Having kept a low profile since leaving Zales in 2006, she is now hoping to change the way you sell jewelry and watches, while expanding CIRCA’s global footprint and entering new markets. Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Doug Gollan caught up with the energetic Forte at her New York headquarters as she was preparing to leave for Baselworld.
ET: What does CIRCA do?
Mary Forte: CIRCA is the largest buyer in the world of jewelry, diamond and watches. We have private offices in North America, Europe and Asia. We are here. We are in Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC. In Europe, we’re in Barcelona and Geneva. In Asia, we’re in Hong Kong. Las Vegas is opening in July and Madrid is coming in August, 2013.
ET: How does it work?
Mary Forte: The client comes to our offices where we have private rooms or sends us the jewelry. We make an offer and if the client accepts they leave with a check. Payment is immediate. With auction houses you have to wait for both price and payment.
ET: Is there a time limit on the offer?
Mary Forte: It’s not like that. We don’t want pressure. It’s about the CIRCA experience and feeling that you are in a trusting environment with somebody who cares. There’s a story behind every piece of jewelry, from the highest of the high to the little gold bracelet. The people in the offices are professional, engaged and committed. It’s just like retail. It’s about the relationship with the customer. There is a lot of repeat business, and that comes with trust and discretion. And because of it, we get a lot of referral business. Seventy percent of our business is referral.
ET: When people see jewelry advertisements, don’t they think buying instead of selling?
Mary Forte: From Cleopatra to today, when people see jewelry they think about buying, not selling, so it has been a challenge to convey what we do. When we advertise, we get calls from people wanting to buy jewelry.
ET: Who do you sell the jewelry to?
Mary Forte: We don’t sell to the public. We sell to a network of collectors, but we are looking at [sales to the public] in the future. We are launching a new website soon, so that may be an opportunity.
ET: What are some of the growth opportunities?
Mary Forte: We want to be a go-to for the estate market. We also have CIRCA Retail Partners, which are top-name retailers like Ben Bridge, Bernie Robbins and Underwood, in over 40 cities. Once or twice a year, we go to their stores. They tell their customers, and their customers bring jewelry and watches they want to sell. There is a lot of jewelry that because of inheritance taxes needs to be sold; or, sometimes, the jewelry doesn’t match today’s lifestyle.
ET: You’re Acting CEO. So is Michael Jordan is coming back to stay?
Mary Forte: Actually, I hear the real Michael Jordan is getting married. I tried to retire, but it wasn’t in me. I had been consulting for DeBeers and Forevermark. I joined the board at CIRCA in 2010, and when the board decided to make a change, one thing led to another, and here I am. It’s been a great five months. The business is growing. There is a steep growth pattern. The more I learn about the business and the more of the people I met, the more I love it.