AFTER FOUR DECADES IN NEW YORK’S WALDORF ASTORIA HOTEL, THIS HIGH END JEWELRY AND WATCH BOUTIQUE IS THRIVING IN ITS NEW PARK AVENUE HOME
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
In 2017, Cellini Jewelers in Manhattan celebrated a milestone anniversary. Four decades earlier, its proprietor, at the time a 21 year old biology graduate with no previous fine jewelry experience, had taken a chance on a small retail space inside the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue.
What Leon Adams lacked in experience, he made up for in drive. Over the next 40 years, he would put his fine jewelry and watch boutique on the global map, establishing it as one of the city’s premier destinations for precious gemstones and timepieces. His customers included affluent locals, business travelers, and tourists from across the United States and around the world. His collections grew along with the store’s footprint, and in the late 1980s, looking for a space to house its flourishing watch business, Cellini expanded to a satellite location on Madison Avenue. Then, on the year of the business’s 40th anniversary, circumstances intervened, requiring the owner to close his Waldorf Astoria location.
“We had to leave in February of 2017,” said Adams. “It wasn’t by choice; the hotel was sold and the new owners decided they were going to convert it into residences. All tenant leases were closed. We needed to find a new address.”
Adams decided this was an opportunity to begin Cellini’s next chapter, this time in a bigger space. As he hunted for the perfect venue, the store operated out of its satellite location. While the owner knew what he wanted somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet, and in a prime shopping area he soon found that real estate prices were going to make his search a challenge.
“I looked uptown, down in SoHo, on upper Madison, and along Fifth Avenue, and I couldn’t find what I wanted. When I saw some of the rents that the Madison and Fifth Avenue landlords were asking, I knew it would be impossible to maintain a viable business at those prices.”
After months of searching, Adams came across a former Mercedes showroom on the corner of Park Avenue and 55th Street, and saw potential.
“Park Avenue isn’t known as a shopping area, but to me, it’s one that’s developing,” he said. “While it was slightly off location, it was a much more viable option still within walking distance of our existing location and only one block from a big shopping street.”
Forty years after he signed the store’s first lease, Adams took a chance again. He has been elated by the response.
“The location is perfect,” he said. “It’s 3,000 square feet, which is way more space than we’ve ever had in the past. We have room to showcase all of our jewelry collections and the 30 something brands of watches we carry. It’s a comfortable and inviting environment. The jewelry can be spread out. The merchandise used to be on top of each other because we didn’t have the space to display it properly.”
Those extra square feet have proved to be beneficial indeed, as Cellini’s collections continue to grow, especially in the haute horology department. In 1977, when the boutique first opened, it offered only three brands of watches. Today, that number has blossomed into dozens, including both high profile brands and independent makers. The smaller, independent brands have represented a growth area for the boutique in recent years, and Adams’s aim is nothing less than to curate the largest selection of rare and exclusive timepieces in the world. There are currently 18 independent makers represented in store cases.
“What we have been trying to do is show deeper collections within the independent watchmakers, as this is an area that we see as a viable avenue for collectors,” he said. “What’s happening is that most of the major brands have opened their own boutiques throughout the country, and they produce an overabundance of timepieces. The independent brands make anywhere from 25 to 400 watches per year…that’s it. They are fine timepieces, hard to acquire, and maintain a high resale value because they are just that scarce.”
Independent brands Cellini carries include Romain Gauthier, Urban Jürgensen, and Christophe Claret. The curation process is meticulous, and as Adams learned early from his industry teachers, the timepieces need to exemplify exceptional craftsmanship, quality, and style.
“What I’m trying to do now,” he explained, “is acquire the best collection of independents under one roof, so a true aficionado can come in and see things that he would have to travel to several different countries to find otherwise.”
The fine jewelry business has also changed since the store opened, and Cellini’s collections have evolved over the years to adapt to changing times. According to the owner, customers are not so much shopping for heirloom pieces as they are for something they can wear on a daily basis.
“We’ve adapted to that,” he said. “Customers are looking for things they can wear all the time. We do a lot more with long chains, semi-precious stones pieces that are heavy on the gold and lighter on the stones, and with more diamond accents as opposed to the major centerpiece. We have pieces that are more casual and easy to throw on.”
When asked to share the secret to longevity in one of the most competitive luxury markets in the world, Adams offered simply that it’s all about quality “of service, expertise, and product.”
“Consumers are educated, and do a tremendous amount of research online,” he said. “In some stores, the staff is always rotating, and is not educating the clientele they’re selling. Our average salesperson has been working here for more than 15 years; I think that’s a true testament to Cellini. A customer can come in and build a relationship with a salesperson, and then return three years later and see that familiar face.”
430 Park Avenue, Manhattan / 212.888.0505 / cellinijewelers.com