Jewelry: Unconventional Wisdom

<< Back to Robb Report, September 2002

Jewelry can go in and out of fashion almost as fast as women’s clothing, which often means that dated pieces are retired into rarely opened drawers and forgotten. But Brazilian jeweler H. Stern believes that old designs are still worth their weight in gold, and then some. At Stern’s annual Gold Rush event, clients arrive with their unwanted gold jewelry, which is weighed and valued at a 20 percent premium over the current market price for gold, then a credit for that amount is issued toward a new purchase. This year’s by-appointment-only event in New York, scheduled for September 25 through 28, will coincide with the launch of H. Stern’s new jewelry collection.

“Jewelry style has evolved, and this gives women a chance to trade in old pieces they no longer wear,” says Roberto Stern, who is at the helm of the 57-year-old business that was established by his father, Hans Stern. “In the past, daughters borrowed jewelry from their mothers; today the mothers copy their daughters.” The Gold Rush event, which was initiated a few years ago in H. Stern’s South American stores and then expanded to its boutiques around the world, is only one example of Roberto’s unconventional approach to an industry that is steeped in traditionalism.

Since the jewelry scion took charge of the family business in 1993, his innovative business tactics, along with his passion for cutting-edge architecture and design, has transformed H. Stern from a classic South American jeweler into an international design powerhouse. The 42-year-old has spearheaded a new design movement that draws on the sober lines of the German architecture school Gehaimstrat as a key influence, while taking a cue from German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s less-is-more philosophy.

“The emphasis today is on simple luxury as opposed to opulence,” says Stern. For example, a new aquamarine necklace, priced at $186,000, features about 40 exceptional gemstones in invisible settings without any embellishments. “It’s about understated, personal luxury.”

In keeping with his preference for avant-garde style, Stern’s approach to design is also unorthodox. “I forbid our design team to go to jewelry fairs, because we don’t want to follow the trends.” Instead, Stern and his designers make annual sojourns to different countries, where they explore museums, restaurants, and bars, and study people for inspiration.

Stern has also enlisted the aid of diverse creative consultants such as furniture designers, sculptors, and even a Brazilian singer to introduce new ways to approach the creative process. Award-winning furniture designers Fernando and Humberto Campana were the impetus behind the recent Ropes design, which was inspired by cotton ropes used in one of the Campanas’ lounge chairs, and the textured gold Craft collection, which emulates the corrugated cardboard used to construct their eccentric sofas.

This fall, H. Stern unveils a new store design as well with the opening of its second freestanding U.S. store in New York’s SoHo. The modernistic multilevel space features an art gallery, a bar, and a VIP living room complete with a projection screen television, while custom-designed stainless steel, wood, and leather furniture and display cases echo the sleek and understated elegance of Stern’s jewelry.

H. Stern, 800.7HSTERN

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