A Magical Tale of Two Stores

Once upon a time, there were two jewelry stores that looked entirely different and worked very much alike.

The time is now. One store is a six-story cornucopia bursting with jewels, soaps, scarves, ties, handbags, furniture and objets d’arts; the other is a tiny, soothing space where jewelry and display are broken down to the purest elements of form and function.

When The Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C. moved into the former Elizabeth Arden building on Constitution Avenue, owner James Rosenheim went from a jeweler specializing in fine antique and contemporary jewelry to an opulent “minispecialty-department” store. He travels the world tracking down the most distinctive goods he can find.

Linde Meyer Gold + Silver embodies the owner’s vision to offer distinctive contemporary jewelry to Philadelphia’s notoriously conservative marketplace. The space allows nothing – not even display fixtures – to draw the eye away from the jewelry. Colors are muted and a wall of glass draws the casual browser into a restful world populated by only the finest precious metals and gems.

Physically, the two stores could not be more dissimilar, yet the elements that make each successful are almost identical. Both are shopping oases in cities known for conservative tastes, because Rosenheim and Meyer have an uncompromising eye for excellent design and a knack for editing out what doesn’t make the grade. Both have rigorous standards for workmanship and detail, and both offer creative design in a range of price points.

Interestingly, both jewelers entrusted the building of their dream stores to architects and interior planners who had no previous retail design experience. And both believe the secret of success is selling the “warm fuzzies,” not selling jewelry.

Linde Meyer Gold + Silver

Linde Meyer Gold + Silver opened in December 1993 in The Shops at Liberty Place, a small retail atrium in the middle of Center City Philadelphia’s biggest office towers. Neighboring retail tenants are standard upscale mall fare such as J. Crew, Coach and Warner Bros. Meyer’s store is unquestionably the most distinctive, the kind of store you would expect to find in a funkier part of town.

But Meyer quickly dismissed most of Philadelphia’s popular shopping districts as being too secluded, too “neighborhoody” or too touristy.

“I wanted to address the secure, independent, self-purchasing woman as a target customer and also the travelers who are here for business or weekend enjoyment.” Liberty Place is identifiable, the tallest building in the city. In addition to the steady stream of professionals who work in its office towers, it’s attached to the Ritz Carlton hotel, bringing exactly the kind of travelers Meyer wants: the well-heeled business and international travelers, not the tourists who buy souvenir T-shirts.

She says the proximity to the Ritz Carlton inspires confidence in customers while the mall setting eliminates the expense of a security guard or the barrier of a door buzzer.

The look of the store was born of Meyer’s vision of her clients. The space is a testament to the marriage of form and function: spare but not starkly minimalist; contemporary but not cold; intimate, but not caging. It’s a little Asian, a little Scandinavian, and a little Bauhaus, all of which are proven design elements, says Meyer. German-born, her sense of design was influenced by that country’s Bauhaus art movement, which stresses clean lines and a single focal point. Asian and Scandinavian design share the philosophy of design cleanliness and unity.

But the store expresses a culmination of all her experiences, which include working for Cartier, Georg Jensen and, most recently, as former president of the old-line Philadelphia jeweler J.E. Caldwell Co., whose enormous flagship is a mere four blocks away.

Meyer – “tired of beige, black and salmon” – chose for her dream store purple, gray, Chinese red and moss green, all “soft and pleasing to the eye.” The muted shades predominate, with the vivid red confined to a big leather couch and a few well-placed accents.

Aside from the distinctive colors, what gives the store its open feel is jewelry housed in freestanding vitrines made of birds’ eye maple, and lots of glass. The vitrine floors are purplish gray, which Meyer tested carefully against a variety of colored gems and metals.

There are no props and no display fixtures; jewelry rests directly on the shelves. There should be nothing to detract from the pure design of the jewelry, says Meyer. Halogen lights of varying shades and degrees are suspended from the ceiling; Meyer insisted that everything be mobile to change the look at any time. “I didn’t want in-case lighting that required floor wiring, because then you can’t move the cases very well.”

Meyer is adamant that function should take precedence over mere form. Her cases are designed to present jewelry at eye level; they open on both sides so salespeople can stroll and visit with customers instead of setting up camp behind a barricade. “My architect wanted to do very tall cases, but I insisted that nothing interfere with the function,” she says. “Too-tall doors are too heavy to open smoothly.” Besides, she doesn’t get many 7-ft. tall customers, so the added height is superfluous.

Vitrines are placed far enough apart so that two customers can stand comfortably back to back and view different displays. Strips of wood on the floor expand outward, providing a subtle traffic flow pattern.

To the left and rear of the store are a few standard-height cases and chairs. A huge mirror gives customers a full body view; the big red couch is off in an alcove to provide an area for customers to sit and converse among themselves.

The side cases house some antique pieces. The rear cases currently display a selection of high-quality but commercial-style gold jewelry that is being phased out. “When I started, I felt I needed a mix of contemporary, estate and ‘classic Philadelphia’ jewelry,” she says. “I’ve been successful with everything but the classic. People don’t need to come here to get something they can get elsewhere. An international clientele comes back because nobody else has what you do.”

Tiny Jewel Box

The name is ironic and deceptive. The Tiny Jewel Box is anything but Tiny, however, Jim and Marcia Rosenheim still manage to imbue it with the intimacy of a family living room. Whether a customer has $5 or $5 million, the shopping experience is the same.

Three of the store’s six floors are open for browsing. Two house offices and the repair shop, and the top floor is corporate gift sales, by appointment. (Rosenheim says this is the fastest-growing segment of the business.)

