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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2008: Second Place Small Cool, I. Gorman Jewelers



I. Gorman Jewelers

LOCATION: Washington, DC
OWNER: Adam Gorman
AREA: 3,500 square feet
ARCHITECT/DESIGN FIRM: Hickok Cole Architects

If you’re one of those jaded shoppers for whom the term “family jewelry store” is synonymous with your grandmother’s ideal shopping experience, think again. The original I. Gorman store, founded in 1981 by Ivan and Bonnie Gorman, was so cool that it took fourth place in our 2005 contest. But the Gormans obviously weren’t content with just one INSTORE accolade. In 2007, they relocated and spent $2 million creating yet another cool winner. With son Adam joining the business in 1996, followed by daughter Nicole in 2004, it seems that cool runs in the family. “I am a third-generation jeweler, so you could say that jewelry is in my blood,” Adam Gorman says.



I. Gorman’s guarantee policy is simple: If your piece of jewelry ever needs repair — regardless of fault — it will be repaired or replaced at no charge. “This is as it states. No gimmicks, no tricks,” Adam Gorman says. An endless guarantee rewards the store with customer loyalty. “In the long run, this guarantee pays for itself tenfold,” he says. I. Gorman also operates a full-refund 60-day return policy for any reason.


While lighting is a key feature of any good jewelry store, it takes on particular significance at I. Gorman. “We wanted the storefront to not be just an awning with a logo,” says Adam Gorman. The storefront is made with a backlit Lucite structure coupled with a wood veneer, which is sandwiched between two layers of Lucite. The characteristic T-shaped signage is immediately recognizable and radiates a silvery glow in the evenings. A translucent, illuminated wall of onyx is a central feature of the store’s interior. The coloration and veining of the wall afford both a dramatic and warming ambience. “The onyx has a magical glow, especially in the evening when the ambient light is low,” says Gorman. Opting for a clean, minimal store design, I. Gorman has cleverly used lighting to add warmth. “We use lighting for drama and depth,” Gorman says. An abundance of cove lighting and wall washes helps create the desired mood and depth. The bridal area of the store features custom designed 2-inch bubble-like hanging lights. “The ‘Champagne bubble’ lights at the bar area and the bridal area add a level of festivity and excitement. The lights are on a steel wire and have a ‘bubble’ like appearance at the bottom,” Gorman says. The store also has a custom built bar made out of a semi-transparent Lucite that has the appearance of a block of ice.

Imaginative Inventory

It’s vital that I. Gorman, which caters to a savvy, cosmopolitan market, has the products to match. “Our criteria for selecting a designer’s work are based on the need for their designs to be creative and imaginative with a level of exclusivity. We love working with artists who use unconventional metals, unique gemstones and designs that are completely original,” Gorman says. In sourcing such products, I. Gorman looks worldwide. A prime example is Silvian Blauhut of Konstaanz, Germany, whose work is carried only by I. Gorman. “They have their own gallery and have never sold on a wholesale level before and have no intention of doing so in the future,” he says.


Wealth of Experience

The diverse and unique inventory is matched by an equally interesting staff team. There are four graduate gemologists on staff, a former wholesale jeweler, a human rights activist, three former teachers, a computer networker, and a writer, among other life histories. “We are not always of the belief that a jewelry professional needs to have past jewelry experience. In fact, some of the most talented people have non-jewelry-related prior experience,” Gorman says. “We hire for culture and provide the individuals with all the training and education necessary to thrive in our business.” The diversity in backgrounds allows I. Gorman to draw on skills and ideas that staff from a traditional jewelry background may not have. One of the store’s key staff members was originally a customer when she worked with grass-roots movements in the city. “She brought a tremendous amount of skills in the way of systems. We were really able to benefit. Those kinds of things are really fun to learn about,” he says.

