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Traditional Jewelers (Fashion Island branch)

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Traditional Jewelers (Fashion Island branch), Newport Beach, CA

OWNERS: Marion and Lulu Halfacre; OPENED: Purchased Traditional Jewelers in 1979; opened new store in 1991; LAST REMODELLING: November 1999; STORE AREA: 6,000 sq. ft; ADDRESS: 203 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, CA; TARGET CUSTOMER: Upscale, fun, professional; ADVERTISING SLOGAN: “Exceeding Your Expectations”; PHONE: (949) 721-9010; FAX: (949) 727-6824; URL: traditionaljewelers.com; 2003 REVENUES: N/A


QUITE POSSIBLY the only place in the world that Michelangelo, James Bond, and Mother Teresa could each feel right at home, Traditional Jewelers is anything but … well, traditional. With majestic Old World murals, showcases that convert into high-tech stainless steel vaults, and a staff that genuinely cares about their customers, this brainchild of Marion and Lula Halfacre is the very epitome of “cool.” Customers seem to agree, having helped the operation to grow at a 15-20% clip ever since the 1999 remodeling. “Weʼve never had a year that we didnʼt beat the previous yearʼs sales,” says Marion Halfacre. After speaking with this visionary Southern gentleman, itʼs not hard to see why.

Talking Cool with Marion Halfacre

HISTORY

Born and raised in Tennessee, Marion Halfacre was selling hospital equipment in Mississippi, the home state of his wife, Lula, when three friends approached him about buying a jewelry store. “I knew I didnʼt want to be a farmer, but I didnʼt know I wanted to be a jeweler,” laughs Halfacre. “But being young and ignorant, we figured we might as well give it a shot.” Four years later, they had built the store into a profitable business doing $850,000 a year.

Soon thereafter, Marion and Lula saw an opportunity in the September 1979 issue of JCK Magazine that they just couldnʼt pass up. “This little $60,000 jewelry store in Newport Beach was for sale, and it seemed like the right time to go west,” says Halfacre. Arriving in Newport Beach was “a culture shock,” but the Halfacresʼ friendly charm soon began to win over the West Coast community. The rest, as they say, is history: while Halfacre wonʼt give out his current sales figures (beyond a cryptic “very good”), he will say that the store draws an average of 350 customers per day — with up to 1,200 a day during the holidays. “Our customers are both locals and tourists,” he says, “so we ship packages all over the country. But everyday traffic is extremely strong.”

THE CONCEPT

Italy, France, Spain — nations with deep roots, and cultures that appreciate the finer things in life. Marion and Lula fell in love with these countries a long time ago, over the course of many trips overseas, and decided they wanted Traditional Jewelers to reflect the same values. “Over there, art dominates everything,” says Halfacre. “Even small homes have murals on the ceilings — incredible works of art that you wouldnʼt believe. But to them, itʼs a way of life.”

He and Lula have captured the grace and majesty of the European Renaissance in the huge circular mural on the main ceiling, a reproduction of Michelangeloʼs “Creation of Man” from the Sistine Chapel. However, there is one major difference: the Traditional Jewelers mural features not only Adam, but Eve as well. “Our store is about love, romance, and relationships, so we felt the picture would not be complete without Adamʼs wife,” says Halfacre. The mural itself took two months to paint. The ceiling upon which the mural is painted heightens the Old World effect through the use of plaster and the appearance of “cracks.” Says Halfacre: “We wanted it to look like it had been there forever.”

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Nevertheless, Marion and Lula were both keenly aware that the world was moving into a new millennium, and that Traditional Jewelers needed to be on the forefront of the jewelry market in Newport Beach. Therefore, the colors of Earth are reflected in the store: from the soft brown marble floors, to the rich burle wood cases accented in copper, to the cloudy blue columns that remind customers of both clear skies and deep seas.

Mother Nature also makes her presence felt throughout the store in the form of “a tremendous amount” of natural light. The sun filters in through eight huge 8ʼ x 8ʼ windows that circle the store, with another eight windows above a column that separates the two rows.

