Herco president Reuven Itelman admits he never would have gotten into the jewelry business if not for his wife, Zehava.
Born in Kazakhstan, Itelman moved from Israel to San Francisco in the 1960s, and earned a master’s degree in engineering. He got engaged when he was still a student. That became a problem when ring shopping.
“The time to pay arrived, and I looked at my wife, and said, ‘Do you have the money?’ Lucky for me, she had the money to buy the ring.”
Zehava—which means “gold” in Hebrew—reminded him of that a few years later.
“She said, ‘You know, Reuven, you owe me a ring,’ ” he says. “I decided to learn how to make a ring. I made one piece of jewelry. Then I made two, and three, and four. And I could not stop. It was a combination of everything that I was interested in—art, engineering, working with my hands. And that was the beginning of Herco.”
Now, about 45 years later, Herco is entering a new phase. Last week, Itelman announced he was retiring and selling the business to Quality Gold for an undisclosed sum. He says he’s been overwhelmed by the amount of well wishes he’s received.
“I didn’t know how many people enjoyed working with us,” he says. “It feels like I have two telephone books’ worth of calls.… We are retiring with the knowledge that the millions of products that we have sold all these years put a sparkle in the eyes and happiness in the hearts of the recipients.”
Herco was cofounded in 1979 by Reuven and Zehava. Reuven was interested in how the jewelry was designed, engineered, and manufactured; Zehava was more focused on fashion, trends, and continually refreshing the brand. But they both shared a commitment to quality.
“Even with basic pieces, the price was not as important as the design and quality,” says Itelman. “Quality was always the main issue. When I see a package that doesn’t live up to our standard, it makes me very upset.
“A good piece you can always sell. A bad piece, you can get stuck with.”
Itelman is convinced the brand’s new owners will keep up its standards.
“They know what they are doing,” he says. “They are going to the same factories as us. They are much more sophisticated than us. Their systems are more elaborate. They are better equipped to get the right merchandise.”
Itelman plans to use his retirement spending time with his granddaughters and dabbling in art. But there are a lot of things he’ll miss about the business.
“I always enjoyed going to shows,” he says. “The buying trips are the most exciting for us. That’s where you see all the jewelry and how the items look and are made.
“Jewelry is a challenging business,” he adds. “You learn as you go along. You have to choose your path—left, right, or straight. We always had unique items to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. [I always felt] you should never be afraid to buy something more expensive, if it’s a quality product with a unique design.
“If you like the beauty of the pieces, the industry is very exciting. As with everything else there’s competition, but you have to be smart and like what you’re doing. And you need a little luck. That helps.”
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