In a crowded marketplace, one third-generation Italian family business has gained notice for its expertise and love of colored diamonds. With its unique Olympia collection currently housed in the American Museum of Natural History, and a heritage that goes back to serving stars such as Sophia Loren, Scarselli Diamonds is now attracting today’s celebrities and well-heeled elite travelers who value personalized service and a passion for excellence. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan visited scion Bruno Scarselli at the company’s midtown Manhattan headquarters to talk colored diamonds.
ET: Tell us a bit about Scarselli’s history.
Bruno Scarselli: I represent the third generation. The business was started by my grandfather. My grandfather built and rebuilt his business several times in his lifetime. After World War II, he was the only jeweler in Italy who had the license to sell diamonds to American troops. He was very pro-business, and he was very open to any and all challenges. He had five children but lost four of them—only my father is alive. He was very determined. He launched his own jewelry stores in Italy under Scarselli. His idea was to create a fashion statement, not just jewels. He created mesmerizing pieces, and he developed a very exclusive clientele from all over Europe who came to summer on the Adriatic. They were the upper crust of society at the time. He had private windows in the Grand Hotel in Rimini and the Grand Hotel in Venice. One of his clients was Sophia Loren, another client was Mr. Berreta, the owner of the shotgun company.
ET: Do you have any early memories of the business?
Bruno Scarselli: As a very young person when the business had been passed on to my father, I remember being in the store and seeing all the famous people. It was really amazing to see them, and they were our customers. At the time my father also represented Vacheron and Piaget. In the sixties and seventies my father started traveling to Sri Lanka, Burma and Colombia to get to the primary source for these rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Because he was able to go to the source, which the other jewelers didn’t do at that time, we got some really amazing stones. These were the “grandfather” to colored diamonds as colored diamonds were not even known to exist at the time. In the winter my father would wholesale from our offices in Rome and Naples and retail in the summer from the resorts.
ET: Tell us about Scarselli today.
Bruno Scarselli: For the past 20 years Scarselli has been buying and manufacturing rough diamonds—blue, pink, red and green. For us it has been interesting, as we always wanted to have the best of the best of the best. Our goal was to be a bit better each year. We have a healthy inventory of five- to 25-carat canary yellow [diamonds]. We look everywhere for the best. We have been spending a great deal of time developing the perfect cut with the perfect color and brightness. I see quite a few of the big names mimicking our cuts. Our specialization is colored diamonds of course, and then after helping the client select the diamond they want, we help them create a piece of their dreams.
ET: And Scarselli remains a family business?
Bruno Scarselli: My father is 71 years old. I have been with him for 20 years and for the past five years my brother has joined us. My brother had been a director for a large Italian bank, opening offices around the world. We have in-house gemologists and cutters, so we can always have someone on staff with expertise. This is an Italian family business, so of course having my mother involved is like the cement to the bricks. My father is involved in every aspect of the business, but he also gives my brother and myself a lot of freedom, particularly in buying, selling and manufacturing. So we are fortunate to have a lot of flexibility.
ET: Were you always involved in the company?
Bruno Scarselli: My first love was born in 1986 when I graduated from college, and that was real estate. We also own real estate, so that has been a benefit to be able to combine that experience with what we are doing in diamonds. The New York real estate world is a tough world, so when I did come to join my father in 1992 I can say I already had some sharp teeth. At that time we were just three people and now we are 20 people here in New York.
ET: The Olympia Collection at the American Museum of Natural History has received a lot of publicity. Can you tell us a bit about it and how it came to be?
Bruno Scarselli: Today we have a collection of five diamonds in the American Museum of Natural History. In the pursuit of excellence, we started to assemble a collection, searching all the continents that produce diamonds and looking for that single piece we could manufacture to be the best. From South Africa, we got this amazing orange-colored diamond that is like the sun high in the sky at noon. Then we got this torturous piece of rough diamond but we thought it would yield an amazing blue.
The rough diamond started at 10 carats and ended up being the most spectacular blue at two carats. It took six years, as we were trying to put together an amazing color collection. Every time we got a diamond, we compared it to anything else we could find as we wanted this collection to be the highest strength of color, the best of the best. We were giving a lecture on colored diamonds and one of the people attending was a gentleman who worked for a museum curator in Houston. Olympia is about the competition to be the best, and the five colors of the rings of the Olympics are tied to the collection, with the exception that black is replaced by pink. Colored diamonds represent less than one percent of world-mined diamonds, so we wanted to share our love of colored diamonds. We showed it to the museum in Houston, and then Boston, London and Chicago, and the Museum of Natural History then heard about the collection. Dr. George Harlow here in New York loved the idea of showing how beautiful natural colored diamonds could be. The original terms were to keep the collection for six months, but the collection has been so popular that we decided to keep it through September. [Harlow] had the home field advantage, since the museum is 20 blocks from our office and I am a New Yorker.
ET: Will the collection be sold?
Bruno Scarselli: In truth, everything is for sale. We say we love our wives but we like to sell our diamonds.
ET: Tell us about the typical stones and pieces you are selling.
Bruno Scarselli: We have an inventory in the $35,000 range, but the core of our diamonds are $500,000 to the millions. For example, the wife of one of the Yankees’ pitchers is wearing a pink diamond from us. There is a prominent country singer wearing a Scarselli yellow diamond that made its way from us to her. These are not red carpet loaned diamonds, but diamonds that these people purchased.
ET: And you deal directly with consumers?
Bruno Scarselli: We have a nice showroom here in New York, so we enjoy being visited by consumers who have found us and found that our love of what we do is ideal for their needs. We have the ability to bring large as well as investment-quality diamonds. Because of the museum exhibition, we have been commissioned by two different gentlemen who wanted us to create collections for them. Our idea is to create a piece of art surrounding our jewelry once the most important piece is chosen. I think one of the aspects consumers like is that they deal directly with the family, and these relationships have been maintained for decades and we enjoy starting new ones. Many times it takes a few appointments, so this is very much couture jewelry with a necklace or ring built to order. We love to work with customers who have specific ideas. If you can afford the center stone, you definitely should be able to create the skeleton to surround that stone.