 

    Emily Robin, design assistant for Jennifer Dicerbo of the French Mix, says while Manon loves antiques, she also wanted the space to be modern. “It has a classic French elegance with a crisp modern twist,” Robin says. Starting with a white foundation is an interior designer’s dream, she says, because it allows for endless options. “You can always layer on top of that with curtains and dark furniture,” she says. “Museums are primarily white because you want to focus on the art. Here, the art is the jewelry itself.”

    It’s clean and pristine without being sterile; textures and draperies warm it up, dress it up and enhance its elegance. Plentiful natural light makes it inviting, too. A mix of warm and cool light makes diamonds sparkle like crazy, Greg adds.

    Robin says the Fakiers didn’t want to cut corners in any way that would water down the experience; they wanted to “wow” the city of Houma, in which they are very well known. The furniture is a blend of antiques and pieces made especially for the space, including custom showcases. Most of the art was custom made by Greg’s sister-in-law, Cynthia Colis.

    The chic, comfortable vibe even extends to areas shoppers won’t typically see, such as the sleek employee lounge, a luxurious departure from the typical break room.

    “I’ve never worked with people who care so much about their employees,” Robin says. 

    She cites the example of both the break room with the full kitchen and comfortable seating, as well as the restroom, reserved for the staff and outfitted with a console, beautiful mirrors and an ottoman.

    The new store attracts three to five new customers every day, who are nearly always inspired to exclaim, “Wow!”

    “It gives us the opportunity to be the new hot thing,” Greg says.



    5 Cool Things About Fakier Jewelers

    1. CELLPHONE AUDIO TOUR: “My wife and I like museums, and when you go to a museum you can rent the audio tour, so I thought, why not in a jewelry store?” Greg Fakier says. The app is accessed from the store’s website and customers use their own phones, listening to descriptions associated with each display. It’s also a novel way to acknowledge the importance of mobile window shopping. “As far as the consumer coming in to learn about the diamond, nothing has changed except how they buy it. If you don’t embrace the Internet you’ll be left behind. The consumer now comes in with their phones in their hands, usually with something they saw on our website.”

    2.WATERFRONT PROPERTY: The newly engaged are invited to attach engraved locks to a gate that encircles a pergola in back of the store and hurl the keys into the bayou. The idea was inspired by the tradition in Italy and France of attaching locks to bridges as a symbol of love. Customers who bought rings from Fakier in the past are invited to participate, too. Engagements are celebrated with Champagne toasts and sealed with locks in the romantic, waterfront spot.

    3. JUST FRIENDS: Fakier says the business shies away from having a rehearsed sales approach. “We are here to help guide the customer in the direction to find what they want. These customers are not targets. We do not have a method. There are no approaches. We don’t believe in it. We don’t like it. We treat our customers as friends, which they are.”

    4. SIGNATURE DIAMOND: Fakier has designed and patented a diamond called Momenti di Luce, which means “the moment of light,” offered in round, emerald, cushion and princess, as well as oval and pear on request.

    5. FOURTH GENERATION: In 2011, the store welcomed Adam Courtney, a fourth-generation member of the family, who is the son of Greg’s sister, Susan. Adam is a bench jeweler and apprentice engraver.

    Try This: Create a Text Club

    • Customers can sign on for a text club to remind them to come in and get their rings cleaned and checked. Every Friday is “free cleaning Friday,” celebrated with Champagne. Sometimes the event includes giveaways or prizes. The texts aren’t used for other forms of marketing, and the cleaning reminders are well-received.

    Jill Maurer: Fakier Jewelers is a beautiful store that feels like visiting someone’s home.

    Geoffrey Brown: On key with trends while still being authentic and personable online. Love how they incorporate their clients into their social media, making them feel a part of the brand.

    Laura Davis: Fakier is setting the bar. Their story is amazing, their store is sublime and they so get customer experience. The unique experience signatures are perfect. The events are perfect. The site is wonderful. I know exactly who they are and they do, too. Wonderful.

    Katherine Bodoh: I like the bright, open and modern feel of the store’s interior. It is very inviting and fresh. The exterior has a lot of large windows, which creates openness and natural light.

    David Lampert: I like that they have their own diamond cut.

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    America's Coolest Stores

    Crafting a Surprising Customer Experience Comes Naturally to Stephen Webster

    Beverly Hills boutique combines art, events and a lounge to showcase designer’s theatrical flair for jewelry.



    Stephen Webster opened his Beverly Hills store so that he could have control, at least in one location, of the customer experience.

    Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique, BEVERLY HILLS, CA

    OWNER: Stephen Webster;   LOCATION: Beverly Hills, CA;   URL:;   OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2010;   FOUNDED: 1989;   LAST RENOVATED: 2018;   AREA: 3,500 square feet;   EMPLOYEES: 2 in the store; 48 overall;   INTERIOR DESIGNER: Kevin Micallef;   ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce enabled; 4.6 stars on Facebook


    IMAGINE WALKING into a jewelry store to find a guy lying on a couch with a Louboutin stiletto embedded lethally in his chest. Or so it seems.

    For British jewelry designer Stephen Webster, staging a murder mystery in a Rodeo Drive boutique is a perfectly reasonable expression of experiential retail. Created to highlight a jewelry line he called “Murder She Wrote,” Webster took the show on a world tour, producing it 15 times in far-flung locations, including Russia.

    That collection centered on mythological, real and fictitious women murderers. “I had that storyline and that could have been enough, but I wanted to really engage our clients. So I created the idea of this guy, a womanizer found dead, and surrounding him are all the women in his life — his chef, his trainer — they are all characters in this thing.” And no, Webster didn’t play the dead guy; he was the narrator.

    Soon his clients were vying for parts in the production, and he sent them kits equipped with props to get into character. The collection itself included a smoking-gun pendant, a poison-apple ring, a barbed-wire necklace and dagger earrings.

    The idea arose from the tradition of English murder mysteries like those written by Agatha Christie. “Everything I do comes from being English, or being me, or if I can bring in an element of something that makes people smile,” he says.

    Above all, Webster knows the power of storytelling.

    “Everybody talks about experiential retail these days,” he says. “I think we’ve always offered that. They know they are coming to something fun, a bit of a party, a bit of a surprise. I’m not necessarily saying, ‘Just come by and look at my jewelry collection!’”

    His U.S. flagship store is an experience in itself, from its circular layout and leather display cases in the round, to its neon signs and the No Regrets lounge on the second floor.



    Welcome to Stephen Webster’s Club

    Webster opened his boutique in Beverly Hills to control the retail experience in at least one location where his jewelry is sold.[/caption] “I was thinking that I wish I could express a bit more of our personality, because I’m so connected to this jewelry that it is an extension of my personality,” he says.

    The Mediterranean-style building is round with a stone facade, a commanding location and killer views, at the pinnacle of Rodeo 2, a grand pedestrian open-air mall that resembles an Italian piazza, complete with cobblestone paving and a cafe patio along the street. Neighbors include Tiffany and Rolex.

    The interior has theatrical flair, even on an ordinary day. New collections are displayed in a round leather showcase arrangement at the center of the first floor. An island of carpeting circling the showcase offers definition in a sea of poured concrete floors etched with jewelry motifs.

    Upstairs, there’s an art gallery, lounge and event area with a bar and banquet tables, where Webster and friends can easily accommodate dozens of guests for catered dinners.

    “We made a bar, we made a lounge, it felt a bit like coming to a club,” he says. “And you can come up here and see the things that I enjoy. I’ve done many, many shows with artists, photographers, musicians, fashion designers. The first floor is always Stephen Webster. The second floor is what Stephen Webster likes.”

    When he moved in, he reached an agreement with his landlord to tear out the walls and low ceilings of the second floor — previously used as office space — to make it the wide-open loft he envisioned. Now, open to the rafters, it takes full advantage of the panoramic views of Wilshire Avenue and Rodeo Drive.

    This year, the store got a facelift after Webster began to think the decor and finishes looked a bit tired and not as modern as they once did. Removed was a massive sculpture in the center of the showroom that had lost its allure. Carpet was replaced and the ceiling repainted. New showcases were designed to complement window alcoves. New furniture replaced the old.

    Besides freshening up, they also created a cozy lounge space on the first floor, where shoppers can settle in with a drink to make the experience more comfortable.

    “I think the store is absolutely 100 percent a reflection of what we are as a brand,” Webster says. “I feel like it crosses over and reflects the product we make.” For one thing, it’s a neutral design, neither feminine nor masculine, which is significant in itself when it comes to the Stephen Webster brand. “I learned my trade making jewelry mainly for women, but I always loved men’s jewelry. I launched our first men’s collection 20 years ago, and straight away, you saw that women were starting to buy the men’s. Our clients think that way, they’re not in a box particularly.”


    Webster Attracts the Like-Minded

    The designer’s rock-star reputation and renowned sense of humor, the unusual events, the jewelry display and the stories behind each collection all converge to create an avid following.

