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What I’ve Learned

Retailers, jewelry makers and even a consultant or two sound off on what they know about wedding jewelry

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We asked a sampling of notable jewelry retailers, designers, manufacturers and consultants to talk about the most important things they’ve learned about the art and science of making and selling engagement rings. Respondents shared everything from practical tips to the emotional high they get from participating in these momentous celebrations of love.

Women are the Drivers

Noam Carver, Noam Carver Designer

  • Women are in the driver’s seat. There was a time when a guy would surprise his bride with an engagement ring. Today, women are active in the process of choosing their ring, sharing images, shopping together and informing their close friends or family of the styles they favor. 
  • Biggest challenge? Getting stores out of their comfort zone, getting them to try new brands and introduce new collections. Retailers can get attached to lines that are not performing out of fear of losing that initial investment, but they are missing out on new collections that can bring revenue growth and new clientele. 
  • Dainty bands, solitaires and intricate setting styles are trending now; demand for halos is declining. Rose gold is very strong and we’re starting to see an uptick in yellow gold; white is still No. 1.
  • What I like about being in this business is: It’s a beautiful harmony of design, fashion, marketing and strategy. Keeps you on your toes and is continuously stimulating. Forging relationships with storeowners, sales staff and consumers brings meaning to all the hard work.

Millennials Get A Bad Rap

Marc Adwar, Brooklyn Jewelers

  • For our new bridal line, we’re trying to target millennials. We take a traditional style and add a little Brooklyn edginess. We built Brooklyn Jewelers in the heart of Williamsburg to be surrounded by millennials. They get a bad rap. They’re misunderstood.
  • I think everyone is wrong about the future of retail. I don’t think everyone is going to be sitting in their houses ordering from Amazon and taking Ubers everywhere. Stores need to change the experience, and if they’re willing to change the experience, they are going to do very well. Everyone has discounted the relationships these retailers have made with their communities over the years. But if those stores aren’t willing to change, then they are going to have a very hard time.
  • When I was a young kid and Dad used to send me on the road, customers would pick out dozens of different styles. And nowadays, stores have much less inventory and everything is more custom-based. Even if a retailer has 5,000 rings, people will want the 5,001st ring. We built our systems for us to be able to build the CAD designs and make alterations for the customer with anticipation that that was going to be happening in the future.
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Make a Personal Connection

Erica Tague, Michael & Sons, Reno, NV

  • I have learned to ask about her. What is she interested in, what does she do for work, how did they meet? Making a personal connection with the person shopping for the engagement ring makes it more than a sale to them. They feel that they have a friend and not just someone trying to sell them something. 
  • I have learned to talk less and listen more. This is difficult because I am Italian and I love to talk, but I have found that if you ask a question, pause and hear their response; then they feel that they are driving the bus.

Show Them Three Diamonds

Alan Perry, Perry’s Emporium, Wilmington, NC

  • Show the customers three loose diamonds and let them pick the one they like best. I learned the three-diamond approach from someone on Polygon many years ago. The nerdy type guys came in saying 54 percent table, 60 percent depth, VVS1, D color, etc. So now I order three diamonds with different colors and cuts and clarity within a certain price range and at least one with a little spread on the table and one triple-X cut and then put them out there, ask him which one is the table and depth you want? Which one is the clarity you want? He always picks wrong … and then I teach him it’s in the eye of the beloved one. Most times, he picks the diamond that’s a lower cut and clarity and a lower price. He usually buys the one I pick for him, because he thinks it’s the most brilliant one of the three!

Let Shoppers Dream the Dream

Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

  • I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget. I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.

Look Out for Relatives

Chuck Kuba, Iowa Diamond, West Des Moines, IA

  • Beware the groom’s mother! They are surely the spawn of Smaug! We are thinking of selling a gift item for the bride to give to the groom. They’re called “Cut the Cord” scissors. 
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Drug Straight to the Heart

Ryan Karp Jr., Cornerstone Jewelry, Palos Park, IL

  • Selling my first engagement ring was a complete joy. Every time still feels like that first time. You’re involved in an intimate experience. To make their dreams come true is better than having my own dreams come true. Like a drug straight to the heart, it keeps us running and always wanting more.

