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‘I Love to See People Sparkle’

coryjim@earthlink.net

From the street in Center City Philadelphia, there’s nothing to indicate that Halloween, “The Most Unusual Jewelry Store in the World,” is even a jewelry store. No sign. No clock. No velvet neck window display modeling a strand of fine pearls. Just an orange business card sitting at the bottom of a window. It’s almost an afterthought.

The phone rings.

“Trick or treat!” says the salesperson, who beckons the owner.

“Henri [pronounced ‘Henry’] here…”

Henri David wears black jeans, black sneakers, and a white shirt with a brooch pinned to it. The brooch resembles a primordial insect soldered to gold. “When I finish a new piece, I wear it for a day or two to make sure it’s weighted right.”

If it were smaller, Halloween – cavernous and crowded with merchandise – could be a fortune-teller’s dressing room. The store is part Gothic, part Baroque, part new construction. It features, for example, a trio of capsule chandeliers in the shape of octagons. Henri retrieved them from a demolished theater. Now they’re display cases. He lowers them from the ceiling on pulleys. (“It took me three days to get that right.”) A giant squid, concrete with marble eyes (“I call him Clyde Calamari”) is the stair rail.

“These are my whimsies,” says Henri, indicating an escargot dish with six purple amethysts for the snails, set in silver and gold. There’s also an entwined merman and mermaid and a brooch in the form of a plate of pasta. The spaghetti is 18k yellow gold.

“Let me show you this.”

A ring with a cat and mouse playing chess: base, yellow gold; mouse, rose gold; chessboard, malachite and onyx; cat in silver, “so it blackens.”

Henri began making these pieces 10 years ago. Started with silver. Now he uses anything and everything, especially raw pearls. He buys pearls in Hong Kong once a year. People collect his jewelry.

Every October Henri gets calls from “idiots” asking if he carries rubber masks. He named the store Halloween “because that’s my favorite day.” Also because “I knew people wouldn’t forget” the name.

What drew Henri David to jewelry, at 15, was “the sparkle.”

“I love to see people sparkle,” he declares. It’s “the same reason I love costumes.”

A lot of people in Philadelphia know of Henri David because of his Halloween party. But where the store (“my day job”) is a theater masquerading as a gem emporium, or vice versa, the party is, well, “my hobby.”

Henri David’s staged Halloween, the party, for 30 years. It began because “I wanted to create an event for my own costumes. I wanted to be seen.” Three hundred “of my closest friends” attended the first, essentially a drag ball. Three thousand came to last year’s. Guests, who pay $15 admission (if costumed; $30 if not), included Philadelphia’s mayor, Ed Rendell, wearing a mask of his own face. (“Nobody knew who it was.”) John Astin from TV’s “The Addams Family” was a surprise guest. When Astin appeared, the orchestra struck up “The Addams Family” theme and the guests snapped their fingers.

Henri wears three costumes to his party. (“One to greet people, one for a grand entrance, and one for the contestant judging.”) There was the year he spent “every penny I had” on 1,500 feathers, a body harness, and some lumber, becoming a giant peacock. With tail unfurled, he was 18 ft. wide and 12 ft. high. (“I almost didn’t get off the stage.”) Another year he transformed himself into a volcano using a rented cherry picker, sheets of black vinyl, and 200 cans of Silly String.

“When it’s over, I’m so depressed.”

The rest of the year, people walk in the store and are often startled to see the top-hatted impresario with the twirled mustache bent over a jewelry case, measuring a ring. Half his business is engagement and wedding rings. His heroes: René Lalique and Salvador Dali.

Henri glances around, considering yet another explanation for his bronze and marble “work in progress.”

“I built this place to please myself,” he says. “I surround myself with stuff I love. Things I want to see every day.”