Alan H. Friedman, longtime jeweler and colored diamond dealer and member of the family that founded Borsheims, died of an apparent heart attack on June 21 at age 60.
A post on his store’s Facebook page called Friedman “our leader, patriarch, jewelry genius, and most importantly the most full of life person you would ever meet.”
Alan’s father, Ike, owned Borsheims, the Omaha, Neb., retailer that eventually grew to become one of the most prominent independent jewelers in the company. At age five, Alan swept the floors; by age 10, he was sporting a tie and helping customers. Eventually, he became the store’s in-house designer and its top salesman.
In 1989, the store was sold to billionaire Warren Buffett, who owns it to this day.
Friedman moved to Los Angeles, where he reinvented himself as a designer and fancy colored diamond maestro. According to his site bio, he took an early gamble by paying seven figures for a suite of pink diamonds, not sure if they had a market. “I knew I had either stumbled onto something huge, or I had just lost my shirt,” he recalled.
But the gamble paid off, and Friedman became known as the King of Pinks for his multicolor creations. “It takes a high-spirited individual to wear them,” he told JCK in 1998, “someone who wants to make a statement about who they are.”
In 2008, he and wife Layna opened a store, Alan Friedman Jewelry, on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., which featured almost entirely his own creations.
“He would do things that most people wouldn’t take risks on,” remembers daughter Caroline, who worked with her father in the store. “He could do a traditional piece but also the most outrageous piece, like a black diamond skull with bat wings on it.”
As a retailer “he would always say when a customer came in he was not concerned with making a sale,” Caroline says. “He was more concerned with making a lifetime relationship, and making a friend.”
“There was no one who wasn’t his friend,” Caroline remembers. “He would talk to anyone. He was willing to give anyone a chance, especially those who needed it the most.”
One person he helped was Susan Jacques, currently president and CEO of Gemological Institute of America. They met when they were both students there. Looking for work, Friedman lured her to Borsheims for a year, Jacques remembered in 2008. She ended up becoming its CEO.
“This is such a very sad and tragic loss of a great talent and inspirational man,” Jacques says. “I owe much of my success to my friendship with Alan.”
Another person who he helped was second cousin Baba Blumkin, who worked with him in Los Angeles and now owns a high-end pawnshop in New York City.
“He taught me to always treat your customer and clients like gold,” Blumkin says. “He was just such a caring, loving person and had so much compassion. He had the ability to walk into the room and captivate people with this sense of humor. He could talk to people on any level, from a street person to Warren Buffett.”
He adds: “I would like to perpetuate his legacy by treating people with respect and always doing the right thing. He always said: If it seems wrong, don’t do it.”
Among Friedman’s achievements were nabbing several American Gem Trade Association Spectrum awards for his designs—including the 2002 Best in Show for a moonstone and diamond necklace. His store also catered to a celebrity clientele: In 2012 he made headlines with his ring for reality star Jenni “JWoww” Farley; the next year, he sold a ring to former Playboy model Holly Madison; and in 2005 actor Morgan Freeman dangled Friedman’s hoop earrings at the Academy Awards.
Yet Friedman considered his father among the most important people in his life. “The older I get the more I understand his love of life and people,” he told Instore. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear some kind of story from a customer or a vendor, not a day. It keeps his memory alive and his influence always in my mind.”
Friedman is survived by wife Layna; daughters Caroline, Whitney, and Nicole-Juliet; son Nicholas; granddaughters Cadence and Chloe; and sister Susie.