Whether to Show Romantic Love, Mark a Milestone or Simply Give Oneself a Bit of Sparkle, What is Better Than a Gift That Will Last a Lifetime?
Since ancient times, humans have adorned themselves with beautiful things. Precious stones and minerals, collected with care to make jewelry, have beguiled us for millennia, and in return, we have bestowed meaning and value upon them. The great Cleopatra was obsessed with amassing emeralds to both wear and engrave with her portrait as gifts for her subjects. To maintain her status as the glamorous and powerful Queen of Egypt, she sent workers to every gem mine in her dominion so that she could amass a cache of the rich, green stones.
Queen Victoria had a fondness for opals, but also wore earrings set with her children’s baby teeth. And the queen of classic Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor, accumulated such a large collection of dazzling diamonds, rubies, and sapphires that the Christies auction of her estate after she died went on a world tour; fans lined up in cities around the globe just to sneak a glimpse. In recent years, Gables celebrity resident Jennifer Lopez has kept the tradition alive, boasting her incredible 15-carat, emerald-cut diamond engagement ring from beau A-Rod, reportedly worth over $1 million. In short, humans have always gravitated towards sparkly and colorful gems.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, one can’t help but think of the queen of gemstones, the diamond. John Keats said it best in his 1818 poem “Endymion”, which began with the line, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” More than 100 years later, this sentiment would be cut and polished by the DeBeers Group with their slogan, “A Diamond is Forever,” one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever. And there is some truth to this. Diamonds are nearly as old as the Earth itself, forged over millions years under enormous pressure (up to 60,000 times greater than the atmosphere) and in temperatures hotter than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. These sparkling gemstones are the hardest natural material known to humankind (only a diamond can cut another diamond) and if well cared for will last far beyond our lifetimes.
So, what should you be looking for to wow your special partner this year? What’s new in 2021? Traditionally, diamonds weren’t always the stone of choice, though after DeBeers’ tour de force, we think of diamonds as synonymous with love and engagement rings. This is now changing as color is coming to the fore. More and more colored gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds and rubies are taking center stage as a symbol of everlasting devotion. Remember Princess Diana’s deep blue sapphire engagement ring? More recently, Orlando Bloom chose to wow Katy Perry with a stunning ruby, perhaps to match her cherry chapstick. And as color becomes more popular, consumers are looking for deeper meanings ascribed to their jewelry. Gemstones that correspond to a loved one’s birthstone, for example, are increasingly being purchased.
If you’re still not convinced, your wallet might be. Some colored stones can be far cheaper than diamonds, particularly if you’re not buying from well-known luxury brands. So, while white diamonds still dominate romantic jewelry, before you put three months’ wages down for the perfect classic engagement ring, take a moment to see what else is out there. In order to assist you, we’ve taken a look at five local independent jewelers.
Whatever the trend that has taken hold – past, present or future – one thing is for certain: Jewelry has and always will hold special meaning to us. After all, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Lily Faber is a former appraiser for Christies and currently a gemologist who teaches for the Gemology Association of Great Britain.
Diamonds by Daniella
Diamonds by Daniella
300 Aragon Suite 360
The Owner: Daniella De Francesco
Specialty: Diamond Bridal Jewelry, GIA Diamonds and exotic gemstones custom & handcrafted creations
Established: 2019 (in the Gables)
Daniella De Francesco had no family background in the jewelry business, only a childhood love of gemology that propelled this former real estate investor to jump into the industry in her 20s. “I saw an open opportunity. Before the  crash you only had fine diamond jewelers in shops or fashionable jewelry in shopping malls,” she says. “There was a middle market there, for real stones that were affordable – not costume jewelry, but not too expensive.”
With that idea in mind De Francesco invested her real estate capital into purchasing semi-precious stones overseas and opening in a Tampa mall, specailizing in ready to wear and custom creations.
Flash forward a dozen years and today De Francesco is launching a second proprietary line, a more affordable “Hearts of Rose” collection to compliment her bridal line, Diamonds by Daniella. She has also relocated to Coral Gables from downtown Miami, where she operated an international wholesale business for nearly a decade. Here in the Gables, her focus has shifted more intensely to retail sales and to custom made jewelry.
