Greenwich St. Jewelers—A Celebration of Jewelry, Family and Changing Times
“Jewelry is so much more than just pretty, sparkling pieces that accessorize an outfit. Each jewel is a memory transmitter—it brings you back to special intimate moments and bonds you to the precious people and occasions in your life.”
Jennifer Gandia knows of what she speaks. She and her sister Christina Gandia Gambale, who helped rebuild their parents’ jewelry retail business in the Wall Street area of Manhattan 13 years ago, grew up surrounded by glittery gold and gemstones. For these two visionaries, jewelry tells the story not only of their youth, but also how they changed their careers after 9/11 to work with their parents and eventually took over, rebranding the business into one of New York’s premiere jewelry shops.
“We not only went through the usual ups and downs of revamping a business, but we survived two bombings and a hurricane, having to move the shop and build an entirely new clientele,” Jennifer explains. “We recently changed the name and rebuilt our website to commemorate the 40th anniversary of our roots and our parents’ first shop, which opened in 1976 on Greenwich Street, just a few blocks from our Trinity Place location.”
“We are throwing a party to celebrate this milestone occasion, our family, friends, designers, one-time and long-time employees and the fact that we are still standing in the face of all odds,” Jennifer says. “The celebration also marks the realization that sometimes you need to stop moving forward, take a breath and appreciate where you are right now, in this moment. For us, this moment is the fruition of hard work that has brought such happiness to our lives and hopefully all those that work and shop with us.”
I first met Jennifer in 2006, three years after she left her career as publicity manager at NARS Cosmetics. She’d traveled and spent a year in Barcelona before coming back to help her parents rebuild the store and infuse the business with new ideas. I looked down at her wrist and recognized one of the first bracelets I had designed during my BethanyB collection days of the ‘90s. I discovered that Jennifer’s boyfriend at the time – unbeknownst to me — bought the bracelet from our mutual friend who was working with me. Twelve years later, the same friend coordinated my first visit to the store, and the fact that I had designed the bracelet all clicked into place. She confided that she usually gave up all jewelry from old boyfriends but could not part with the Bethany B piece. I was extremely flattered and it became clear that we both believe jewelry connects you to your past, present and future.
Since then, I’ve watched Jennifer and Christina grow their parents’ business, incorporate some of the most creatively diverse designers in fine and bridal jewelry into their merchandise mix and then rebrand the business when their parents retired. I’ve interviewed them on various subjects for articles before and I am now thrilled to feature a full-fledged interview about their life in jewelry.
Beth: What were your early memories of being in your parents’ store?
Jennifer: I was about 8 or 9. It was like going on a special outing to a secret world. While my friends were playing with plastic and sequin jewelry, I was able to touch and try on the real thing. I also got to see the mysterious place where Mom and Dad would go together every day.
Beth: And as you got older?
Jennifer: I loved doing the inventory when I was in high school. It felt like such important work. It was done longhand back then. I loved opening up the packages, checking them in, tagging them and writing it all down in the book. I also went on uptown runs to the jewelry district on 47th Street where my parents bought from vendors. Then, when in college, I went to the New York trade shows and my mom asked me to help her pick out pieces for the store. I never thought it would turn into my career one day, I just enjoyed being with my mother and having a fun day looking at the jewelry. During Christmas time both Christina and I were the ‘gift wrap girls’ in the store.
Beth: Can you give us a bit of insight into your parents’ business during the late ‘70s through the ‘90s?
Jennifer: My father started as a model maker, then learned hands on how to be a bench jeweler by apprenticing and then became a master jeweler. In 1976, my parents opened the shop on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan. The store had no branded merchandise at the time. There was a mix of pieces that my dad custom designed and pieces my mother would choose from vendors and trade shows. It was little more than 400 feet but my dad had other jewelers working with him in the back and it was always friendly and warm and welcoming with exceptional service. Their customers became friends and the next generation would eventually shop at the store.
