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The Brax Girl

Newport Beach store owner fosters female empowerment.

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Brax Jewelers, Newport Beach, CA

OWNER: Amy Astaraee; URL:braxjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 2005; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2009; EMPLOYEES: 3; RENOVATED: 2016; TOP BRANDS: Gabriel & Co., Shy Creation, Crown Ring, Christopher Designs, Bare Diamonds; ONLINE PRESENCE: 294 five-star Google reviews; 2,332 Facebook followers; 62,000 Instagram followers


Amy Astaraee poses outside of her Newport Beach store.

Amy Astaraee poses outside of her Newport Beach store.

AMY ASTARAEE, A native of Iran, had come too far in her life and career to be undone by a global pandemic. Optimistic and goal-oriented, she is not one to express doubt. Still, as she was emptying the fridge while tearfully closing her store under state order in March 2020, she couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would buy jewelry again.

To channel positive energy, she used the spring months to reach out to and take care of her customers. It was an effort from the heart.

“We took care of them by celebrating birthdays, sending them flowers, cakes, balloons, baby gifts. Nothing too expensive, but when we reach out, it’s not always to say we have a great sale. Sometimes we reach out to send them a gift. We want to show customers that we love them.”

Her customers responded in kind, before and after she reopened in May.

“For a month, everybody was in shock, but around mid-April, I started getting texts and calls about wedding bands, engagement rings, gifts, and we started shipping jewelry to our customers. At the end, 2020 turned out to be a better year for us than 2019.”

Astaraee, who had artistic aspirations as a child growing up in Iran, drew a portrait of her sister when she was just 3. She had dreamed of being an architect, but had little choice in what she was to study at that time in Iran. What she got was a degree in electrical engineering and few prospects for a meaningful career. “Back home in Iran, you don’t have much choice. If you’re good at school, you have to be a doctor or an engineer,” she says.

Even with that degree, opportunities for women were few. “There were no jobs in Iran for a girl like me,” she says. “I would have had to get married and have kids and that’s it. I couldn’t have been a business owner at the time.”

So she concentrated on her lifelong goal of immigrating to the United States.

“For years and years, I was telling everybody, ‘I’m going to go to America, where I can do whatever I want to do,’ and people were laughing at me! I always heard that America is the land of opportunity. I think it is true because if you have a goal and work hard for it, you can reach your dreams.”

A couple of years after graduating from college, she was able to move to California to be with her sister.

“It was a fresh start for me,” she says. “I could choose what I wanted to be.” Even so, there was no shortage of advice. “People said, ‘Be a nurse, be a lawyer.’ My mom was pushing me to be a dentist.”

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Meanwhile, Astaraee ran an errand with her sister to a jewelry store, and the owner unexpectedly offered her a job. He simply needed someone to look friendly and approachable, to ease threshold resistance. “I didn’t speak English very well, but he said he just wanted me to come and stand in the store,” she recalls. “The first thing I was fascinated with was the beauty of jewelry and gems. I started helping the customers little by little, cleaning jewelry.”

After she married and moved with her husband to El Paso, TX, she landed a job at Johnson Jewelers, where she became a top seller in a matter of months. “Their store was the reason I thought I wanted to join the jewelry business,” she says.

Astaraee had studied English all of her life, and with few Farsi speakers in West Texas, she was immersed in English, and soon became fluent.

When she and her husband returned to California, Astaraee knew she had found her calling and opened shop in a jewelry mart. Her sister promoted her business by hosting jewelry parties in her home, which caught on, and led to other well-connected women hosting them as well. It was the beginning of a strong local following.

She opened her first store in Orange County with a $30,000 loan from her mom. “I decided I would either survive or I would close for good,” she recalls.

Brax Jewelers jewelry party

Astaraee cultivated a loyal base of female self-purchasing clients through jewelry parties before she opened her first store. She continues that tradition with fun, female-focused events.

She had considered naming the business Astaraee, to honor her father, but a friend told her that it would be too hard to pronounce or remember. Instead, the friend suggested “Brax,” a random word that was simple and catchy. She decided to try it. Later, on a trip to Europe, she learned that Brax was a clothing chain, but she trademarked the name in the United States.

In 2009, she moved to her current location in Newport Beach, became focused on designer jewelry and launched her own custom engagement ring line called Amy A. Designs.