“Working in the international trade helped me understand market trends and get really good at the science behind the industry…. Now, I have my own casting, my own setters, my own 3D printers. My challenge is if the brands grow, how to keep up…”
In the meantime, she continues to expand her clientel with sales of GIA Ideal dimonds, exotic gemstones and casting quality 18-22k gold. “Now I am working with exotic gemstones from around the world, investing in high quality roughs, stones like sapphires and rubies… really interesting gem quality stones.”
With her stone cutting gear in house, “You go from a stone that looks pretty to the naked eye, to something that is cut so there are no dark spots, and every facet is cut to bring out the beauty.” De Francesco says that at present, about half her sales are of custom-made jewelry, the other of items she has in stock. Prices for her Hearts of Rose “fun brand” run from $100 to $2,000, and start at $7,000 for custom-made pieces.
270 Miracle Mile
The Owner: Eddie Snow
Specialty: Diamond rings, diamond necklaces custom jewelry, and watch repair
Established: 1974 (in the Gables)
Most people, when they buy jewelry, buy for someone else, says Eddie Snow, who has been vending jewelry in the Gables since the early 1970s. “Most buy for someone special and, like the saying goes, it really is better to give than receive. The buyer feels as good or better than the person who is receiving it.”
Snow’s Jewelers has been providing that sense of benevolence in its current location for nine years, and from another Miracle Mile spot for 20 years, and before that at another Gables spot for 18 years. The resultant base of repeat customers is what carried the business through the pandemic, says Snow. “People still came in, just not as many. This [past] Christmas we were about even with last year, but with fewer customers. Some people would just call in and ask for diamonds.”
Diamonds are, in fact, Snow’s mainstay, along with a fair amount of vintage and estate jewelry that can be sold at lower price points. “Diamond engagement rings, diamond studs, diamond wedding rings, diamond necklaces – diamonds are our strength, our bread and butter,” he says.
For his pricing and appraisal of diamonds, Snow uses the Rapaport Price List, also known as the Rap Report, the industry bible produced in New York’s diamond district. Whereas jewelry chains such as Mayors or Tiffany’s will sell their diamonds at 30 to 35 percent above Rapaport, independents like Snow’s will sell at or below the suggested list price. This is a big reason why independent shops such as Snow’s can compete with the big-name brands. That, and because they also offer other pieces at all price points. “I have things for under $100 if someone really wants something but has no budget. On the other hand, one of the diamonds we sold at Christmas was $80,000. So, we really have something for everyone.”
Snow says that despite problems with parking and foot traffic, Coral Gables is among the best places anywhere for a jewelry business. “I can only think of three incidents [robberies] in the nearly 50 years I’ve been here. It’s a very safe place.”
237 Miracle Mile
The Owner: The Hornik Family
Specialty: Diamonds, Vintage Jewelry, estate Jewelry
Established: 1945 (in the Gables)
For Jill Hornik, heir-apparent to the jewelry business started by her grandfather at the end of World War II, the key was education. First, she earned a Graduate Gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America, and then went on to get a more specialized degree as a Certified Gemologist from the American Gem Society, a degree that requires an annual exam to maintain. “There are so many changes in terms of technology, synthetics, mining, lab equipment and appraising, which we learn in our annual certification,” she says.
Hornik spent five years working for a diamond and watch dealer in California before returning home in 2013 to work for the family business, which started out as a shop where Giardino’s now stands before moving to its present location on the Mile in the mid 1950s. “I thought it was going to be more difficult,” she says, “but I get along great with my father,” who inherited the business from his father.
Like other local jewelers, Hornik says success depends on trust, and their unique combination of service, selection and value. “Many of our new clients come here for [jewelry] repair and then look around,” she says. “Then we start to build a long-term relationship.”
As for specialties, that would be diamonds and estate jewelry. “We purchase jewelry from the public, custom create our own designs, and also purchase jewelry at trade shows during the year,” says Hornik. Jae’s Jewelers is also an authorized dealer for Roberto Coin, Montblanc, Alor and Masriera, in addition to other designer lines.
