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Storied Jeweler

Alfredo Molina is on a mission to revive one of the most famous names in jewelry.



Black, Starr & Frost; Newport Beach, CA

URL: ; OWNER: Alfredo Molina; FOUNDED: 1810; UNDER CURRENT OWNERSHIP SINCE: 2006; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2011; BUILDOUT COST: $500,000; EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time; AREA: 4,500 square feet; VISION STATEMENT: Changing the world one jewel at a time

AFREDO MOLINA SAYS THAT by purchasing Black, Starr & Frost, he became a steward of one of the most interesting stories in the history of the American jewelry industry.

And we all know the value of an interesting story.

“The American public doesn’t recognize the level of history behind this brand,” Molina says. His goal is to change that.

Black, Starr & Frost was founded by trailblazers on May 1, 1810, at 164 Broadway, making it the first Manhattan jeweler and among the very first in America. The company lays claim to a litany of firsts. In 1833, it was the first jeweler to use glass windows up front.

In 1876 it was the first commercial entity on Fifth Avenue. It made special carriages to deliver goods to clients, which is where the term “carriage trade” comes from.

Black, Starr & Frost invented the safe deposit system, made swords for the Civil War, created America’s first class rings and crafted every major trophy for the Tennis and Lawn Association, which became the U.S. Open.

A history like that comes with a certain amount of cachet. “The first hurdle any company has to overcome is the hurdle of trust,” Molina says. “You have to earn the trust of those you serve. That’s how they become advocates and that’s how advocates become story tellers.”

Molina, who also owns Molina Fine Jewelers in Phoenix, is enthusiastic about sharing the Black, Starr & Frost story and takes the responsibility to heart. He understands such a legacy needs to be carefully cultivated.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for a poor Cuban immigrant to own the jeweler that created what we consider to be the American jewelry industry. It was always a dream of mine to restore the great house of Black, Starr & Frost to its elite position” he says. “We want to provide an experience of privacy and pure luxury as was done for the carriage trade in the 1800s and early 1900s.


But Molina knew history and a great story would not be enough to compete in today’s market. After buying the company in 2006, he began changing the Black, Starr & Frost’s philosophy. “I divested myself of all brands,” he says. “Everything is Black, Starr & Frost, with the exception of partnerships with certain manufacturers who make pieces that are only for Black, Starr & Frost. I truly believe that in today’s world the only brand you can protect is your own. We’re not selling price, we’re selling history. We are a brand that has to carry its own design, style and quality, and we do not compromise.”

The second big step in Molina’s effort to reclaim the store’s status, was to physically move it to a setting that offered room for growth while creating the best possible customer experience.

Through the twists and turns of time and the vagaries of commerce, Black, Starr & Frost — which once had 35 stores — had come to rest at South Coast Plaza, an upscale mall in Newport Beach.

When Molina bought it, he couldn’t wait to move the store out of the mall, tony as it was. It was not meant to be a mall store, he says.

Under Molina’s stewardship it moved and morphed in 2011 from a 900-square-foot store to a large stand-alone structure overlooking the Newport Beach marina.

The store’s interior has the look of Old World elegance befitting its historic origins. Visitors enter through carved mahogany and glass doors, and once inside, are drawn to the terrace overlooking the marina.

“It’s all about the beautiful terrace, where we have a table for dinners,” Molina says. “The patio is magnificent and it’s right on the water, so you’re looking at magnificent sunsets.”

Every detail is meant to provide a quality experience: the care the staff takes in their appearance, the gracious way in which customers are greeted and offered champagne and chocolates. How on a warm day they’re offered a cool towel and on a cool day they’re offered a warm towel.


“We set ourselves apart,” Molina says. “It’s about presentation. My staff knows that we’re not in the jewelry business; we’re in the emotional business, in the experience business. Everyone is greeted with ‘Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening.’ I’m very adamant about that.”

The store details are telling. It is finished with rich wood paneling, a bar, a chess table, and a wine wall. It has two seating areas, a fireplace and century-old furnishings.

Molina’s Heritage

Molina was born in Cuba in 1959 to a wealthy family just three months after the revolution. Molina’s father had left the jewelry business at age 25 to go into the hotel business, but when Fidel Castro came to power he lost everything and was imprisoned.

In 1967, the family was able to leave Cuba, and arrived in Chicago as Catholic refugees. They were taken to a rat-infested, filthy hotel. What happened next, though, changed young Molina’s outlook on life. They met a fellow Cuban in the lobby of that hotel who bought them warm clothes and enough to eat for weeks.

“That act of random kindness changed my attitude and motivation forever,” recalls Molina, whose businesses now contribute up to $3 million to charities every year.

