Responding to what its owners perceived as a hunger for a more visceral shopping experience, a new manhattan concept jewelry store has taken shape
by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Robert Nuzzie
If you wander into the second-floor SoHo loft that houses Material Good, an ambitious concept jewelry store on Wooster Street that boasts a mix of coveted watch brands, rarified loose diamonds, and modern art work, owners Rob Ronen and Michael Herman want you to stay awhile.
“This is all about experiential shopping,” Ronen noted during an interview in his urbanely charming and sophisticated retail space, resembling a posh and well-thought-out living room, not a wholesale hub. “It’s not about pushing a product, this is about exploring luxury. After working in the luxury diamond and watch business for the last decade, selling timepieces and custom made jewels on an appointment-only basis, Michael and I wanted to create a retail experience that was completely unforced.”
There’s not a single showcase or countertop for employees to stand behind, for example. Instead, the showroom features a foosball table, several Prouve and Charlotte Perriand couches, a couple of loft-like daybeds, dining tables, and a functional kitchen from which the espresso and champagne flow freely. Of course there are also watches and jewels on display, but they’re not flaunted—just exhibited quietly along some shelving in a library/lounge setting.
“We are authorized dealers for Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, two of the most coveted watch brands, and we also market vintage watches, bought at auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s,” explained Ronen. “Our walls are decorated with original pieces from Basquiat and Warhol, and we feature custom diamond jewelry and an array of Hermès, Kelly, and Birkin bags.”
Ronen, who originally started a career in finance before being lured into the diamond business by a successful friend, learned the ins and outs of the trade when he was still in his early twenties at a global diamond manufacturer based in New York. His current business partner, Michael Herman, coincidentally started his career the same week; each young jeweler taking a markedly different path.
“While working with this manufacturer, I had been introduced to the then-CEO of Audemars Piguet who asked me to work for him directly,” Ronen said, describing the jumpstart of his decade-long career with the storied Swiss manufacturer of ultra-luxury timepieces. “Michael also left his employer at about the same time to become a private jeweler, selling custom diamond jewelry on an appointment-only basis.”
Each jeweler grew their own clientele, remaining close friends and business associates. In 2012, they began tossing around the idea of combining knowledge of diamonds and watches to open a new type of retail experience.
“We both live in downtown Manhattan and agreed that there was no refined luxury shopping in this area,” Ronen said. “All of the luxury retailers are ground floor and focused on product and price, not experience. So we decided to open a space that would highlight exclusive luxury, but also be open to the public.”
It took more than two years to conceptualize and bring the concept to fruition, but upon opening in 2015, the pair found the audience they were looking for.”
“Just as we had hoped, there was a void in the market that needed to be filled,” Ronen said. “Consumers had been craving an emotional attachment to shopping, because so much of retail has lost its personal touch or been pushed online. We started providing a service that you can’t obtain from a department store or tablet.”
According to Ronen, the piece missing from the modern shopping excursion is an emotional connection to the experience… the act of seeking out and finding an item.
“There’s no [real experience] involved with going online and searching for an item,” Ronen said. “That’s why we wanted to bring back true bricks-and-mortar shopping, a space that is private but not arrogant or appointment-only. Somewhere that shoppers can visit, enjoy a few hours of browsing, and if they choose, walk away with a original piece of art, jewelry, furniture, or fashion.”
After developing the idea, Ronen and Herman secured commitment from Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, brands the store owners say brought them legitimacy as a retailer and validated their importance to the wider market. Others watchmakers soon followed, and the jewelers built an impressive collection of colored diamonds while procuring dozens of unique estate and vintage finds.
“We curate the collection carefully,” Ronen said. “We’re not strictly a watch store or a jewelry store; we have a little bit of everything. From trendy timepieces to vintage Rolexes, there are many unique finds here.”
The partners amassed a clientele quietly and organically through word of mouth, reaching out to former customers and maintaining contact with each new one. They even designed the space to accommodate dinner and cocktail parties so that guests could enjoy the social aspects of shopping.
“We worked with John Legend to host [his wife] Chrissy Teigen’s baby
“There’s no [real experience] involved with going online and searching for an item. That’s why we wanted to bring back true bricks and mortar shopping.”
shower, featured many listening parties for major recording artists, and launched several hedge funds here,” Ronen said. “It’s not an event space, but we will host parties if our clients request it and encourage our existing clients to bring in friends and business associates.”
“Here we are in New York City, the epicenter of culture and luxurious lifestyle,” Ronen concluded. “We want to focus on making Material Good as perfect and luxurious as the city and the clients it serves.”
120 Wooster Street, Manhattan
212.359.9688 / materialgoodny.com