Re-Educate When Necessary

Pat Henneberry, The Jewelry Coach and VP of learning  and development for Hearts On Fire 

  • Many years ago, the consumer came in with no information. They would try their best to learn about the 4Cs. Now they come to us overeducated, and some of the education is not the best. You kind of have to backtrack and start at square one. I like to start by educating them on cut and how important that is.

Find Margin in Mountings

Terry Chandler, President and CEO of the Diamond Council of America

  • When the bridal sector crosses into the millennial sector, the jeweler must have the knowledge, equipment, and expertise to create a one-of-a-kind engagement ring. Millennials want “their” engagement ring, not “an” engagement ring. 3 Amidst all the conversation about shrinking margins on larger center diamonds, the jeweler has an opportunity to make up margin on more diamond-set bridal mountings.

Be Very Good at Getting Them to Talk

Shane Decker, Sales trainer

  • If they’re shopping together, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone. Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or something. Say, “I’m so glad you did some research!” If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet.
  • The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.
  • So many salespeople don’t know how to close. You have to have the ability to romance the product. When you drive up the value of the ring they want, that closes the sale.
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Do Not Be Afraid of Silence

Aleah Arundale, Olympian Diamonds 

  • The problem with most salespeople is they don’t stop talking! Decisions are not made while you are talking, they are made when the customer is thinking. Do not be afraid of silence. Give him the chance to have an inner conversation on how he will pay for it or picture how much she will love it. If you interrupt this, you kill the sale.
  • As strange as it sounds, the price of the diamond does not matter. Shoppers may tell you they saw a cheaper diamond somewhere else, but the more likely truth is that they are not sure what they saw. Think about it. Do most customers really understand diamonds? 
  • You need more and better reasons to buy from you. I call this a value story. Your value story can be that you buy second hand diamonds, or that you have 40 years buying experience, or that you just got back from Antwerp. Even telling customers you have the best warranty can give them that feeling of value and reasons to buy. Not everyone is a price shopper, but everyone is a value shopper.
  • Tell them the price early on. Why? Because all they are thinking is “how much?” “that’s nice but how much?” “would she/he shut up and just tell me how much?” By saying the price early, it shows you are not ashamed or scared of the price. Everything you say afterwards adds value to it.

It’s Not a Refrigerator

Douglas Elliott, Designer and partner, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend. Our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love.
  • I don’t believe in emails for customers. If you’re spending $35,000, I want them to get a phone call.
  • I’ve learned to give the women what they want. They like a thin and delicate ring. We have the world’s thinnest wedding band. This is what the New York woman, between 25 and 35, is wearing today.
  • If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. We made over 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year. Everything is bespoke and made in New York. I pick every diamond in the store. And we sell only gold and platinum men’s bands. If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here. 

Find Out What Exactly They Want

Marisa Perry, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Everyone shopping for an engagement ring is scared. Guys are scared because they’re spending a lot of money and making a huge emotional commitment. They want to get it right. Girls are like “Oh my God, I need a ring! I don’t know what I want!” It’s important to let them try on a lot of options and make sure it’s what they want. It should be really fun. It’s not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.
  • You have to make the customer feel at ease while getting the job done. It’s half business and half fun. Nobody walks out of my store without knowing what they want. We’ve asked them enough questions that they know what they want. They’re grateful. They’re relieved. They figured it out.

Educated Staff Clears Up Confusion

Harvey Rovinsky, Bernie Robbins Jewelers, NJ and PA

  • Education is one of the most important roles of the jeweler — for most clients, this is one of their first significant jewelry purchases. At Bernie Robbins, we have 5 C’s of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, carat, and confusion. Our team is highly educated on our diamonds’ quality, style and process of being responsibly mined.3 The rise of social media allows brides to see pieces online of different styles that they would not have seen otherwise. It also allows our sales team to better understand a bride’s style by seeing photos of pieces she “likes” online. 
  • Customers are increasingly looking to buy from local family-owned businesses instead of major chains to get the personalized, artisan experience.
  • An online presence is even more important as customers investigate a company’s website and social media channels before ever coming to the store, and we want to make sure they have the BR experience online and offline.

