Jewelers consider how to appeal to a different customer
Newbury Street jewelers don’t transform. They evolve.
And slowly at that.
Take Firestone and Parson, the family-run store located on the first block of Newbury since its opening in 1946. The casual observer might not even notice the recent changes inside its new address at 30 Newbury St.: the soft blue wall coverings that replaced the old gray ones; the high mirrors along the wall, and, most importantly, the exterior bay window with a clear view into the store where gems such as a 1980 Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond leaf brooch and a ruby and diamond bib necklace from Harry Winston command the display cases.
“We were trying to make it a little less forbidding,” said David Firestone, who has run the store since joining his father in the business in 1975. “We’ve already been told 10 times they didn’t come into our old shop. Our old shop was very intimidating. This is less so — that’s the hope.”
It’s an aspiration that many jewelers have as they try to make over their businesses and appeal to a new generation of shoppers.
“Jewelry stores tend to be family-run businesses being passed down to the next generation, and those next generations are taking a hard look at how their customers are perceiving them,” said Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for Jewelers of America, a nonprofit trade association based in New York. “People will walk to a jewelry store in jeans and cowboy boots and buy a $500,000 necklace. Everyone is that much more casual.”
At 24 Newbury St., Dorfman Jewelers, which has been introducing European designers to Boston for nearly 30 years, is also about to undergo a renovation.
Jonathan Dorfman may not see many cowboy boots in Back Bay, but he definitely sees shoppers in jeans and T-shirts. Which is precisely the clientele he and his brother Douglas are focusing on with the renovation, set to begin next month and be completed in August.
“I’ve had friends say, ‘I always wanted to come in, but felt I wasn’t well-dressed enough,’ ” he said. “We don’t want anyone to feel that way.”
The welcoming, more relaxed setting Dorfman hopes to create will start with the storefront, which, like Firestone and Parson, will replace its walled-in, jewelry-box style with an open facade.
“It’s a very informal staff, and we’re informal, but I think the new exterior will help us say that,” he said.
The redesign, complete with bright furniture, will complement the new jewelry lines Dorfman is bringing on board. Among them: Hollywood favorite Fred Leighton, Antwerp-based Gumuchian, Italy’s Antonio Papini and French-born Alexandra Mor, whose bespoke jewels Dorfman began carrying in 2012.
“She herself has the life people want — the kids, the career,” he said. “She has gained an incredible following in the city.”
Discovering talent is at the core of what the luxury jeweler built its reputation on nearly 30 years ago when Barbara and Sumner Dorfman opened their doors, selling baubles to ladies for dinner parties and vacations to Boca.
Nowadays, the quality remains the same, but the messaging is dramatically different. Manager Gerard Riveron relies heavily on social media and texting to showcase unique pieces.
“We have a lot of clients who come to the store to take photos and we send them pictures,” said Riveron.
But David Firestone and his son, Will, who joined the family business in 2012, said they tread more cautiously, and are hesitant to embrace social media. The elder Firestone, who proudly notes that his store is the longest continuous advertiser in The New Yorker magazine, displays both his gems in the store’s original wood jewelry cases. Sales records are kept on hand-typed (as in typewriter) ledgers.
“What we’ve done we’ve always kept doing,” Firestone said. “A sense of consistency is very good for the jewelry business.”
At the center of his business strategy is keeping connected with clientele such as Robert Manice. The real-estate-developer-turned-artist started shopping at Firestone in the mid-1970s when he traded in some jewelry from his grandmother’s estate to buy an engagement ring for his wife.
“I always came back,” said Manice, 61, who lives in Dover. “ Every once in a while, I’d want to get something and I’d go in.”
So when Manice’s son Henry earlier this year announced he was in search of an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Anna Irwin, the elder Manice suggested Firestone.
“I went to Cartier and Fifth Avenue. But to me, it was all about being able to carry on the tradition. And the fact that David’s son is involved was neat,” said Henry, who picked out a clear, round diamond in a platinum setting. “It has a timeless look to it.”
But relationship building in the jewelry business doesn’t necessarily require a brick and mortar store, said Janet Holian, CEO of Gemvara, the online jewelry retailer based in Boston.
Launched in 2010, Gemvara specializes in custom designs and colored gems, and Holian said many young, male customers prefer the low-key e-commerce environment to the pressure of face-to-face sales.
“We find those shoppers want to come online and they don’t want to talk to anyone,” she said.
Gemvara takes the occasional appointment at its One Financial Center headquarters. Still, Holian worried Gemvara needed a street presence, and experimented with a pop-up shop on Newbury Street last November (which ran through February of this year) to determine if it was missing out.
“I wanted to see how many people wouldn’t have bought online. There were really very few,” she said. “That lets me sleep at night.”