’Tis the season of sparkle, so what better time to meet the men behind some of the world’s most gorgeous glitter. A founding father, a Hollywood legend, and local jewelry stars, too — we’re sure your head will soon be dancing with dreams of bijoux.
Charles Lewis Tiffany, Tiffany & Co.
Few brands are as synonymous with quality and desire as Tiffany & Co. Charles Lewis Tiffany founded the New York company in 1837 as a “stationary and fancy goods” emporium. By the early 1850s, Tiffany realized that jewelry was his calling — and a legacy in the making.
The Astors and the Vanderbilts wore Tiffany designs, along with movie stars and royalty, and prominent museums have secured Tiffany pieces for their permanent collections. The Fifth Avenue flagship store, which opened in 1940, has been featured in several films, including the enduring classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A gemologist at Tiffany & Co. helped establish the metric carat as the international standard. And Tiffany Blue — a registered trademark — might be one of the most recognizable colors in existence.
If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, as Marilyn Monroe purred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a Tiffany’s box sets every girl’s heart aflutter. Though there are plenty of other extraordinary jewelers out there, something about that pretty blue just rings true. And Charles Tiffany made it all happen with a $1,000 loan from his father. By the time of his passing in 1902, when he was 90 years old, Tiffany’s company was valued at $2 million and his jewelry was coveted around the world.
Martin Katz has bedecked the likes of Sharon Stone, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Winslett. Katz’s red-carpet pieces have been photographed at the Oscars and the Emmys. The Beverly Hills-based “Jeweler to the Stars” has become a bona fide celebrity himself.
Yet at a recent job fair at Carlsbad’s Gemological Institute of America, Katz cautioned would-be jewelers about the fame factor. “Keep yourselves grounded and don’t get a big head. It’s fun to have the adoration of the celebrities and the press that it brings, but I’d rather be recognized for the quality and originality of my work.”
No worries there — Katz’s work is stunning, both in appearance and craftsmanship. He says he finds much of his inspiration in nature (vines, fruits, flowers) and vintage jewelry, especially Edwardian and Art Deco. “You just don’t see pieces like that today. I would look at pieces that were 200 years old, set with such tiny diamonds and all done by hand. When I started designing jewelry, I said I wanted to set like that and every setter said it couldn’t be done. I strived for many years to perfect the miniature, micro-setting technique that I’m now known for.”
Katz’s favorite piece? The pin. “It’s so fun to design because you’re not restricted by space. It allows uninhibited expression of artistry.”
And no, he’s not worried that such fanciful baubles are relics of bygone eras. “All it takes is a young celebrity to put a pin on a sweater set and it’s young again.”
Philippe Charriol, Charriol USA
When he was 17 years old, Philippe Charriol bought a gold Omega watch from a street vendor in Naples. It turned out to be a fake, of course. “I had an eye for nice things,” says Charriol from his company’s headquarters in Geneva. “Though I couldn’t afford them at the time.”
As a student in Marseilles, the dapper Charriol wore gloves and a bowler hat when his peers were wearing jeans. “The motto of my company is ‘l’art de vivre la difference’,” he explains. “That was my way to be different.”
Charriol sought out a career that would satisfy his wanderlust. After 15 years as a top executive for Cartier, which allowed him plenty of travel, he launched his own business at the age of 40. “Since then I’ve been more than 150 times around the world,” he laughs.
Though Charriol does not design the fine jewelry and timepieces sold by his company, which celebrated its 25th anniversary two years ago, he is involved on a day-to-day basis with forecasting trends and giving direction.
Charriol’s committed to keeping his business in the family — daughter Coralie serves as vice president. But he’s less committed when it comes to identifying his favorite pieces. “As a brand, for me the newest one is always the best,” he says. “I’m not in the antique business. I’m in the business of creating something new.”
John Matty says he’s always been a behind-the-scenes guy. In 1981, he got his start as a jeweler’s apprentice in San Diego. He’s since worked for the esteemed Gumuchian Fils and Roberto Coin, and, in 1999, he was handpicked by William Goldberg to be the company’s sole outside sales representative, a job he cherished for six years.
For more than two decades, Matty circled the globe, finding and selling diamonds to all the finest stores. “My passion’s in the stone,” he says. “The stones really fire me up. It’s great to sell a 30-carat diamond, but what’s really special is the 30-carat diamond. You remember where you were when you found it, all the circumstances around it.”
These days, Matty is the director of the new Roberto Coin boutique at Carlsbad’s Four Seasons Aviara. He’s also shifted his John Matty Company career focus to designing and building private labels for clients — he can’t name names, but let’s just say they’re biggies in the business.
Speaking of big names, Matty dished the diamond scoop on Hollywood. It used to be that top jewelry houses would loan exquisite pieces to stars for special events. Now they hand the celebs up to six-figure checks for the alluring advertising. “Clients go nuts if you tell them, for instance, J.Lo is going to wear this to the music awards and you can have it back after.”
Harold Krasner, Harold Steven’s
Born and raised in South Africa, where the diamond industry has a rich history, Harold Krasner was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, also a jeweler.
“I love diamonds,” says Krasner. “Each one is individual, like human beings. They all have their own unique characteristics and that’s what makes them so beautiful.”
