A sense of community: A recently opened jewelry store in San Francisco might have hit on the secret to sustainable success.
Design and sustainability collide at the unique D & H Jewelers in San Francisco’s Castro district. Since opening its doors a year ago, the store has created a recession-resistant niche by not only changing the way people buy jewelry but reviving the art of customer service and engaging the local community in the process.
The staid days when conventional bridal jewelry formed the core of the jewelry business are gone. Today’s jewelry buyer wants more than a beautiful piece to mark a special occasion. Instead, they long for jewelry that is an occasion in itself. D&H delivers by taking customers on a magical journey brought to life through storytelling of a diamond’s travels, the people who sourced it, and the modern fashion that influenced a final piece’s design. And, it’s a journey made all the more warm and inviting when they’ve offered you a fine glass of organic wine.
Skillfully co-curated by the owners Lindsay Daunell and Shawn Higgins, the store includes items from the Bay Area’s established sustainable designers like Kirsten Muenster, Dawes Design, Jeannie Hwang and new talent like Corey Egan and Studio Dong. We caught up with engaging co-owner Shawn Higgins recently. Here’s what he had to say:
Why did you decide to open a store of your own? As a graduate gemologist with more than twenty-two years in the jewelry business, I got tired of explaining to others what I could be doing myself. With the many years worth of connections I have made throughout the world, I saw an opportunity to begin a better way of doing business. I’ve seen the worst of my industry – how it adversely affects people and their communities. I even considered changing careers at one point because I didn’t want to contribute any more to that. Then it dawned on me, why not take what I already know and change the way it’s done.
How have you seen the jewelry industry evolve in recent times? The industry is starting to bend to the will of the consumer to provide more transparent knowledge of blood diamonds, and “dirty” gold. More people want to know that their jewelry is locally made. They want to know where the precious metals are from and where their stones are sourced.
In engagement rings we are finding that consumers are much more attracted to the non-traditional center stones, instead of the traditional big white round diamond. More often than not, we are designing and selling engagement rings with color centers, like sapphires.
We’re constantly pushing the limit of design in our store. We try to keep a traditional feel in the pieces but focus on unique and specialty designers, so that people can end up with a timeless piece that is both handmade and fashion forward. We love showing and designing work that can’t be found anywhere else.
The Morning Star Eclipse, by Jeannie Hwang, made in reclaimed 14K white gold with obverse set black diamonds
I’ve never seen jewelry like this anywhere else. Tell us about what makes the jewelry lines in your store unique? Most of the designer lines that we carry are actually local people we have known for years and grown up with in the industry. Each line has a unique vision, feel and personality. What is also unique is that every artist we carry, including our own line, has signed on to a recycled metal campaign. That means all of the precious metal is from a recycled source. Sometimes the diamonds are sourced through Canada, but we have many other collectives we tap into. One in particular I am very proud of is a collective of women in Lesotho Africa. The collective was set up with the help of a Dutch company so that women who had been miners for DeBeers for over 30 years could instead do river mining, or panning for diamonds, and the money that they would earn would help pay for their retirement. They are now retired with a little more cash than they would of working for DeBeers.
Other colored stone sources in the store and direct sales of colored stones have provided a scholarship for an African girl to go to faceting school. They have helped fund wells in the communities where these farmers have small mining operations – and by small I mean a hole in the ground large enough for a single individual to drop into. We are trying to bring the dollars back to the community where the wealth actually comes from.
You also create custom jewelry. How do you verify the stones you use are conflict free? We have third party certification that documents a clear chain of custody from miner to customer 90% of the time. We are still striving for that 100%.
Ice Cube rings by Jeannie Hwang, made from reclaimed 14K white gold and either blue or white diamonds
Hanging out in your store is so much fun! Is this part of the strategy? Our store is the first and only of it’s kind to have a wine bar within the store. On our mezzanine level, clients can enjoy wine from sustainable vineyards and just hang out or shop with us. The Rose Cut wine bar really epitomizes our philosophy of creating a fun luxury environment that people want to come and shop and enjoy. One of the main reasons internet sales has grown so much is because customer service has been dying a slow death in America. I believe an experience like this is the new future of retailing. Thanks to my contacts throughout the world we’re lucky enough to end up with some amazing finds. We have a hand-made chess set by Hratch Nargizian, one of the finest metal artists alive today, which took 5 years to make. We also have things like Frida Kahlo’s earrings made by Pablo Picasso for her, here for sale.
Fostering a sense of community is the secret to your success. How have you achieved this so quickly? We have no secrets. My industry has been shrouded in secrecy both from customers and each other for many years. When we find a new more sustainable source for our products we share with our artists. It sounds simple but most people tend to hold their knowledge and sources close to their cuff because they think it gives them the competitive edge.
Frankly, what’s missing in today’s customer service is customer service. I am amazed when I visit other stores how the associates will not even bother to say “hi.” Call me old school, but I’ve always said, “If you can’t make a customer, make a friend.” Especially in the jewelry industry where you might be selling someone an important purchase like an engagement ring. We meet wonderful people who share our interests – quality, sustainable jewelry and wine – and so a natural – and very fun – community results.
Hand woven bronze chain by Kirsten Muenster
Ila & I locket made from reclaimed 18K and sterling silver oxidized and re-purposed antique diamonds. The locket opens to reveal a place to put precious pictures or have a special message engraved on the sterling silver insert.