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Industry Veteran Launches Online Jewelry Boutique

By Emili Vesilind, Senior Editor

Posted on May 3, 2012

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Kaitlin Nelkin grew up in the jewelry business—her great-grandfather founded M.S. Nelkin & Co., a family-run lapidary, stone dealer, and manufacturing company based in New York City in 1922. But it was her passion for fashion that prompted her to launch Port-Au-Gem, an online jewelry boutique specializing in well-priced fine jewelry.

The stylishly spare-feeling site, which launched May 3, takes its merchandising cues from celebrities, fashion editors, and stylists. “It was created for that 20- and 30-something woman who knows what she wants and is buying what she wants,” says Nelkin, 27.

Kaitlin Nelkin, founder of Port-Au-Gem

Kaitlin is “notorious in our family for loving fashion,” notes Sarah Nelkin, Kaitlin’s sister and public relations representative.

Nelkin’s trendy viewpoint is evident in the site’s tightly curated offerings, which so far include delicate-to-chunky rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces in rose, white and yellow gold — featuring plenty of sparkling diamonds.

Prices for Port-Au-Gem’s products range from $370 for a black diamond eternity ring to $11,500 for an 18k gold diamond tennis bracelet, though core prices fall in the $1,000 and $2,000 range.

Black agate diamond twist ring, $4,420, on Port-Au-Gem.

Because Nelkin works directly with her family’s business to design and produce many of the pieces on the site, “we cut that middle man out and basically offer pieces at just a little above wholesale.” And without the pressure of maintaining a bricks-and-mortar store, overhead is low. Nelkin typically marks up pieces 20 to 30 percent above cost, depending on the piece.

“We’re offering a friend price,” explains Nelkin, who conceptualized the idea for the e-commerce site after years of hooking friends up with beautiful jewelry at even more fetching prices. “Being in the jewelry industry, you’re a celebrated friend,” she says with a laugh.

When she started doing research on a potential retail business, Nelkin found few outlets that sold wholesale jewelry online catering to younger women. “I was looking for more of the fashion fine jewelry that you see on celebrities that are not the classic tennis bracelets,” she says. “Port-Au-Gem really was born out of that – catering to people I’m friends with who couldn’t find what they were looking for.”

Rock crystal and gold pebble bracelet, $6,350, on Port-Au-Gem (photos courtesy of Port-Au-Gem)

When it came to building the website, Nelkin went to a web developer with definitive ideas on how she wanted it to look. “I had done a lot of research and I purchase so many things online, so I have a sense of exactly how I wanted it to flow. I wanted it clean, I wanted it simple and not over-cluttered. So many wholesale sites are so cluttered; it takes away from the beauty of the shopping. We toned it down and made it about the jewelry.”

While Nelkin believes the self-purchasing female is her primary demographic, the site features a proprietary “hint” button adjacent to each product description, so users can send a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle?) reminder to their sweethearts.

Nelkin would eventually like to add bridal jewelry to the site and focus on mobile commerce. But then, “technology moves so fast, I’m sure a year from now we’ll have a bunch of new things,” she says.

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