Rapaport Magazine

In Its Own League

Silverscape Designs

By Nancy Pier Sindt
RAPAPORT... Presenting a nonintimidating environment for local college students, their parents and visitors, Silverscape Designs has built a clientele as varied as its eclectic merchandise selection.

Denis Perlman, the founder of Silverscape Designs, opened his first gallery in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1976; a second branch followed in neighboring Northampton, both locations in the very heart of New England’s college towns. The Amherst store, at 264 North Pleasant Street, is located right off the town green in a charming yellow and white Victorian home. The Northampton gallery, opened in 1993, is about twice the original’s size — about 3,100 square feet — and housed in a classic bank building of poured concrete with soaring windows.

Making up most of the area’s population are students from some of New England’s top colleges, such as Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts. Adding to this youthful mix are local residents, faculty, parents of students who come to visit, pick up and drop off their children, and “leaf watchers,” traditional fall visitors who flock to New England’s small towns to enjoy the autumn foliage.

The key to Silverscape’s success, explains general manager Nanami Shiiki, is presenting a friendly, nonintimidating image with realistic price points to satisfy the young shoppers and augmenting that selection with innovative jewelry and giftware to tempt visitors. The average sale is about $3,500, but Silverscape begins its pricing at much lower points. For example, Shiiki explains, “A college student can come in to buy a $20 pair of earrings, and later on, either she or her parents can purchase a custom-designed piece.”

Inventory includes a range of top designer brands, such as Mikimoto, Roberto Coin and Christian Bauer, as well as several smaller brands including Jean-François Albert, Carol Ackerman, Tom Kruskal and Ed Levin. There is also a substantial selection of Native American jewelry along with nonjewelry items such as art glass, wooden boxes and giftware. The gallery carries no watches.

Silverscape’s president, Wallace Perlman, brother of the founder, who died in a plane crash in 2000, makes it a point to scour the market for innovative items and regularly attends such events as the American Craft Council show, as well as major jewelry trade fairs, including Couture, Luxury and JCK Las Vegas.


While Shiiki can’t give a precise estimate of how much volume comes from diamonds and diamond jewelry, she says it’s clearly the large majority of sales. Silverscape stocks a full inventory of diamonds from unmounted stones to engagement rings, fashion and designer collections. As for quality range, she says the company maintains “very strict” standards, with diamonds averaging E to F color, VS to SI1 clarity.

Over the years, Silverscape has built a close relationship with Lazare Diamonds and sells a large portion of that company’s Ideal Cut diamonds. Because of this, says Shiiki, certificates are not a very important issue for the store’s clients, who accept the idea of Lazare’s identification number on the girdle of the stone.

Three engagement ring designs created by Denis Perlman remain consistent best sellers. The three styles — named “Dream,” “Peach” and “Tulip” — are tailored for either diamond or colored gemstone solitaires. Simple, yet classic, each design can be modified to suit a variety of different-sized and -shaped center stones and are handmade by on-staff goldsmiths.

By using in-house goldsmiths and designers, Silverscape offers its clients custom design as well as the restyling of estate jewelry. “Customers can come to us with old or inherited pieces that they want to redesign and we remove the stones and design new pieces for them,” says Shiiki. “We can take someone from beginning to end in creating custom designs.”

The two galleries have a broad base of consumers, but the core group is located within a 50-mile radius. Because of the far-flung homes of many of the students, however, it’s not unusual for the retailer to receive calls from various parts of the country from former students who remember the charming gallery and wish to buy their engagement rings there. Some return after graduation to purchase that piece they had an eye on while still in school.


Generally, Silverscape does not offer price-off sales or special-purchase options, reserving them for a once-a-year blowout event between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the year, the retailer might stage the occasional trunk show, but generally the small design firms carried are one-person operations and don’t budget for these activities.

Lazare Kaplan, however, has proved to be a strong partner in creating excitement for the galleries’ once-a-year holiday happening. Last year’s three-day event presented a diamond-cutting exhibition; the party in 2005 featured a display of Lazare Kaplan’s diamond wedding dress. Typically, invitations are sent to the retailer’s customer list, inviting them to come into the gallery for the party and shop for gifts with a 10 percent discount, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale going to benefit United Way or another local charity.

While Silverscape plans no specific schedule of events, it does maintain close involvement with the local community’s charity and social programs. The retailer regularly donates merchandise for silent auctions, golf events, road races and gift bags, says Shiiki.

Advertising is done mostly through local newspapers with some periodic radio spots. The most effective ads appear on the back cover of Preview Massachusetts magazine, a glossy monthly local publication. Silverscape does not produce a catalog of its merchandise, but its newly inaugurated website, silverscapedesigns.com, which provides e-commerce as well as shopping information, is expected to be a big plus for business.

The site, still being refined, outlines the background and history of the galleries and illustrates a selection of jewelry and gifts from each of its featured designers. On the home page of the site, the gallery illustrates an innovative gift idea. Inspired by its bank location, Silverscape offers three denominations of gift coins — $1,000 in gold, $100 in silver and $10 in bronze — that can be redeemed for merchandise. “Measure for measure, it’s treasure for treasure,” reads the invitation.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2007. To subscribe click here.

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