The Waldorf-Astoria is one of the world’s most famous hotels. Having spawned a global group of luxury properties, the original still plays hosts to Kings, Presidents and business barons that rule the world. For more than a third of a century, Cellini has been on call when elite travelers were in the mood to shop for jewelry and high-end timepieces. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Doug Gollan caught up with Cellini owner Leon Adams to find out what has made his store a permanent resident in the grand hotel for such an extended period.
Elite Traveler: What’s the history of Cellini?
Leon Adams: I established Cellini back in 1977. In those years we decided that we couldn’t be everything to everybody. We set our sites high and decided we wanted to carry the 18K gold and not 14K, because back then 14K was very in and 18K wasn’t well known. We only wanted to carry certified diamonds and gemstones. We basically set high standards. In doing so, that translated to the watches as well. We excelled in the luxury market and started carrying watches and other pieces not found in most stores. In that way we set ourselves apart from a lot of the jewelers.
ET: What were you doing before you opened Cellini?
LA: I graduated college in 1977, and then for two years we built the store and we went into business.
ET: Was your family in the watch or jewelry business?
LA: Neither, my family was in the antique business.
ET: How did you come to realize you wanted to get into the jewelry and watch business?
LA: I was always fascinated by gemstones, jewelry, and mechanical timepieces. I used to work for my father in the antiques business in the summers. Then an opportunity arose where a location for a store became available. My father said to me after I graduated, “why don’t you go into the jewelry business?” Then as fate would have it a woman who had just retired from Tiffany, a woman came into the store when we were under renovation. She was in the gem business her whole life, and she was looking for a part-time job. So right there on the spot we hired her, and she really became my eyes until I learned the business.
ET: Was your first location in the Waldorf-Astoria?
LA: : Yes it was.
ET: You started right at the top?
LA: It was a small store, much smaller than the present location. We have expanded it over the years.
ET: Tell us about how you’ve seen the industry and the consumer change over the last 30 years.
LA: One way the consumer and the industry has changed is in the fashion jewelry category. High end fashion jewelry used to do extraordinarily well. Today, with the price of gold, labor, and gemstones fashion jewelry has somewhat slowed down. People are buying more conservative pieces that are fashionable today and probably will be fashionable in 50 years. High end classic jewelry is selling much better today.
ET: Have you ever thought of expanding?
LA: We have the location in this hotel, and we’ve been here for 37 years. We have a location Madison between 52nd and 53rd Streets for 27 years as well. There was a time when we entertained going to Paris, London, the west coast.
ET: All the watch companies are opening their own retail outlets. What is your thought on mono-brand boutiques?
LA: I think they’re necessary. A mono brand boutique gives the consumer the ability to walk in and see the entire range of product that they might be interested in. On the other hand, there is something to be said about the multi-branded store which enables the consumer to compare different brands to one another. The mono brand boutique is a great showroom it’s a great place for people to be able to see the product range.
ET: What sets Cellini apart from all the other retailers?
LA: We set ourselves apart in various ways. We carry the finest of the fine in gemstones whether it’s certified diamonds, Colombian Emeralds, Burma rubies, or sapphires, we carry a fine array of gemstones. We also have an extensive collection of jewelry ranging from your typical diamond hoops to very important diamond studs. In addition, we specialize in colored diamonds whether it’s yellows, pinks, blues, or greens. So we have a fine collection of gemstones, colored diamond gemstones, that is hard to find elsewhere.
And carry the world’s finest collection of fine Swiss timepieces. When I say extensive collection, I mean we dive into the lines and usually have pieces that cannot be found elsewhere.
ET: There are so many watch brands out there. What do you look for when you take on a new line?
LA: First and foremost is quality of the movement and quality of the timepiece. The line should also fill a void, and it shouldn’t compete with the existing pieces that we have. Now there’s always going to be overlap, but recently we did incorporate a new line, which is a company by the name of Arnold & Son. Arnold & Son is a high-end manufacturer, which has very unique that truly do not compete with anything that we currently have. We currently carry 25 different brands.
ET: Why did you join The One & Only One marketing program for colored diamonds?
LA: It’s an interesting story. I had seen the advertising and thought it was really fantastic. I also have known Joe Padulo (the initiative’s creator) for many years, but I didn’t know it was his program. I’ve always had the highest regard for Joe and so when I found out, it made sense to be part of it as it speaks to both the type of customers we have and the type of jewelry they are looking for.