In 1979, when he moved stateside, Krasner parlayed his lifelong knowledge of the diamond business into a new venture with a boyhood friend (the friend left three years later, but the name Harold Steven’s stuck). Until 1995, Krasner imported and sold diamonds exclusively to manufacturers and wholesalers.
Today, he and his wife, Joy, and son Ryan sell diamonds, fine jewelry, and timepieces from an elegant downtown showroom. Harold Steven’s also creates bespoke designs. Though Krasner doesn’t sit at the jeweler’s bench, he is hands-on with every custom order.
Krasner has seen some important diamonds in his day, including a 7.5-carat round brilliant cut of the highest color and clarity. It wasn’t easy letting it go.
“You fight so hard to buy the right diamonds,” he says wistfully. “I eliminate 85 to 90 percent of what comes across my desk. You obviously want to sell it, because it’s your business, but you can’t ever replace it.”
Robere Habchi, Robere’s Fine Jewelry
“I love jewelry and I love to please women,” says Robere Habchi with a sly laugh. “Sometimes it’s hard to please them so I thought the jewelry business was a good way.”
Decades ago, while studying art and design in Bordeaux, France, Habchi spent countless hours sketching his dream pieces. After learning the trade throughout Europe and in Lebanon, Habchi settled in San Diego and opened his own shop in 1981. It’s a family affair at Robere’s Fine Jewelry, which now has two locations. Habchi’s wife and two grown children help run the business.
If Habchi’s glamorous designs have long wooed women — along with local celebs like Tony Gwynn, former governor Pete Wilson, and members of the Spanos family — Habchi himself is wooed by stones. He sounds positively enamored as he raves about a five-carat pink diamond surrounded by white diamonds and mounted in platinum (featured on this page).
Though he carries fine jewelry and timepieces, Habchi’s specialty is one-of-a-kind custom pieces. The staff at Robere’s uses software to model potential designs so customers can get a sneak preview at no charge. Stones and metals can be purchased on-site, or patrons can recycle their own.
“Bring me your old gold, or any jewelry you’re not wearing for a long time,” Habchi says. “We can make a piece for you that is breathtaking.”
Leo Hamel, Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers
Leo Hamel was so good at his first job in the jewelry business that he got fired. “I sold so much more than the other sales people,” he laughs. “I’d just fallen into it. I liked it, but I wasn’t actually looking for it.”
It all worked out in the long run. Hamel followed his entrepreneurial instincts and started selling diamonds out of a briefcase at the swap meet. He still runs into some of those early loyal customers 25 years later at his successful Old Town and Solana Beach outposts, where he carries high-quality jewelry and timepieces.
“You can’t grow a company unless you give good customer service,” Hamel says. “People have to like the store and the people who work at the store. We have a personal relationship with customers and they know they’re getting a good value every time they buy something.”
Hamel considers precious metals and gemstones excellent investments. “Gold is real money and diamonds are considered valuable all over the world. A Rolex is like currency all over the world.”
It’s his store’s large vintage and estate jewelry section that’s become his abiding passion, though. “It’s totally unique. You can’t find anything like it anywhere. Each piece is different and we have new stuff every day.”
Victor Manoushakian, Highlands Jewelers
As a boy in Beirut, Victor Manoushakian apprenticed with his uncles, who owned jewelry stores throughout the city. As a young man he immigrated to Montreal, where he continued his education in jewelry before relocating to La Jolla, where he worked for Bowers Jewelers for more than a decade. And then — true to the American dream — Manoushakian opened Highlands Jewelers, his very own shop in Carmel Valley.
“We’ve been in the community for nearly 17 years,” he says. “We are a family business, personable when you walk in. We greet you by name. It’s an old-fashioned feeling. When a customer needs something, they talk directly to the owner and the jeweler, not a sales person.”
Manoushakian describes Highlands as a one-stop jewelry store with services ranging
from simple repairs and appraisals to elaborate custom-designed pieces, all done on-site.
“We don’t carry things that you would find at a mall. We’re one of a kind. For custom designs, we create from scratch to fit the person’s character, lifestyle, and budgetary needs.”
He says he feels special when he sees customers wearing his jewelry. “We start from sketching on a piece of paper and transform that into reality. For me, it’s really worthwhile coming to work every day. I love what I do.”
Gerard Soberon, Soberon & Co.
Gerard Soberon spent his early boyhood hanging out in the workshop with his father, an “old-school” jeweler. “He knew all the techniques,” says Soberon. “Gold casting, bronze casting, every kind of casting. He was trained back in the ’20s.”
Now, with 35 years of experience, Soberon specializes in difficult repairs and restorations, not unlike the work his father did many years ago. He also designs one-of-a-kind pieces at his Encinitas store, which he opened three years ago.
“The difference between me and many other jewelers is that I actually do the work that people bring me,” he explains. “There’s a difference in how customer’s ideas are interpreted. I think it’s important to have a skilled craftsman speaking directly to someone who wants something special.”
Soberon uses many of the traditional techniques he inherited from his father, including hand fabrication and lost wax (though he will use computer-aided design for customers on more of a budget).
“With modern technology, pieces don’t take as long to make, but they’re not made quite as finely as vintage pieces. The only time you find pieces at that quality level is when you buy custom-designed pieces. In the old days, they hand made everything.
“I was raised with the art. I love geology and gemology and gemstones and metal. I love mechanical work. I really enjoy creating things.” ANNAMARIA STEPHENS