Jeweler's business rocks

Emil Kaufmann's designs have turned Kaufmann de Suisse, which operates outlets in Montreal, New York and Palm Beach, into one of North America's top high-end jewelry manufacturers

When Moneca Kaufmann joined her family's jewelry business after completing an MBA and doing a stint in a Swiss bank, her instincts told her to be flexible with pricing to generate quicker sales. But like many second-generation entrepreneurs, she ran headfirst into her father.

"It's different when you design each piece like he does," said Kaufmann, of her father Emil Pius Kaufmann, founder of Kaufmann de Suisse. "He doesn't look at jewelry as a commodity Each sale becomes a personal affair."

Emil Kaufmann's fine eye, exacting standards and his Art Deco- and Art Nouveau- influenced "Flowing Lines," signature collection, have made him one of North America's most highly regarded jewelry manufacturers.

In the five decades since he founded Kaufmann de Suisse, Kaufmann has won incalculable numbers of awards. During the past five years alone he has opened offices in New York's upper-East side and Palm Beach Florida.

You can't just walk into a Kaufmann store. The company's jewelry caters to the top five per cent of the country's income earners. The average necklace, ring or broach sells for about $8,000, but specialty items have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a result security is tight. To look at the items you have to get buzzed in through a set of double lock doors.

According to experts, what distinguishes Kaufmann de Suisse is its on-site manufacturing and original designs. The company buys cut diamonds and other precious stones from producers all over the world. Each piece is then meticulously crafted by the goldsmiths and setters based at its Crescent Street offices. About half of the company's production is exported.

"Many retailers do minor repairs, or they design products and contract out the manufacturing to factories in Asia and elsewhere. Not (Kaufmann)," said Howard Herzog, president of Manhattan-based IJB Risk Jewelers Block Insurance, which insures jewelers across the continent.

Before getting into the insurance business Herzog ran a diamond company and has known Kaufmann, -- whom like many in the trade he refers to as "Mr. Kaufmann,"-for almost 30 years. And he has nothing but good things to say about his old friend.

"They are real experts. They still do things in an old-world way," Herzog said, using an anecdote to illustrate his point.

"A couple of days ago one of my clients told me he was giving me a "verbal approval" on an order as though he were trying to distinguish this from a written approval," Herzog said.

"Mr. Kaufmann would never do that. His word is his bond. To him, a verbal or written approval means the same thing."

According to Herzog, the high-end jewelry business has been going great guns lately, partly because of the increasing stratification in our society, which has seen a larger percentage of Canadian and American wealth flow to upper income groups.

"There are more millionaires today than ever before," Herzog said. "And businesses catering to the luxury market are taking advantage of that trend."

Mr. Kaufmann got his start in the jewelry trade as a 14-year old kid, completing an apprenticeship in a Switzerland, a country known for its exacting standards in jewelry and watch making. He came to Canada during the early 1950s, and did a short stint at Birks, before opening his own boutique. As his design awards piled up, Kaufmann gradually built an increasingly loyal base of clients, --like Valeria Rosenbloom --who kept coming back for more pieces.

"My husband has had an incredible relationship with Mr. Kaufmann over the years and I have been the happy beneficiary," said Rosenbloom, with a laugh.

Rosenbloom's husband Mike Rosenbloom, founded Globe Communications, which publishes The Globe, The Examiner and The Sun, a chain that he sold to American Media several years ago.
As the spouse of an important publisher, Valeria Rosenbloom frequently attended high-profile events such as the Oscars, often accompanied by Kaufmann jewelry.

"They are in the category of the Cartiers and other top names," Rosenbloom said. "Their pieces always get nice comments."

Kaufmann's longevity makes his success all the more impressive. This year he celebrated both his 75th birthday and his chain's 50th anniversary. And he's still going strong, despite the fact that his kids, Moneca, --who now manages the Montreal store,-- Christopher who handles Palm Beach outlet and Charles, --who heads New York operations,-- are all accomplished businessmen in their own rights.

This year the firm invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in an extensive marketing campaign. Despite how well-known he is, Kaufmann, --like most jewelry retailers,-- spends about 8 per cent of its annual sales on promotion, which he is unapologetic about.

"General Motors, the largest car company in the world advertises," Kaufmann said. "So why shouldn't I?"


Photo caption:

Fact Box:
Company Name: Kaufmann de Suisse
Owner: Kaufmann family
Locations: Montreal, New York, Palm Beach
Founded: 1954
Products: Jewelry and watches
Employees: 25
Estimated sales: $10 million
Phone #: 514-848-0595


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Peter Diekmeyer
275 Malcolm cir.
Montreal, Canada, H9S 1T6, 514-631-0025



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