Hans Stern, Founder of H. Stern Jewelers, 85

Hans Stern, founder and chairman of the board of H. Stern Jewelers died Oct. 26. He was 85.

Hans Stern was born in Essen, Germany, in 1922 and emigrated to Brazil with his family in 1939. He founded H. Stern in 1945, becoming internationally renowned for introducing the world to the beautiful colored gemstones of his adopted nation and paving the way for the birth of Brazil’s fine jewelry industry and for the trade of colored gemstones worldwide, one of the most popular segments of the jewelry industry today.

Stern’s passion for gemstones flourished when he was just 17 and began working at Cristab, a Rio de Janeiro-based exporter of minerals and precious gems. There he encountered the fascinating world of raw minerals and gems, and met the explorers of that burgeoning business. The skill of the “garimpeiros” (gemstone miners) and lapidary artists impressed him deeply, and set a new course for his life. On many occasions he went on buying trips through the Brazilian countryside, real adventures on mule or horseback, camping in the wilderness, surrounded by the Brazilian Nature.

Ironically, Stern was born almost blind, but became a man of great vision.  His newfound obsession with colored gemstones, combined with an innate pioneering spirit and acute business sense made him realize the enormous potential of marketing the precious colored gems of Brazil to foreigners visiting the country and abroad. At that moment, unbeknownst even to himself, he was creating a new industry, as the fine colored gemstone jewelry business was practically non-existent at that time.

In the 40’s he founded H.Stern, at first simply selling gemstones, then eventually progressing to create finished pieces of jewelry. He quickly became known and respected by miners, vendors and industry members, building a strong reputation for his honesty, integrity, and reliability, all characteristics that would become the pillars of his business and the underlying reason for his success.

Stern also had the ability to promote young talent. He always said that his loyal and capable staff of more than 3,000 was his greatest treasure. Never one to call attention to his own achievements, he provided a platform that launched many professionals, changing the world’s perception of the gems he so loved, promoting their exotic beauty and value and creating the basis on which stands today a growing and dynamic Brazilian jewelry industry. Over the decades, this industry garnered international acclaim, and Brazil became synonymous with innovation in jewelry design and a destination for precious colored gemstones, today more than ever.

Rio de Janeiro, his adopted beloved hometown, became another passion in his life. He tirelessly promoted the city, with personal and business initiatives to improve its profile and tourism trade. He was awarded the title of “Honorary Citizen” in 1956, and over almost seven decades of residency became one of its most passionate and enthusiastic ambassadors.  

Hans Stern married Ruth in 1958 and they have four sons Roberto, Ronaldo, Ricardo and Rafael, and six grandchildren. His family follows the day to day operations of H.Stern as members of the family council and board of directors. Roberto and Ronaldo work in the business, ensuring, along with Richard Barczinski and Victor Natenzon, president and vice-president respectively, and long-time H.Stern executives, the continuity of the organization.

Until his very last days, Stern’s business day started early. He used to say that he was semi-retired explaining why he arrived at his Ipanema office promptly at 8:30 a.m. every day, instead of 8 a.m. In addition to his daily activities as chairman of the board, he traveled often and all over the world, with Ruth, who he jokingly called “his most important travel accessory.” He made a point of visiting as many boutiques as he could, at least once a year.

His free time was dedicated to the family. His favorite hobbies were reading, playing the organ, listening to classical music, collecting stamps, and rare precious gemstones. His favorite gem? He was often asked, and replied by showing, with immense pride, his personal collection of more than 1,000 facetted tourmalines of every shade and color, which are his prized possessions, on exhibit at the H.Stern museum.

His funeral was held privately, in Rio de Janeiro.