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Two-storey glass mounttain drawing the crowds in Silicon Valley.

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Joe Escobar Diamonds, Campbell, CA

OWNERS: Joe, Mark, Dave and Stacey Escobar; YEAR FOUNDED: 1977; LOCATION OPENED: 1996; STORE AREA: 6,500 sq. ft; ADDRESS: East Hamilton Ave., Campbell, CA 95008; PHONE: (408) 341-0300; URL: escobardiamonds.com


AFTER 23 LONG YEARS chasing everything from lost dogs to hardened criminals as an officer with the San Jose Police Department, Joe Escobar decided it was time to pursue something he loved. He handed in his badge, collected his pension and founded Joe Escobar Diamonds. Three decades later that one-man operation has become one of the best-known jewelry businesses in Silicon Valley.

It is also one of the most visually stunning. Wrapped in floorto-ceiling glass, the two-storey building allows great swathes of sunlight in to splash over its showcases, making Escobars’ diamonds shimmer with natural brilliance. After the sun sets, the store lights up, beckoning to motorists cruising the nearby roadways that lead into America’s affluent, hi-tech heartland.

THE HISTORY
Second Profession

Joe Escobar was a dedicated cop. On the job for more than two decades, he worked his way from patrolman to detective, covering everything from petty theft to homicides.

Police work wasn’t easy and Joe needed a release from the daily grind. He found that in jewelry.

During days off, he’d design and make his own pieces.

“When he retired and opened the store it was a 180-degree turn — from the negative to the positive,” says Mark Escobar, who today owns Joe Escobar Diamonds with his father, brother David and sister Stacey.

Joe’s first store was a small outlet in what was then San Jose’s tallest structure — the 13-storey Bank of America building.

Over the next eight years, the business grew steadily. Joe took on nine employees, and leased additional space for his antique and custom-jewelry divisions.

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Mark was studying finance at San Jose State University at the time and he’d often pop over to the store after classes to help his father.

When graduation approached, Joe asked if Mark would join him full-time in the business.

Ditto for David and Stacey, who later earned a master’s degree in speech pathology, but gave it up for jewelry.

In 1985, the operation had outgrown the downtown San Jose location and Joe moved the business to nearby Campbell, which sits next to three freeways, allowing easy access from practically anywhere in Silicon Valley.

The Escobars built their reputation in Campbell for a decade, before once again finding themselves in a location that was too small to accommodate their ever-growing selection of jewelry and burgeoning clientele.

Joe was insistent on remaining in Campbell, where he had built a loyal following. So, he snapped up three adjacent houses less than a quarter mile from his store in 1996 and built a glass-and-limestone monument to his pastime-turned-profession. The result is today’s 6,500-square-foot store with a spacious, airy layout, a watchmaker’s section visible from the sales floor and an upstairs landing for private clients.

THE CONCEPT
The Power of Light

The atmosphere at Joe Escobar Diamonds is relaxed, but there isn’t a lot of dead time — especially now that business has rebounded to dot.com-boom levels. Campbell is in the heart of Silicon Valley, and many of the store’s customers are computer and software engineers and their spouses.

They’re drawn to the store by both the jewelry and the building’s design. People driving past are wow-ed by Joe Escobar Diamonds’ wall of glass. And once they’re inside, they’re enticed by the showcases of jewelry.

The Escobars worked with Ward Young Architects of Lafayette, CA., and San Jose Construction Co. to get the building and the effect they wanted.

“The building was constructed from scratch, so everything we wanted or needed was integrated into the design, including a walk-in vault and showcases with sliding drawers,” says Mark, 45, whose wife Mary Ann also works at the store.

The cost of the land and construction were steep, Mark says, so the Escobars took out a loan to build the store. “It was really hard financially; however it was worth it in the long run to have the building designed for us.” The Escobars have only five years left on the loan to repay and then they’re free and clear.

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THE STORE
Upscale Modern

Joe Escobar Diamonds is all about light and space. The ceiling soars two storeys; the floor is covered with limestone and beige carpeting.

The stools and the custom showcases, by Wood Tech, are crafted from light-colored woods. The lines are clean; the feeling is expansive. Jewelry sparkles under sunlight and the daylight equivalent of metal-halide lamps. The emphasis is on wedding rings, diamonds, high-quality designer pieces and one-of-a-kind custom-made necklaces, bracelets and rings.

At night, the store lights up. “It’s like a giant fish bowl,” Mark says.

“It’s very dramatic. The showroom is a draw.”

The showcase area is currently 3,000 square feet, but is being expanded to 3,500 square feet. The Escobars are in the process of increasing their displays for women and moving the men’s area to the second floor.

The clientele ranges from middle class to prosperous. All customers are treated like royalty.

They’re offered soft drinks, bottled water, tea, Starbucks coffee and wine and champagne bottled with a Joe Escobar Diamonds label. There’s a kitchenette downstairs to serve patrons and a full kitchen upstairs; most employees eat at the store.

Tech-savvy customers want to know what they’re buying and that it’s being sold at a competitive price, so there is a Sarin machine on site to measure and grade diamonds.

“We have a lot of engineers in this valley, so our sales approach is very technical. If you don’t give them numbers to think about, they’re not happy,” Mark says.

“Women are more into design. They want to know they’re buying high-quality diamonds, but they’re not going to get into the crown angle.”

The Escobars sell diamonds with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If clients find a diamond of the same quality at a lower price, they can return their diamond for a full refund.

Also on site are a laser welding machine, a state-of-the-art watch repair facility and six laptop computer stations on the sales floor with POS software and wireless Internet access.

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THE PEOPLE
Family Affair

The Escobars do it their way. They have weekly meetings to separate jewelry business from family business, and they’re closed on Sundays because Sunday is family day. “There aren’t a lot of jewelry stores our size that are closed on Sunday,” notes Mark.

The Escobars don’t advertise, except for their Rolex line. “Our business is all referral and repeat,” Mark says. “It’s the concern forquality and customer service that keeps people coming back.” The Escobars do, however, print a catalogue for regular clients.

The siblings abide by their father’s philosophy: Treat customers like family; pay your bills; and never buy more than you can afford. “It’s common sense, but applied well,” Mark says.

Joe Escobar Diamonds does a lot of custom work with bigger stones. It keeps a large inventory of loose diamonds on the premises.

“We’re a very cut-oriented store,” Mark says. “We’re very particular about the cut that we use. We want to know every detail about every stone, which is why we have the Sarin machine on our premises.”

Mark and David are GIA graduate gemologists, making them two of the seven GIA gemologists on the store’s staff. Joe Escobar Diamonds employs six goldsmiths, half for original designs and half for repairs. In total, the store employs 30 people who, in addition to sales, take care of appraisals, quality control, receiving and inventory tagging.

The store maintains a handsome website, but doesn’t sell direct from the web. “It’s a lead-in to sales. Our business is local.

Walk-in,” says Mark, although he gets orders from customers who have moved elsewhere but still want their jewelry work done by the Escobars.

“People will drive a couple hours to get here. And there are lots of stores in between,” Mark says.

But the store’s design is so cool that people who find their way to San Jose can’t seem to stay away. “It’s a great building,” says Mark.“It pulls people in.”

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)

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