Having celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2007, Kwiat marked 2008 by opening a Flagship boutique on Madison Avenue in early September. In the ever competitive diamond jewelry business, Co-Presidents Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat took time out as they were preparing for their big event to update Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan on all that sparkles from business to leisure, including how they have made their company grow through generations.
ET: Can you tell us a bit about the history of Kwiat, and how each of you came into the business?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Kwiat was founded in 1907 by our grandfather Sam Kwiat. He began as a diamond trader on Canal Street, the heart of the original diamond district of Manhattan. He was a preeminent diamond expert and specialized in refinishing older stones to improve their brilliance. Our father David joined him in 1933 at the age of 17. David was a true artisan and expanded the scope of the company to include designing and manufacturing fine diamond jewelry. In particular, David had a passion for large diamonds and important diamond jewelry.
Sheldon: I entered the business in 1964, working summers while still in college. Lowell entered the business in 1973 upon his graduation from college. Both of us began by studying diamond cutting as an apprentice to a master craftsman. As a symbol of our love and dedication to the family business and its legacy, we both gave our wives the first diamond we ever cut—something they both still wear to this day and will be passed down to future generations. Today, our children (the fourth generation of Kwiat family members) are actively involved in running the family business.
ET: Can you give us a brief overview of Kwiat’s business today?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Kwiat is one of the premiere diamond jewelry companies in the country. Kwiat stands for the finest craftsmanship and quality in diamond jewelry. We have a wide collection of styles that range from diamond jewelry classics—such as diamond engagement rings, stud earrings and wedding rings—to diamond fashion pieces such as bold cuff bracelets, diamond hoop earrings and decorative pendants. Kwiat is well known for our couture statement pieces that can be worn to a black tie ball or for red carpet stroll. Kwiat diamond jewelry is carried by the finest jewelry stores in the United States and Canada. We have just opened the first Kwiat flagship boutique on Madison Avenue in New York City and we have another intimate location at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas.
ET: Most jewelry sold in the U.S. is unbranded. When did Kwiat begin its branding campaign, and why did you choose to focus on branding?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: We began our branding campaign nearly ten years ago. For our first 90 years, Kwiat was well-known and respected within the industry as creators of exquisite diamond jewelry. As we watched our industry evolve, it became clear that our greatest future opportunity lay in offering our collection to consumers under our own brand name. The branding of Kwiat has allowed us to fully educate consumers on our company heritage and the distinctive elements that define Kwiat diamonds and jewelry.
ET: The jewelry business is obviously very competitive. What do you think sets Kwiat apart, and are there any specific things you are doing to stand out?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Kwiat stands apart from the crowd because of the exquisite brilliance of our diamonds and the superior quality of our craftsmanship. It all comes down to expertise and attention to details such as cutting the finest diamonds for maximum brilliance and designing jewelry with a timeless elegance and enduring appeal. We excel at crafting the finest pieces of diamond jewelry and our customers immediately recognize it when they see the perfect draping of a necklace or the way our signature three-prong diamond studs sit perfectly in the ear.
To ensure that we rise above the noise of a crowded marketplace, we spend a lot of our efforts on marketing our brand to our target audience. We work hard to always be present in the fashion magazines and worn by the most talented women in Hollywood, including Halle Berry, Natalie Portman and Sharon Stone.
ET: You hired a new designer several years ago. Tell us about her and how she has changed what you do?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Janice DeBell joined Kwiat 5 years ago as our Director of Design. She has a long and successful history with some of the most prominent names in jewelry, including Tiffany and Harry Winston, where she was responsible for some of their most visible collections. Her aesthetic was a perfect match for Kwiat – we share a love of classic beauty and timeless elegance. Specifically, Janice has brought to an increased focus on fashion jewelry by incorporating bold colored stones with our fine diamond jewelry. Under her direction, Kwiat is using more color, texture and colored gold metals to add exciting new dimensions to the collections.
ET: Tell us about your current collections, and a bit about their inspirations and why you think they’re special?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: At Kwiat, our newest collections have a very airy and feminine approach, while remaining classic and bold. They take inspiration from a variety of sources including flowers, architecture and textiles. We are very attentive to the wearability of the jewelry and ensure that each is comfortable and has a graceful movement. It is always important to appreciate that jewelry is wearable sculpture and intricate motifs need to be considered and pleasant from every angle. Many of our collections begin as one-of-a-kind jewel and then a distinctive element from the design is then used to create a broader collection.
