By Washington Finest Magazine 03/07
In old Marlon Brando/David Niven film “Bedtime Story,” a wealthy, cultivated
gentleman spends some of his fortune to support and preserve ancient artisans, violin makers, craftsmen, puppeteers — on his estate. They all had little huts and workshops and he paid them to simply go about their traditional business. He did it because he believed that it should be done.
The size and spending power of the American middle class can, sometimes, replicate that. There are still some classic, family businesses that hum along, producing the finer things with all the care of their predecessors. We visited one in Great Falls, Virginia.
While America was going through Watergate, platform shoes and polyester, Jorge Adeler, native of Argentina, was importing precious stones from South America. He wouldn’t go through middlemen; he went to the mines and the tiny mining towns themselves, with their quick strikes and Wild West atmosphere. And they were rough places.
“I always went directly to the mines. They weren’t called towns, they were just mine regions. They weren’t the best areas, and the food, especially, was not civilized. Once we had to chase a rooster all night to catch and eat him.
“I found the 90 % of the people different but not fearsome. They were pleasant and gentle. All I had to do was come to their way of life and cultural foundations. That is one of the beautiful things about primitive cultures-once we can bypass our own fears.
“The joy of my life is that I have tried to understand and accept the differences.”
“You had to establish a relationship with the local chief or authority. You have to introduce yourself to a new entity. In every culture there is a system of respect.”
Jorge Adeler, 60, arrived in the United States at the age of 27 The whole country was buying turquoise. Turquoise and silver. He immediately decided that there was enough blue in the country and started bringing in his own colors.
“Instead of working with what everybody was doing, I was trying always to find a niche for uniqueness. So if the raging color was turquoise, I went for pink and blue. In Chile it was Lapis Lazuli. I found also a color stone called onyx, which it is incorrectly called. Then I added green malachite from Africa.”
From that, he started his family business. A soft-spoken, articulate grandfather, he is now corporation president and head designer at Adeler Jewelry, a company serving the same community for thirty years.
“A family business requires thought the moment you dream it. It requires the family to be involved from the early stages. To create a certain degree in interest in my daughters, I came back from Brazil with bags of gems, and I would open the bag on the kitchen table and give the girls a project. I would tell them, for example, that if each of you picks the best two stones in this parcel, and after picking the best you measure and weight it correctly, you can keep it. They spent hours searching and thinking and trying to get the best. When you decide on a family business it’s a commitment you make from day one.”
Wendy Adeler Hall, 35, along with her sister Valentina Adeler Armour, now 37, ran their own branch when they were teenagers. “My father was very good at allowing us to exploit our own talents and capabilities,” she says, “and to incorporate them into his business. He said, ‘what do you like? The store could use that niche.'”
Something he didn’t calculate and possibly hasn’t even noticed is the warmth of the place, because it is actually an extension of a home and a hearth. Mr. Adeler is one of the lucky people whose children follow gladly in his art, and get real good at it. He taught his daughters, and they followed. Now, they all run the floor.
“There’s a level of confidence that a family business instills, because there is direct accountability. We live in this community, we service this community, and we’re going to run into them at the post office, school meetings. We’re not looking to make a quick sale, were looking to make a lifelong relationship.”
“We all address our clients. A person that comes in will be addressed by a family.”
THE PURPOSE OF JEWELRY
Adeler regards the main purpose of a piece of jewelry to be a time capsule, to capture the moment. “You want to remember your accomplishments or your romance. It’s one of the few things with longevity. So, if your circumstance is unique, how can you not ask for something special that reflects your soul in that piece?” Adeler regards that as the key to understanding the customer, to ask him what message he or she wants to say.
“That is the conflict of the (larger) industry: how can you give that to your customer and still mass produce it in Asia?”
ON THE JOB: A LIFE IN JEWELS
A collection of jewels actually starts, ideally, for a family before the family even exists. Engagement rings, bridal gifts, anniversary gifts, baby gifts, charm bracelets. Every milestone in a family’s life is commemorated, or set in stone, as it were. All the way to inheritance jewelry. This last is usually restoring or more often remodeling.
“A lot of times that will not reflect the taste of the inheritee, but it’s sentimental. We can redesign it into a piece that the next generation will use.”
His favorite part of the job is, besides the traveling, the interaction with his customers. It is also the most difficult. It’s a true consultation, and a financial advisor takes no less time with his clients. “When I design, I normally chat with customers about the essence of the design that they are hoping to accomplish. Manytimes the clients don’t know exactly how to describe what they are looking for, that’s where I search and fish for the topic, for the desire or the emotion that I have to deliver.” There’s no consultation fee, and if he guesses wrong, and comes up with something the client doesn’t like, there’s no charge. It’s intense and challenging.
