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ACS 2004 4th Place: Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry

Conquering cousins create a hip store with an urban edge.




Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry, Manalapan, NJ

OWNER: Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry; ADDRESS: (Epicentre Shopping Center), 55 US Highway 9 South; Manalapan, NJ 077261; LOCATION TYPE: Standalone store; STORE SLOGAN: “Largest Diamond Selection in NJ”; PHONE: (732) 577-1030; OPENED: 2002; EST. PROPERTY VALUE: $3,000,000; STORE AREA: 6,000 sq. ft; STAFF: 18 full-time and part-time; SALES IN 2003: $5,000,000+

SOMETIMES THE MOST profound business advice can come at the most mundane moments in life, often when itʼs least expected. After long and exhaustive searches for an ideal store location, Gary and Michael Littman decided to cool their heels and enjoy a Labor Day family barbecue. During the event, a family friend who once owned retail shopping centers suggested looking into a site in Manalapan, NJ. A couple years later, the first cousins opened Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry at that exact location.

Going from 130 jewelry stores down to one must have been a dramatic adjustment for Gary and Michael. Their family used to own Littman Jewelers, one of the countryʼs largest jewelry chains. Free of the chain stores, the first cousins used the experience earned in the family business to create their own stand-alone jewelry store.

Growing up close to New York City, Gary and Michael sought to import the Big Appleʼs urban edge to their New Jersey store. The first cousins wanted their store to have a completely modern look.


In addition to its contemporary flair Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry is simply a very hip store equipped with an urban edge, a look achieved by adroitly combining wood and steel. “A modern look with staying power,” says Michael Littman.

But creating such an extraordinary look wasnʼt achieved with run of the mill wood. The wood flooring selected for the showroom floor is Caribbean rosewood with African makore and cherry wood used in the showcases, the inside of which are detailed with perforated steel. Inside the display cases, charbrown leather and novasuede buff and white was used to complement certain types of jewelry.

The Littmans also wanted to create a high-end store unique to the area — a retail setting that would reflect their unusual and important pieces of jewelry. Houston-based architectural and design firm Brand+Allen Architecture worked closely with the Littmans, including Michaelʼs mother — who served as consultant and liaison on the project.

The end result is a jewelry store with incredibly unique features, like the two large drop ceilings that echo the storeʼs showcases. A skylight, a feature rarely seen in a jewelry store, divides the two large drop ceilings and provides additional natural light.

All in all, the result is what Michael Littman likes to call “perfect synergy” — and with more than $5 million in sales last year, the cousinsʼ gamble is paying off in a very cool way.


  • Michael Littman: “Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry is so special because every detail of millwork, every display, every light fixture, every inch of the Caribbean rosewood floor, down to each bathroom accessory complements each other perfectly and looks as important as the merchandise we sell. Our store is hip yet classic, sexy and dramatic yet understated, luxurious yet not intimidating. We believe providing this incredible environment is a major element in helping us offer our customers an extraordinary shopping experience.”
  • Gary Littman: “Our inspiration is drawn from many of the funkiest, coolest, and sleekest restaurants, hotels, and clubs in Manhattan. Not only is Gary Michaels one of the most uniquely designed and aesthetically pleasing stores in the country, it is also a manifestation of perfect functionality. [For example], to offer our clients added peace of mind, we built our cappuccino/espresso bar to overlook the jewelry repair area. This way, customers never have to leave the sight of their most personal treasurers, while our master jeweler is working on them. We also offer two private selling offices for a more intimate setting. The goal of Gary Michaels is to offer our clients an incredible shopping experience in the most astonishing setting possible. Michael and I are definitely realizing our dream come true.”
  • KAREN KARCH: “Not my personal style, but impressive and grand. The floor is beautiful. Tell me how you can have 6,000 square feet with a lack of storage?? I have 600 square-feet!”
  • GREG GORMAN: “Great look! Love the materials and contrast of chrome, glass and wood. Everything complements as a solid retail package. A Retro Modern approach that is timeless. Love the cappuccino espresso bar. Sleek lines and interesting use of suspended custom lighting package to complement the floor display cases is a winner. The suspended ceiling treatments nicely complement the centered skylights that really bring in the outside making this an experience visit for sure. Soft woods with hard metal look great. Nice contrast. Display cases are not typical and vary throughout. Not as heavy as most jewelry stores. Great attention to detail. Wonderful ceiling level changes and visual interest. Great sight lines and visual treatments.”
    Linda Cahan: “My sense here is that the photos donʼt do it justice. The curved lighting and walls look great but I sense that they feel even better once in the space. There is an overall light, energetic feel to the space rather than the traditional hushed, heavy quality of man traditional stores. The skylight is an excellent addition as natural light always uplifts the energy and mood of both the customers and staff. The interplay of the squares and rectangles combined with the curves makes an interesting and positive architectural statement.”
  • DEBORAH YONICK: “Very unique, ultra modern setting that reminds me of a cool bar/club — I want to hang out here, drink and buy jewelry! And in fact I can, as the store boasts a cool beverage bar overlooking the repair area. How brilliant is that? Very urban in wood and steel, the interior of the store is exciting and interesting, but not overpowering that you canʼt appreciate the jewelry. Itʼs a bit on the industrial side in look and needs to be softened a bit with some flower arrangements, which would also add nice splashes of color besides the green in the plants. I love the drop ceilings, too!”
  • MARK & MONIKA CLODIUS: “Exterior does not live up to interior design. The balance/proportions ʻlayersʼ of space and light are magnificent. Breaking strong linear design with curved areas keeps our interest. Not sure if the floor looks a little heavy with the light colored walls and ceiling. Like the atrium — itʼs got a nice, clean look. Island is cool.”





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