Beth: Can you describe the type of jewelry sold during this time period?
Jennifer: I remember the ‘80s well; it was bold Italian gold, colored gemstone jewelry and of course the basics like hoop earrings, diamond studs, tennis and charm bracelets.
Beth: What was the first piece of jewelry you received from your parents?
Jennifer: Christina and I received jewelry for all occasions and holidays. But the piece I remember most was a little ring that my parents gave me when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was a gold ring that flipped with black onyx on one side. The other side was all gold with a little diamond in the center.
Later my mom broke up a marquise-shaped diamond eternity band and made necklaces for both Christina and me and gave them to us each on our 16th birthdays. I later had mine redesigned into a bracelet that I wear every day, no matter what else I have on my wrist.
Fifteen years ago, my father designed, carved and finished two lockets by hand and gave both Christina and me one. The fact that he worked on these from start to finish made it all the more special.
Beth: What was your favorite piece that your dad made for your mom?
Jennifer: It’s my most treasured piece today — a snake bracelet that my dad crafted for her very early on in their relationship. It was designed with an enameled head and set with emerald eyes and it curls perfectly around the wrist. I take it out and wear it on special occasions.
Beth: What made you give up what you originally thought was your dream job and the trajectory you were on as publicity manager at NARS to go help your parents with the store?
Jennifer. After 9/11, I think many people, especially those who lived in New York, began to re-evaluate their lives. I realized, that although I had dreamed of a job like the one I had, I wasn’t really happy. I couldn’t pinpoint it but I knew I had to leave. I decided to do the one thing I never did, which was spend some time living abroad. I went to Barcelona and taught English. It was an amazing experience. In addition to everything else I soaked up while living there, I noticed the different way stores displayed jewelry and how creative the shops were. I began to have all of these ideas for my parents’ store and when I returned, I felt I should work with them for a year and help them rebuild what they had put so much of themselves into. I never dreamed at that time this would turn into a career, or that one year would turn into 13 years or that jewelry and the shop would be among my biggest passions.
Beth: Your parents had to relocate the store after 9/11?
Jennifer: Yes. We had to be relocated. The building they were in sustained too much damage. It seemed that in an instant everything had changed. We lost our original store, our custom base was no longer coming around, and entire companies were leaving the area and moving to New Jersey. We received business assistance like others in the financial district and we were able to move down the street to a large location, but we still need to rethink our merchandise, strategies and how to get customers back into the store.
Beth: When did you and Christina join them?
Jennifer: I started working with them when I returned from Europe in 2003. We took baby steps before we could implement any substantial changes. We computerized and digitalized. We were offered a grant for a website in 2006. We built a basic one and advertised on sites that helped bring business back into the neighborhood. We kept the store open longer hours and on weekends. Eventually we began to build the customer base back up. Christina joined the company approximately a year after I did. She had been working in finance. We complement each other so well, in our skill sets as well as our tastes and sensibilities.
Beth: It’s 2016. How did one year turn into 13 years?
Jennifer: We are such a close-knit family that it felt wonderful being so involved in restructuring and getting the business back on its feet again. My parents, who are very open people, allowed us to try new ideas and to slowly bring in designer brands. Christina went for her GIA certificate in diamonds and in gemstones and we both made a conscious decision to expand the bridal jewelry category. We both learned how to run a business hands-on and continued to conceptualize new ideas. And I finally saw jewelry as part of a bigger picture — that of fashion and that we could carry high-style jewelry that women could wear today yet also had longevity due to its qualities of gemstones and precious metals. When I figured this out, I knew I was going to stay. My parents worked with us for seven out of the 13 years I’ve been here. Although once Christina and I began to take over full time, they started to slowly move toward retiring and now they are fully retired.
Beth: What happened next?