    “Once they get to drink the Kool-Aid, they tend to just get right into it,” Webster says of his collectors. “They want to know more, to look behind the scenes and become part of it. And especially in this place where you can engage with the brand way beyond what you can do in a space that’s not my own store. I’ve actually tried to replicate a bit what we were doing here in my store in London.”

    At one point, Webster’s customers could have been described as distinctly different from one country to the next. As the world has become more connected, he says, that’s no longer true. “I know it seems weird to say that. And it might have been true when I was first a jeweler in America and I went back to England. I liked the Americans. They had enthusiasm. And I had to struggle to find that client in England, but now I find you attract someone who is interested in what you’re offering, anywhere. Russians want as much fun, as much drama, as Americans.”

    Although Webster offers e-commerce, only 10 percent of transactions are completed online, and he’s confident his clients prefer an immersive brick and mortar experience, whether they find that in his own locations or through one of his retail partners. “I think it’s about creating an excitement or buzz that’s just about what you are,” he says. As much as he enjoys hosting events in his own environment, he’s also felt that level of excitement spread through his retail partners, right from the start. His first trunk show was in Idaho, where he found an avid audience. “It was great,” he recalls. “At the end of it, we all went out in the woods and had a bottle of tequila.”



    Five Cool Things About Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique

    1. WIDE REACH: Stephen Webster has a workshop and design studio in Mayfair, a flagship store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and a salon on London’s chic Mount Street. In recent years, the brand has expanded globally with 150 points of sale worldwide including the United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong.

    2. EYE-CATCHING ARTWORK: When Webster opened his Beverly Hills store in 2010, his friend, artist Tracey Emin, gave him one of her signature handwritten neon signs to hang in the boutique. It reads “I Promise to Love You” inside a heart — appropriate for a store where people buy wedding and engagement rings. Also on display are Webster’s personal sketches for his designs, other neon signs designed by Webster and Emin, and Shark Jaw installations, echoing Webster’s love of the ocean and sea creatures.

    3. INDUSTRY ACCLAIM: In June, Webster won the “Best in Innovative Design” award at Couture for his earrings from the upcoming Vertigo Collection, to be released in 2019. Last year, he won the Cindy Edelstein Award for Human Spirit at the Couture Design awards, for his 40-year contribution to the jewelry industry, his support of new designers through the British Fashion Council’s Rock Vault platform, as well as his charitable work and dedication to ethical sourcing and sustainability. Among other awards are a three-time win of the British Luxury Jeweller of the Year Award, Diamond Jeweller of the Year, Jewellery Designer of the Year and UK Jewellery Brand of the Year.

    4. THE LAST STRAW: Webster recently partnered with the Plastic Oceans Foundation to develop the ‘Last Straw,” a $175 sterling silver straw, as part of a commitment to environmental responsibility that reflects his love for the ocean and its creatures. He designed the straw to be reusable and eliminate the need for plastic straws. Each is hand-engraved with the owner’s name. Ten percent of sales benefit the Plastic Ocean Foundation.

    5. FAIR TRADE GOLD: Webster has always been an advocate of ethically sourced materials, traveling to mines in Tanzania and Peru to meet the mining communities and trace the origins of the precious materials he uses. He is now an ambassador for Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold and in 2016 was awarded the Butterfly Mark powered by Positive Luxury, which recognized Webster’s tradition of producing fine jewelry with sustainability at its heart.


    Try This: Tell a Good Story

    Webster recognizes the importance of a good story. Each of his jewelry collections has a storyline attached to it. For one of his latest releases, “Fish Tales,” Webster wrote an actual book to accompany it. Each letter of the alphabet is rendered in gold, but wrapped with some kind of sea creature, such as electric eel for E. The book describes each of the featured 26 creatures.

    America’s Coolest Stores: Judges’ Comments

    • Katherine Bodoh: Stephen has a great POV and it is reflected in the store design and his social media presence. I appreciate his work on the Last Straw project.
    • Jill Maurer: Gorgeous store with a distinct point of view. It manages to be exclusive and inviting at the same time. It’s a place where I could feel both excited and relaxed. Love love love!
    • Geoffrey Brown: I really felt drawn to the brand, right away. It’s something that you want, but also leaves you wondering what is next. It can fit any type of person in any type of situation.
    • Laura Davis: Stephen knows who he is and his aesthetic, values and story shine through. He also knows his audience, and it shows. There’s a little whimsy, a lot of cool and a siren call for the elite set that wants to shine uniquely. His pieces are stunning, as is the presentation and photography. Just wow. Sets the bar.
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