Legendary Jeweler Harold Tivol Dies

The Kansas City, Mo., retailer was known for his high standards and memorable ads

Harold Tivol, who transformed his Kansas City, Mo., jewelry store into a prominent local and national name—and became the unlikely star of its commercials—died on July 6. He was 92.

Tivol was founded in 1910 by Harold’s immigrant father Charles as a tiny office on the third floor of a building on Petticoat Lane, an upscale retail district. Harold joined the family business after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, eventually convincing his father to go “downstairs,” and set up a “fabulous little store next to a popcorn stand,” he told The Kansas City Star in 2010. Early on, it counted among its customers Harry S. Truman.

The store became a pioneer in touting designer names, which Harold long credited to wife Ruthie.

“Her argument that convinced me was, ‘Honey, when I buy a Chanel suit, I don’t buy a Woolf Brothers or a Harzfeld’s. I buy the name Chanel,’ ” he told The Star. “It sounded reasonable, so I started advertising that way. She single-handedly changed the entire industry by being first to sell jewelry by brand name…. My friends in the industry called me up from all over the country and said, ‘Are you crazy?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not crazy. But you’ll be crazy if you don’t start using designers’ names.’ Now all fine jewelers do, including Tiffany. And I had nothing to do with it. It was all Ruthie.”

Later, Harold starred in the store’s advertising—at the urging of his ad agency (and, again, Ruthie). The clever pitches—“I was into the Stones back when the Beatles still had crewcuts,” read one—boosted the profile of both the store and man, turning him into a local celebrity.

“I can go into a restaurant, and a waitress will recognize me and tell me she loves the commercial I did with the hairpieces, and she’ll say she thinks she saw it last week,” he recalled. “It’s been four years. That’s called good advertising.”

Harold was a longtime proponent of the Gemological Institute of America adding a cut grade to its reports, which finally occurred in 2006. At the time, president William E. Boyajian gave “feisty little” Tivol some credit for the change.

In 1988, Harold won Modern Jeweler’s lifetime achievement award, and in 2002, he received the American Gem Society’s Triple Zero award.

The store now has two branches and is headed Harold’s daughter Cathy. Last year, fourth-generation family member Hunter Tivol McGrath was named vice president.

Beyond the funny ads and designer names, Harold always credited his success to maintaining high standards.

“We appeal to people that have the money and a taste level who appreciate and who to want to buy fine jewelry,” he told JCK in 2007. “We will provide the best of its type and be proud that it has the name Tivol on it.”

In 2010, Matthew Rosenheim, president of Tiny Jewel Box, remembered meeting Harold when he just started in the business.

“I was young, but old enough to know he was a retail icon in the industry. I worked up the courage and asked him what advice he’d give to a young person entering retail jewelry,” he said. “He thought about it for a moment and told me: ‘Every time you feel the pressure or inclination to give on quality, don’t do it. Don’t ever let quality slip.’ ”

Harold Tivol is survived by Ruth, five children, 13 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Granddaughter Brooke Tivol McGrath, who worked in the industry, died in 2011.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests making contributions to the Brooke Tivol McGrath Legacy Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation, or other charities.

(Photo courtesy of Tivol)

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JCK News Director

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