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Best of the Best: Van Gundy and Sons

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[dropcap cap=W]hen Tom Van Gundy heard the voices of 12 women in the front of his store, he had no idea what was happening, but he knew he wanted to be in on it. The buzz centered around a $37,000, 118-diamond necklace, totaling 15.24 carats, that was the centerpiece of Van Gundy and Sons’ window. The women wanted to form a sort of “co-op,” sharing the necklace and wearing it on special events and for their birth months. And they wanted it for $12,000. — Judy Truesdell[/dropcap]

[componentheading]THE IDEA[/componentheading]

[contentheading]A Necklace Cooperative[/contentheading]

Between the time ringleader Jonell McLain first spotted the necklace and her return trip with fellow investors in tow, the piece had been reduced to $22,000; Van Gundy was open to some amount of bargaining. After much negotiating, he agreed to sell the necklace for $15,000, an amount below his cost. But there was one proviso — his wife, who had lost a vivacious sister to cancer just six months before — would be included in the ladies’ cartel. He said he just “had a feeling” that this was a deal he should strike, for business as well as personal reasons. He was eager to see his wife smile the way the women in his store were smiling.

[componentheading]THE EXECUTION[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Draft club rules[/contentheading]

Best of the Best: Van Gundy and Sons

Van Gundy made the sale, and, since the necklace (named Jewelia by the group) was going to change hands so many times, the ladies agreed to share the cost of insurance. They decided when each woman would have the necklace — during her birthday month (only two women had the same one) and for special occasions. And they decided to meet every time the necklace would pass to another one of its owners.

Though Priscilla Van Gundy resisted both the sale (“I was beside myself! How can we run a business when we sell below cost?!”) and inclusion in the group (“I was working 40 to 60 hours a week … now I’m going to be in some club?”), she finally relented, urged to participate by enthusiastic e-mails from her fellow diamond owners. She soon realized that this was much more than just a sale. Close relationships began to form between the women, including Priscilla, and each one was affected in some positive way by her ownership of the necklace.

Everyone soon realized this story was as multi-faceted as the diamonds in the necklace — and it needed to be told. Author Cheryl Jarvis was hired to write the book, The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives, published by Random House in September 2008.

[componentheading]THE REWARD[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]National media attention[/contentheading]

Van Gundy and Sons — and the ladies — became the center of a media storm. Appearances on Good Morning, America and The Today Show followed, as well as publicity in People and other magazines.

This story has impacted diamond jewelry sales. In Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Priscilla noticed a diamond necklace being worn by the woman sitting next to her. The woman told Priscilla she had splurged on the necklace because of a story she had heard. As the story unfolded, Priscilla realized it was the Van Gundys’ own Jewelia group’s tale.

The Van Gundys have been guest speakers at trade events, such as the Women’s Jewelry Association’s Women in the Know event in New York City. The ladies co-op, officially named Women of Jewelia, L.L.C., began supporting charitable causes such as Habitat for Humanity and sponsored homeless women, helping connect them with social workers and healthcare professionals. These good works have continued to create media attention and aid Van Gundy branding.

A movie, either a major motion picture or made-for-TV movie, is in the planning stages.

“It started because I got caught up in the excitement,” Tom admits. “And now we’re ‘the jewelers who sold the necklace.’ “

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[span class=note]This story is from the May 2009 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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