William Barthman Jewelers was established on Maiden Lane in 1884
In the centuries since the first Dutch trading post was established in Lower Manhattan, the area has been home to an ever-changing assortment of commercial districts. But even as many such districts have disappeared or migrated to other parts of the city, the clue that an entire trade was once centralized downtown can sometimes be found in a single shop that has held its ground. Case in point: William Barthman Jewelers on Maiden Lane.
Now flanked by a bank and a store selling wireless phones, the 119-year-old jewelry store sits at what was once the heart of a bustling gem and gold-filled bazaar. In fact, the jewelry trade in New York City dates back hundreds of years, to a time when small workshops and foundries began popping up along Maiden Lane between Broadway and Nassau Street. By 1795, the street had become a jewelers' hub.
Sales of necklaces, brooches, watches, and chains continued at a steady clip along the narrow cobblestone street well into the next century, experiencing an even greater surge in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a then new diamond trade brought waves of settlers to the city. These jewelers, mostly European Jews, quickly opened their own businesses downtown. Soon Maiden Lane's narrow sidewalks were overrun, and the buzzing jewelry district swelled to nearby Nassau and Fulton Streets and then inched still farther north to the Bowery and Canal Street.
At the northwest corner of the Bowery and Canal, Manhattan's jewelry sector continued to flourish, eventually displacing the original Maiden Lane hub. But just as the success of the diamond business grew over time, so too did the city itself. Gradually, more affluent merchants relocated even farther north. After World War II, today's midtown jewelry hotspot, located on West 47th between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, had been firmly established, having outpaced the downtown concentration of stores.
But while 47th Street is now the world's largest consumer market for diamonds, the Bowery and Canal Street are still home to the city's second largest jewelry district. Here and sprinkled throughout several other downtown neighborhoods, a variety of shops, exchanges, and studios offer a range of traditional and modern gems to suit most any taste.
|William Barthman Jewelers is located at 174 Broadway
(212) 732-0890 or (800) R-CRYSTAL www.williambarthman.com
Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and every first and second Saturday of the month, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
William Barthman Jewelers symbolizes Maiden Lane's heritage as the historic center of the jewelry trade. Perhaps best known for the signature
Barthman clock embedded in the sidewalk outside its storefront, the landmark is the era's only remaining original jewelry store.
While Barthman's officially opened its doors at 174 Broadway in 1884, William Barthman began his business nearly a decade earlier, operating out of a neighboring Maiden Lane storefront. When the store relocated to its current location, customers continued for a time to enter through the Maiden Lane entrance, but it has since been sealed off and replaced by a door on Broadway.
Although the clientele passing through its doors may have changed over the course of more than a century, Barthman's itself has remained much the same. In fact, storeowner Jerry Natkin, manager Joel Kopel, and their staff have worked tirelessly in recent years to restore the shop to its original 1880s state. "In order to maintain the upkeep on Barthman's, you have to love it -- and I do," vowed Renee Rosales-Kopel, who has been working in Barthman's fifth-floor gallery since 1988 and witnessed the restoration process firsthand.
A careful survey of the store reveals a tradition of hard work and dedication. Deep wooden display cases show the shop's elegant and sophisticated collection, and the cases themselves are original, meticulously restored and maintained with a plaque proudly confirming their June 29, 1875, manufacturing date.
Today, customers can peruse these antique displays for the finest designs from brands like Rolex, Gucci, and David Yurman or drop off their jewelry for repairs at the rear of the store, where photos of the Barthman family line the back wall. Founder William Barthman is easy to spot, looking out from the centermost frame.
While Barthman's has faced its share of setbacks over the past 119 years -- suffering through events like the Great Depression, the stock market crash of 1987, and the WTC attacks -- the determination of its staff has enabled it to survive. Barthman's commitment and dedication to its customers and its connection to the downtown community continues to be the source of its success.
"Lower Manhattan has a great community feeling. The people who live downtown love downtown. It's a tight community," commented Rosales-Kopel, whose husband, store manager Joel Kopel, is an active member of Community Board 1 and the Downtown Alliance.
Now more than ever, the store is making efforts to support the community, sponsoring local charities and offering special discounts to downtown businesses. As Barthman's prepares to celebrate its 120th anniversary this May, it will be offering sale prices on select items to all its clientele.