THE STORE

In 1999, Marion and Lula brought in architect Tom Casey and gave him a $1,000,000 budget to turn Traditional Jewelers into their dream store. Newport Beach residents and tourists seem to agree, flocking in on a daily basis to bathe in the wonderful atmosphere, warm service, and spectacular jewelry. Visitors can enter a showroom that Halfacre calls “light, bright, cheerful and inviting” through two separate entrances. He says customers generally notice the sheer vastness of the store first, before gazing upwards thirty feet above their heads at the mural. The showcases are custom-designed, curved to work around the building. “Itʼs not your typical jewelry store, with everything square and straight,” he says. Because the store is round, Halfacre points out that “you canʼt prop something against the wall and hide anything,” so everything has to be pristine.

Besides the natural light pouring through the huge windows, Traditional Jewelers boasts another innovative lighting technique: the sconces placed strategically around the walls project soft beams of red and blue upwards. “Each halogen lamp shines up through a prism,” explains Halfacre. “Itʼs absolutely beautiful.”

Another stunning aspect of the store is the room called “The Creation of Time.” Set off from the main showroom, this area showcases Traditional Jewelersʼ many lines of fine watches from across the globe. Another circular ceiling mural, this one 12ʼ x 12ʼ and backlit, depicts God creating the sundial (rather than the stars and the moon as in Michelangeloʼs original).

Twenty cases varying from six to nine feet long display the extensive selection of timepieces. Itʼs not by accident that customers are required to walk through The Creation of Time room in order to reach the cashierʼs desk.

THE TECHNOLOGY

Just call him the “Q” of the jewelry world. Like the no-nonsense inventor of high-tech gadgets in the James Bond films, Halfacre never shies away from innovation. He wanted to ensure that his jewelry and watches received as little wear and tear as possible.

So, his architect came up with the idea to motorize the showcases. With the push of a button, the showcase creeps slowly down into the floor, so that the jewelry never moves from its stands. Moreover, all six sides of the case are stainless steel, with a top that rolls over as it lowers into the floor. Obviously, these special showcases also save a ton of time on setup and takedown. “And the insurance company loves them,” says Halfacre.

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Never one to rest on his laurels, Halfacre says he is always looking to upgrade and improve the store. His latest project? “Fiber-optic lighting,” he says. “It makes diamonds sparkle like no other light source out there.” The fiber-optics are small and unobtrusive, running along the front and back of the cases. “We also have a fluorescent light at the back that keeps the case from shadowing,” adds Halfacre. “The jewelry looks sharp and really pops; thereʼs no yellows or creamy colors.”

THE PEOPLE

You wouldnʼt expect a Southerner to load up his truck and move to California without bringing a few family members along for the ride. Marionʼs sister, Sarah, and her husband, Bruce, both quit their jobs to join Marion and Lula in their new adventure back in 1979. Today, Sarah remains the store manager, with Bruce serving as operations manager. “I feel extremely fortunate to have my family not only living nearby, but working with me side-by-side on a daily basis,” says Halfacre. His son, Eric, a GIA grad, works in sales management while daughter Natalie works in the business part-time as she attends college.

The family atmosphere has clearly rubbed off on employees. Marion and Lula hold a barbecue every summer at their home for staff members and their families, “just to play together and have fun.” Perhaps even more meaningful is the staff party, which is held before Christmas, during the first week of December. The event takes place at a private club and is very high-end, according to Halfacre. “It allows us to let our hair down for a night, have some fun, and kick off a busy month with a little reward in advance,” he says.

As much as he enjoys spending time with his staff, what Halfacre likes most about the store are peopleʼs reactions when they walk in. “We represent wonderful designers, so we know our customers are looking for quality. We donʼt hard-sell anyone; we want people to enjoy their experience to the utmost,” he says. Between 18 and 20 salespeople are on the floor at any one time, to ensure that no one goes unnoticed.

Traditional Jewelers also features two jewelers (one a master jeweler), as well as a master watchmaker. Customers can interface with the watchmaker through the website, and the master jeweler “can literally make anything,” says Halfacre. Customers are also able to watch these artisans at work through windows into the shop.

But the Traditional Jewelers experience is never over, as the store sends gifts to customers throughout the year. Additionally, the store throws an annual watch event in September that highlights the newest timepieces from Basel and Geneva, as well as a jewelry event in November that does the same for the latest jewelry designer creations. A portion of all proceeds goes to charity — in fact, Traditional Jewelers donates to more than 100 charity events every year, and Marion and Lula sit on more than a dozen local and national boards. “Weʼve been so blessed in our lives,” says Marion, “And we want to give back to the community thatʼs given so much to us.”

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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