By  on December 20, 2010

When she opened her new Gioia jewelry salon earlier this month, Rafaela Amini did more than move it down 57th Street. For starters, she turned the business into a full-fledged family affair, naming her mother, Dora, a co-owner alongside her father, David, who launched the company with Amini in 1997. But unlike their previous boutiques — the first at 485 Park Avenue and the second at 110 East 57th Street — which were located at street level and open to the public, the third Gioia iteration is by appointment only, tucked away on the 21st floor of the Fuller Building.

Of course, there’s the incident in May, which may have been a factor: Amini was robbed while her security guard was on lunch break. Two men pushed their way in, knocked her unconscious and left with more than $1 million worth of jewels. But according to Amini, the decision to go private was a long time coming; the break-in just provided the push she needed. “I knew before that I wanted to do this,” she says. “We’ve established the clientele now. We have a lot of high-profile people, and this gives them guaranteed privacy and guaranteed time with us. I think every business should evolve.”

Born in New York, Amini grew up around baubles and bijoux. Her mother owned a jewelry showroom during the Eighties, and her maternal grandfather, a jeweler, operated a manufacturing firm in Italy. While Amini never had ambitions to design — “I feel like too many people do that now,” she says — she was always “more into the business side of it.” The entrepreneurialism, she adds, comes from her father, who also owns Beauvais Carpets (its offices are located a few floors down from Gioia’s new space).

As for the creative hand behind the line, that’s French jeweler Michel Wassilief, who, from his Paris base, has designed exclusively for Amini since Gioia’s inception. “It was kismet,” says Amini. “When we met him, he showed us this book of sketches that no one had put into production. They were exactly what we were envisioning for the company — something that was very avant-garde and progressive.” The early Gioia pieces featured pavé chocolate diamonds, which were at the time novel. “No one was using them,” Amini says. “The problem is, by the time everyone else gets to it, you’re already bored. That’s what happened. But we’re really lucky to have him because he always comes up with something new.” His latest offerings include an iris brooch crafted from opals, diamonds, sapphires and coral, as well as another version in a whimsical jellyfish design.

The store interiors have evolved along with the gems. The original Park Avenue space worked an intimate old-world vibe with period furniture and three silk-swathed rooms. Amini swapped that look for an Art Deco interior at the much-larger second store — which proved a fitting move, since eventually she began selling antique jewelry, mostly from that period. “It was a way of having more inventory,” explains Amini. “It could take Michel about seven, eight months, even a year, to make an original piece. And we also saw there was a real clientele for it. It added another market for our business.” (Estate jewelry, from old Cartiers to René Boivins, currently counts for roughly half of Gioia’s business.) For the new store, interior designer Michael Valente, who also worked on the previous boutiques, went in a decidedly modern and minimal direction. The walls are a subtle gold color, while the curtains and lacquered vestibule is lilac. There are vintage aluminum consoles from the Forties, tables by Miriam Ellner covered with silver leaf and crushed abalone, Ghost chairs by Philippe Starck and a sleek sofa by the noted German furniture designer Vladimir Kagan. “We wanted to go clean this time,” says Amini. “It’s bringing glamour to a modern world.”

Still, one element has remained the same since Gioia’s beginning: A giant bust of Neptune, covered in gemstones and shells and once owned by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, sits near the entrance. “He stays as our symbol and will continue to preside over the showroom here,” Amini remarks. “We rub his nose for luck.”

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