Rapaport Magazine

A Diamond Core

Just shy of a century old, Hamilton Jewelers of New Jersey and Florida exudes a strong sense of history and heritage that resonates with its upscale clientele.

By Nancy Pier Sindt
RAPAPORT...  Hamilton Jewelers was founded in 1912 as George Marks Inc. in Trenton, New Jersey, then a major manufacturing center strategically located between urban giants New York and Philadelphia. The store was purchased in 1927 by Irving Siegel. Now in its third generation of family ownership, the retail operation has expanded to five branches in two states. Hank B. Siegel is president and chief executive officer (CEO); his father, Martin R. Siegel, is chairman.

Hamilton Jewelers moved to its current location in Princeton, New Jersey, in the early 1980s and stands in a landmark building originally built as a dormitory for Princeton University. The New Jersey branch in Lawrenceville, where the company maintains its corporate offices, followed, with the newest addition in neighboring Red Bank, New Jersey.

While it might seem unusual for a store to have locations in two distant states, the approach has worked for Hamilton Jewelers. According to Hank Siegel, the Palm Beach, Florida, store began almost as a hobby for his grandfather, who was a longtime winter resident of that area. After his retirement in the 1970s, Irving Siegel had time on his hands and opened a small shop on Worth Avenue to serve his personal clientele. The store succeeded and over time grew to include a second Florida branch in an upscale mall, The Gardens of the Palm Beaches; both stores have since expanded in size.

The buying and merchandising for all five stores is done out of the Lawrenceville headquarters. The overall focus is the same, but there are some differences between the New Jersey and Florida venues. “We have to consider the nuances of the individual markets,” says Siegel. For example, the Worth Avenue branch is a smaller-sized store with a narrower focus, dominated by fine diamond jewelry and big-name watches. The larger New Jersey stores have those products and more, including a full selection of upscale baby and bridal gifts, personal accessories, tableware and home decor.

The range of product depends on the location, says Siegel, but the core diamond business remains the same. Diamonds and diamond jewelry contribute an estimated 35 to 40 percent of total sales, he says, and average price points range from $3,000 to $10,000, but can easily reach as high as $20,000. Diamond qualities are generally high, with colors ranging from D to I and clarities from IF to SI. Certificates are deemed “very important.” Hamilton provides its own report and adds the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) cert to its diamonds.

Offering “proprietary diamonds and jewelry designs” is of paramount importance to this retailer. As Siegel explains, “We like to make the Hamilton brand a part of the shopping experience.” To promote that brand, there are a number of jewelry collections exclusive to the store, including the popular 1912 Bridal Collection, the designs of which were inspired by an old piece created by the store that was reacquired from the granddaughter of the original purchaser. Other named collections include the Hamilton Heritage, Deco and Confetti. Some items are produced in-house and others under exclusive contract.

“Our clients have an awareness of our brands and name,” says the president. Most of the store’s own collections have individual names and identifications. Designer brands are a complementary part of the business and include such names as Roberto Coin, David Yurman and Mikimoto, in addition to timepieces from Baume & Mercier, Corum and Ebel.

Siegel is passionate about the importance of having a professional, educated management team. Part of the infrastructure are managers, jewelers and sales personnel who are graduates of the Hamilton Jewelers University Program, a comprehensive training program that includes company history, product knowledge of jewelry and watches and client services.

Like other multigenerational manufacturers and retailers, Hamilton Jewelers actively seeks to reacquire old pieces that were originally produced by the store. Unfortunately, two fires in 1947 and 1957 destroyed the Trenton stores and many of the original designs and archives were lost. However, over the years, Hamilton has managed to reacquire several important pieces. These archived historical pieces are not for sale and are usually kept in a vault, but the retailer recently created a special showcase to hold a rotating display for them.

Hamilton’s community outreach encompasses a large number of educational and philanthropic programs; the retailer supports more than 200 charities. Beneficiaries include hospitals, arts foundations and the Junior League. To raise money for these causes, there may be a special event, where a portion of the proceeds are donated to the cause. Sometimes, Hamilton will create a special piece for a raffle or auction and other times, the retailer will donate a gemstone that the winner can bring to the store to create a custom-designed piece of jewelry.

Among the other popular outreach programs are public speaking engagements dealing with the historical aspects of fine jewelry, gemstones and designs of the twentieth century. Throughout the year, community and civic groups, schools and museums invite Hamilton representatives to speak about jewelry. The speeches also contribute to “enhancing the value of the Hamilton brand,” which Siegel considers an important part of his work.

Other venues for building name recognition include advertising, an annual catalog and direct mail. The Hamilton name can be found in co-op ads in a number of national magazines, as well as on some outdoor ads and on television. Hamilton also has an elegant website that explains the history and mission statement of the store, illustrates products and services and invites readers to become members. Although it is constructed as a full e-commerce site, Siegel says its primary functions are informative and to make a statement about the store.

For those seeking the ultimate in a one-of-a-kind piece, there is the Private Reserve collection, which includes some vintage and some new creations, but all very high-end. The current offerings include a ring with a cushion-cut diamond in a pavé and platinum setting, a “kite” necklace with three natural-colored fancy-cut diamonds framed in white diamonds and a three-stone ring centered by a 2.80-carat oval-shaped ruby. Retail prices range from $24,600 to $289,000.

Finally, the website offers a VIP membership, which entitles recipients to receive updates on trends and alerts on new collections, advance notice of store events and special web-exclusive offers throughout the year. And for shoppers needing a bit of help, there is the “Hamilton Hint,” a subtle way to create a wish list. The website invites customers: “You tell us the occasion and the date, and we take care of the rest. We will notify the gift giver of your registration at Hamilton Jewelers and invite them in for a bit of ‘shopping assistance’…think of us as the perfect shopping partner to make gift giving effortless.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - April 2008. To subscribe click here.

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