The jewelry business was a natural route to success for Molina, whose family claims roots in the industry dating to 1634 in Milan, Italy.


Five Cool Things About Black, Starr & Frost

1. MOLINA UNIVERSITY: he Alfredo Molina University runs weekly training sessions. “I share everything I’ve learned with the goal of making everyone a mirror of who I am. The staff is empowered to do whatever they have to do to deliver legendary service,” Molina says.

2. FACE-TO-FACE MARKETING: “We can have a social-media initiative, but our best marketing is done by the people that we serve. Everyone we meet is a potential client. Every client is a potential advocate. Every advocate is a potential storyteller. I treat bus boys with the same respect that I treat millionaires — and why wouldn’t you?”


3. A HISTORY IN POPULAR CULTURE: The character played by Marilyn Monroe in the 1954 movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was inspired by Vaudeville actress Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a celebrated client of Black, Starr & Frost. The company is mentioned in Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, which Monroe sang in the movie. The lyrics? “Tiffany, Cartier, Black, Starr, Frost, Gorham, talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.” In 1928, Joyce spent $373,000 to buy a Black, Starr & Frost stone, the 127-carat Portuguese Diamond, now housed in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

4. WISH BOOK: Black, Starr & Frost created a “Wish Book” for the holidays, partnering with four area charities to create “Holiday Wishes” that include a suite of jewelry along with experiences like a week aboard a 100-foot yacht and a ride on the West Coast’s largest private passenger helicopter to a gourmet picnic created by a celebrated chef. Ten percent of the proceeds of each “wish” sold went to the charities, which sent the wish book out to all of their supporters, as well. Orange County’s largest daily printed the wish books and poly-bagged the “Wish Book” with over 100,000 copies of the newspaper.

5. VIP CONCIERGE: “What is luxury? We have a never-say no attitude,” Molina says. “The mission of the VIP concierge is to provide the inaccessible to Black, Starr & Frost’s clients — seats to the Super Bowl, a table at a restaurant with a six-month waiting list, or great seats to a Broadway Play. “We’ve created a network of top people in the world who can arrange these things,” Molina says. This level of hospitality contributed to winning the Six Star Diamond Award by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. “We are the first luxury brand in the country, in the jewelry category to receive this award,” Molina says.

Try This

“Every jeweler should be fearless and buy something that scares the heck out of them. Most jewelers can’t fathom having a piece in their stock that’s worth $100,000 or $250,000. Whatever your average sale is, you should have something that is 10 or 20 times greater than that. Learn to feel comfortable in taking risk; on the other side of tremendous frustration is tremendous success.” — Alfredo Molina

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



Wilkerson Testimonials

To Generate Funds for a Jeweler’s Move and Remodel, Wilkerson More Than Delivered

Even successful jewelers need a little extra cash to fund expansion plans—especially when there’s inventory on hand that’s ripe for liquidation. For Beaumont, Texas-based jeweler Michael Price, co-owner of Mathews Jewelers, it was the perfect time to call Wilkerson. Price talked to other jewelers as well as vendors for advice during the selection process and decided to go with Wilkerson. And he wasn’t disappointed. When it comes to paying for the move and expansion, Price says the road ahead is clear. “When we close on the next two stores, there’s no worries about finances.”

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Press Releases

Officina Bernardi Goes to Hollywood

It include its Moon Collection’s bracelets in the “Everyone Wins” Nominee Gift Bags.




(PRESS RELEASE) NEW YORK, NY – Italian jewelry brand Officina Bernardi is ready for its close up. The Borso del Grappa-based company has been selected to include its Moon Collection’s bracelets in the “Everyone Wins” Nominee Gift Bags independently given to the top Oscar nominees in each of the five major Academy Award categories (Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress and Best Director). While the ladies will receive a silver Moon bracelet, the men will have two options in either black and white, or gunmetal and gold.

Officina Bernardi’s silver Moon collection features jewelry made with the brands signature Moon spheres, meticulously crafted with 925 Sterling Silver and White Rhodium plating. Every design is engineered with one-of-a-kind and high-precision cutting techniques, making its pieces to bend the limit of brilliance and reflect light in a unique way.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Officina Bernardi to showcase our product in the national spotlight while simultaneously aligning it with famous trendsetters,” founders Carlo and Francesco Bernardi state: “We are thrilled to include our Moon Collection in these coveted gift baskets.”

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Press Releases

IIJS Signature 2020 to Have Special Design Pavilion, Featuring the Works of Hand-Picked Women Entrepreneurs and Budding Jewelry Designers

It’s a platform that bridges the gap between manufacturers and trade attendees and is an ideal meeting point to introduce the right manufacturer to the right buyer.