Jennifer: We expanded our designer business dramatically and while we grew a whole new customer base and were successful in creating a new environment that attracted more and more traffic, we eventually realized that we were spread too thin and not giving the creative talent we were bringing in the display space that was needed, or the time to invest in learning their collections and building the relationships we wanted to build with our designers. We also saw that our bridal business was expanding and needed to keep up, bring in new brands and conceptualize new marketing strategies. We decided to do a total rebrand and to rename the store from Greenwich Jewelers to Greenwich Street Jewelers to commemorate that we are only a couple of doors down from where my parents started. We also chose to cull our designers to an extremely curated and handpicked selection so that we could nurture the relationship and focus on this core group that crosses over from fine to bridal.
Beth: Can you name some of the designers in this core group?
Jennifer: Arik Kastan, Todd Reed, Jennie Kwon, Polly Wales, Sorellina, Rebecca Overmann, Rene Escobar, Mark Schneider, Single Stone, Jamie Joseph and Megan Thorne. And we will soon be launching Jade Trau and Erika Winters.
Beth: How did you choose this core group?
Jennifer; There are so many jewelry designers out there now. You need a singular, aesthetic point of view and one that might evolve but that you don’t waiver from. We are also looking at how our different designers affect the way in which our clients view our showcases. We are trying to focus on our featured designers in a streamlined presentation; therefore we are carrying designers that sit well together and don’t detract from each and never look too similar in what they are creating.
Beth: Can you define the store’s sensibility?
Jennifer: When we were discussing this during our rebranding meetings, we kept coming up with the word inspired—relating what inspires our designers, and how their distinctive aesthetics inspire our clients to purchase pieces from the jewelry collections we carry. And finally how the clients inspire the jewels by wearing them in their own unique individual styles.
Beth: How would you describe your own personal jewelry style?
Jennifer: I’m a Pisces; therefore I can’t stick to one style. I get bored easily and like to try new things. One day I’m wearing a floral dress and rose gold vintage jewelry and the next I am tailored and in black with bolder more modern pieces. I guess my personal style is eclectic—mixing a whole bunch of styles and looks. The one aspect that pulls it all together is I want to look feminine yet confident in everything that I wear.
But with that said, the older I become, the more I appreciate classic pieces that last. That’s not to say I am not going to buy the next trend like the midi ring and ear climber before it but they need to be at an impulse price, which will allow me to buy the pieces that I can pass down to my nieces.
Beth: What was the first piece of jewelry you ever bought?
Jennifer: I began to buy jewelry for myself when I turned 30. That birthday I bought a set of high karat Indian jewelry with enameling and rose-cut diamonds—earrings, a ring and small pendant. I love big juicy bold curb chains so I have bought myself a few of those and bought the Cartier love bracelet to celebrate a special moment in addition to my birthday. I believe that it’s so empowering to self purchase and be able to know that you can buy your own jewelry for yourself.
Beth: Which brings us to our next question. What are the five pieces of jewelry no woman should be without? And I am not talking about basics, but from your point of view?
Jennifer: The non-basic part is important but I don’t really play by the rules when it comes to buying jewelry. You definitely need a piece that you purchase for yourself, for whatever occasion, so that you always remember how special it was and that you did something to celebrate that moment. You should try to wear something passed down to you from the women you love. Even if you have to redesign it to go with your personal style—the sentiment will stay with you.
We have a customer, who, when she was in her 20s just got her first job as a lawyer at the firm she wanted. She came in and bought 2-carat diamond studs earrings and I can bet that she will always associate those earrings with the elation and joy she felt at that moment and the accomplishment she felt at landing the job and buying the earrings herself.
Beth: How would you like to end this interview?
Jennifer: I guess by saying I love the journey and will continue to do so. And I love jewelry and all the people I get to work with through this amazing medium. It could be just a sales transaction, but it’s the experience of helping a client who’s purchasing a piece to commemorate a special moment that makes all of the deadlines, late nights, negotiations, missing packages and stressful moments worthwhile and a true celebration of my family’s life in jewelry.