Go Deeper Into Collections

Megan Thorne, Designer

  • When it comes to designing rings, I’ve learned to leave room for customization. Styles that work only with a certain shape or size stone make accommodating clients’ stones difficult.
  • The biggest change I’ve observed in what women want is that size is no longer the defining diamond characteristic. Women care about quality, history and the ethical implications of a stone. 
  • My best advice for retailers selling designer engagement rings is to give space to each artist. There are so many talented designers and thousands of gorgeous rings, and it must be tempting to get a little here and a little there so that you can represent more designers. But limiting your selection to fewer artists and going deeper into the collection with each of them allows your team to establish a relationship with the brand and engage more knowledgeably and thoroughly with your clients.

Wedding Jewelry is Recession Proof

Asaf Herskovitz, GN Diamond 

  • People are too negative about millennials. Eighty-eight percent of them believe in getting engaged with a traditional natural diamond. I’m seeing millennials spending more on diamonds than their parents did. There are fewer smaller diamonds and more classic jewelry being brought back, like solitaire settings. Millennials still want natural diamonds and the industry is starting to explain a little bit better why one diamond outshines another diamond. They’re looking for a different life experience. Just being on Main Street for 25 years is not going to cut it any more. Stores need to provide a wow factor and education. 

Love is Love

Rony Tennenbaum, Designer 

  • There were a number of reasons I began designing wedding and engagement rings for the LGBT community. A little over 10 years ago, six states had the laws on the books that allowed gay couples to marry. I woke up one day and said, “I have so many friends who ask me about engagement rings,” but when you Googled gay and lesbian rings, all you would get were rainbow rings and triangle rings, and none of my friends or I would want to wear those as our wedding rings. 
  • I’d get hundreds of emails all of the time from couples seeking advice. I started lecturing on the topic because there’s a different dynamic involved. All we knew was what the tradition is for a traditional couple. Do we both get engagement rings? Do we need to have matching rings? They were asking me these questions. So that’s how I started my series of talks for couples called, “The New Etiquette of the Rainbow.” 
  • I can’t say wedding jewelry is “normalized” in the LGBT community. I think if anything, it’s an individualized niche where a lot of people do different things. No one believes it has to be a certain way. 
  • When the political arena was very favorable, I stepped back from targeting the LGBT market because there’s nothing about my jewelry that says, this is gay, this is straight. There’s no such thing as a gay ring. In my store, 80 percent of my clientele were straight and looking for something unique. I lost a little bit of the fire for LGBT only. Now we’re kind of back to it.
  • It is important that this is an LGBT line, that I am a gay designer and that I stand for LGBT rights. That’s where I feel most comfortable. In the current political climate, we’re going back a step to gay, proud and shout it at the top of our lungs: love is love. Let’s show people that we are here.

One Customer at a Time

Julie Terwilliger, Wexford Jewelers, Cadillac, MI

  • 3 I had a gentleman purchase a modest wedding set from us, and then his fiancée began working with me to exchange it for something bigger. She was a nightmare, and after countless changes to a designer name that we carry, we perfected what she wanted. She explained that she would be paying the difference personally as she made more money than her significant other. I then finalized and updated the invoice to collect a deposit for the new project. Unfortunately, it was automatically sent to the original email on file, which was the gentleman, who apparently had no idea that she had been working with me. It blew up and she was very upset. She intended to table the upgrade for maybe a year until this blew over, but it has been over three years now. Wondering if they are even together still. Lesson learned: email the invoice to the one paying. Ugh!