(PRESS RELEASE) IIJS Signature, India’s first trade show of the calendar year is regarded as the nerve centre of jewelry design and technology – attracting domestic and international buyers alike. The 13th edition of IIJS Signature 2020 will be held from February 13th-16th at Bombay Exhibition Centre, Mumbai.

This premium B2B jewelry-buying show has already attracted more than 10,800 pre-registered visitors. These visitors have confirmed their presence for the show in the first phase of pre-registration that ended on December 17th 2019, which is 261% higher than last year. The GJEPC is expecting to get more registrations in the second phase that will end in mid-January 2020.

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The IIJS Signature platform will also be known for giving exposure to the new comers in the industry. This year, IIJS Signature has a special Design Pavilion, which will feature the works of nine hand-picked women entrepreneurs and nine budding jewelry designers. The platform will be a great experience for our designers and entrepreneurs to network and meet buyers from India and abroad. This will also give them an understanding on the expectations of different buyers. GJEPC has offered special rates for these participants with the aim to encourage tomorrow’s creative stars of India. Selection of jewelry designers and women entrepreneurs will be done by independent industry experts appointed by the Council in assistance with the Women’s Jewelry Association – India. Preference will also be given to IIGJ past and present alumni.

Pramod Agrawal, chairman, GJEPC states, “IIJS Signature has defined itself as an important barometer of success for the Indian industry, showcasing the best of jewelry in terms of design, quality and finish, as well as high technology solutions – all under one roof. The show will undoubtedly help to boost India’s jewelry exports from $12 billion at present to $18 billion by 2025.”

“As an endeavor to encourage design talent and entrepreneurship, this time we have created a special Design Pavilion, which will showcase the works of nine hand-picked women entrepreneurs and nine budding jewelry designers from the industry. GJEPC has offered nominal rates for these participants, with an aim to bring forth such design talent. As GJEPC we indulge in series of design initiatives across the year that helps nurture the skillset and talent of jewelry design. Design Pavilion at IIJS Signature is yet another such effort in that direction.” Said Mr. Agrawal.

Colin Shah, vice chairman, GJEPC, notes, “The heartening response received from exhibitors and visitors for IIJS Signature – in terms of record numbers of stall bookings and pre-registrations – is the best antidote to the slowdown that has affected our industry for so long. It is a clear indication that the trade believes 2020 will witness an uptick in demand throughout the pipeline. In these stressful times, the optimism and positivity shown by our industry is perhaps our greatest strength. I envisage a more stable political and economic environment in the next few years, which will hopefully bring about further business-friendly policy changes related to taxation, export finance and so on.”

Mansukh Kothari, convener – National Exhibitions, GJEPC, comments, “IIJS Signature stands tall for its eclectic mix of high-design jewelry to cater to a variety of individual requirements. The first show of the Indian calendar year is perfectly timed to replenish inventory for the upcoming festivals that drive jewelry sales and the summer wedding season.”

Speaking On the Design Pavilion, Convener National Exhibitions said, “ India is a powerhouse of Design when it comes to jewelry. It was imperative to showcase this design talent to the world at IIJS Signature, as the show provides significant opportunity and exposure to Indian and International buyers”

Two significant events timed around IIJS Signature i.e. Design Inspirations and The Artisan Awards. These are being organized in keeping with the GJEPC’s stated objective of raising the design consciousness of the Indian industry.

The Artisan Awards 2020, which is themed on Architectural Gems, will honor nine winners on February 12th 2020, at an exclusive gala in Mumbai, one day prior to the start of IIJS Signature. In the first round of judging, 27 finalists were selected from the 625 entries. The designs were based on the three key architectural eras – Art Deco, Islamic Arabesque and Neo-Futurism. The Awards will be presented by a renowned international jewelry artist, who is specially visiting the show for this purpose.

The day-long Design Inspirations seminar, which will be held along the sidelines of IIJS Signature, on February 16th, will see a slew of distinguished foreign and Indian speakers from the fields of fashion, jewelry, retail and more. These influential experts will share their knowledge and experience to stimulate ideas and innovation.

IIJS Signature, besides being a perfect networking platform due to its unhurried pace, it is also a place to get the pulse of the market in terms of high design, market demand, and insights on inventive technology. The show is a platform that bridges the gap between manufacturers and trade attendees and is an ideal meeting point to introduce the right manufacturer to the right buyer.

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Video: Here’s a Great Way to Use Personal Stories in Your Jewelry Marketing

Show potential customers what it’s like to do business with you.




ONE OF THE NICE THINGS about being an independent jeweler is that you build relationships with customers and hear a lot of stories.

When someone tells you about how a gift was given or received, take out your phone and ask if you can record it, advises Jimmy DeGroot.

Then you can put the video on social media and let people see what it’s like to do business with your store.

Watch the video:

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