TRUE GRIT
FASHION JEWELER ERWIN PEARL HAS BLAZED A MAJOR TRAIL DESPITE TOUGH TIMES IN THE INDUSTRY.

Byline: AMANDA MEADUS

NEW YORK — In the accessories world, fashion jeweler Erwin Pearl has definitely earned the title of pioneer.
In just the last two years, the man behind the 40-year-old firm that bears his name has built his business into a totally unique entity within the fashion jewelry world, one which functions as a supplier, manufacturer, distributor and retailer.
“My goal has always been to create a totally vertical, totally integrated structure,” noted Pearl, who was interviewed at his corporate headquarters here. “We have come to a point now where we are totally self-sufficient, which is what I have been working toward all along.”
Achieving this state has been accomplished during one of the most challenging and difficult times in the history of the fashion jewelry industry. For the last three years, jewelry vendors, as well as the retailers that sell these companies’ merchandise, have experienced an extended trial by fire, thanks to the spare minimalism that has set the tone for the fashion world. As of the beginning of this year, the outlook was slightly more optimistic, but the reverberations of the slump may last for some time. A number of major manufacturers have already gone bankrupt or else have gone under completely.
Yet, during that same period, Pearl was opening two retail stores of his own here, as well as acquiring some of the largest fashion jewelry manufacturing facilities in the country. He opened his first store last spring on posh Madison Avenue, at exactly the same time that many department store merchants were experiencing severe slumps in their fashion jewelry departments. It was also at a time when the only major fashion jewelry specialty store chain in New York, Ciro, had just closed its stores.
“What I wanted was to be able to show my full range of merchandise instead of forcing consumers to choose from the very limited range of my goods that the department stores were showing,” he noted.
His second store opened on Fifth Avenue last summer, and, because the space is even more extensive than his Madison Avenue venue’s, he was able to start testing out brand-new ideas directly on consumers rather than relying solely on feedback from his department and specialty store buyers.
Pearl said he’s already working on plans for his next stores, which he will open internationally. Two are planned to open this year, one in Jerusalem in June and the other in Athens in the latter part of fall. More will be opening in the U.S. and abroad going forward, he added.
“My main objective in doing this is to make people more and more aware of the Erwin Pearl brand,” he said. “And it is also a way to make sure that my brand is represented in the proper manner.”
For example, Pearl said, the jewelry in his own stores will not be marked down repeatedly or excessively.
“We just don’t have any big promotions or sales,” he pointed out. “Once a season, we might mark down a few items, but that’s it. We have found that women come into our stores looking for specific items or just beautiful, special items. When they find exactly what they want, they aren’t all that concerned about the price.”
The ability to open and stock these locations, though, is due primarily to the firm’s strong base in manufacturing, a foundation that has completely solidified in the last nine months. Pearl had already owned two major manufacturing facilities in Providence, R.I., one that produces his chains and another that produces all his other jewelry components and finished products. But last fall, he purchased another chain company in the same city and has subsequently become one of the largest jewelry chain manufacturers in the world. As a result, he produces chain not only for his own jewelry, but also for that of most of the other large fashion jewelry manufacturers, many of whom do not own their own component production facilities.
In addition, Pearl also owns an interest in a glass bead manufacturer in the Czech Republic.
“Having this manufacturing foundation gives us our strong base and allows us to sell all over the world, and we put a good deal of money and time into research and development in order to keep this part of our business healthy,” he said. “We are also able to keep track of what’s happening with the industry as a whole, based on the orders for chain and components that we get from other fashion jewelers, so that our focus goes beyond just what is happening with our own jewelry.”
Having a good overview of the industry is an essential part of running a healthy business these days, Pearl pointed out.
“People should not be so afraid to communicate with each other about business, even though times are still uncertain,” he said. “If everyone, both on the retailing and manufacturing sides, talks to each other in a realistic and honest way, I think a lot of the issues troubling the fashion industry could be cleared up much more quickly and efficiently.”
As for the fashion jewelry industry, Pearl said that he still feels as passionately about it as always and hopes that other companies can take his lead, to at least some degree, and begin building strong bases of their own.
“I really love this business,” he said. “The last thing I want is to see it going to the vultures.”

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