Become An Invited Guest

James Doggett, Doggett Jewelry, Kingston, NH

  • Over the past 40 years, I have found that the bride-to-be who is the most realistic about what her fiancé can afford stays married the longest and becomes a great repeat client. Remember, for the 5th or 10th anniversaries, the husbands will be back for “something bigger” and all those dates in between, birthdays, holidays, push gifts, they remember how reasonable you were when they were younger and poorer. In 1980 after the silver market crashed, I was working in an urban jewelry store when an “average Joe” came in looking for an engagement ring between $750 and $1,000. Store policy at the time was that you guilt them into $2,000 if they said they had a budget of $1,000. Breaking store rules, I showed him rings in his price range and reminded him that sizing was extra. He bought a nice ring from the estate tray for $900 plus tax. It fit his fiancée perfectly. They followed me when I opened my own store and have been clients ever since. Last Christmas, he bought his bride a sapphire and diamond necklace almost 25 times the price of her engagement ring.
  • I’m not looking to rip anyone off. I’m on the third generation with some families I’ve been dealing with for years. If I treat them right, they will keep coming back. There’s a reason I no longer have to advertise.
  • I am often invited to weddings (learn to dance, guys, and dance with anyone who is sitting alone at a table), where I am often introduced by the bride shaking her left hand at people saying “This is Jim, he made my rings!” Husbands introduce me to their friends and suggest they come to me when they are ready to do “something good for a change.”

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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Borsheims Shareholders Weekend Demands All Hands on Deck

Hospitality crucial, no matter the size of your trunk show.

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PLANNING A TRUNK show this fall? What if your trunk show involved 100 vendors, as many as 35,000 customers and 25,000 catered meatballs?

Borsheims in Omaha, NE, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, meets that challenge annually with an all-hands-on-deck approach when it opens its doors each May to all of the company’s shareholders who want to come.

The jewelry store plays host to a cocktail party on Friday night and a shareholder shopping day on Sunday. Both events spill into the mall, which is closed to the public, and into the parking lot. “We really look at this from a hospitality approach,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales. “We want to thank the shareholders for their loyalty and patronage.”

This year there were 100 jewelry, watch and gift vendors, some of whom brought in products for their trunk shows that wouldn’t be seen anywhere else in the U.S., Fay says. “You’ve never seen jewelry cases as packed as they are during Berkshire weekend. We call it our Christmas in May. We do a transaction every 11 seconds during the weekend.”

STAFFING

For weeks leading up to the event, job descriptions blur as every employee plays a role from helping with catering to managing vendors. They hire additional staff for the weekend, ask corporate staff to work the sales floor and bring in runners and cashiers.

“The last thing we would want to have is someone standing around and no one able to help them,” says Jaci Stuifbergen, who guides Borsheims’ experiential marketing. “Everyone involved is a representative of Borsheims, from those setting up a large tent to those providing food and beverages. We want every caterer to represent Borsheims well and have the same customer-focused mindset that we do the whole time they are here.”

ENTERTAINMENT

Even though it’s a private event, shareholders are under no obligation to buy jewelry. So creating the right customer experience is vital in this, as in any, event situation. “Whether it’s a regular trunk show or during this event, the thing we want to provide is a really great experience,” Stuifbergen says. “We know they could buy this jewelry from other stores or on the Internet, but what we have to offer are customer service and knowledgeable staff. Complimentary alcohol never hurts!” she says.

It might be the only chance to convert shoppers. “It’s such a destination store that for a lot of people, this is the only time in the year, or maybe in a decade, that they come here,” Stuifbergen says. They set up two bars and two buffet lines in the parking lot under the biggest tent they can rent. Sunday’s party often features Bershire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett playing bridge or table tennis with Bill Gates, Microsoft founder. There’s also a live band and a magician. On Friday night, the caterer serves more than 25,000 meatballs.

BRAND IDENTITY

The shareholders, who are Warren Buffett groupies, want to buy anything that’s affiliated with him, from pearl strands with his signature on the clasp and diamonds with his signature laser-inscribed inside to affordable gift products stamped with his face or the company logo. Last year, they used a custom etching machine to inscribe personal messages inside the diamonds while customers waited.