The store’s interior design was informed by Parisian boutiques with a soft, neutral palette. The front door’s ornate iron gate, inspired by old mansions, adds a dash of luxury. Jewelry displays are light cream, gold, brown and white, creating a contrast with the dark brown cases and furnishings. Old and new elements mix to create a fun, modern look.

Clients relax in a lounge area, where they’re treated to Nespresso coffee and pastries. An elegant and secure private consultation room is designed for diamond and custom-order clients and equipped with a full bar for engagement celebrations. The space is accented with a black and white photo of the Eiffel Tower framed in gold for a romantic focal point.

Astaraee cultivated the women she met through her original jewelry parties into loyal clients, who, responding to her theme of female empowerment, have become a club of sorts. Astaraee deepened that relationship by creating a marketing campaign called Brax Girl with a series of videos showcasing strong women. “All the marketing we do is around the idea of bringing women together and empowering each other,” she says.

The party tradition, so important early on, continued until 2020 brought it to a temporary halt. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, to plan luxury parties for my clients to attend,” she says.

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The most memorable event is a catered Mother’s Day Yacht Party usually launched every May for as many as 150 women. “We spend the day celebrating moms and cruising the Pacific with a DJ and a comedian host. People have a blast. I invite top customers, and if they want to bring their mom, friends, family, they can buy a ticket for $100. One customer can bring 10 friends or family members and they become my customers, too.”

Astaraee takes time to meet everyone who visits her store to ensure they leave with a smile. “I want my clients to feel like they are a part of my family. Some of our closest clients even join us during the afternoon for tea and pastries.

“We take the time to get to know our customers and I believe that’s what really sets the Brax experience apart from other jewelers.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Brax Jewelers

1. THE SCENT OF SUCCESS. “On a trip out of the country, I found incenses that represent wealth and good fortune,” Astaraee says. “When I returned, I joked with my employees about burning incense every day to bring us good luck in the store. It puts us in a positive mindset, and we begin each day believing that we are going to have great day. We think it’s working!”

2. GLOBAL REACH. Astaraee is passionate about giving back to the local and global community, supporting charities including CHILD international, a children’s hospital, an orphanage, local schools and Global Genes. “For all these organizations, I like to plan fun things to raise resources and awareness like live auctions and silent auctions for donated pieces,” she says.

3. BEAT THE HEAT. Astaraee ran a promotion called “Beat the Heat and it’s Free.” All purchases made between June 1 and June 27 were eligible for refund in July if the temperature reached 86 degrees on the Fourth of July as measured at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport. “Our customers were so excited and hopeful for the temperature to hit, and we were, too! I was insured for the event so if it did hit, I would not lose money from it.”

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4. DIGITAL CONNECTION. Marketing has become a passion for Astaraee, who has nearly 300 Google reviews and has set her sights on 1,000. She credits signing up with Podium as one of the best things she’s done for her business, primarily because it simplifies payments and texting with customers. “All day I have an employee texting back and forth,” she says. “It’s a great tool to have.”

5. THE PERSONAL TOUCH. On social media, Astaraee shares a mix of behind-the-scenes stories, new products, and personal posts. “I want my clients and followers to really get to know me so that they feel more comfortable to come to the store. I also love sharing the clients’ love stories like proposals, weddings and anniversaries with their permission. I think sharing their stories makes our digital presence more exciting and interesting.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jacqueline Cassaway: A creative and exciting shopping experience.
  • Megan Crabtree: Two things that “wowed” me about Brax Jewelers were the customer experience and extravagant parties. To hold a 5-star review status and have hundreds of reviews is not easy and proves how they treat their customers.
  • Larry Johnson: The entry gates add to the mystique (and excitement) of entering a space where so many valuable pieces live.
  • Pam Levine: Brax’s branding overall is consistent, and this brand clearly celebrates women and gift-giving. I appreciate the woman-empowered marketing approach because it comes across as authentic through imagery, social media and vibe. I see this is an effective extension of Amy’s persona and a dynamic attraction for upscale clientele.
  • Katherine Cotterill: I like the focus on community engagement and events to bring people into the store while supporting worthy causes.

 

Try This: Embrace Education

“My No. 1 tip is to always be reading,” Astaraee says. “Read marketing books, social media algorithms updates, research new products like lab-grown diamonds. Anything new that comes into the market, read about it and educate yourself on it. I believe that my success comes from reading and learning new ways to further my store. I am always open to new ideas and trying out new ways to improve my business, educate my staff, and provide customers with the best Brax experience.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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