It is easy to walk right past the Gioia jewelry salon on New York’s Park Avenue without giving it a second glance. There are no tantalizing display windows to gaze into, no open doorway offering a peek inside, only a few jewels displayed in a diminutive glass case that is built into the exterior wall. Step inside the shop, however, and a luxurious oasis awaits you.
The three private rooms within the salon are swathed in silk fabric and appointed with period furniture and leopard print chairs. No salesperson welcomes you at the door; instead, you are greeted by Gioia’s young owner, Rafaela Amini, who meets and consults with her clients personally. She first assesses their tastes, then presents them with trays of feminine, vibrant, and often whimsical jewelry designs.
“This is the old-fashioned way of doing business,” says David Amini, Rafaela’s father and partner, who also owns New York’s Beauvais Carpets, which sells rare handmade antique carpets. “We are like a throwback to the 19th century, when clients shopped in small stores and had very personal relationships with the owners.”
David opened Gioia six years ago after discovering the French jewelry designer Michel Wassilief on a trip to Paris with his wife, Dora, who used to sell jewelry to select clients. “At the time, Michel was making pieces for private clients and I found his style original, artistic, and uniquely feminine,” says David. Already a self-proclaimed risk taker in the carpet business, he decided to open a boutique to exclusively sell Wassilief’s one-of-a-kind designs compiled in a collection named Gioia. He specifically selected the Park Avenue location for its intimacy and distance from the crowds of Madison and Fifth Avenues.
“Gioia’s jewelry is not for everyone,” continues David. “Our clients are self-assured in their own taste and style. Most of them have seen everything and are looking for something unique and one-of-a-kind.” To that end, Gioia was among the first to introduce a collection of brown and black diamond jewelry when the salon opened.
Wassilief’s designs are often recognized for their sophisticated use of color, as seen in his voluptuous cobra earrings featuring shades of yellow, black, brown, and white diamonds set in a blackened metal, which is oxidized silver over 18-karat gold. “Michel has a wonderful sense of color,” says Rafaela. “He tends to blend colors in gradations and prefers blackened metal, as opposed to shiny platinum or gold, to reduce the contrast between the metal and gems.”
Among Gioia’s signature pieces is a collection of three-dimensional starfish and sea horses that appear as much like sculptures as pieces of jewelry. Another ever-present theme is blooming flowers in feminine combinations of pink, lavender, and purple sapphires.
Wassilief will also work with Gioia clients to develop their own unique pieces, though patience is required because he is not one to rush a special order. “Michel is a perfectionist,” says Rafaela. “Nothing leaves his Paris workshop until he decides it’s just right.”