DEBRIEFING

Almost immediately after the event, everyone in the company is asked for input and feedback, which is compiled into a seven or eight page document and carefully analyzed. Feedback has led to changes like improved security and gift bags for vendors as a token of appreciation.

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America's Coolest Stores

New York’s Yaf Sparkle Excels at Hospitality

Creating an experience comes naturally.

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Yaf Sparkle, New York

OWNERS: Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel; URL:yafsparkle.com ; FOUNDED: 2012; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 ; AREA: 1,400 square feet total; 720 square foot showroom TOP BRANDS: Vieri, Elements Studio NYC, Lyon Fine Jewelry, John Varvatos, Sarah Michiko; ONLINE PRESENCE: 8,600 Facebook likes, 4,515 Instagram followers, 161 Trip Advisor Reviews with a 5.0 rating. Yaf Sparkle is No. 6 of 1,001 shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor; BUILDOUT COST: $85,000


ON A SULTRY JULY afternoon, an out-of-town customer, who had reluctantly left Yaf Sparkle without buying anything, returned soon after. She couldn’t shake the feeling she had to buy that pair of earrings that caught her eye.

Even after sealing the deal, she was reluctant to leave. Her husband, resigned, was ready to sink into a chair in an air-conditioned reprieve from the muggy air outside. As his wife succumbed to a number of add-on purchases, he told store owner Yaf Boye-Flaegel that she had mastered the art of the ABCs.

ABC? Yaf inquired.

“Always be closing,” he said.

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But Yaf said she had never heard that expression. For her, closing is about a lighthearted musical laugh and a playful “Hey, where are you going?” That’s what she might say if customers don’t seem certain whether they’re ready to leave or buy a second or a third piece of jewelry. Temptation is everywhere within reach, like low-hanging fruit. Add-ons abound in the form of stackable rings and layered pendants. She floats from one customer to another, jangling a pile of Julie Voss-designed bangles on her wrist with enthusiasm. She sells those gold-plated brass items as quickly as if they really are pieces of fruit.

Yaf says it’s the hospitality she learned from her parents in her native Senegal that helps her so effortlessly create such a welcoming atmosphere. Working in other people’s jewelry stores before she had her own, she observed that her friends weren’t comfortable stopping by even to say hello, let alone to hang out. Now that she’s created her own environment with a Caribbean-music soundtrack that makes swaying to the beat impossible to avoid and a playful approach to mixing and matching layers and stacks of jewelry, everyone who happens by wants to stay a while.

Sometimes a regular will dash in just to pull out one of Yaf’s “Goddess” cards from a stack to read an inspirational message guaranteed to improve their day. Or they might stop by for a hand-painted card, handmade candle or a New York postcard. There’s something for everyone. More than anything, though, they have become hooked on the positive, pervasive energy Yaf exudes.

Yaf and her husband, Torsten Flaegel, a native of Hamburg, Germany, are adept at inventing ways to enchant everyone in their orbit.

Torsten, long fascinated by the quality of light on the street, worked with Yaf on an event for the Manhattanhenge, also known as Manhattan Solstice, a time during which the setting or rising sun is aligned with the east-west streets of the main street grid in New York City. The sunsets and sunrises each align twice a year, on dates evenly spaced around the summer and winter solstices. For Yaf Sparkle’s Manhattanhenge event, there was music, a tarot card reader and a feeling that magic was in the air.

The ranking fluctuates, but customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as the third-best shopping experience in all of New York City on tripadvisor.com. At most, though, only a third of Yaf Sparkle shoppers are tourists. The majority are New Yorkers. “Online sales are growing and online is what brings people into the store,” Yaf says. “We’re not on a main street, but we have lots of content online.”

Affordable pieces displayed casually in the center of the store encourage shoppers to try something on.