The decor is abundant, almost overflowing with merchandise, but a sense of proportion keeps it from feeling cluttered. For example, a cutout in the ceiling between the second and third floors gives an air of spaciousness while preserving intimacy, and lots of merchandise is out in the open for customers to touch, sniff or try on.

The main floor houses the fine jewelry collections. Facing the entrance is a small alcove where Rosenheim keeps a changing display that highlights some of the non-jewelry merchandise from upstairs. Customers still don’t know how much there is to see in the store, he admits. A brochure and store guide helps, but he’s constantly remerchandisng and fine-tuning his displays.

When he acquired the building, there were dark woods throughout. Rosenheim wanted to preserve the store’s 67-year heritage and Victorian-era feel, but to express it in more modern terms. He gutted the 12,500-sq.-ft. former spa and sank $5.5 million into renovations. All the display cases and new millwork are custom-designed and handmade, with ornamental moldings on the ceilings and pillars. The moldings are repeated on the outside of the jewelry showcases; the tops are framed in bronze, but inside the cases is clear space to be filled with jewelry. The woodwork is an aged pine, with an 18th-century style whitewashing. The result is a soft creamy color with hints of texture. Customers are invited to sit on gilt-edged chairs upholstered in red and cream striped silk.

Most of the jewelry is housed in standard-height showcases, while large recessed glass-fronted shadow boxes in the walls highlight special merchandise. Lighting varies in color from warm to cool, depending on what it’s illuminating. Warm lights enhance yellow gold, but white metals require cooler tones.

A small room to the left of the entrance houses the antique jewelry for which the store has become famous. To browse is to receive a crash course in history, especially of the Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts periods. To the right of the entryway is a larger room housing the contemporary designer collections – Hidalgo, Garavelli Aldo, Alex Sepkus and David Yurman are just a few – along with a custom collection of South Sea pearl jewelry and other precious jewelry.

The second and third floors offer a multicultural feeding frenzy of personal accessories, home decor and objets d’art from Europe, Asia and the U.S. This space also houses silver collections from Lisa Jenks, John Hardy, Mary Schubart and Dana Kellin, along with handbags, antique and modern perfume bottles, Crown Perfumery and Annick Goutal fragrances, small leather goods, Baccarat and Mathias crystal, Anthony Stern mouth-blown glass, porcelains, silver giftware and a selection of real warm fuzzies, such as a lime-green mohair Nina Ricci peacoat, a cashmere stole and a hand-painted velvet scarf.

For men there is a boutique of distinctive ties from Fifties-era Italian designer Piero Fornasetti; big-boy toys such as leather backgammon sets; and, of course, the requisite cigar accouterments.

For the host or hostess with a sense of humor, a 10-piece series of Adam and Eve dinner plates depict a portion of a life-size sketch (G-rated.) “Adam” hangs on the wall to show the full effect. In fact, those who are short a few dining chairs can pick up some covered in Fornasetti-designed silk.

Finally, for the customer who can afford little more than the shopping experience, baskets full of scented soaps and sachets bring the store-that-was-a-spa experience home for just a few dollars.

Creating magic

It’s magic! The most important trait these two distinctive merchants share is intangible and almost impossible to capture in words. There is a sense of magic in the air at both stores that makes the customer want to own a piece of the feeling by buying a piece of the jewelry.

Asked the most important ingredient in creating the magic, Meyer and Rosenheim agree: guts and sincerity.

Guts means taking risks and relying on gut reactions. It means never giving up, even when something doesn’t work. Go back and find something else that does work, says Meyer. It’s evolution, adds Rosenheim.

It’s also instinct, pure and simple. Meyer says whenever she goes against her gut instinct, she always regrets it. Rosenheim says it’s necessary to plan and research. “But it also has to feel right.”

The right products are critical too. Both jewelers are relentless in their pursuit of the finest, purest design and impeccable workmanship. The merchandise has to be unique, but merely being unusual doesn’t necessarily make it good, observes Meyer. Her mix, not surprisingly, includes much German and Scandinavian-influenced design, such as Niessing and Lapponia, as well as distinctive American artists, such as Michael Good, Maija Neimanis and Steven Kretchmer. Good design is good design, whatever the genre, say both retailers.

The last ingredient for magic: the already-mentioned warm fuzzies. Meyer and Rosenheim – both tough, demanding businesspeople – recognize the importance of making customers feel comfortable, of being teddy bears. Meyer says the best architecture and the best product in the world don’t matter if the atmosphere doesn’t create a sense of well-being in the customer. To create that, you have to love what you’re doing and you have to hire the right people. She wants her salespeople to care – really care – about customers like friends.

“Customers can smell integrity like an animal can smell fear,” says Jeffrey Feero, managing partner of the New York-based designer jewelry firm Alex Sepkus.

Says Meyer, “The crucial thing is to hire right.” She eschews individual commissions and canned sales training, preferring simply to hire intelligent people who converse well. She wants people who are secure, confident and happy with themselves; who are sophisticated and either well-traveled or at least interested in art and art-related fields. They also must be tolerant and open-minded, she says because her diverse clientele includes many races, religions, international travelers and openly gay singles and couples.

Rosenheim’s philosophy is similar. He wants his staff, first and foremost, to make the customer smile. “I want people to be treated like they’re guests in my home. I try to hire people who have it in them to give in a sincere way.” Where possible, he prefers employees who have some experience in a luxury retail environment, but that’s not as important as sincerity. “People can buy jewelry and scarves somewhere else, but they can’t always buy the warm fuzzies.”

Adds Meyer, “I want to sell a warm fuzzy feeling because life is tough enough.”