“What (the customer) wants is something that reflects who she is. If it already exists, you are going to shortchange them somewhere.”
His merchandise is 80% custom made. Otherwise he will, in the case of watches,for instance – go to Italy and find another small shop, full of kindred spirits. “At least I bring something my clients interpret as a work of love. I have three shops that I like to touch bases with when I can.” They are all third generation family businesses, a sort of family business to family business global network. “They work for what the pride of what they do and happen to make a living. I use two in Italy and one Germany.”
When one reads of big-time time jewelry store heists and feels the elegance in the shops, there’s the feeling that there are huge wads of cash in the safe and that everyone there comes to work in a stretch limo. But retail has a high overhead. “The industry does not generate millionaires,” he smiles. “A plumbing company can usually make more.”
DIFFERENCE IN TASTE
When someone inherits an out-of-style item like a cluster cocktail ring, it bespeaks another lifestyle. Things have changed, the society is less formal and there are fewer occasions that call such things, and a piece can be as dated as the 1950’s cocktail dress it adorned. One of Adeler’s jobs is to bring it into the 21st century, for instance, removing the diamonds and making an eternity band.
COINS AND TREASURE HUNTS
The mere mention of the word “history” will get Adeler talking about his related passion: pieces of history that he can hold in his hand. Jorge Adeler has become a coin collector and treasure hunter. He’s become a bit of a fiend for rare coins, and this fascination led him to both co-finance treasure hunts and turn old coins into jewels. This took him into a world where a single gold coin can sell for $100,000.
“It was motivated by my passion for history, ” he says. “It’s an incredible world. You can address sentimental, geographical, religious, adventurous, every aspect of who we are today. History is documented through coinage.
“Roman emperors used to imprint in coin scenes of the battle where the emperor was victorious. When they sent those coins out, the people will know. It was a form oaf message, or communications.”
Not surprisingly, the coins of the shorter-lived emperors are the most valuable today. As rulers, Caligula & Julius Caesar had little in common except that neither of them lasted very long. As a consequence, their coins are among the most valuable.
“Now I am into ancient coins. The coins of Alexander the Great, and roman coins.” He has begun to acquire shekels of Tyre. “Quite possibly the kind of the 30 pieces of silver for Judas.”
And one day he realized that coins can be integrated into high-end jewelry.
“One day a customer of mine was going to visit the pope. He asked, ‘What can I give the pope?’ I made cuff
links from coins of Constantine the Great. He was the one who ended the practice of throwing Christians to the lions. What better symbolism than that?”
It went further. “What if you want to symbolize an impossible love? The Egyptians minted a coin of Marc Antony & Cleopatra. We can make those into pendants. ”
The next logical step was to try and find his own old coins. Which means that he can live the fantasy of people all over the world: treasure hunting.
“I had the luck six years ago to be offered the leftovers of treasure off the shores of the Pacific Ocean off of Ecuador. That was an instant love affair, to be able to have in your hands things like musket balls and silver bars.”
“I am part investor in a new shipwreck in the pacific off Peru and Ecuador. We have already rescued muskets, which were only issued to the military. Muskets show that it was treasure galleon. Spanish king Philip II had a fleet to transporting treasure and cargo, and the treasure ships had to have marines for protection. ”
Ninety percent of treasure hunts come up dry. Last year he contracted on a treasure hunt off Florida. They brought up a lot of seaweed.
“You do it 70% for passion fun and adventure. I’m not a gambler but this is the closest to gambling that you can get.”
TASTELESSNESS AND THE GENERATION GAP
It’s a Hollywood cliché about the nouveau riche spending huge amounts of money on gaudy trinkets that would be embarrassing even in Miami Beach. Adeler avoids that sort of commercialism. “Some people want necklaces for dogs with gems for $60,000. It would break my heart to do something like that. There was a Victoria’s Secret-type diamond bra that costs millions.” (The Victoria’s Secret Diamond Fantasy Bra, which uses 800 diamonds, costs $6,108,735) “That type of jewelry projects the wrong image. Jewelry is something with much more soul than that. I won’t engage in tastelessness. It’s like asking a painter to do something obscene.”
“I believe that the relationship of jewelers to clients is similar to doctors to patients. It is a personal relationship. Because we are a family we understand the needs of a family.
The jewelry industry is one of the oldest in the planet. It has survived changes of all kinds. The long lines of jewelers, they always tread in that area, the emotions and the soul, and the timeless memories. More than the flickering flashes of fashion. That’s not the heart of the jewelry industry. What I represent is the core.”
For more information about Adeler Jewelers or with specific questions – Contact us.