For more information on the upcoming sale or to learn more about Barthman's Jewelers, please click here.
|Owners Frank Bennardello and Charles Provenzano
(212) 431-6470 or (800) 221-8014
Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; please call for summer hours
Walking along Canal Street and the Bowery, it's impossible to miss the slew of jewelry stores lining the busy sidewalks. The range of boutiques, co-ops, and exchanges -- both large and small -- serves as both a reminder of and connection to a time when the area could still call itself the city's largest jewelry district.
Turn north onto the Bowery from Canal Street and you'll spot the 76 Bowery jewelry exchange, comprised of a collection of jewel-laden counters each run by a different proprietor. With more than a dozen jewelers at one address, customers can find the right piece to fill most any jewelry need.
Frank Bennardello and Charles Provenzano occupy chairs halfway down the aisle on the exchange's right side. Owners of Troy Jewelers, the two gentlemen have been offering their customers an extensive collection of new and used diamonds, fine jewelry, and watches, as well as repair services, since 1980.
Lamenting the fact that downtown's jewelry sector is today often forgotten, Bennardello recounts his experiences growing up in the business, which began with running errands for his uncle's store at age 13 and included jobs at several jewelry exchanges in the area, including the exchange at 66 Bowery, which opened downtown in the 1950s.
Staffed by eight employees, Troy Jewelers' counter includes a "holdings" section, where pre-finished materials can be chosen individually for assembly into a final jewelry product. Customers can also select from an array of diamonds, fine jewelry, and watches, or simply turn to the knowledgeable Bennardello and Provenzano for help in ordering specific items they may have in mind.
|The Bowery and Canal Street are home to the city's second largest jewelry dsitrict
Bennardello prides himself on his long-standing clientele and customer interaction, emphasizing that he and his staff are always willing to take the time to work with customers and find the right piece of jewelry at the right price. "Downtown is a place where you can still get a good bargain and great customer attention," he says.
While both the popularity of the 47th Street Diamond and Jewelry District and the events of 9/11 have posed serious challenges for jewelers in the area, Bennardello is proud of the area and determined to stay there. "I grew up here, this is where I've been doing business since 1960, I'm not going anywhere," he vows.
To learn more about Troy Jewelers or to sign up to receive the store's catalog, please click here.
|Greenwich Jewelers was started by Carl and Milly Gandia.
64 Trinity Place
Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Thursday, until 6:30 p.m.) and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Established in 1976, Greenwich Jewelers started out as a small shop at 176 Greenwich Street, evolving over time into a full-service jewelry business and moving in 2002 to 64 Trinity Place, but maintaining its name as a lasting tribute to its original location.
A family-run business, the store was founded by husband-and-wife team Carl and Milly Gandia. Carl, a Brooklyn native who formerly worked in the 47th Street Diamond and Jewelry District, has been in the business for more than 27 years, crafting custom jewelry for his clientele.
Their store offers a sophisticated collection of platinum, gold, silver, diamond, gemstone, and pearl jewelry. In addition to custom designs and special order services, Greenwich Jewelers also offers onsite jewelry and watch repairs, including vintage timepieces.
A jewelry mold maker by trade, Carl built the Gandia's business downtown and was determined to stay despite being closed for nine months after 9/11. Building their Trinity Place store, located directly across the street from the historic Trinity Church, was a group effort that drew upon extended family members to band together and help reopen the business.
|Greenwich Jewelers is located at64 Trinity Place
Today, the Gandia's daughter, Jennifer, carries on her family's tradition and manages Greenwich Jewelers alongside her parents. An FIT graduate, Jennifer is credited by her father for ensuring the store's bright future. "I have a lot of confidence," he says, based on her involvement at the store over the past year.
Despite the move away from Greenwich Street, the Gandia family remains committed to its original customers, counting, with pride, many who date back to the store's debut almost thirty years ago. They are also devoted to downtown and its redevelopment.
"I have faith that downtown is not only going to come up to a point that it was before 9/11, but that it's going to be even an even better, more viable community," Carl says, standing behind one of the store's illuminated glass cases.
As a way to renew its commitment to the community, the store has pledged "A Year of Charity" and will make donations to selected charities during peak holidays throughout 2004. Already, the store has raised money for the American Heart Association and is preparing to make a contribution to the Breast Cancer Foundation after Mother's Day.
