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Simply Different

Offspring of Hamilton Jewelers asserts its independent spirit.

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H1912, Princeton, NJ

OWNERS: The Siegel family; URL:h1912.com; EMPLOYEES: 4 at H1912; 100 total at Hamilton Jewelers; AREA: 1,500 sq. ft.


Anne Russell

Anne Russell

INCREASED CONSUMER INTEREST in vintage jewelry and collectible watches led Hamilton Jewelers to look for a creative way to showcase those offerings.

Company Vice President Anne Russell envisioned a fresh, accessible space that would allow those sought-after items to take center stage. She imagined it as a place that was more modern than the traditional Hamilton showrooms, somewhere clients could meet comfortably with a sales associate to discuss redesign possibilities, too.

“We had so many people coming into Hamilton looking to repurpose old pieces and make them into something they could wear every day, asking ‘How do I reinvent these pieces and preserve the sentimentality?’ We felt this was an opportunity to have a separate storefront to have people reimagine or reinvent pieces they don’t use anymore. It’s a more sustainable kind of green process than to make something from scratch.”

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So when a 1,200 square-foot space opened up in Princeton, two doors down from one of its parent locations of Hamilton Jewelers (with a Starbucks in between!), they seized the opportunity to create such a place. The goal was not to cannibalize existing Hamilton clients, but to appeal to a new client in the market.

And so H1912 began to take shape.

The 1912 in its name refers to the year Hamilton was founded and plays up the vintage angle of its inventory. Russell, having searched the Hamilton archives, found a logo with a small h and the year of the store’s founding, which became the working concept. “We worked with an agency and told them this is what we want. How do we make it relevant and more modern? And the agency came back with a logo we love.”

Hank, Martin and Andrew Siegel

Hank, Martin and Andrew Siegel, from left, represent three generations. Martin, who died in December, was the heart and soul of the H1912 concept store.

The contrast of displaying vintage jewelry in a modern, industrial space appealed to Russell, who worked with the late Martin Siegel, Hamilton’s second-generation leader, on inventing the concept store. “For vintage jewelry in terms of display, it can kind of feel dated if it’s not in an environment that looks clean and modern.”

The interior of the store has an exposed brick wall and a rustic vintage center table with a crystal chandelier lighting the space. They opened up the ceiling to reveal the original bead board and employed pieces of vintage furniture to add to the vibe. “It was an amazing project, and I did everything from choose the flooring and the paint colors to helping hang the chandelier when we were a little bit late on our opening,” Russell says. She also bought some of the found items used in displays and the working table in the middle of the space.

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She worked closely throughout the process with Martin Siegel, who passed away in December. “He was so wonderful to work with, a true merchant, so innovative. He saw my vision for it and helped me every step of the way; he would say to me in my darkest moment, ‘This is going to be great.’ He was so helpful and supportive, and he loved this brand and would go into the store every day.”

The finished store is just what she and Martin had hoped it would be.

“It’s a nice kind of opportunity to engage with a client in a non-intimidating way,” she says. “It’s very open and engaging, and it’s fun. And you know what? It should be fun. You have to give people a reason to want to come to a store. We have collectors’ evenings; Timepieces and Tacos was one of them, catered by a Mexican restaurant. It’s an opportunity for people to bring in their collection and talk about watches for an evening, with a tequilla tasting. We try to keep it light and fun with absolutely no pressure to buy anything.”

Younger customers respond to the events, the store design and the merchandising concept, as well as the signature music, which is smooth electronic style. The jewelry on display is distinctive too, of course, a carefully curated collection that speaks to found objects and a sense of discovery. The ambience is designed to appeal to the female self-purchase client, the watch collector, and the bridal client looking for one-of-a-kind engagement and wedding rings. H1912 buyers travel to estate shows, antique shows and auctions to handpick one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Every vintage item at H1912 is refinished, refurbished, polished, or overhauled in-house before hitting the showcase.

“Business has grown really nicely,” Russell says. “We only do digital marketing, and we have appealed to a new and different client than the Hamilton client. They can treat themselves to something that is $200, or something that’s a signed piece that they want to add to their collection for $50,000. What’s exciting and fun about merchandising that store is that every day there is something new and different.”

Realizing that each piece is unique and might not be there tomorrow offers added buying incentive.

H1912 packaging

The idea for the name H1912 came from an old logo for Hamilton Jewelers that Anne Russell, company vice-president, discovered in the archives.

The experience of H1912 worked its magic on assistant store manager Donny Brady, who quickly developed a passion for watches. “I didn’t know anything about watches to begin with,” he says. “I started looking up how to pronounce the watch brands before the interview. It was a combination of training, the passion I got from other co-workers, and then also working with clients. If a client was looking at a vintage watch from the ‘50s and they had a question, I would make sure by the end of that day talking to co-workers or watchmakers or searching online that I knew the answer. Then I realized I was looking at stuff about watches all the time, even when I wasn’t working.” He was hooked.