Natural Progression

I. Gorman’s relocation and expansion was a natural one. “We moved our location due to the fact that we had outgrown our physical space. The original store was at the same location since our inception and it had become painfully obvious that the walls were closing in on us,” Gorman says. But it wasn’t just a matter of space that prompted the move. With product lines significantly different from those carried by the original store, I. Gorman required a selling floor in keeping with its inventory. “We were also anxious to design a new space that was consistent with the type of jewelry we carry. The original space had an old-world feel with custom mahogany cases and wood floors. It had a timeless design that fit our style for the first 20 years,” he says. The substantially larger new store features an open floor plan with plenty of natural light and a sleek, contemporary European design. “We designed the space to have a modern vibe yet still be warm and inviting,” he says. The new store design has also attracted new clients to the store. “It has definitely broadened our customer base. We’re seeing a lot of new faces.”


• I. Gorman’s stunning advertising is proof that keeping artwork simple is often the best way to communicate a clear message. The store’s ads feature a very tightly cropped image of an unusual item or group of items, which Gorman believes is in itself a statement. All copy is eliminated from the ads except for the store’s contact details. The artwork is produced by Adam Gorman and a freelance art director who has worked with the store since the ’90s.

• I. Gorman is known for its unusual wedding and engagement ring selections and incorporates a separate bridal area with multiple seating areas into the store. This private area is enhanced with fine silk wall drapes and inviting red leather chairs. As a unique architectural touch, one wall has a glowing recessed panel, the colored light from which can be changed to create different looks and moods.

• Keen to break down the barrier between customer and product, I. Gorman features a “tactile wall.” Necklaces are displayed so the customer can touch and feel the jewelry themselves.

• I. Gorman hosts about six shows a year in the store, including the annual “Ultimate Ring Event” and “Designer Showcase,” each featuring more than a dozen designers. “Many designers come from overseas with an entire collection so DC customers get to see a lot more than usual,” Gorman says.


          TRY THIS

Beyond jewelry events. When you have a cool space, why not make the most of it? Instead of restricting itself to the usual trunk shows and jewelry events, I. Gorman cleverly offers its space as a venue for events not necessarily centered on jewelry. Through its usual public-relations channels and word of mouth, I. Gorman promotes its space as an alternative venue for an event or meeting that would otherwise be held at a restaurant or hotel. Naturally guests are free to browse the store’s jewelry collection, but the focus is not on the hard sell.  Washington Women and Wine, which usually holds its wine events at local restaurants, took advantage of the opportunity. “They chose our store because it is a unique venue for their group,” Gorman says. A similar event was held at the store by One-in-Ten, a national gay arts association.


Bill and Sharon Blair
Association Heads

I. Gorman is more conventional in its history and mission, but it is extremely creative in store design and advertising. Other jewelers could learn from the mixture of traditional and contemporary, and from the use of color, both in the store and in advertising, to provide a feeling of warmth.

Kate Peterson
Management Consultant


Fantastic design and amazing use of materials (love the onyx wall!), made even more impressive by the emphasis on corporate responsibility and green technology. I also love the diverse makeup of the staff. The Gormans have defined their brand and have managed to stay completely true to themselves and to their vision throughout.

Brad Huisken
Sales Trainer

This is a unique store with a great men’s jewelry collection. I particularly like their jewelry guarantee, contemporary interior design and unique lighting.

Amanda Gizzi
Trend Watcher

In addition to the visual appeal of the store, I. Gorman’s commitment and interest in social responsibility, environmental consciousness and charitable giving really impressed me.

Renee Singer
Jewelry Wholesaler

No wonder I. Gorman hosts private events; with its unique, contemporary design and artful displays, it’s as though I’ve stepped into an upscale dinner party! And there’s plenty more to feast on, with bright vivid colors that wake up your senses and a spacious interior for browsing. I. Gorman’s special attention to lighting creates the mood that is critical for viewing jewelry.

James Porte
Marketing Expert

I. Gorman’s owners know who they are and what they do best. Their store is bright, colorful and fresh. The shopper has to appreciate the amount of detail that went into this store. I. Gorman has carved out its own unique niche. They are not trying to be all things to all people.

Terry Chandler
Jewelry Educator

Whether your taste runs to ultra-modern architecture or not, you must admire I. Gorman’ s courage of its convictions for maintaining a consistent and penetrating design principle.


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This story is from the August 2008 edition of INSTORE



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