Rapaport Magazine

Rolling out the red carpet

Customers get a big-city experience at Zorells Jewelry in small-town Bismarck, North Dakota.

By Joyce Kauf

Image: Zorells Jewelry

It’s almost straight out of a movie: Old-time Hollywood glamour meets contemporary luxury in Bismarck, North Dakota, a city so isolated that it doesn’t even have a department store. But Tim Ell, owner of Zorells Jewelry, believes that “every bride deserves her glass slipper fairy-tale moment,” regardless of location.

He doesn’t forget about the groom, either. “We’re in the dead center of the country. There are a lot of farm and ranch boys who want to be romantic but don’t know how,” he says. Ell has trademarked the tagline “Give her goosebumps” to define the Zorells brand; it’s the company’s ultimate mission statement, as well as a reference to its patented signature Goosebump diamond cut.

Tribute to the silver screen

In 2019, the store underwent a renovation that Ell describes as “years in the making.” It gave him the opportunity to provide people in the community with the same luxury shopping experience they would enjoy on vacation in a major metropolitan area. It was also an avenue for showcasing Ell’s personal tastes and those of his wife Sharon.

Both dedicated fans of movie classics, they have filled the store with touches of Hollywood. She can be seen wearing the retro outfits she favors, accessorizing them with a hat or a feather. He, meanwhile, owns a collection of vintage cars named after stars such as Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. Some of them are in the store display, including the 1962 Impala that makes up part of his desk.

People respond to this atmosphere because “it all comes across as very authentic; it’s who we are,” he explains.

The dreams-come-true ambience embraces customers as soon as they enter the store. “It had to be perfect,” says Ell, who insisted on custom design and made-to-order luxury materials. The wallpaper creates the illusion of sparkling gowns on the red carpet, and black-and-white pictures of movie star legends adorn the walls — among them Marilyn Monroe, who famously sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

But the scene stealers are the custom chandeliers — “the only ones like [them] in the world” — that shimmer like a dazzling dance of diamonds. The largest measures 6 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep. Composed of “millions of crystals” sourced from around the world, all the chandeliers had to be assembled on site, according to Ell.

“If you move your eyes or your body, you’ll see a different light flashing,” he says. He considers them well worth the “significant” investment.

The Goosebump diamond

Ell, who began his career as a diamond cutter, is the creator of the Zorells Goosebump diamond: a stone with strategically placed additional facets on the top and bottom, as opposed to the traditional 58 facets of a generic round diamond. The wavy and tufted textures on the store’s walls are an homage to the goosebump motif, and the diamond even has its own theme song. Ell composed the lyrics but engaged “top talent” to refine the melody he had in his head, producing several versions of the song.

The Goosebump diamond is the store’s top seller, followed by manufacturers Verragio and A. Jaffe. On average, the most popular engagement ring has a 1-carat center stone and retails for just under $8,000.

“Our sweet spot is bridal and anniversary for customers ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s,” Ell reports. Based on the Goosebump’s popularity, he plans to develop an entire jewelry line incorporating the stone, a collection he expects will dominate future sales.

Bells are ringing

Ell is proud of his blue-collar heritage, and he stresses that every couple deserves a fairy tale, no matter their budget. That includes hearing bells.

On a diamond-buying trip to Antwerp, Ell heard the cathedral bells chime and decided to replicate the sound in his store to announce an engagement. While the original store had a bell tower outside, Ell’s renovations included the ability to ring the bells from inside the store.

“The entire community hears the bells, but the couple knows it is for them,” he says.

His favorite story relating to the bells involves a man who had already selected the ring and arranged to have both sets of parents waiting outside before he brought his soon-to-be fiancée into the store. The man got down on one knee to propose, and as soon as she said yes, the bells began to ring. “There wasn’t a dry eye inside or outside the store,” Ell recalls. “They’ll remember this for their 60th anniversary.”

In a recent promotion, the store owner facilitated another memorable event. Recognizing the pent-up demand for travel in the wake of the pandemic, he treated couples who spent at least $4,000 on an engagement ring to a four-day, three-night hotel stay in Cancun, including airfare. He plans to keep that promotion in 2022.

“This store is what I dreamt of for many years. Nothing happened by accident,” he states. “People come here for the ring, but they can get a ring anywhere. And for my competitors, that’s usually where the story ends. But for us, it’s just the beginning".

Wine and shine
In renovating his store, Tim Ell wanted to create a stylish area for hosting fundraisers or private events, but he also wanted it to be useful day to day. His solution: a wine bar with a classic-movie motif. Designed in black and gold, the bar features pictures of actors Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca on one side, while Myrna Loy and William Powell, stars of The Thin Man, grace the other.

Recognizing that the twice-yearly cleaning and checking of jewelry was a “boring and mundane chore” that clients had to do to maintain the warranty, Ell created “Wine and Shine,” which lets them enjoy a glass of wine while they wait. “We give it the full spa service,” he says. “I took something that was practically ignored and made it a reward and part of our business.”

In keeping with the Hollywood theme, he serves Turner Classic Movies (TCM) wine, with each bottle featuring a different movie star or scene on the label. On Saturdays, customers can have mimosas as well.

“We go through cases of champagne,” says Ell. “People make friends at the bar and reminisce about when the bells rang for them.”

The experience, he adds, has “spurred new sales. People look forward to it.”


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - February 2022. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Joyce Kauf