They see their store as a walk-in jewelry closet and encourage customers to bring in a special-occasion outfit to be accessorized. Yaf constantly develops her own collections, presents the work of new local and international designers and changes the displays every other week to stay fresh.

“We have this internal competition of who can surprise our customer with the coolest new jewelry outfit that they didn’t consider wearing a day ago,” Torsten says. “There’s no being shy in our store; adorning oneself is fun and that’s what we are experts in. All in all, it is about being happy. Sharing a laugh is what keeps us in mind, and there’s nothing easier than that once you understand that every customer is first and foremost a potential friend.”

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The space itself, they say, was a raw diamond when they found it, veritably buried in layers of concrete. The little laundry that had occupied the space before them had cemented its machines into the ground, and the new landlord had no idea what lay behind the cement smeared on walls and floors. Months after they started digging, they realized that the old brick walls were in good condition. Even the ceiling was made of bricks with original ironwork between the arches. Once they got down to the bones, they pulled wires through the walls for showcases and laid out a beautiful wood floor. All of the wooden furniture is made from reclaimed wood.

The store is on Broome Street on the Lower East Side, which has a lively street life as well as a cinematic quality. It’s just around the corner from the Tenement Museum, which brings tourists by the busload. Martin Scorsese recently transformed the block into a 1972 backdrop for the 2019 Netflix film “The Irishman”. The street also starred in the 2014-2015 Cinemax TV series “The Knick,” set in 1901.

Adding to the charm, they scatter glitter across the sidewalk outside, a tactic that draws attention to the store even after it’s closed. They’ve also collaborated with other neighborhood businesses to host block-party sales events.
Social media just adds to the energy. When Yaf announced her birthday on Instagram, she ended up with an impromptu in-store surprise party, where the director of “Dirty Dancing” danced with a former MTV VJ, a Broadway ballerina and a Wall Street broker.

“Yaf Sparkle,” says Torsten, “was created out of the desire to provide an environment where fun, fashion and pleasure are combined as one. We know the day we forget that, we will be forgotten.”

Yaf Sparkle’s previous location, also on New York’s Lower East Side, was featured as the No. 3 Small Cool Store in the August 2016 issue of INSTORE.

VIDEO: YAF SPARKLE STORE TOUR VIDEO


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Five Cool Things About Yaf Sparkle

1. Start ‘em young. The Yaf Sparkle team invites pre-K kids into the store for gem-education classes and birthstone giveaways.

2. Content-rich marketing. They’ve begun implementing automated email marketing, in which a customer will receive information about the pieces and the designer behind it. Their online database is segmented down to collection, metals and gemstones, so they can fine-tune their offerings. The idea is to provide continuous education.

3. In-house marketing. They use an in-house photo studio every day for model and product shots. In fact, 99 percent of marketing is created in-house. Social media is important, but they also rely on phone calls and postcards to share news of an event, a promotion or a specific gemstone that could be of interest. “Our newsletter marketing resembles our in-store experience,” Torsten says. “We don’t take ourselves or our product too seriously. Our love for local is what ties us all together. This is where we met our customer, and this is where we will see her again.” They improved their website to be increasingly ADA-compliant, which means it can be read by machines.

4. Block parties. Together with two other local shop owners they befriended, they gathered contact information for local merchants, set up a Facebook group and host regular events to brainstorm on marketing and event ideas. As a result, the group threw a neighborhood-wide event with 21 local merchants, each offering unique specials.