ET: Do either of you ever get involved in designing?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Janice leads a weekly design meeting, where the team, including the Kwiat family, gets together to discuss new designs and collections.
ET: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the jewelry business over the last 20 years?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: The only constant in the jewelry industry is change. Over the last 20 years, the luxury consumer has become far more sophisticated about diamonds and diamond jewelry. They have a better understanding of the quality elements of diamonds and jewelry – including the 4 C’s and the importance of fine workmanship. In particular, consumers understand the importance of diamond Cut and how well-cut diamonds make a more beautiful piece of jewelry. This was one of the key reasons we chose to focus on the brilliance of our diamonds as a defining characteristic of our brand.
ET: Is it becoming more challenging for an independent company these days as the big conglomerates with their multiple houses continue to expand?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Business today – and the growth of conglomerates – poses a unique set of challenges. Kwiat remains an independent, family-run company, which allows us to be more agile and responsive to our customers’ needs and tastes.
ET: You’re opening your first retail location, in a prestigious spot on Madison Avenue in New York, in fact where Chopard used to be. Why did you want to open your own retail and what results are you looking for?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: Our Madison Avenue flagship boutique will bring worldwide visibility and give us the grandest of all stages upon which to showcase our finest and newest designs. Above all else, we believe that a presence on Madison Avenue will drive awareness and growth of the Kwiat brand that will benefit all of our retail partners. The flagship boutique will also allow us to display our complete collection – from diamond jewelry classics to fashion collections to one-of-a-kind special jewels.
ET: Any plans for additional locations?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: In the last year, we opened a Kwiat boutique at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, as well as several store-in-store concepts at some of our top retail partners. Looking ahead, we plan to open additional store-in-store boutiques to strengthen our relationships with our retail partners. We are also beginning our international expansion.
ET: Kwiat is a family run company. Can you tell us about the family members in the company and what their responsibilities are?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: The family nature of our company is one of our greatest strengths. We all tend to be involved with the many different elements of the business, and in particular, we each maintain relationships with customers and retail partners. Specifically, we are the Co-Presidents and oversee the running of the company. Russell and Michele manage the sales organization and set distribution strategy. Greg manages the financial side of the organization. Steven manages the company’s information technology.
ET: Who makes final decisions when there are disagreements?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: While disagreements are not unusual, they are welcome because they allow us to critically examine all sides of an issue. We meet regularly as a management team to discuss key topics and make important decisions. When there is disagreement, we discuss it and are typically able to come to a consensus about a path forward.
ET: The success of managing a business through several generations is pretty strong testimony Kwiat has a working formula. Are there any strategies or tips you can relay to readers who may be involved in family companies?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: With many family members in the business (seven over three generations), we feel blessed to have thus far been able to successfully manage and grow a family company. For us, the key has been open communication and respect for one another. We never forget that we all share a common goal and that our successes are shared.
ET: Aside from work, what hobbies do each of you have?
Lowell and Sheldon Kwiat: We each are avid golfers and spend much of our free time on the golf course.
Sheldon: I also have a passion for music and can often be found listening to the world’s greatest symphony orchestras.
Lowell: I am movie and art-lover and attend many screenings, premieres and gallery openings. Being involved in charitable organizations is an extremely important value for the entire family as well as the business. We also serve on outside boards of non-profit organizations such as CASA and Jewelers for Children.
ET: Do either you like to travel for pleasure, and if so tell us about two or three of your favorite places?
Sheldon: My favorite places include: Las Ventanas in Cabo San Lucas, which has the best weather and the best golf, The Sanctuary in Kiawah, South Carolina, also because of the fantastic golf and wonderful accommodations, and the Adirondack area in upstate New York because of the beautifully, pristine surroundings and the fond memories of summer camp as a child.
Lowell: My favorite places include: The Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, which can’t be beat for stunning vistas of the Mediterranean, Sandy Lane in Barbados, which is truly luxurious and Pebble Beach for the world-renowned golf.
ET: If you hadn’t gotten involved with Kwiat, what would you have done?
Sheldon: I would have pursued a career in medicine.
Lowell: I would have continued on to law school with the ultimate goal of becoming a judge.