Molina buys Black, Starr & Frost

Molina Inc., parent company of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Molina Fine Jewelers, has purchased Black, Starr & Frost. Its most recent owners, Paul and Serena Lam, acquired it from Kay Jewelers in the early 1990s. Paul Lam died in 2004; Molina purchased the store from his widow, Serena.

Founded in New York in 1810 by Isaac (Frederick) Marquand, the original store was located at 166 Broadway, near the old Maiden Lane jewelry district, said Alfredo Molina, CEO of Molina. Early history on the store is sketchy, but the original name is believed to have been Marquand and Co.

In 1876, Cortland Starr and Aaron Frost joined as partners, the name became Black, Starr, & Frost, and the store moved to its tony new location at 251 Fifth Avenue. With a reputation for excellence, the store numbered among its clients such 19th- and 20th-century notables as “Diamond Jim” Brady, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, and the Guggenheims. Actress Marilyn Monroe also immortalized it in the lyrics of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” Today, the firm’s only remaining store is at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., but pieces made by the jeweler still fetch premium prices at auction, said Molina.

Molina told JCK he’s very excited about owning the historic jeweler, and unveiled some early plans for reviving the name. He plans 10 new doors in 10 major markets within five to 10 years, for a start. He also plans to carry only private-label merchandise in the Black, Starr, & Frost stores.

“I plan to do what Tiffany’s did and eliminate brands that can be bought elsewhere. I truly believe the future of the high-end jewelry business is to make your own pieces.”

In an industry with shrinking profit margins, there’s no opportunity for an independent jeweler to survive unless he offers customers a unique opportunity that nobody can take away from him, said Molina.

“The [Black, Starr, & Frost] brand has great value in our industry, and I believe I can bring that value to consumers. It’ll be like the phoenix rising from the ashes, and since I’m located in Phoenix, we feel like it’s the perfect analogy to use,” Molina said.