Some of the finest jewelry and investment grade gems have passed through Stephen Silver’s store. “My love of gems and minerals is really the way this started.” he says. Find out how he started out and how he developed his business into what it is today.
Welcome back! I'm here today with Steve Silver of Steven Silver Jewelry. Welcome to today's show.
So Steven for the listeners here, can you give us your background and how you got to where you are today?
Well I started in college— obviously getting an education that was all driven into geology so my background is in minerals and stones and my love of that part of my education. Between my junior and senior year— in an attempt to avoid taking a family vacation— I decided to go to the GIA and do their diamond grading course. It was really fascinating to me as an educating geologist to find out about a way to grade diamonds for the jewelry industry. I was so enthusiastic about the course and the way they taught it and what went into the system of grading diamonds that I decided to stay on and got a colored stone degree. And then I graduated with a gemology degree. So that's how it all started as a form of education.
Now in spite of the education, there has to be lot more to really knowing this industry.
Well that's a whole other difference, you know, a whole other thing than understanding the complexities of a product, in this case gems and jewelry, and then taking that knowledge and driving it into a business. It’s a whole other issue altogether, so that speaks to more of the entrepreneurial side of developing anything.
So how did you get started with the degrees coming in, you know, your education? What drove you to say, “I'm going to open up a fine jewelry store,” and did it start that way or did it—
No no no, I mean, after I finished school I didn't really know what I was going to do with it and you know in the geology side there's a very limited path of life after education. It's either, you know, US Geological Survey or the gas and oil exploration. There’s other avenues, academia if you want to teach, which I had no interest in at all, but the gems and the jewelry I had an interest in. So my grandfather's brother knew a big jewelry company owner in downtown Los Angeles. They were a manufacturing jewelry business and I interviewed with them, believe it or not, as a milage sorter. So for my first two years in this industry I sat at a desk and I sorted about a hundred carats a day, which is the equivalent of a thousand diamonds a day, into seven different categories of quality that were fed into a huge factory that was manufacturing jewelry for retailers. Domestic retailers, anything from JCPenney to Tiffany & Company. And that was in the mid 70's. I know it's funny because I reflect back on those days at that bench, and I'm sitting here with all this education, and I'm sitting at this bench sorting these little small diamonds that are used to pave into jewelry and I'm thinking, “What am I doing? Am I sitting here, you know, sorting diamonds? How am I ever going to apply all this great education that my family spent on me?” And the funny thing about that is that as I reflect back on what I do today, the disciplines that I learned in that very rudimentary process, I still apply today on some of the more important gems that we cut today. So all those disciplines and analyzing the cutting styles and the cutting quality and where inclusions are located in stones, I applied to our business today so all those questions that I— of indecision that I had at the beginning— I successfully apply today to a successful business enterprise.
So what year did you put your shingle out here?
1980. So we established the business 37 years ago and it was a $3,000 investment and a dream. It started off as an appraisal business which sort of combined my love of the study of the industry and the history of our industry, and also the practical application of what we do today. The appraisal process is one that when you execute it and it's done properly, it encompasses all of the knowledge that you really need to have in order to do it right. So that's how it started as an appraisal business.
Now Stephen I'm running up against the break, but after we get back I want to talk about how you differentiate the gems in this market that we're currently in. I guess they've gone crazy in prices over the years. But I'm visiting here today with Steven Silver of Stephen Silver Jewelry, we'll be right back after these
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Welcome back, I'm visiting here today with Steven Silver of Steven Silver
Fine Jewelry. Steven, in the first segment we talked about how you rolled into the industry. And initially in 1980 you started an appraisal shop, but now if anyone walks into your stores they see just tremendous value of what you've been able to create here. So how did you move from the appraisal to where you are today?
Well I think a lot of it has to do with the way we established the appraisal business. I had been working for a retail jeweler in the Bay Area and he actually was the one that got me into understanding the value of appraisal work. He was an estate jeweler and enjoyed that, and that's really right where I really fell in love with the industry. I was I was able to apply all this, the technical knowledge, that I had developed over the years and then I had something to study, which was the history of the industry. So that got me into the appraisal business. How we differentiated ourselves as an appraisal business is sort of the start of the entrepreneurial side of the history of my company. The big barrier to, what I perceived is the big barrier to a successful appraisal business, was at that time it wasn't oriented to the customer, it was oriented to the business. So if you brought a piece of jewelry in to be appraised in those days you would leave the piece of jewelry with the company, they would appraise it, and two weeks later you'd be called up to pick it up. I thought wow, what a poor use of time! It was a poor use of developing relationships with customers, because the customer wasn't there, and they didn't really understand what you were doing in the process of appraising what they owned. So I decided to apply whatever technology existed back then, which basically was a recorder, a peddle that you hit and you would record, and so I decided I would set up shop in a way that the customers would be in front of me. They would see me actually going through the process of appraising what they owned. We would enter into discussions about it, such as who owned it, how long was it the family, all these things that were personal to them, and we developed a trust with one another between appraiser and customer. They actually saw me going through the process. At the same time as I'm appraising, it's recording on the other side and my secretary at the time was taking dictation, in essence, and she was typing the appraisal work. So by the time they left my company they had appraisal in hand. So I was literally doing a just-in-time process— not manufacturing process— but a service process that really fed into what the customer wanted. My appraisal business boomed. I was busy from the day I opened the appraisal offices until today and it's just been quite amazing. But it was all driven by figuring out a solution to a problem that I knew existed, and that was the resistance for customers to leave their jewelry with a jewelry company to be appraised. And that's how it all started.