Founded in Trenton, NJ, Hamilton Jewelers was established in 1912 by Irving Siegel and his wife, Alice. Irving, a former errand boy for a similar store, stocked everything from silver dresser sets and cigarette lighters to diamonds and pocket watches.

Second-generation jeweler Martin Siegel was involved in all aspects of the H1912 business from buying to merchandising and client engagement. Hank Siegel, Martin’s successor as Hamilton CEO, has continued to develop and grow the business. In 2017, H1912 and Hamilton Jewelers welcomed the fourth generation: Andrew Siegel, director of business strategy and operations.

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“I think the biggest thing we learned from our late chairman Martin is it’s all about the experience,” Brady says.  ”We want to make people happy by selling a piece to someone who can appreciate it and give it a great new home. These are special pieces and they require special care. We make sure everyone has a great experience and finds something that gives them a lot of joy in their life.”

As for sales, the process is organic and comes from making visitors comfortable.“Martin used to come in and ask us how we were doing,” Brady says. “If it was a slow day, I would tell him we sold smiles. We don’t ever think, ‘I hope that person buys something.’ If they’re having a bad time, they can have a laugh. I will always talk watches with them.”

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About H1912

1. Visual merchandising. “I find that one of the biggest challenges and one of the things we thought about the most was that vintage jewelry can look very quickly like a lot of stuff, instead of a collection of fine vintage jewelry,” Russell says. “So we display by period and also make sure we are not over-merchandising or over-assorting our pieces so you can focus on each individual piece. We use non-traditional props because we really want it to look different.”

2. Digital marketing. Important to the H1912 marketing plan are Google pay-per-click campaigns, as well as display campaigns and SEO on the Google platform. They also run paid social media campaigns for different categories. “We make sure we’re hitting all of the audiences: jewelry, watch collector, and one-of-a-kind engagement.” They spend almost nothing on traditional advertising. They also deploy email campaigns, switching them up between jewelry and watches. “If we have a significant signed piece, we do a little bit about that provenance,” Russell says. “It’s fun that we’re able to provide education around pieces of jewelry that we carry. And it’s fun for me because it involves research and in-depth study on some of the pieces.”

3. Signature cold-pressed H1912 juice. H1912 partnered with Tico’s, a local juice store in Princeton, to create their own cold-pressed juice blend that they serve to clients. “We wanted to provide something different that sets us apart from other retailers that would also tie in to our upbeat and fun shopping experience,” Russell says. The juice is organic and made of ginger, pear, lemon and mango packaged in 8-ounce glass bottles with H1912’s logo on the front. Clients may keep the bottle and bring it to Tico’s for a discount on their next juice. They also partnered with a local bakery for branded cupcakes.

4. New for 2020. H1912 launched a Georgian-inspired jewelry collection recently, which has received an enthusiastic response. “We’re thinking about how we can expand this idea of vintage-inspired to create more new jewelry collections,” Russell says.

5. Fresh take on philanthropy. Hamilton has a long history of supporting charities in its communities; in fact, it contributes to 100 charities in the communities of Palm Beach, FL and Princeton, NJ. At H1912, they donate a portion of proceeds to one chosen charity each month. For example, Send Hunger Packing Princeton provides meals to children who are food insecure. Another example? The Bag Project provides kids in crisis with emergency and comfort items when they enter a shelter or the foster care system.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: The location is beautiful inside and out, with the interior reminding me of the inside of a pocket watch. All of the areas inside the boutique feel like they are made for conversations and gathering spaces. The fact they have also partnered with national and local influencers and bloggers shows that they think ahead and are on the leading cusp of marketing today. Side note: I want my own cold pressed juice flavor now.
  • Elle Hill: Putting their stamp on their business by creating a signature pressed juice is unique and innovative. Using pop-up shops and influencers are current and smart ways to stay relevant.
  • Bob Phibbs: I applaud riding the trend of vintage to new levels by opening a store dedicated to those pieces and their efforts to get in front of new audiences.
  • Michael Roman: Unique buyer persona that targets younger demographic.
  • Mark Tapper:  I love the curation and display of the merchandise. This store truly elevates what most would consider to be a vintage/pre-owned shop. I also like the usage of organic materials and unusual props such as the corkboard display and glass-covered vignettes.

 

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POP-UP SHOP

H1912 experimented with a nine-day We Buy/ We Sell pop-up shop in the Palm Beach Gardens Mall in Florida to allow their online community in the Palm Beach area to see the unique pieces in person, as well as bring in their own jewelry to sell or repurpose. The goal was to be consistent with the brand’s atmosphere and in-store merchandising. Jewelry and watches were showcased in vitrines with oversize images of product throughout the store. They kicked off the week with local influencer Palm Beach Lately and an H1912 happy hour.

WATCH-STRAP DISPLAYS

“We started putting watch straps up on bulletin boards in our store. It’s important for clients to touch and feel the different materials of the watch straps and be able to hold them against their watches on their wrist,” Russell says. Also used as an open watch-strap display is an antique printer’s tray unearthed at a garage sale.

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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