THIS 134 YEAR OLD FINANCIAL DISTRICT JEWELRY BUSINESS EXPANDED TO BROOKLYN 20 YEARS AGO, AND LOOKS FORWARD TO AN EVEN BROADER BI-BOROUGH FUTURE
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
Long before there was a Diamond District in Midtown, there was William Barthman. Catering to iconic customers like legendary New Yorker Diamond Jim Brady (who amassed a precious stones and jewelry collection worth today’s equivalent of nearly $60 million) and British American socialite Lillie Langtry in the early decades of the 1900s, the jewelry store, founded in 1884 on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane in Manhattan, survived two World Wars and The Great Depression, supplying flashy baubles and custom made Rolexes to socialites and businesspeople. When company president Jerry Natkin became involved in the business in the 1980s, he took its storied concept to Brooklyn.
“I was in the jewelry business on a lower scale and thought it would be a good investment,” Natkin said of his purchase of the store from its original owners in 1983. “I was excited to get involved in the luxury end of jewelry rather than the promotional end, and put all of my time and effort into learning that. In 1998, we expanded the William Barthman name to Kings Highway.” Natkin, a Brooklyn native, made the leap to his home town borough in part because he was consistently transporting jewelry to customers who didn’t want to travel to Manhattan, a precarious if necessary errand.
“The Broadway location was in the original jewelry district,” he said. “There was no 47th Street Diamond Exchange, no Uptown sector at all, really, only Downtown. But, I had so many Brooklyn customers that I was bringing jewelry home with me at night so they wouldn’t have to make the trip.”
The second location allowed Natkin’s son, Steven, to become involved in the business, and also offered both men the opportunity to invest in their own infrastructure. The new store had the additional advantage of being larger than its predecessor by some 2,000 square feet.
“We purchased the building here outright; it wasn’t a lease,” Natkin said. “So, we were more than willing to put money into renovations and upkeep of the property. It was an instant hit in the neighborhood, and in time, the Brooklyn store eventually started to outper form the Manhattan showroom.”
On January 19th of this year, after 35 years of running the lower Broadway store, Natkin decided to close its doors, but only temporarily; a new Manhattan location is in the works. Right now, though, the company is focusing solely on the Kings Highway location.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but the time had come,” Natkin explained. “There are a lot of luxury retailers in Manhattan, but not so in Brooklyn, which is one of the major reasons why we’ve decided to focus our attention here.”
The 4,500 square foot floor plan features separate “shops” for each brand name carried. Popular lines include Rolex, Hublot, IWC, Breitling, Carl F. Bucherer, Tudor, Bulgari, de GRISOGONO, Hearts On Fire, and Baccarat. William Barthman has the additional distinction of being the only Rolex showroom in the borough, as well as having a brand certified watch repair laboratory.
“Rolex actually takes up the entire back area of our store,” Natkin said. “We offer a unique shopping experience. Ninety percent of the store is luxury watch and jewelry brands items not available in other stores or on the internet,” adding that this aspect is but one that makes a buying experience here distinct from boutiques in other boroughs, or beyond.
“Each salesperson is also trained according to the brand or brands he or she represents,” Natkin said. “There’s a lot of knowledge required, and we don’t put people who aren’t experienced in front of a customer. They are prepared to answer any question.” Natkin’s focus? Classic pieces that can withstand the test of time.
“Trends honestly vary from brand to brand; there is never really one strong theme like white gold or chocolate diamonds throughout every brand we carry,” he said. “But that is just how our store operates; we’re not susceptible to hot trends that dissipate quickly. We focus on selling iconic jewelry here.”
“My son is the key player,” he added. “I’m in the background now, because I’m getting old [laughs]. But we’re always trying to improve. Every day we spread our net a little further, thanks to referrals from friends and business associates. A pleasant experience always translates to new business and once a customer shops here, they want to come back.”
1118 Kings Highway / 718.375.1818 / williambarthman.com