To learn more about Greenwich Jewelers, please stop by their store at 64 Trinity Place or call (212) 964-7592.
|Jelena Behrend Studio is located at 188 Orchard Street
Jelena Behrend Studio
188 Orchard Street
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 7 p.m., and by appointment
Just below Houston Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Jelena Behrend is hard at work crafting her latest jewelry designs in an Orchard Street studio.
"I'm a jewelry doctor," declares Behrend, a Serbian native who learned the fundamentals of her trade from a friend's father, a Belgrade designer who crafted her parent's wedding bands. She arrived in New York City just 13 years ago and quickly embraced it as her home. "It's so romantic here. I love it," she declares, adding that coming to America had always been her dream.
Although never formally trained, Behrend's self-taught technique and artistic designs have earned her accreditation in the fashion world. Her work has been featured in magazines like Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Essence, and People, among others. Behrend also has an impressive list of clients, including celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera.
Behrend's modest yet colorful storefront, decorated with a drawing of a red bird that she made as a child, is nestled on Orchard Street amid artists' boutiques, graphic design studios, and a popular neighborhood pizzeria. Having watched the street evolve over the past six years, she holds the area close to her heart, she says.
"I like this neighborhood," the artist says, explaining that she was determined to stay even after the events of 9/11. "I've been here for six years. I'm so proud of it." She's so taken by the area, in fact, that she collects Orchard Street artifacts and memorabilia.
|Behrend's jewelry is handmade
The front of the Jelena Behrend Studio showcases many of her designs -- from necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings to headpieces and body jewelry -- all arranged neatly in glass display cabinets. Behrend makes all the pieces by hand -- giving each a unique, textured feel.
Behrend takes great pride in her craftsmanship and describes herself as a "people person," inviting clients into her store and offering both conversation and customized jewelry. When not in the storefront with customers or talking with neighbors, she can usually can be found behind the pink curtains that separate her gallery from her workstation. It is here that she diligently designs, welds, and hammers her latest creations, including a new set of offerings: engagement rings and wedding bands.
To view Behrend's collection and to learn more about her store, please visit her new website.
|Tansey Tang crafts custom jewelery
99 Nassau Street
www.ttpearls.com (coming soon)
Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and every first Saturday of the month, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; check back for summer hours
A colorful sign depicting a large oyster draws attention to Tansey Tang, a new downtown jewelry store nestled along the Financial District's Nassau Street. Here you'll find pearls -- what else? -- handpicked and designed into jewelry by the store's namesake.
Store owner and designer Tansey Tang (Huss) uses a variety of freshwater and cultured pearls -- such as Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian -- in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors to create beautiful pieces of jewelry ranging from classic to exotic. The store's walls and display cases are lined with colorful design combinations at a wide range of prices, offering something for everyone.
Every piece is handmade from start to finish, its quality guaranteed by the designer. While many of the designs are her own creations, Tang will also design to meet the specific desires of her customers, create replicas of existing pieces, and perform on-premises jewelry repair. Rounding out the wide range of pearls is a selection of fine jewelry, including coral, turquoise, semi-precious stones, and Swarovksi Crystal.
Throughout the week, visitors can expect to find Tang sitting behind her display counters, knotting or designing her latest creations. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and pendants are designed according to a family trade and tradition that she has been carrying out for the past 30 years. Owning her own store is Tang's longtime dream come true.
Born in Shanghai, Tang moved to the New York area in 2001 after meeting her husband, Eric Huss, in San Francisco. Devoted to her trade and hobby, Tang began selling her wares on the couple's four-foot kitchen table at a market in Secaucus, NJ, an event Tang's husband candidly admits was "totally embarrassing at the time."
|Pearls are the specialty of this downtown store
But the demand for Tang's designs grew, and with her husband's support, she soon opened a kiosk in a New Jersey mall and began selling products in a nearby antique store. Her continued success prompted the New Jersey-based team to open its own store.
Searching initially for locations in Chinatown and along the Bowery, the couple ultimately settled on an off-the-beaten-path storefront on Nassau Street as a location for the store, opening in May 2003. They joke that Tang actually chose the location because it would allow her to keep an eye on her husband, who works on nearby Fulton Street.
Today, as the store approaches its one-year anniversary, Tang is busy crafting new creations. To learn more about the store, please stop by or call (212) 964-6878.