When people have their appraisals- what's the incentive behind getting appraisals?
Well appraisals can be asked for for a multitude of different reasons. It can be an insurance issue, it can be a legal issue, it can be a probate issue, it can be all kinds of those. It could just be understanding what somebody owns and how it fits into their daily lifestyle. For the business after the appraisal process, we were asked to do a multitude of different things. It could be repair, could be refurbish, could be redesigned for something that somebody inherited, but they don't want to own it in that form and they don't want to sell it. So the natural evolution of the business was to start entering into all these different other sectors of our industry. Cutting, manufacturing, appraisal obviously, and that's how this thing really started getting some legs and started growing.
I'm visiting here today with Steven Silver of Steven Silver Fine Jewelry and Steven we're running up against the break but when we come back I want to talk about where the industry has gone today.
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Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Steven Silver of Steven Silver's Fine Jewelry and in the first segment we talked about the history, and how you moved into the business of jewelry. But anyone walking into your store will say, “This is not your typical jewelry store.” It's really fine pieces. How did you move from that differentiation where you were first the appraiser, you start in the jewelry, and now you have some really rare, special pieces?
So how do I start… So the evolution of the business and the way that we differentiated ourselves was really to pick the area of the industry you wanted to focus on. And my focus and attention was always in being around the finest, the rarest, the most important things within our industry that I could find. That was the driving force behind all of this, frankly. Everybody's got to choose the pathway that they want and I think not doing that is probably the biggest risk that one takes in business— is not finding what it is they really want to do. In my case, my love of gems and minerals is really the way this started. So it was about becoming oriented with the mines, the mine owners, the different idiosyncrasies associated with each of the different minerals within those geological statements around the world, and understanding them intimately so that I could differentiate the difference between a Zambian emerald and a Colombian emerald or a Burma ruby with an African Ruby or a Thai Ruby. Thai rubies were very popular at the time I started my business and those mines were active, today they're not. So now that we have rubies coming out of Madagascar that weren't in the market when I first started. So understanding source is very, very important. Understanding how to differentiate quality within those sources is very, very important. Today we're challenged by treatments that are done to gemstones and how to quickly and accurately identify what those treatments are because they have a big impact on the value of those stones. Those are the things that I concentrate my energy on today and also concentrated my energy on at the beginning. Developing the infrastructure within my business was also a big challenge because when you're dealing with the top 1/10 or even 1/20 of 1% of what the world offers in gems, you're really isolating and defining yourself. And so that happened sort of naturally.
How do you go through your process of selecting pieces of joy that you want to showcase inside your stores?
So first you have to understand that we're primarily a wholesale business, not a retail business, and so what the public sees in our retail enterprise or a public enterprise is a filtering of what we do. So when you walk into our Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry salon in Rosewood, you'll see. We probably have a couple hundred pieces of jewelry in that store at any given time, but that's a filtering of thousands upon thousands of pieces of jewelry that we've handled on our whole sale side and elected to keep two showcases as the statement we want to make to the public about who we are and what we are, which is extremely high fine high-end jewelry. And that goes back to what we were talking about earlier about defining what you are and who you are and the pathway you want to walk. For us it's just simply owning the finest regardless of the customer. That's our statement to ourselves and then in that process the customers seem to find us. So you know it's not about anything really beyond that. Understanding who you are and what you want to do as a business and sticking to that mission statement. And it's easy to get off course because we're handling estates that have hundreds and hundreds of pieces in some instances, and how we deal with those estates. If for every hundred pieces of jewelry that we see, one or two or three may make it to the point where we're showing them on our retail side. The other part of that business is about how we treat those pieces into our trade. So we're supplying in today's world, in our business, 50 to 60 high-end jewelry businesses globally. We're also re-cutting, refurbishing, restoring, scrapping a lot of the things that we that we buy. So it's a little bit more complex than what the public sees on the retail side when we operate.
There's a saying, I guess anyone getting a diamond for the first time, they follow the three C's: the cut, the clarity, the carat.
Help me with the forth.
So there's carat weight.
And then the color, clarity and cut.
Okay so if—
By the way that last one is really important, the cutting, very, very important.
You see I recall in a recent trip over to Amsterdam they talked— they had a diamond cutting across from the one of the museum's over there and they said, we do 240 cuts on this stone,
No facets in...
Is that common in the industry?
So again this is sort of their, I'm imagining this is what is going through their mind. So the basic cut in a round stone is 58 facets. So if they're doing multiples of that 58, that basic 58 facet stone, what they're attempting to do is to create a different look or reaction to light to the eye that's different than a 58 facet stone will do. I imagine it's about creating more dispersion, which is the spectral breakup of white light so you're seeing more reds and blues and greens coming flashing up to your eye, and that's the way light is refracting off of the surface of the stone or coming into the stone and coming back up to your eye. And dispersion is that spectral breakup of white light. So that's probably what they're after in putting more facets on a diamond. A lot more labor-intensive to do that, so in all probability they're trying to drive more value into the final product from a retail standpoint, an excuse to create more value. And I think that's probably what they're attempting to do.
A person wanting to reach out and contact you, how would they do so?
The best way is to either call in to the corporate office at (650) 325-9500 or they can always go on our website at www.shsilver.com or StevenSilverFineJewelry.com And there's an info email there that they can drop in.
Steven thanks for being on today's show.
It's a pleasure.