5. Good causes. Ten percent of net proceeds go to non-profits, most notably the ASB Foundation that Yaf founded in 2007. The ASB Foundation is an international humanitarian organization that supports the growth and development of the children in Koutal, Senegal, a small village created in 1968 to house people with leprosy and their families. The goal is to enrich the lives of the children who have been affected by their parents’ disease.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Gotz: As a former New Yorker, I know how hard it is to stand apart from the thousands of other stores in the city. This is an amazing location with lots of cool and funky shopping options. The store has a great social-media presence and brings in a sense of community with their posts.
  • Julie Ettinger: I so appreciate the energy and passion in this store. It’s so New York; the interior, the exterior, the video marketing all connect. I also love their passion for shopping local and pulling surrounding stores and community together.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : Yaf’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre are what make this store so special. You can feel her love of what she does loud and clear through all of her online marketing, including her videos. I also love the custom-design page that seeks to educate her customer on the design process. Finally, her philanthropy and the foundation she started is important and brilliant.
  • Hedda Schupak: This business clearly “gets” both millennials and female self-purchasers, two sectors that are critical for our industry to do a better job in attracting. I love the fact that customers can walk in and try on fashion jewelry, but then there’s fine jewelry that costs five digits yet doesn’t look too precious. I love how they restored the original building under layers of soulless concrete.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Today’s retail environment is all about creating an experience and connection for the customer, and Yaf Sparkle is succeeding at just that. I also love the job they have done in making their store part of the culture and energy within NYC’s Lower East Side community.
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Santa Fe’s Reflective Jewelry Aligns with Owners’ Ethics

Fairtrade Gold designation puts the focus on miners.

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Marc Choyt and Helen Chantler work to ensure their business aligns with their environmental and ethical beliefs.

MARC CHOYT AND HIS wife, Helen Chantler, of Santa Fe, NM, have been focused on green initiatives for decades, in all aspects of life.

“We bought land in northern New Mexico in the ‘90s, and there was a creek bed there that was badly eroded from over-grazing to the point that there were cliffs instead of gentle banks,” Choyt says. “We began to realize the impact we have locally and globally. That is a core value for us.”

Their business, Reflective Jewelry, a custom and designer jewelry studio, has been named Green Business of the Year by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe’s Chamber of Commerce. “This is a great honor, especially given the industry we’re in and the fact that Santa Fe is a green business city,” Choyt says.

Reflective Jewelry is the only Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States, a certification they received in 2015.

“Though there are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK, we are still the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire USA,” says Choyt. “We produce our entire two-tone line and much of our bridal collection in Fairtrade Gold. This supports local economies, alleviates poverty and reduces global mercury contamination for small-scale gold producers. Because it’s an international brand and is the only system that audits suppliers and jewelers, it is the best option to create a foundation for responsible jewelry.”

Fairtrade Gold was only one reason, though, that the city of Santa Fe recognized Reflective Jewelry. The shop uses LED lighting, washable cloth towels, biodegradable bags for shipping, organic dish soap and non-toxic floor cleaners. Jewelers use citric acid for pickling, fluoride-free flux, a soap-based solution for tumbling, sink traps for catching heavy metals, and vacuums that capture dust and compounds—all of which are recycled. Their landscape garden, once a concrete foundation, now has mature apricot and cherry trees and native plants fed by water channeled off their roof.

Chantler, an experienced bench jeweler, launched her jewelry design business in 1994, while Choyt led the sales effort, initially concentrating on distributing jewelry to 250 stores and catalogs.

By 2001, they refocused on online sales and their own retail store. Today, six people work in the shop and the store.

Along the way, they began using recycled metals in production, which was a logical place to start, Choyt explains, but doesn’t address the big picture. “Basically, gold is going to be mined, and that’s independent of how much is used by jewelers. If we’re going to really make an impact, we have to support small-scale mining communities.”

When Choyt explains to customers that the Fairtrade Gold designation is the same well-known global brand used for Fairtrade coffee and chocolate, they are “astonished that I’m the only one operating this way, out of a small shop in Santa Fe,” he says.

So while Choyt can point to numerous 5-star Google reviews and show clients the studio where the jewelry is made, he can also ensure ethical, fair-trade sourcing from mine to market, adding another level of authority and credibility.

“Certainly one of the most important elements of any jeweler is reputation. Fairtrade Gold is just another thing that makes people feel really good about buying from us,” he says.

When the U.S. consumer market adopts Fairtrade Gold, he says, hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of small-scale miners finally will find their lives improved.

“When this happens, we’ll be able to point to our small studio on Baca Street as one of the catalysts.”

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