“Jewelry is a gift from the earth,” says Hornik. “We take beautiful natural products from the earth and turn them into wearable pieces of art that you can wear every day of your life and then pass down to family members.” Hornik says that about 60 percent of the purchases in her family shop are gifts for other people, though “we have a lot of women who are self-purchasers, who just like a fun stone or a fun gold ring. We sell some colorful jewelry.”
500 South Dixie Hwy #203
The Owner: Marichi O’Rourke
Specialty: Custom jewelry, Bridal and Engagement Rings, Repurposing vintage pieces
Established: 1982 (in the Gables)
Marichi O’Rourke first learned the jewelry business from her parents, who would sell from their home and at private dinner parties. “I didn’t want to do it that way,” she says, and so set up a shop first on Douglas Road near Miracle Mile, then on Miracle Mile itself. But when the Streetscape project began in 2016, she decided to avoid the construction and moved to her current location on Dixie Highway.
Since then, she has developed a robust and wide-ranging clientele, with a penchant for custom-made jewelry and a price range that brings in women ranging from UM college students to elderly heiresses. “We sell bridal [rings], necklaces and diamonds, and we can create whatever your heart desires,” she says. “A one-of-a-kind ring is our specialty.” One area where Montica shines is in the updating and transformation of older jewelry. “A lot of time customers can’t wear it because it’s out of style,” says O’Rourke. “We can recreate a family heirloom, to modernize it, or use the diamonds to make something more beautiful. You create something that is more wearable, fashionable and contemporary.”
“We had a bracelet, a heavy-duty antique bracelet from one woman, and from that we created an engagement ring, a wedding ring, and eight wedding bands for her granddaughters,” says O’Rourke. “They can always remember their grandmother that way.”
Besides diamonds, O’Rourke likes working with precious stones such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds and aquamarines, and she carries lines such as Tacori, Hearts on Fire, Fana and Dove, along with Benchmark men’s rings and Michele watches. But her passion remains custom jewelery and the repurposing of things like diamonds from old-fashioned pendants into necklaces. “Jewelry can tell you how much you are loved and appreciated,” she says. “It can also mark a milestone for something important, to signify and immortalize a special moment in time…”
Like many local jewelers, O’Rourke says that clients become friends over the years. “I have customers from back when I first started, and their children and grandchildren,” she says. “We were once invited to a three-day wedding [for a client] in Southern France. That was special.”
250 Miracle Mile
The Owners: Miguel Gutierrez-Sampedro, Rebeca Bared and Cristina Gutierrez-Taquechel
Specialty: Estate Jewelry, Art Deco and 1940s Retro, European jewelry designers
Established: 1996 (on Miracle Mile)
For owner Miguel Gutierrez-Sampedro, the big choice he faced at age 18 was whether to become a lawyer or go into the jewelry business. Having worked during his high school years in Miami for a jeweler, he decided to study gemology and moved to New York City to work in the antique jewelry business. “From there I jumped to Macy’s as an estate jewelry buyer. They had an office to buy from the public at their Herald Square building, where I appraised and purchased jewelry.”
After five years in the Big Apple, Gutierrez returned to Miami to work for the jewelry department at Saks Fifth Avenue, where he developed a sufficient client base. After six years, he launched his own store in Coral Gables. “We started as a smaller shop, but business went so well that we decided to build a bigger place” on Miracle Mile, where they have been since 2000.
Having learned “how to do bench work and jewelry manufacturing” as a young apprentice and later in New York, Gutierrez’s Gables Gems shop offers custom jewelry as a service to clients. For others, it’s the unique selection Gutierrez assembles from estate sales and the different trade shows he attends. “We buy some very unique pieces. I don’t buy everything, but we have a collection of clients that like them,” says Gutierrez, who also buys lines from European designers.
Gutierrez says that 80 percent of his sales come from repeat business – locals as well as clients who fly in from New York, Latin America and the Caribbean. Most, he says, are Spanish speaking, which gives the Cuban-born Gutierrez a minor advantage over his Anglo competitors. Gutierrez, who is modest about himself, says that buyers return again and again because of his inventory and because “we offer our clients knowledge and honesty, and educate them about what exactly they are buying.” Like other independent jewelers, he disdains the “huge difference in prices” when clients buy from Cartier or Tiffany’s. He asks, “Do you want to buy a name or put your money in the value of the stone?”