For all its sunny Southern California vibes, Marrow Fine, a San Diego–based fine jewelry retailer, has garnered quite a following in Chicago, where the company has held three to four pop-up events annually over the past five years.
“Our trunk shows give us insights into where Marrow is most well-received, and Chicago has always been our No. 1 trunk show destination,” Jillian Sassone, Marrow Fine’s founder and creative director, tells JCK. “We typically set up almost 50 appointment slots over Saturday and Sunday, and they almost always book out straightaway.”
That reception inspired Sassone—who opened a second Marrow location, in Newport Beach, Calif., in 2021—to look for a permanent home in the Second City. But the process of securing the right spot proved difficult. Two retail spaces fell through. Then, about a year ago, a pocket listing for a Gold Coast location proved the third time was, indeed, the charm.
Marrow Fine plans to open its Chicago flagship next month at 9 W. Walton St., a tony residential building that also houses Adalina, one of the city’s most celebrated restaurants.
“We’re ‘Michigan Avenue adjacent,’” Sassone says. “We’re not Cartier so Michigan Avenue wasn’t our spot, but we wanted to be in that area. It feels safe. If you and your mother-in-law wanted to get brunch and stroll around and pop into Marrow, you wouldn’t have any safety concerns. That was really important for us.”
Sassone tapped the Los Angeles design firm Bells + Whistles to redesign the 1,115-square-foot showroom with a nod to Chicago’s rich art deco history (the firm was responsible for the design of both of Marrow’s SoCal showrooms). In signature Marrow style, the space features a “babe cave,” an intimate salon privé at the back of the store that’s been designed to resemble a hollowed-out ruby, dominated by a custom marble table.
“The women and men in Chicago have a lot of style,” Sassone says. “They like the idea of an independent jeweler, wearing something that’s different from their friends, and there aren’t as many options there as maybe in L.A. or New York City. It feels open to us to make our mark on the city.”
Opening in the thick of the holiday season is tricky business, especially for Marrow, which specializes in custom-designed rings and reworked heirloom styles. “We follow the Warby Parker model: You come in, try it on, and we make it to your specifications,” Sassone says. “So when Black Friday rolls around, there’s not enough time. We do our big sale in October—for all intents and purposes, that’s our Black Friday. And we have another big moment at the end of November and December, which is engagement season.”
Sassone learned the nuances of holiday jewelry retail the hard way a few years ago. “The very first year, the day after Thanksgiving, all these guys came into my showroom looking for rings off the shelf,” she recalls. “I thought, what is this? And it’s happened every year since. Some people get a really hard time at the Thanksgiving table: ‘Why haven’t you proposed to my daughter yet?’
“That first year, I wasn’t prepared,” Sassone adds. “I didn’t have enough one-of-a-kinds or diamond rings ready to go. Every year, I start pumping up our inventory so we’re ready for the floor at that time of year with plenty of 1-carat and 1.5-carat six-prong solitaires. We’ll make them our own, but they will be ready to go.”
Marrow Fine is also stepping up its slate of private VIP experiences, in partnership with regular clients who act as micro-influencers within their own social networks. “We’ll host a party at a country club or their house, and we’ll bring all the bells and whistles,” Sassone says. “We will do that in Chicago, but we’re mostly doing those in Newport and San Diego. It’s almost how brands will gift an influencer a piece on social and hope it moves the needle. This is that, but not on social. This is almost more powerful.”
Equally powerful is Marrow’s spot-on holiday inventory, which leans heavily this year on chunky bezel-set rings, bespoke ear stacks, heart shapes, pearls, and pink gems.
“I cannot keep pink stones on the floor,” Sassone says. “I have had pink sapphires on the floor for two years in some cases and they’re all flying.”
Heart-shape styles are also “hot, hot, hot,” she says. “All my stone dealers are so happy. They tell me, ‘We have had these heart-shaped stones for the last 10 years, and you just cleaned us out.’ I love it.”
Now the only thing making Sassone nervous is the uncertainty around the opening date of the new Chicago store (and the grand opening party to follow), which she attributes to the city’s complicated permit process.
“We thought we’d be open by now,” she says with a sigh. “We’re about eight weeks behind. We’re looking at the end of October. Right now, in the middle of it, it seems like a big deal, but a year from now we’ll never remember we opened eight weeks behind our target date. I’d rather do it right.”
Top: With Chicago’s iconic Bean sculpture in the background, Jillian Sassone shows off her original reworked heirloom ring featuring her grandmother’s opal, as well as Marrow Fine’s popular curved black and white diamond headdresses, on her right hand.Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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